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Travel Tales from Nilgiris – Ooty Highlights

After a long day of travel and visiting the Tea factory in Coonoor, we slept early and woke up refreshed ,ready to take on the mountains.

The plan was to go to Dodabetta peak and other sites along the way. The  basic sights outside of Ooty. After breakfast we headed out towards Ooty, ooh-ing and aah-ing at views along every turn. More tea estates, cute bungalows and roadside fresh vegetable sellers with just pulled carrots, radishes on sale. Seriously, Ooty has to be the root vegetable capital of India! The colorful carrots, radishes, beets have never looked so inviting and fresh in India!

Carrots for sale

Doddabetta Peak
Views ofOoty below

The dark clouds parted making way for sunshine and every now and then a light drizzle added to the misty weather around us. The kids were bundled up and cosy. After about an hour from Coonoor we reached Dodabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiris. It was windy and super cold. We just had lame wind cheaters and hurriedly bought fleece caps from a hawker who made most of the opportunity by selling cold weather clothes from the trunk of his car.

Us at Doddabetta

Doddabetta peak telescope house

We almost ran from the car to a tea stall on the peak who was making brisk business on this cold windy day. We wandered around, chased the kids who kept warm by running around and even went up the tower that had the telescope to take in views below. Clouds drifted in and out revealing and hiding the Ooty city below. It was a bit like being in Switzerland minus the Alps, snow and crowds.

Cloudy misty peak

Oh, and the plump dahlias and marigolds and a host of other flowers at the top were envy inducing.

Nilgiris Tea and Chocolates
Nilgiri tea and chocolate

After an hour or so we headed back to the car and drove back towards the city stopping en-route at Niligiris tea shop for another round of tea. Kids had chocolate. It’s an experience to sit amidst tea gardens and sip hot tea. And variety of tea like masala tea, green tea, cardamom tea, even chocolate tea! We definitely OD’ed on tea and chocolate while we were here. Luckily all the walks and chasing Varun helped with keeping the weight piling on.

Pykara Lake
Boating at PykaraLake

Next stop on agenda was Pykara lake. It was cloudy but not raining hence we decided to make most of it and went boating. The kids were cold, but were thrilled about going out on the boat. there are no views here to talk about but if you want to have a boating experience while in Ooty, this is probably a better bet than Ooty lake ( which is very crowded). I didn’t like this spot as much.

Pykara Falls
pk2

Our driver recommended going to Pykara falls from here and I didn’t really have any hopes. But we went along nevertheless. This was a surprise for me. Although the monkeys here are aggressive, the falls were very beautiful. These are the kind of falls you can sit on rocks on and enjoy levels of falls all around. The water was brown due to rain run off but I really liked them. They had an earthy, down to earth quality about them without boasting about being the widest, tallest, most visited or one with most water. Arum leaves nodded in the light breeze, couples walked hand in hand to the falls and odd visitor sat by a burning log to keep warm. It was a bit slippery due to rain and moss and we had to keep an eye out on Varun to ensure he didn’t slip. We returned to tell the tale without any accidents.

By now, we were all hungry and headed to a “dhabha” or a road side eatery for lunch. It looked clean so we ordered food which to our surprise was very fresh – dal, curry, rotis and rice. We were set. We got some bhaajis or fritters from a neighboring stall as appetizer while waiting for our food to arrive. It starting pouring heavily and we contemplated sitting there over lunch and prolong it to tea to wait it out. But as if on cue, rain stopped after we had lunch and we could step out to take in more photos of the scenery in rain.

Photosession us

We left Varun in the car and wandered around to get some couple photos 😉

Nine Mile Stop
9 milepoint

Our driver prodded us to go to another “tourist” attraction on the same road -the nine mile stop. It is so-called as it is 9 miles from Ooty and is a popular spot for movie shoots. It’s an overview point. You have to climb a small hill to get to the top to the view-point but the rains made it very slick. We managed to make it to the top with Varun who as he was cold pulled his cap over his face and proclaimed he is a Spiderman. Things kids do!

Varun as spiderman

Vipul ran around taking photographs while Varun and I huddled closely to keep warm. The wind was wild on this exposed location and we were pushed by the wind. Varun and I headed down and soon Vipul and other’s joined us. Back in the car we were warm and happy.

Getting tired of the cold we headed back to our resort in Coonoor, even though there are additional attractions ( Pine Forest, Six mile stop) in this area. Back in the resort we sat by the fireplace enjoying some more hot tea while the kids played around.

eating by fireplace

Latter that night there was a bon-fire where we sat, joked and had drinks.

Wildas fire

It was another awesome day of sightseeing, great scenery and amazing company. The evening and night were spent at the resort- resting and charging for another day ahead!

As we headed to bed that night we couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful Ooty must be when the weather is better in early summer months of March and April. Sun soaked hills and valleys would be the perfect getaway – no wonder it is called the Queen of the Hills. We dozed off dreaming of the scenic vistas and great company counting our blessings for being able to enjoy this!

Travel Tales from Nilgiris – Coonor – Part 1

Wouldn’t you want to wakeup to these views day after day?

gardens

Last week we travelled on an impulse to the Nilgiris – mountain ranges at the intersection of three south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Things fell into place on the prior weekend and Wednesday morning found us onboard flight to Coimbatore – the nearest airport. Two hours later we were on a winding road amidst blue-grey tinted mountains, acres of tea gardens and smelling the fresh air laced with the heady eucalyptus.

Tea gardens

Taj Gardens

We reached the Taj resort by afternoon, rested and then in the evening headed to highland tea factory for a tour. We saw how tea is processed, sorted and packaged. The lovely ladies in the factory have to be vary of the tea dust that flies everywhere and wear scarves for protection.

Highland tea factory

Tea factory

Lady at tea factory

Filling tea in bags

It was serene and calm; not very crowded given the rainy and cold climate with the onset of monsoon. A bit like Seattle in Spring. We were not geared for the cold and had a rain jacket to keep warm. Even for Varun we didn’t have any warm clothes on hand. We made a beeline for the stores to buy some corduroys and denim pants for Varun and a couple of jackets.  They were very useful in the trip.

For four days we woke up to chilly mountain air, lightly drizzle, beautiful blooms, lakes and waterfalls and acres upon acres of rolling hills dotted with tea plantations. We took a ride in toy – train to Ooty and spent evenings by a roaring fireplace – a novelty for me in India.

Abundant flora, greenery , chirping birds everywhere and solitude if you skip the tourists hotspots. I don’t remember all these wonderful things about Nilgiris from my childhood visit though I distinctly recall the tall eucalyptus trees and the cabbage sized colorful dahlias.

The place is lovely -in fact perfect destination for early monsoon.  We went to bed early tired from the travel but with excited for the scenery to unfold in days ahead.

Stay tuned for more travel tales.

Of Blackbucks, Langoors and Peacocks in Blackbuck Resort, Bidar

blackbuck

Finally temperatures are cooling here. Saturday was in lower 30’s which is a big relief after the month of mid 40’s in May. June and early monsoon showers are very welcome.

To make most of the lovely weather, we made an impromptu trip to Blackbuck resort in Bidar. Technically in Karnataka, Bidar is a 3 hour drive from Hyderabad and a popular weekend destination from Hyderabad. The resort is set on banks of Vilaspur lake about 25 kms from Bidar. Most people start early on Saturday morning, have breakfast en-route and spend the morning exploring Bidar fort and tombs before heading to Blackbuck resort for lunch.Rest of the day can be spent at the resort with variety of activities.

Path in the jungle

 Nested on banks of lake, the blackbuck resort is home to langoors and peacocks. It is clean, spacious and offers package deals including meals at a reasonable rate. The staff is very helpful. While the resort is not very luxurious, it is a great place to unwind after a hectic week. A lovely place amidst nature a short drive from hustle and bustle of Hyderabad!

Monkey

Peacocks

Emu Farm

To keep visitors engaged, the resort offers a lot of activities. Nature walk to see Emu farm is offered in the evening. Lots of different varieties of birds are seen en-route and come visit the lake at sunset. There were these yellow flowers in bloom all along the path along with fiery red Gulmohar. And so were these unique fruits that the birds love to feast on. When the lake is full post monsoon season the resort also offers coracle rides on the lake.

Yellow flowers

Trees with fruits

The sunset  over the lake was brought to life by the chirping of birds, playfulness of monkeys and the beautiful red-yellow afterglow. After sunset we enjoyed a wild life documentary along with a round of beer and snacks. Telescope was setup to star gaze and post dinner a campfire was setup.

After glow sunset

The best part of staying at the resort is the safari at sunrise to see the blackbucks. Even Varun was thrilled to get up early to go out in the jeep and see deers in their natural habitat. We not only saw deers but a wild boar, countless peacocks and many langoors. While we were driving back, a dog chased a herd of blackbucks around and it was surreal to see them galloping away.

Herd of deers

Adult black buck

We also saw a whole bunch of colorful birds whose name I don’t recall anymore.

Birds

We came back from the safari to breakfast and then sat on the private gallery off the cottage to watch more birds and animals come to the lake below. We saw lizards and a huge reptile cross across the brush below amongst other scary animals like tadpoles, frogs and squirrels.

We left after taking a short nap as we were tired after carrying Varun on the long nature walk and waking up early to for the Safari. Our initial plan was to leave after lunch and shop for the Bidri artwork that Bidar is so famous for. But the mid day heat got to us. It was back in 40’s again. Varun slept as soon as we started driving back. We plan to visit again after the monsoon season when the weather will be cooler, the lake full and the deers back in larger numbers.

The Contemporary Paan

The display

Dimmy -the paan palace has been a unique experience for me in Hyderabad. Having paan as a dessert in an ice-cream parlor like setup. Clean, hygienic with sit in option and no dubious folks giving you the looks!

A typical pan shop

Paan , usually eaten after a meal is both a digestive and a mouth-freshener. Its available at nearly every street corner in paan shops. It has traditionally been ‘frowned’ upon in my family. Kids from ‘good’ families don’t eat paan – that’s what grandma used to say. It was mainly to do with the ‘not-up-to-any-good’ people who hang out at ‘paan-shops‘ than to do with its ill-health effects. She used to give us a home-made version with coconut, gulkaand and tuti-frootis. So, as grown up I love paan. I don’t like the ones with tobacco or areca nut but the sweet kinds.

Ice Pan in Making

This paan palace in Jubilee Hills hence is the perfect contemporary version. We stepped in without hesitation. Chocolate paan, Meenakshi paan, Date- paan, kulfi-paan tempted us from within the glass display. Colorful, ready and inviting. There was a counter with assorted toppings (desiccated coconut, flavoured supari, nuts etc to make a custom paan). We asked for an ice – paan ( a Gurgaon – Delhi area speciality) and it was freshly made for us. Shaved ice filled in paan with typical paan toppings of gulkand, sweet supari and coconut. On a summer evening the generous helping of rose petals, coconut and ice are perfect end to a meal.

Ready to eat in silver foil

The shop is set up like a typical roadside paan- bedi shop with cigars, cigarettes and even chocolates. They also have shaved ice in classic kachi kairi and kala khatta flavors – which we will probably try next time.

We skipped dessert one evening and instead had  2- 3 types of sweet and dessert like paan.

Suparis on the counter

That’s going to be our new routine -at least till the novelty wears off!

Holi Hai!

Let me go and play

We had a fun day today with friends, colors, bhang and Biryani! We had DJ providing music, rounds of snacks and thandai and loads of colorful water being splashed.The kids loved spraying with water pistols and chasing each other. Not too many words, just a few pictures to capture the colorful occasion.

Hope you have a colorful, fun-filled Holi!

Holi hai bhai holi hai

Dance, Colors, DJ and Bhaang

Stop spraying water on me

Vipul and Praveen sporting a big smile

Drenched beyond recognition

Kids enjoying themselves

Site Seeing in The City of Joy,Kolkata

Side view of victorial meorial

Last weekend, we were in Kolkata, pigging out after the IIM C recruitment trip. Bengali food was on the menu and so was visiting a couple of key attractions in Kolkata. With Varun in tow we didn’t want to do too much and generally take it easy.

Victoria memorial in reflection pool

First up was Victoria Memorial. An elegant white marble structure which was created as a tribute to Queen Victoria houses artifacts from British rule era. Paintings, rare books, arms and ammunitions, sculptures, letters etc. I loved that the monument is not too big that it  takes hours to browse through it all. It is surrounded by acres and acres of lawns, blooming gardens and ponds. Its adds to the tranquility of the place.

Main entrance dome

Victoria memorial another view

Blooming dahlias

Vast gardens surrounding victoria memorial

The school kids and blooming flowers added life to this still monument. But this is not what I had imagined Kolkata to be. Everyone had warned me that Kolkata is dirty, polluted. Howrah station and its narrow by lanes, cows on street and lyrical Bengali on the streets. I didn’t experience any of that. So, we decided to brave a taxi ride across the Hoogly river to Howrah.

Outside the Victoria memorial we hailed a cab and the driver sped across open green maidans over to the new bridge or the Vidyasagar setu. Once across in Howrah we had a shock. The lanes along the river bank are narrow and crowded with people, animals , automobiles and hand pulled rickshaws jostling for space. At one point, the taxi driver drove over an open stretch of garbage overflowing on to the streets. It seemed we were driving though a block of garbage!

The stench of garbage, sweat, trains and vegetables intermingled in the early afternoon heat. A few stray cows grazing on that garbage and left over vegetable remains added to the chaos on the bridge. This is the first experience for folks who take the train in to Kolkata. Sad. I know.

It took us forever to get to the other side.

Yellow cab and Howrah bridge

Traffic jam on Howrah bridge

Howrah bridge looking up

Once on the other side of the bridge, we were greeted with yet another quintessential Kolkata sights – a rally. A political rally to oust the current government or some such thing. Having just visited the Victoria Memorial’s collection of oil paintings of freedom fighters and their letters, I pondered if the rallies in early half of the last century were just like the one we saw. Colorful flags, sonorous chants, pedestrian demands of freedom and independence from the British rule. These were the very streets that witnessed the movement then and is seeing it once again.

A Political rally in Calcutta

Once back on the saner, cleaner side of Hoogly river, we headed back up to the hotel for a nap. Varun was drowsy and we didn’t want to keep him up unnecessarily.

After a long nap, we mainly went to New market famous for leather bags and clothes though we focused on street food. And later to Park street for some more good eats.

The following morning, we went to see the Princep Ghat which offers views of both the bridges over the Hoogly river. The taxi drivers in Kolkata, unlike their Mumbai brethren, don’t know the directions to local tourists destinations. Some say no and don’t take your fare, others nod and drop you to a different place,. It happened to us a couple of times. We were dropped 3-  4 blocks away from where we wanted to go and then had to walk down to our destination. with Varun and his diaper bag in tow.

The cab driver dropped us at Babu ghat where families were bathing in the river, priests were offering prayers and generally had a religious air around it. I couldn’t imagine dipping my toes in the brown muddy waters of Hoogly but life continued as normal on its bank. A barber shaving, kids jumping with glee, women folk changing out of wet sari’s while covering their modesty, men lathering the soap rather vigorously. Varun was thrilled to climb down the stairs and wanted to get in the water. We somehow managed to hold him.

We took another cab to Princep ghat – which is next to Princep station. Clean and maintained, it offers a calm and quiet place to stroll along the banks of Hoogly river. Overlooking the Vidysagar bridge ( new bridge), it offers chat vendors, benches, restrooms and even boat rides on the river. We didn’t see folks praying and priests preying on them here.

Hoogly river, boats, birds and Howrah

Boats and Vidyasagar bridge

We hung out, had some jhaal muri and let Varun run around. Soon, it was time for us to head back. Pickup sweets at KC Das and then feats on the scrumptious Bengali thali at Aheli.

We didn’t get to visit some of the temples Kolkata is famous for – Kali temple and Dakshineshwar temple. Hopefully next time, we can stay longer in this laid back city. Till then we need to find someone to bring us some Sondesh!

 

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