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Journalist: harshad
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Start Date: May 25th, 2010
Last Update: Jan 12th, 2012
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Description: Travelogue(s) of visits to Various Places

Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Small end to a big Journey
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:56 - Comments (0)

The flight that was originally scheduled at 0830 hrs was advanced to 0630 by Air India. That meant that we had to leave Kochi at 0430. The flight was on time. The return trip was uneventful.

Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 8
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:55 - Comments (1)
Day Seven - Alleppy – Kochi (29 Oct 11)

Next morning we got up comfortably, safe in our knowledge that Alleppy – Kochi is just two hours journey. The home stay included breakfast and we had made our choice of Idi-Appam and Stew. Had our breakfast of good home cooked idiappam and stew followed by filter coffee (one of our favorite). Everything was freshly made and tasty and we eat stomach full.

After having breakfast and thanking Mr Mathew for his hospitality, which was pretty good, we set out for Kochi. On our return leg from Guruvayour, we had found Fort Kochi closed hence we decided to head directly for Fort Kochi.

Fort Kochi was open and thriving and full of tourists. Our first stop was the Dutch Palace, so called because it was built by Portuguese in 1555 AD and renovated by Dutch. This palace is on Palace road and is also known as Mattancherry Palace. A structure built in typical kerala style, it has a museum and portrait gallery of the Kings of Kochi. It also has murals of Hindu mythology painted on some of walls of few rooms including Kings Bedroom. The architecture is splendid and the place is worth visit.

After the visit to the palace next visit was to Jew Street where there are antique and spice shops. We visited an antique shop with attached bookshop and coffee house. The shop had good furniture and other items. The prices also looked not very high. In fact we almost got tempted to buy things. Also visit to spice shops was interesting despite two previous visits at Munnar and Thekkedy.


Thereafter we visited St Francis Church. This church is the oldest European church in India though Santa Cruiz cathedral, right next door, was also built in 1503 (both as wooded structures). Also the present building of Santa Cruiz cathedral is modern one unlike the structure of St Francis Church which has undergone renovations but the primary structure has remained same. Also, Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese explorer who died in the year 1524 at Kochi was originally buried here but later his remains were shifted to Lisbon. This fact and the fact that the building of this church is the original one gives it the status of oldest European church in India.

It needs to be mentioned here for the benefit of many who may not know that Christianity came to India nearly at the same time as it reached Europe. That is because, in 52 A.D. Thomas Didaemus, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ is believed to have landed at Musiris (Cranganore) in Kerala. He made his first converts both Jews and Hindus at Palayur a town now in Trichur district, Kerala. There he built a small church with an altar, which he consecrated. The Palayur church still stands at the same site and is the oldest church in India. In the 17th century Reverend Fenichi enclosed the original church with a new outer building, as the wooden walls of the old church were destroyed with time. But the original altar consecrated by St. Thomas still remains at this site. St Thomas Church at Palyar in Trichur, Kerala, therefore, is considered to be the oldest church in India but as a European church, it is St Francis Church at Fort Kochi which is oldest.

The Chinese fishing nets, which are one of the major tourist attraction of Kochi and which were also not operating during an earlier visit were our next stop. This time we could see them functional. Also, it was joy overflowing for my son who loves sea food to see fresh catch of fishing nets along with other varieties of sea food being sold in a small shanty market next to the nets.

In this market variety of items were available and also downstream (to quote words from industry) processing also is next door. When one purchases some sea food like Karimeen fish, prawns, etc, the boys from next door (lane) eateries (specially created by Kerala Tourism, just 50 meters from this market) are right there offering to cook those items for you to eat. The combination is good andmust be enjoyed. For about Rs 600 we had purchased Four big Karimeen and Six Jumbo Prawns.

They were very nicely cooked by one of the eateries. These sea food items with Malabar Parothas and another vegetable were our tasty and very fresh lunch for the day at one of the shops called Maxim’s Sea Food Restaurant on this street. Anyone visiting Fort Kochi and does not have problem eating sea food must try this Upstream (Chinese Fishing Net), Middle (the shops) and Downstream (the street stalls cooking these items) unique combination which is worth the money. The sea food is fresh, preparation is good and tasty and eating outdoors is a fun.

We returned to our accommodation and retired for a few hours. Evening was spent with friends at a hotel having fun dinner.
#9
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 7
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:53 - Comments (0)
Day Six - Thekkady – Allepy (28 Oct 11)

The morning was bright unlike previous day when the day started with rain. I had fixed up the appointment for Massage so I went there at 0730, first customer at that establishment. Massage was good and lasted for about an hour. Post massage, returned to hotel. Since all others had already packed up and ready and hence I had no time to take bath. We had a breakfast and moved on for Allapuzza. The journey was good and it became exciting as we reached famous Kuttanad Rice Fields on the side of the road. Flat land almost below sea level with its edges fortified to create a bowl kind of area, was very interesting. In fact there was either these rice fields or water on both sides of the road.

We had thought of where to stay and had done some research on 27 Oct and had narrowed down on Venice Castle run by one gentleman called Mr. Matthew Vazhappally. This place was recommended by Linus, our driver from day one and looked promising on internet. We had also fixed it up to stay during Alleppy part of the journey.

At about 1300 we reached his house, a relatively new building made in Kerala Style with a total of five rooms (if I remember correctly but one can always visit http://www.venicecastle.com) to be given to the house guests. Alleppy, the Venice of the East gives a romantic image that possibly every house is on the canal bank. So we also had an image of Venice Castle Home Stay.

We reached Alleppy at 1300 hrs. Venice Castle, though not far from canal, was inside a narrow lane of typical Kerala style. The first impression also was very different from the photographs on the net, though the house looked newer. We met Mr Mathew and put our luggage in the rooms. As we had asked Mr Mathew to organize a boat cruise in back waters, we asked him about booking. He informed us that boat availability is a problem because of large influx of the tourists due to holidays but he is trying.

Since I haven’t had a bath in the morning, I kept the boat problem aside and took a quick bath (I was looking like an oil pot post Kerala Massage). Once changed, I thought about the problem which appeared grave as the boat availability was tight and we were to have lunch too. How to get over this problem when a local person in the travel business was unable to organize a boat? But the luck was with us. One of my friend was already in a boat (they very romantically call it Shikara) taking a cruise till 1400 hrs. When I spoke to him and he spoke to the boatman, the boatman agreed to take us round at the same rate from 1400 to 1700 at the same rate of Rs 350 per hr and Rs 1000 for 3 hours. But that means we were to forego our lunch and rush to the jetty where the boat was to come for us.

We obviously had very little option. So we got ready and rushed to Rajiv Gandhi Boat Jetty. Our worry about lunch was put to rest by my friend who told us that the boatman would take us to a local restaurant on one of the islands for simple kerala meals. Looked okay to us (in any case there was hardly anything else we could do). So, here we were at the jetty where my friend, his wife and their local host were waiting for us. After bit of chit chat between us we got into the boat for famous Kerala backwater cruise.

The boat was a small about eight seater country craft beautifully decorated and very comfortable including two loungers. The boatman was also good. As the cruise started the wonder called backwaters and the Kuttanad rice fields started unfolding in front of us. An exotic resort built on a small island was worth viewing, even if only from the boat. This resort where I could not find the name looked beautiful and well laid out. Any further comment is not possible as we did not visit it.


As we continued with our journey, boats of various hues were moving up and down. An old lady was rowing her small country craft to no where (so it appeared at that time). There were thatched house boats, kerala style (unlike houseboats of Kashmir) were also in the constant company. As we got into a smaller waterway, we were in for a surprise because there was a whole lot of world there with people living on islands which appeared a few centimeters below sea leave with having sort of boundary of high ground around them, with periphery being used to live by people and rest of the island, which now looked like a bowl catching the rainfall being used to cultivate paddy (rice).

What was not there? Houses, shops of all kind of daily need items, post office, schools, hospital, you name a thing of rural life and they were present. People were rearing animals of all domestic variety. Some had made duck ponds using nets right in the backwaters next to their houses. It is difficult to imagine that so much life exists in such an environment.

On one such island in the beginning of our trip our boatman took us to Aradhana Restaurant for food on one of the island called Kuppapuram. Food was cheap, home cooked and local. Raw rice, sambar, rasam, papadam. Karimeen, a fish similar to pomfret was also available on order. If I recollect correctly, the thali was just Rs 45 in the middle of backwater but each karimeen was Rs 100. We did take them but they were too small to have anything worth eating once marinated and fried. Otherwise I liked the food, at least we got to know what a common man eats at home in Kerala.

By the time we finished eating and restarted, the old lady rowing her boat also had reached that place and heading towards another island where possibly her home was. It is tough to row but she must be doing it on her own choice else mechanized boats of Kerala State waterways ply regularly between Alleppy and various islands. This service is extensively used by all islanders to travel between islands and also between islands and Alleppy. It is therefore usual to see school children waiting on some jetties for govt boat. Also many people on the islands own either regular (row) boat or mechanized boats. Also some of them own the houseboats also.

Houseboats are from one bedroom to seven bedroom (Floating Hotel by Oberoi’s called Motor Vessel Vrinda). Bedrooms are Air conditioned, food is served, generally Kerala Food of spicy type as heard from our boatman. While one can hire houseboat from morning till next day morning or even for more days, however, all boats anchor for the night (as such what can one see in the night so what is the point roaming around the waterways aimlessly).

Overall, a good breeze was flowing, many boats and things were there to see. Finally we reached Vembanad Lake. It is an expanse of water spread over three districts, Earnakulam, Allapuzza and Kottayam. The boat was stopped by the boatman into the lake. It was a beautiful scene. On one side we could see various islands that we had seen on the way to Vembanad lake and for remaining 180 plus degree view, it was water as far as one could see. It must be remembered that this water body which was so vast that as far as eye could see, only water could be seen, is a lake and not sea or river Brahmaputra (as seen in Assam).

After soaking into the beauty of Vembanad lake, it was time to turn back and head for Alleppy. Return trip was fast (as we were all quiet with hectic schedule since morning) though we covered some of the very narrow waterways which offered even batter view of daily life of the islanders. There were few foreign tourists who had ventured in to islands to witness the life first hand. I must admit that the foreign tourists are little more adventurous compared to we Indians, we generally do touristy things generally followed by all the Indian tourists.

Since the trip was of three hours, our boat reached alongside Rajiv Gandhi Boat Jetty at dot 1700 hrs. Our car was waiting there. We got into the car and went into a nearby hotel to have some tea and snacks. After freshening up, we decided to head for the Alleppy beach as there was still some time for Sunset.

The beach was clean, good and not crowded (so different compared to Mumbai beach). While all of us like to soak into the sea water, we were neither prepared nor in any mood to get into the water. The evening was thus spent watching beautiful sunset over the sea. It was nicely captured by various cameras that we had. After sunset, we returned to Venice Castle, had a good cup of tea and went out for dinner into the town at about 2030 hrs. The town looked deserted with very few people on the streets. Since we wanted to have veg food, the options in that area were very limited and we did eat but were not very impressed by the place. It was sleeping time post dinner.
#8
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 6
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:51 - Comments (1)
[IMG]E:/kerala Trip/SAM_3491[/IMG]Day Five - Thekkady (27 Oct 11)

Self and children got up early and eager to set out on the ‘Nature trail’. As we peeped out of the room, we found it was raining outside, a big dampeners it seemed. However, we decided to press ahead and go for the trail. Since it was raining my children decided to wear three-fourth and I choose a longish short. This was primarily because we wanted to wear trousers but all of had jeans and it was raining, so thought not to get jeans wet (as they are difficult to dry on the move).

We got ready and reached the point. When we arrived at the boat boarding point, from where trail starts, there was no one. After some time a French bearded person came and when asked he confirmed that he would be the guide for the trail and disappeared in a thatched hut. After a while we went to that hut and found him in his official cloths. He looked at us sternly and said, ‘you all need to wear trousers’. It was a surprise, not because we did not know that it is better to wear trousers in a forest but because ‘it is a must’ was not told to us at booking office. Well, we told him it is not possible to change at this stage and asked him “why should we”. The answer made me and my son feel adventuress and gave my daughter a fright. And the answer was, the forest is full of leeches and that’s why trouser is a must as a protection. There was no way we could go back and change so we pressed on.

The guide, we found out his name, Rajkumar, gave us anti leech socks, hard canvas like contraption worn over the socks and then shoes are put on. Then these ‘socks’ which are up to the knee are tied there. If trousers are worn, your lower body is leech proof and since the tee is also tucked in the protection is full, that was not the case with us as we were wearing shorts and three-fourths. My daughter was lucky that her three-fourth was safely tucked-in in the Anti Leech socks while me and my son had difficulty and certain parts around knee were covered with difficulty.

So after some anxious moments for our daughter who appeared mortally scared of leeches despite being the only one among three of us who was fully geared up. We finally set out for the trip. It began with a small crossing of the lake by a bamboo raft. That is where I found some of the leeches on my palm for the first time as I touched the raft surface to climb up. At that time I just plucked them by other hand and threw them. The guide, however, was bitten by one leech.

As we started walking on fringes of the forest, it was fun watching variety of things like mushrooms, many type of dragon flies, foot marks of elephants and elephant dung. We also sighted some Bison far away using binoculars. I have not seen so many varieties of dragon flies in one place. Some birds also were sighted. All along we faced some drizzle but throughout the leeches that were trying to get better of us by trying to climb up the Anti leech socks were our constant companions. Drizzle was countered by umbrellas that we had and leeches, just plucked them and threw them as they climbed higher. But how do you handle a problem when you get rid of one two more start climbing. By the time we finished about 45 min into the trip, both me and my son had at least one bite by leeches. The trip on the fringe of forest (outbound) lasted for about an hour. Then the time came to enter the forest.

Rajkaumar, the guide, stopped us and poured tobacco powder on our ankles and shoes. Reason, if there were hundred leeches on the fringes, there were thousands in the forest and tobacco keeps them at bay. As we entered the jungle and covered some bit of distance, it started pouring. The umbrella were helpful but to a limited extent. As such, in a thick forest, carrying them was problematic. The attack of leeches also had become more aggressive due to their sheer numbers. Were we bothered? My daughter was, to some extent, but self and son just wanted to enjoy. It was fun to be in thick foliage. At one spot there was a bad stench which the guide said is coming from tiger kill as tigers prefer to eat semi rotten meat for ease of digestion. We also saw some territory markings by tiger but tiger was not to be seen. We also found a fallen tree with hundreds of mushrooms growing out of it.

As we were nearing end of our trip after over two hours of walking, rain mercifully stopped and sun started shining. As we came out of forest and reached our raft point, the guide showed us Malabar Pit Viper sunbathing on a fallen branch of the tree partially submerged in water (the branch, not the viper). That became the high point of the trip. Also, as leeches do not like sunshine, there were many of them running away from the beaten path trying to get in to the shed. Their way of commuting (pun intended) was worth photographing, which we did.

After a quick crossing by raft we reached the guide’s hut where removing Anti Leech Socks and thereafter getting rid of leeches stuck inside the shoes became major evolution. Two other groups were getting ready to go for the trail and were very eager to find out about it and we were more then happy to give them inputs and encourage them. Why not, we had enjoyed the trip and felt happy to aid them to enjoy it. Over all it was worth visit. The guide confessed end of the trip that at the start time he did not expect us to come because of rain (other group had not turned up) and also that we as a group were good in the forest. He also confessed that mostly this trail is done by foreign tourists (and he had picked up an accent too, taking them along for the trail for many years) and the Indian tourists formed only a small percentage of the people doing the trail.

This affair with forest got over in two and half hour of walk in intermittent drizzle for some part, heavy downpour for about 45 min and about four bits to me and about right bites to my son from leeches. We were happy that my daughter did not suffer any bite, primarily because she was fully protected but also because she was mortally scared of leech bite.

The breakfast time at Periyar House was long over but they are very considerate and keep the breakfast for those guests who are on some kind of outings early morning. After a good breakfast, my wife and daughter headed for Ayurvedic Kerala massage to Kumali town. The afternoon boat trip on Periyar lake was booked by my wife in the morning at the reception (as the hotel also belonged to KTDC) for 1530 trip of KTDC boat. So it was only to wait for me and my son till the ladies come back.

My wife and daughter came back in about hour and a half, happy and content with the massage. The content was spilling on their faces too. They recommended it to me and I decided to look at it next day, time permitting. After a good lunch at Periyar house, we set out for boat ride. KTDC and Forest dept boats leave at the same time but KTDC boat is the first one to “cast off’ (leave the jetty, cast off is a typical naval term) and that has huge advantage of being first to see all animals who are on the shore of the lake (sometimes the tourists on board these boats make so much noise that the animals run in to thicker forest) and also have no fear that the animals may vanish because tourists in this boat are the first ones to make noise (if at all they make) and some times some animals may hide by the time forest boat comes to that spot, may be, that justifies the cost difference,

The trip was extremely fruitful with sighting of rare birds, Otters, Elephant (about six of them) , Bison, Barah Singhas, Wild Boar, etc. Sighting Otters was, as told by boat staff, rare. After this eventful and exciting trip we returned to Periyar House by about 1800 hrs.

Well there was hardly any thing except to enjoy each others company. We sat in the lobby and viewed some good movies on Periyar, Kerala, etc from the DVDs that the hotel had. There was also some commotion between Forest staff and hotel staff as few guests of the hotel had set out for the gate of the park on foot post sunset, a total No - No for own safety of the tourists. They were promptly detected, picked up in a mini bus and dropped off to the hotel by forest staff. After some time, we had our dinner and slept off with hopes of enjoying the next destination, Alleppy (Allapuzza, original and present official name), Venice of the East.

One important caution that must be written is to keep some kind of woolens with you for both Thekkadi and Munnar because when one would need it can not be predicted. We did not carry them and really missed them at both these places.
#7
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 5
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:48 - Comments (0)
Day Four - Munnar to Thekkadi (26 Oct 11)

Getting up at normal time of about 0630 Am and looking around the High Range Club and in the club to have a feel of this grand place one last time during this trip (and I mean it because I want to go back there once again) was a fun. Had our bountiful breakfast at the clubs dinning hall and also had a look at their historical bar where old members hats are hung (incidentally ladies are not permitted in the bar).

Finally we bid bye to Munnar are set out for Thekkadi. The road surface for first 25 km from Munnar was bad. Only plus points were natural beauty around and Lockhart Gap, a narrow road on the ledge of the hill with a fabulous view of series of hill ranges as far as one could see. Our 8 x 10 Olympus binoculars were really handy to enjoy the view of the ranges and the villages below the ledge. A stop at this place is a must.

The route in itself is incredibly beautiful. In fact short of Lockhart gap is a tea estate with the same name. Similarly about 17 km from Munnar is Periyakanal (also pronounced as periakanal) waterfall around which is the Periacanal Tea Estate. At about 20 km is Mahindra Resort. I think Sterling Resort is also somewhere there. In this hill stage of the road after the towns were left behind we witnessed mystical misty scenes for about 20 minutes where nothing could be seen beyond about 5 mtrs from the car. The fun gave way to fear as the situation continued for some more time. Eventually the fog receded.

As we progressed further the meandering hill road was left behind and the road reached plains. And then slight kind of climb started. There were spice gardens around us including black pepper, cardamom, etc. finally we reached Thekkadi and checked in at Periyar House of KTDC inside Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It was first of all big surprise to see a town so close to the main gate of a wild life sanctuary. Once inside, there was hardly any sign of the township which was so close by. After checking in we had a quick lunch to see if we can make it for a boat ride scheduled at 1530 hrs.

The boat ride in Periyar lake which gives a very good chance of viewing wildlife (where would animals go to have water but to this major water body). There are boats in the morning schedule (I think two trips) and afternoon schedule). Boats are run by Forest Dept (Rs 45 for a ride per person) and KTDC (Rs 150 per ride per person). The boats are big and are generally full (at least on week ends and holidays).

After a major tragedy some years ago where many lost their life due to sudden rush of people to one side of the boat to see animals on that side, the boat ride was closed. It restarted with adequate safeguards (like life jacket for all passengers including children, stricter control on people’s movement on the boat and also barricade put between the columns of seats so that people can not rush from one side to other.

On holidays, it is recommended to do advance booking of the boat ride for KTDC boat (permitted only if you are staying in one of the three KTDC properties in the reserve). For the forest boat, it is first come firs serve booking on the venue. Since we had not booked in advance, our attempt failed as the tickets were sold out (we reached the spot at 3 pm, if we had made it at 2.30 pm we might have got some tickets for forest or KTDC boat).

With no boat tickets and no progromme to follow, we decided to go to Kumali (name of the town nearby). This town was a small charming place with spice shops, hotels, a beautiful church on main triangle in the town and also all the touristy kind of shops for artifacts etc. There were one or two places of where Kathakali performance was being shown and one or two places where Kalayaripaitu, local martial art is showcased. There were also some Kerala Massage Centers with different names.

However, first thing we did was to go to forest department office where we booked Nature Trail in the morning of 26th. It is a 2 hr 30 min walking tour in the forest with a guide. Minimum number for booking is 4 pax with a cost of Rs 200 per person. Then we went around the town, photographed the church, spices in the shops, etc. We also purchased some more spices and found them cheaper compared to Munnar and as good in the quality contrary to the advice we had received earlier.

As we explored further and though of viewing the Kathakali show we realized a major problem. Entry and exit from the forest stops at 1800 hrs, where as the Kathakali programme, kalayaripaitu performance, etc last beyond 1800 hrs. Also there may be some kind of activities in the town like going to movie etc that one can not indulge beyond 1800 hrs if you are staying inside the forest. That is a major draw back of staying inside the forest which we realized once we reached the town . There are also the advantages like staying away from maddening crowd and in the company of only your family and very few other people. May be for honeymooners, the KTDC hotels inside the forest would be bliss.

It felt disappointing at first till our daughter came up with a idea that we go for Kathakali show (which was to end at 1830 hrs) and leave at 1755 so as to make it to the main gate of the forest at 1800 hrs. This idea helped us to view the show which had two parts, first one is getting to see the artists getting ready in the elaborate Kathakali way and in the second actual performance. It was nice to have gone for the show. We could watch it and still make it to the forest in time. Later we got to know that auto rickshaws may be allowed to enter and exit post 1800 hrs for some time.

Once inside the forest, there was nothing much to do but we found a group of tourist of Kesari Travels of Mumbai there at Periyar House. We stuck up conversation with them and realized that they are going to do Laxmi Pujan at 1930 hrs. When we checked up if we can join tem (being Diwali that day) they were more then happy. So we joined them for Diwali Puja and enjoyed few crackers (low or no noise variety) being burst by them, eat dinner and slept for the night as morning 0630 was our ‘Nature Trail’ slot booking.
#6
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 4
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:45 - Comments (0)
Day Three - Munnar Darshan (25 Oct 11)

This was the designated day for visiting places around Munnar. We left for Rajamalai National Park (also known as Eravikulam National Park) at 0910 Hrs. This place, though has 97sq km area, it is actually part of a vast range spread over a large area. This place is home to a special kind of goat called Nilgiri Tahr. It is said that about 50 % of world’s population is found in this area.

A 45 min drive took us to 5 mile point (from Munnar) where one has to get down from car and join forest department queue. This queue is to take tickets for a trip to Rajamalai forest by bus (run by forest dept). The road to Rajamalai is very narrow and two vehicle can cross each other at a few spots only. Also the fact that if vehicles are allowed they would cause huge amount of pollution, sending buses is a prudent decision.

The bus trip takes about 25 to 30 mins to reach at the discharge point. From here on one is free to climb further up to various points. The main attraction is the Nilgiri Tahr though. They have become very human friendly, so much so that two of them were seen right at the entrance. Since the buses run for sufficient time through the day the choice of exploration of the area is an individual choice.

Those who just go there for the sake of going find it disappointing to spend good three to four hours (from Munnar to Rajamalai and back) to just look at a type of Goat. As for me, the drive by forest bus, the scenery, the crisp air and the Nilgiri Tahr were worth the visit. Don’t forget to see a small museum at the entrance (on top) about the forest, at least we loved the museum.

We got to see the photos of the hills with Nilkuranji flower bloom (that happens every 12th year, next would be in 2018) that gets the hills round Ooty the name ‘Nilgiri’ (so is this area which becomes blue due to this bloom). We, for some reason, did not go very far in the forest (and it is not tropical one, thick etc but a shrubby one) but the trip, to my opinion, was worth though some readers may disagree.

The next stop was Tata Tea Museum at a distance of about 10 minutes from the 5 miles point. They have a conducted tour of history of the tea growing in the area (generally called ‘High Land’) around Kannan Devan hills. They also introduce the visitors to variety of teas and the production cycle of the tea. Varieties like CTC, pekoe, green and white teas are shown here. You can see process of CTC tea making. They also offer complimentary instant tea (generally a cup per visitor but they don’t say no if any one asks for extra cup). A very good movie called ‘New Road, Old Mountains’ also is shown in the museum and this 30 min movie is worth a definite watch.

A short drive from here takes you to a very important place to visit. It is called ‘Shristi complex.’ This is the complex which has a jam and preserve making unit, Tie and Dye unit, Paper Making and Paper product unit and a deli (bakery). This complex is CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) the Tata tea style. The whole complex is a testimony to commitment of Tata tea towards people facing various types of physical challenges and to the grit and determination of these people to prove their worth. Let me tell you, visit this place and you would know the enhanced self pride and the confidence of proving themselves which is visible on each of the face that you see.

Tie and dye unit called Aranya has mastered a Japanese technique of tie and dye as a new addition to their already rich capability. The paper unit Athulya is said to meet the stationary requirement of Tata group (I may have got it wrong but it definitely meets requirement of Tata Global Beverages Ltd). The Developmental Activities in Rehabilitative Education (DARE) or the vocational school is the one running the Preserve unit.

The complex has a shop selling all the products of Shrishti. The Deli has delicious and fresh bakery products available for visitors to eat. We eat some items as a substitute for Lunch. Only one caution at Shrishti in general and for Deli in particular, do not be in the hurry, have patience and the rewards will be worth the wait. Shrishti is a must visit place in Munnar.

Post enlightening visit to Shrishti complex we headed back to Munnar where our driver picked up his lunch. Next destination was Mettupatti and Kundala dams. We had decided to skip echo point and top station for want of time as we had spent half the day in the reserve and Shrishti. Mettupatti dam is a popular place among tourists and also a place where boating can be done. It is beautiful place in the midst of tea gardens and it is worth visit. The surrounding is touristy ie stalls for food stuff, handicrafts, etc are there like any other tourist place.

After a short visit to Mettupatti dam we pressed on to Kundala dam. It was further away from Munnar and hence less crowded. It is semicircular dam, much smaller then Mettupatti. The road, a narrow one takes you to other side where boat rides and Shikaras are available. A good and quiet place which is best suited for Honeymooners but it is also suitable for others. As it happens in the hills, when we reached Kundala at about 1600, the rain started and that forced our hand to return to Munnar as boating etc also stopped at Kundala because of rain. Evening was just relaxation.

Since High Range club had their Diwali function and since we knew none of the members we politely declined the invite to join the function. We decided to head to town for dinner and went to a Rajasthani place for dinner. Since I don’t remember the name, I would not hazard the guess about name as the food and the staff there were average and a wrong guess would do harm to the guessed establishment.

It was planning and packing for onward journey to Thekkadi and post dinner a good night’s sleep for all of us.
#5
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 3
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:34 - Comments (0)
Day 2 - Kochi – Munnar (24 Oct 11)

We knew that Munnar and way to Munnar are both beautiful. We left Kochi as planned at 0730 It is typical for Kerala to have stretches of kilometers of highways with civilization on both sides. It is difficult to find out when one town is finished and the other has started. The initial journey for about 40 odd kms were through the urban landscape and thereafter the thinning of civilization started. Since we had left early and wanted to have breakfast, we stopped at Cloud 9 Hotel at Kothamangalam, about 56 km from Kochi to have breakfast.

The stopover though turned out to be anticlimax with except for continental (sandwich, etc) dishes, the south Indian dishes were not as expected in kerala. This forced us to eat whatever was ordered and scoot from there. Luckily 13 kilometer down the road to Munnar from Kothamangala we came across 'Rasa Veg Restaurant'. The setting of the place and the rustic style attracted us. We went there to have just the Tea.


They have a rural setting with a hall for service and individual huts also. They however charge extra for service in the Huts (We were though not charged as we just had tea). Being bang on the NH the place has the potential to attract people. The lemon tea was very fresh and good.

After having tea, we set out for remaining part of the journey. The tough part of the journey was yet to come when the hill road started.

In the initial stages of the hill road, at about 81 km from Kochi, we came across a beautiful waterfall called Cheeapara (or Cheeyapara) Waterfall. A grand fall cascading about seven steps till it reaches the valley below is so attractive that none can pass through the road without stopping here.


Just the view of the fall itself is invigorating. Around the fall there are stalls selling variety of things to eat including fresh Pineapple, so fresh that I have not had it better than this place. It is also a good photo opportunity.

After our stop over, we moved forward towards Munnar. The road side was beautiful. Lush green hilly road was good to enjoy, the hitch was, my wife had started to feel travel sick, primarily because the road had turns every 300 to 500 meters. There was a spice garden en route where for Rs 100 per head one could take a conducted tour of garden. We gave a miss to this tour despite stopping there because children were not keen and wife had, by then become very travel sick must be because of breakfast, pineapples and the winding road.

We took off without the tour and reached straight to Munnar. The road surface was fair and the scenery was fabulous with tea gardens spread for as long as one could see or till they were interrupted by the hills. Eventually, we reached Munnar (High Range Club) by 1300 hrs after two stop over for breakfast and tea and one to cater for Shreya’s travel sickness at the point where Spice Garden is there.

We checked in at High Range club, a historical club seeped in old British military and planter’s traditions. The club house is meticulously maintained with its old charm intact with wooden floorings etc. Their Bar also has the heritage look and feels including no entry to Ladies. The rooms however are modern with air-conditioning and other amenities in place. They are also neat and clean.

High Range Club, Munnar, Main Club House

The location, though not on a hill overlooking the tea gardens, is beautiful as it may not be over looking but it is in the midst of tea gardens on one side. The club also has 18 hole Golf Course which definitely is a plus if you are a golf lover. They also have good garden to boost and exotic flora and fauna to gladden ones Heart. We had our lunch in the historical dinning hall with wooden flooring (real not the modern tiled version). Simple but stupendous meal served hot by their waiters and to top it, very good dessert to go at the end of it. The meal was enjoyable.





Some Exotic Flowers at High Range Club

By the time we were in Munnar, it had started raining (typical of hill region). Also. The climate and the scenery are the hallmarks of Munnar which otherwise still has small town norms and set up. Despite rains we decided to head for the town and look around (whatever is there to look around). We were advised to do shopping of Spices at Munnar. Hence also the market trip. We found the market to have old world small town charm (Indian variety and not the British one).

In the main market we went to a private shop and also an agent for Tata tea where we did our most of the shopping of spices, teas of different kinds like green tea, regular CTC, etc, homemade chocolates and soaps made of natural oils.


Though there are supposed to be good eating places but we could not see any in the main market. After the market trip, we returned to the High Range club and relaxed for the evening as the rain was still giving us company. The day was capped by a good dinner, once again at High Range club and a good nights sleep.
#4
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip - Part 2
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:27 - Comments (0)
Day One at Kochi (23 Oct 11)

We had planned to get up not very early and set off for Guruvayur by about 0730 hrs. We started off as planned. There were two options to travel to Guruvayur, a state highway SH 66 / SH 50 combination with NH 47 and 17 also appearing for small parts (96 km) from Earnakulam (Kochi) and second way was to travel from Kochi to Trissur (Trichur) on the beautifully developed NH47 and they divert to Guruvayur thereafter on SH 69 (112 km). We choose the option two.

While the road was good up to Trissur and OK thereafter, we reached Guruvayur around 1045 hrs. It turned out to be not a very good time to be there on a holiday. By the time we managed a Kerala type Lungi (and not any other type as it won’t do) for our son and put our footwear in the stand (which wanted the charges to be paid in advance unlike in other places where the charges are collected when one takes back the footwear) it was 1100. Incidentally, for last four years or so, ladies can wear Punjabi Suit with duppata to the temple. Earlier a sari was compulsory for the ladies.

The catch was, the temple has a major puja from 1130 and it restarts darshans at 1245 to close again at 1330 till about 1600. We got in to the Queue at 1100 but had to wait a lot as the pooja schedule came in between. There was also a worry that if we do not get darshans between 1240 and 1330 then what?

God wanted us to have the darshans so as the darshans started, we got our turn at about 1315. Big crowd ensured that we got very little time to have darshans and in a Kerala style temple with deity being deep inside, it became a just glimpse. Glimpse be it but it was satisfying and the feeling in the family was of the time well spent. Now was the turn of our tummys to seek attention as the preoccupation of the mind with darshans was over. We made a beeline for a local hotel and did the pampering of our stomach with local kerala food, appam and stew, rasam etc.

Having half a day well spent the time was about 1500 hrs. We decided to head for fort kochi. This was despite the fact that we knew that most of fort kochi (and also Earnakulam) is closed on Sunday.

We reached fort kochi by about 1800 hrs. went to Santa Cruiz cathedral. This is a cathedral which stands on the ground where a church of same name in wooden structure stood in the year 1503. This cathedral is not mentioned in many tourist guide books as the present structure is not as historical as the other neighborhood church called St Francis Church is but this is a real beauty to visit. Must visit this place in Fort Kochi. Another thing is, it is open on Sunday while other church is not.

Santa Cruiz cathedral
Jewish synagogue is also open on Sunday but on 23 Oct 11 it was closed for some religious ceremony. I am glad that they are able to conduct religious ceremony. Sometime back, according to one news report, the number of Jews had become so low that necessary quorum of adult jews for the prayer had become a problem.

Next we went to Chinese Fishing nets very next to St Francis church. A unique contraption in which a huge net tied at three places to a fulcrum structure is dipped in water for some time and then lifted up to yield catch of fish from the sea. It is said that early Chinese contact had brought this fishing technique to Kochi coast and hence the name. These nets were not being operated at that time so there was not much merit to stay back. We vowed to return to see these nets later and came back to our place of stay.

For dinner we went to Ceylon Bake House which, contrary to its nam,e is a full service restaurant on MG Road. This seemed their newer outlet because about 25 years ago I had been to their original outlet (again on MG Road around Jose Junction and I was told by the driver that it is still there and functional) because those days that was the only place which remained open till about 3 am or may be 3.30 am. Food even then was good.

In the outlet of Ceylon Bake House that we had gone, we went to their AC section which is independent of their non AC section. The food ordered was non veg kerala fare including Makabar or Kerala Paratha and Karimeen (a local pomfret type fish) curry and it was good. We called it a day post dinner in anticipation of the trip to Munnar next day morning.
#3
Kerala Over Land A Eight Day Trip
Now Playing: Now Playing: Kerla Over Land Kerla Over Land
Date Posted: Jan 12th, 2012 at 13:20 - Comments (0)
Planning Stage & Flight to Kochi

Since the time our daughter has started working and son is in College, going on holidays as a family had been difficult. Some how, after a long time, we as a family could manage holidays together. As the opportunity was clearly evident, we set out to decide where to go. I have been posted to Kochi for two years but our daughter was just 2 yrs and son was not born. Kerala was thus an unseen, unexplored territory for the children. Me and my wife also were looking forward to visiting kerala after years of gap.

Hence when the issue came up, the decision was simple and unanimous, kerala is where we were to go for our holidays. Accordingly the plans were made.

After much discussions the places to stay were finalized and they were High Range Club at Munnar, a old British style club with beautiful wooden flooring and gracefully maintained club house, Periyar House for Thekkady, a Kerala tourism property that was available out of the three they have in the Periyar wild life sanctuary and it was to be a home stay at Alappuzza (Alleppy). The bookings were done accordingly for stay and travel and then we started to prepare for the trip.

The plan that we made was as below:-

1 22 Oct 11 Evening Kochi Stay for 23 Oct 11
2 24 Oct 11 Morning Munnar by road Stay for 25 Oct 11
3 26 Oct 11 Morning Thekkady by road Stay for 27 Oct 11
4 28 Oct 11 Morning Allapuzza (Alleppy) by road
5 29 Oct 11 Kochi by road Return trip to Mumbai 30 Oct 11

There was lot of excitement and feelings about the visit. Our son was to travel from Nagpur and reach Mumbai on 22 Oct 11 at about lunch time. He reached on time and that made us ready for the trip. We left for Kochi by evening flight of AI. Reached Kochi by about 2000 and went to the accommodation booked through my office.

The question we were trying to answer was where to go on 23 Oct 11. Guruvayurappan (Lord Balkrishana) seemed to have beckoned us to meet him. The decision was thus made to go to Guruvayur temple. Since we had hired a Logan AC from airport to airport for the full trip, going anywhere at short notice as hardly an issue.
#2
Pench travelogue contunies
Date Posted: May 25th, 2010 at 18:40 - Comments (1)
Morning Safari on 10th May

We had to get up at 0400 hrs as Lallan, our Gypsy driver (one of the good ones at Pench) was to pick us up at 0500. We had a quick cup of tea at Kipling’s Court at 0455 hrs and Lallan arrived at dot 0500 hrs. We reached the Turia gate at 0510. After making the permit by showing him our web booking print out, I gave the permit and money to Lallan who did remaining formalities.

Sudama was our guide for this trip. We set out at 0530 hrs and ours was second vehicle into the forest. First we went to Junewani Talab, as last few sightings in the morning safari were here. There were many animals for whom the day break was just happening. Lake was full of life and merriment but obviously there were no tigers because if there were tigers, the remaining animal kingdom would be in super quiet mode.

After some wait we decided to look for other animals and also check other water points for tigers too. The sighting was good with all the animals that we saw yesterday were registering their presence with us with regularity. We also saw various types of Owls sitting in the voids of various trees, a pair of male and female jungle lizards again in a void of the tree. At a spot when we saw restless Deers and two Jackals we thought the Jackals were hounding the Deers. We were focused on jackals and here came Wild dog with near orange coat and black bushy tail (like German Shepherd dogs) charging behind the Deers. We saw the dog but even before Pranay could click his Canon 450 D, the deer and the dog chasing them vanished behind rocks. We got to see a wild dog but no photos could be clicked.

Driving further we saw variety of birds including two types of Eagles, Black Stork, scores of Peacocks, Jungle Fowl, etc. On the way to Hand Pump, there were pug marks of a tiger. Also at a spot on the route there was smell of Tiger Kill (dead Animal), so we went to Hand Pump region where yesterday two Gypsies had sighted the Tigresses with collar but no luck there too.


We decided to go to Elephant Camp at Alikatta and check for Tiger Show This is how the show works:-

Forest staff takes their Elephants out early in the morning and track tigers. At one such location they keep track of the animal and later as safari vehicles arrive the Elephant camp they are given token for sighting the Tiger in that location. The safari vehicle then takes you to that location where the tourists board the Elephant, go in the wilderness (where Gypsies can’t go) sight the Tiger and return to their vehicles. The charge per person is Rs 100 for this elephant ride and sighting.


There was a sighting very close to Elephant camp and we went there, boarded the Elephant and saw the Tiger (actually the Tigress with radio collar, the lead actress of BBC documentary, ‘The Spy in the Jungle’, available at Animal Planet (and other e commerce sites too) website for USD 19 only, other actors are her cubs) in flesh and blood for the first time resting under shrub kind of growth. She was the same animal whose pug marks we had seen.


There was a sense of fulfillment though I must admit that other sightings had already made our trips more than ‘Value for Money’. When we returned to Elephant camp (only place where toilets are available) as the group members found there way to rest rooms, we could witness Rotis being made for Elephants right from making the dough to making the Rotis (no stretch of imagination one can call such thick rotis ‘Chapatis’, if one does it all the Chapaties of the world would commit suicide). It was interesting to watch. Each Elephant is fed Chapatis of 10 kg dough apart from vegetation in the Jungle that they eat.

From this place we set out again to check Pench river bank and other water points. After all, we had seen only one Tiger where as as per 2005 census there are 33 Tigers in Pench Reserve and the actual numbers have only gone up. On our way we also saw Bison, herds of deer resting in the shed, some standing and some sitting comfortably. Another interesting sight was to see group of three female Langoors sitting around a tree trunk, huddled facing tree with their young ones clinging to their stomach sheltered from rapidly increasing heat of the jungle between the mothers and the tree.

Eventually it was nearing 0830 hrs and the guide and Lallan decided to try our luck at Junewani Talab yet again. Reason, for last four days, a pair of Tiger and Tigress has been sighted at Junewani around 0900 hrs. We reached Junewani at about 0905. A Tata 207 with two foreigners was the only vehicle waiting. The driver told us that Tiger roars and deer’s warning calls were being heard for last half an hour.

We also decided to camp there (in the gypsy, no one is allowed to get down from vehicle). At about 0910 hrs there was commotion among deers in the vicinity of a dry nullah which leads in to Junewani (though now blocked by bandh which also serves as road and a bank of the present lake created by this bandh. Sudama, our guide sensed that Tiger(s) is present near by. Then the roar was heard yet again.

Within 3-4 minutes Shreya (my wife) noticed some rapidly moving object in that area and alerted the guide who checked with his binocular and confirmed that it’s a Tiger. There was no further hint for next five minutes and suddenly out of no where a Tigress climbed from the dry nullah on to slightly higher ground. What a majestic sight it was to have an audience with King of the Jungle for the first ever time in the wild and in the open.

That was not the end of romance with Tiger for that day, it was merely a beginning. Soon yet another Tiger appeared and both sat there on the high ground. From there if they had to come to the lake they had to climb the bandh and climb down to the lake and the prospects of that happening looked good.

Soon enough the tigress started the climb, came up on the bandh, inspected the surrounding and walked down to the lake. She got into the water to cool herself and drink water. She sat down into the water and started drinking it intermittently. In another 3-4 minutes the Tiger came up on to the bandh but did not get in. He walked down to opposite side of the lake and got into water in repeat action of what the tigress was also doing.

As the tigers landed at the lake there was a pin drop silence among all the animals. The mischievous Langoors climbed the nearest tree. The small duck like birds (I was told the name but cant recollect) who were fishing into the pond just went underwater and came up to breath only to go underwater again. Peacocks and Pea hens went into hiding and there was a different kind of silence in the area. As the tiger’s roar was heard by other guides too, at the final count there were a total of six gypsies / Tata207 out of 28 that entered when tigers came.

After some time the Tigress came out of the pond and joined the Tiger on the other side of the pond in to the water. After about five minutes they both got up and walked into the nullah leading to Kalapahad. Soon we could not see them and the scene changed. The Langoors started playing vigorously as if they were trying to make up the lost time, the small duck like water birds came up and restarted fishing in the water, peacocks also could be seen. In fact one langoor rushed to water and drank water to his heart's content as soon as the tigers were out of the scene. What an experience it was.

How many in this world would get to see the Tigers up front and close? We were among the few lucky ones.Time was nearing 1000 hrs hence we returned from the Reserve. Had good breakfast at Kipling’s court and rested.
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