February 9, 2016

Jurong Bird Park: A Photo Essay

Asia's largest bird park with more than 400 species of birds numbering to more than 5000, Jurong Bird park is undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions in Singapore. Many natural environments have been created to help the birds feel at home. These include Lory Loft (has an Australian outback theme), Penguin Coast (houses more than a 100 penguins), Pelican Cove (a wide range of Pelicans can be seen here), Wings of Asia (numerous Asian avian fauna are bred here, including many threatened species) and many more. There are numerous bird shows and interactive sessions held here for the visitors. The bird park also has a breeding centre and known for its world's highest man made waterfall.



January 14, 2016

Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram: The Colourful Grandeur...!!

The tall and colourful gopuram (entrance gate) stood majestic amid the narrow crowded street that led to it. The street is lined with shops selling temple paraphernalia and a lot many other things. As I walked closer to the entrance, a shop keeper called out to keep my footwear at his shop. These shops double up as places where one can keep their footwear safe, apart from selling flowers and other offerings for the deity.

 Built in the 11th century during Chola period, the extensive architecture, exquisite Chola sculptures  and vibrant colouring embellishes the temple. The main deity is Lord Shiva in a dancing pose which is quite unique from the usual Shivlinga. There is also a Vishnu shrine within the same complex. The huge temple complex also has numerous sanctums, pillared halls and huge water tanks. Mahaa Kumbabhishekam is the major festival and the whole temple comes alive during that time. Chidambaram is also known for its yearly dance and music festival.

The 130 feet gopuram dwarfed me as I walked through its sculptured interiors. Colourful and intricate with sculptures of gods, figurines and animals, there are four such spellbinding entrance towers. The expansive courtyard which is known as Kanakasabhai spans out and was tough to walk on a blistering afternoon. I had to literally rush across the hot stone pave. Early mornings or evenings are ideal timings to walk around languorously. The temple elephant stood near the entry of the inner sanctum blessing the visitors and happily posing for photographs. Apart from Mahaa Kumbabhishekam, there are many Mahaabhishekams that are held throughout the year and I had arrived one one such day.  Numerous singers in their discerning attire had gathered and were singing hymns in one of the outer halls. I walked around to see more sculptures and architecture, but the blazing sun did not help much. Apart from the gopurams, the ceilings of outer sanctums and halls caught my attention with their colourful paintings depicting mythological stories. 

Tower and courtyard
Carvings on gopuram

Singing hymns

The inner sanctum (Chithsabhai) lined with more sculptures, carved pillars, and halls welcomed me as I put aside my camera (photography is not allowed in the inner sanctum). Surprisingly, it wasn't very crowded and didn't have to wade myself to get the blessings. Be wary of the priests who would force you to make huge contributions as offerings. I gave a wry smile and walked away as one called out. The huge spread of a variety of sanctified food (prasad) stood in my way as I walked through the pillared Chithsabhai, and I obliged delightfully. Though delicious, what perturbed me was the fact that it seemed more like a food stall where pilgrims could pick and choose their prasad. 

I did make a final dash around the courtyard to have a glimpse of the other gopurams and the huge water tank, Sivaganga, which has neatly paved steps with a pillared periphery.  Nataraja temple in Chidambaram is an ideal place to introduce yourself to Chola and Pallava (who did renovations later) architecture.

Getting there- Chidaambaram is well connected by road and rail to major towns like Madurai, Salem, Chennai and Bangalore. The closest airport is in Chennai.
Accommodation and Food- Chidambaram is a fairly big town and there are a wide range of options.

January 4, 2016

Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve

Vast open grasslands in Maidenahalli have been conserved as a reserve forest area to protect the black bucks (Antilope Cervicapra). Expansive open lands which seem endless has a dirt road meandering through its midriff with distant hills and tall grasses on either side. These gorgeous species of deer can be spotted sauntering across and raising its head on hearing a noise. Quite shy, they scamper away on hearing the slightest of sound. One can drive their private vehicle through the reserve and spot the bucks freely roaming around. There are a few watch towers which offer expansive vistas. The reserve also has numerous avian fauna apart from other mammals such as jackals and mongoose . The place is also known for its spectacular sunsets.

This reserve is definitely off the beaten path and with hardly any direction markers, requires quite an effort and numerous stops to ask the locals for directions. Hope the authorities would take interest to help visitors locate the place more comfortably. There are no hotels nearby and it is recommended to carry ample water.  

This is the second largest blackbuck reserve in Karnataka after the one in Ranebennur. Located in Tumkur district, near Maidenahalli village, this conservation reserve is about 125 Kms from Bangalore (via Doddabellapur- Gauribidanur- Kodigenahalli).

December 30, 2015

Goa: Hotels or Shacks?

Undoubtedly one of the most prominent tourist destinations in India, Goa is known for its gorgeous beaches and unending parties. There are other attractions for both, the tourists and the travellers, beyond the beaches such as Velha Goa, river cruises, waterfalls, Portuguese settlements and trek trails. However, other than the selective traveller who wants to go beyond the usual, not many explore those routes. Goa remains to be confined to the beaches, flea markets and shacks for most visitors.

The Goa coastline, which extends from Polem beach in the south to the Arambol beach in the North, has no dearth of accommodation options. Shacks, resorts and hotels in Goa are available across locations as tourism has meandered its way through every nook and corner of the coastline. Though luxurious resorts in Goa aren’t as ubiquitous as shacks or hotels, there are numerous resorts run by all major hospitality companies present across the state. Most of these resorts which include the Taj, Leela, Oberoi and many others have their properties located in central Goa, closer to the airport and offer a plethora of amenities and activities, but come at a price.

If one intends to travel on a budget or backpack across Goa, the ideal stay options would be hotels or shacks. When it comes to narrowing down, hotels offer more facilities compared to a beach shack but at a higher cost. You can avail cleaner rooms with attached bathrooms and other basic amenities. There are hotels which provide complimentary breakfast and that could be one reason to go for it. Hotels would definitely be a better bet if you are willing to spend a bit more during your budget travel and would like to spend your holiday in privacy and safe surroundings.

Shacks are a totally different experience. Mostly situated by the beach, they are pretty economical with little or no amenities. They might not be a favourite with tourists and families, but shacks or beach huts as they are sometimes called, possess a charm of its own. Loved mostly by backpackers, shacks definitely provide you with a feeling of leading a hippie lifestyle. The other exciting aspect is that you can fall asleep and wake up to the sounds of the waves outside your shack. This is a once in lifetime opportunity that you must not miss!

What is your preferred accommodation option while holidaying in Goa?

P.S.: This is a sponsored post, however opinions are my own.

December 17, 2015

Galibore Nature Camp

Cauvery gurgled its way beside the cottages with green hills in the background. The recent rains had swelled the river and green was the predominant colour. A few macaques monkeyed around as I sat in oblivion gazing at the flowing waters through the canopy in the foreground.

Galibore Nature camp, run by Jungle Lodges and resorts off Kanakapura main road is quite cut away from the main access road. The last stretch of 9 Kms is an enjoyable off- roading experience on an undulated mud road and puddles with Cauvery appearing intermittently along with odd wildlife sightings. This nature camp was earlier quite popular for its angling of Mahseer which were let off the hook once they were caught. Angling is presently banned here, however, the serene wilderness by the Cauvery is definitely a reason to head to this camp.

The activities began with a light trek to the top of a hill behind the property premises. One can either opt for this guided trek uphill or go for a nature walk. The guide waded his way through the tall grasses, and I like a dutiful pupil followed him. Half way up an aerial view of Cauvery through the canopy was visible, and the higher we went, the vistas turned panoramic. A sambar whizzed past us, a few meters away as it heard human intrusion. Hardly had a glimpse as it ran through the tall grasses. We waited patiently for it to return, but it scampered off further. In a while we were on top of the hill with magnificent panoramic vistas all over. It is a beautiful frame as Cauvery meanders peacefully through the thick foliage. The watch tower here offers more aerial vistas. We trudged down shortly after gazing at the views for a while. More tall grasses and slippery trail with stones made it a slightly precarious trek down. Back on the mud road in a while, we crossed over to rest and have lunch at the resort a few feet away from Cauvery.

Though fishing is no more allowed, coracle rides are a nice way to understand the river better. After a sumptuous lunch I got onto one of the coracles to go down the stream. Cauvery flowed beautifully as my boatman kept searching for crocodiles to frame. The bright sun, clear skies and the wedged Cauvery between the verdant green hills made a nice frame as the search for crocodiles continued. We spotted a quite a few by the banks. They were quite vigil despite their laid back sunbath and quietly slipped into the waters, the moment our coracle went closer. Birds in various hues and sizes were also seen fluttering all over and it included kingfishers, cormorants, lapwings and many more. There are more than hundreds of species of birds found near this camp as per my boatman.

An hour later, we were back on the bank waiting for the vehicle to transport me back to the resort. As we waited, I realised that every frame of the gleaming Cauvery looked beautiful. The jutting rocks, the thick deciduous forests on the other bank and the blue sky further accentuated it. On the way back sighted a herd of spotted deer who were startled by the noise of the vehicle and strolled away. More relaxing moments and a cup of coffee later, I was back manoeuvring the undulated mud road that led out of the camp and away from Cauvery.

A night stay is recommended at the camp as this makes the experience more relaxing and enjoyable. The neat tented cottages has all the basic amenities required. The hammocks outside each tent is an ideal place for a siesta under the shade. 

Signing Note- Relax amidst wilderness by the Cauvery...!!

Route- Bangalore- Kanakapura- Mekedatu- Galibore
Distance- 110 Kms

Dandeli.com is a comprehensive website which helps travellers visit this wonderful nature camp and makes their stay a memorable one. For more travel information, booking and reservation, please contact Mr.Ramnath at 09449244567. You can mail them at book@dandeli.com.

P.S.- I was invited by Dandeli.com to visit Galibore Nature Camp. 

November 4, 2015

5 Things You Shouldn’t Miss When You Visit Goa

A lauded vacation spot located on the western coast of India, Goa is undeniably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Sandwiched between Maharashtra in the north and Karnataka in the south and east, this tiny state is world famous!

As befits the tourist capital of the nation, Goa is very well-connected to all the major cities across India. The nearest airport is situated just 26 km away from the capital, Panaji. Goa also boasts of two well-connected railway stations, which are situated in Thivim and Madgaon.

Although Goa is synonymous with beaches and parties, that’s not all you can experience there. In addition to its scenic beaches, Goa also boasts of a rich past, with remnants of Portuguese culture and architecture. Though it’s difficult to see all of Goa in one visit, here are 5 things that you definitely need to experience while you’re there.

Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Apart from offering several relaxing options like mouth-watering seafood, live music, and amazing cocktails, the coconut-fringed beaches of Goa also boast of plenty of options for you to get your blood pumping. Yes, we are talking water sports! The number of water adventures you can partake in are numerous. The list of activities includes jet skiing, parasailing, scuba diving, surfing, and snorkelling, and are available on the lively beaches of North Goa, such as Baga, Calangute, and Anjuna. Now, whether you want to enjoy a bird's-eye view of Goa while parasailing, or swim with colourful fish underwater whilst scuba diving, the choice is completely yours!

Catch Dolphins In Action

Taking a cruise in the afternoon from Sinquerim beach to see a school of dolphins will certainly be a memory you will cherish for life. Your kids will be more than happy to catch a glimpse of these friendly mammals frolicking in the water. Combine with a visit to the seventeenth-century Portuguese fort of Aguada in the backdrop, this is an experience you won’t forget anytime soon. 

Experience Some Portuguese Charm

Get a deep insight into the region’s rich history and culture by visiting the beautiful towns of Old Goa. Goa still shows signs of its rich Portuguese roots with well-preserved churches, government buildings, and old houses. These old buildings dominate the urban landscape of the capital town of Panaji, giving  rise to the name ‘Rome of the East’. Basilica of Bom Jesus and Se De Santa Catarina are two of the most visited tourist spots in Goa.

Play Your Cards Right

Goa is one of those very few places in India where you will find casinos. So, it’s not surprising that a floating one is such a big attraction. Whether you want to try your hand at gambling or just want to spend an entertaining evening with some delicious wine, the floating 5-star casino is an ideal place to spend an evening. Engaging live musicals and delicious seafood are some of the other reasons that you should take one of these cruises.

Spend Some Time With Nature

Visit the spice plantations in the Ponda, also known as the Sahakari spice plantation. Savour some traditional Goan delicacies cooked with freshly ground spices. Visiting Dudhsagar Falls should also be on your to-do list if you are a nature lover. This 1017-foot waterfall offers breathtaking views and is a scenic feast for the eyes.

Where Should You Stay?

Opting for a suitable accommodation is as important as planning the itinerary. Hence, you should consider choosing one of the best resorts in Goa, which fits your budget and meets all your requirements. If you’re looking for luxury and serenity, then opting for Goa-Club Estadia, a Sterling Holidays Resort is an excellent option. This Spanish-style villa is located in Alto Porvorim, near Calangute beach, and features several relaxing aspects such as lush green gardens and a swimming pool. The in-house multi-cuisine restaurant will satisfy the pickiest eaters with delicious Indian and Goan delicacies.

Resorts in Bangalore

Bangaloreans are well known for their love for vacations. Weekends are mostly spent outside Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. Hectic work schedules clubbed with exciting long weekends make most city dwellers leave for quick getaways from the city. Bangalore being ideally located, there is no dearth of places for one to find an escape. Located anywhere between 150 km and 250 km, there are numerous exciting destinations such as Mysore, Coorg, Wayanad, Ooty, Bandipur, and Chikmagalur.

However, most of these require a good amount of time to plan, book and chalk out the itinerary. Also, many of these places would need a minimum of 3– 4 days to explore to do justice to it. When it is just a weekend, the options dwindle, but the itchy feet as always crave for city breaks. Weekend vacations have become quite frequent outings, and are like power naps. They give the much-required break and energise you, however short they are. 

At distances as short as 50 Kms, there are numerous resorts in Bangalore that have sprung up on Mysore road, Kanakapura road, off international airport road, Sarjapur road, etc. Angsana resort, Eagleton golf resort, Elim resort, Goldfinch retreat, Our Native Village, Wonderla resort, etc. are some of the most well known and sought after ones in the outskirts of the city. Set amidst a serene locality, away from the maddening crowd, traffic and pollution, these resorts have become the most sought-after weekend getaways. Facilities and activities include sprawling gardens, large swimming pools, various indoor games, spas, and much more. Many resorts also have numerous activities for children; some even promote yoga. Some like ‘Our Native Village’ try to bring in the rustic village charm with pottery classes and bullock cart rides within the premises. Add to this cosy rooms, quality service, and delicious food, and it sums up a wonderful weekend break away from Bangalore. However, these getaways are slowly catching up with the Bangalore crowd, and it is advised to book the rooms much in advance.

With many options to choose from, weekends in Bangalore are no more confined to mall crawling and street walking. Instead, it is all about breathing some fresh air away from civilization, amidst greenery and serenity.

This is a sponsored post, however opinions are my own.

Indian Rail Journeys

If you wish to make travel experience across India truly memorable, one of the most exciting means to experience travel is by taking a train journey with Indian railway. The Indian railway, with its wide network, takes you to various corners of this diverse land. The landscapes it passes through, the bridges it runs over, the tunnels it speeds through, the numerous lakes and rivers it cuts across and the long list of big, small and unknown stations it stops/passes by are a real treat for any traveller to soak in. The journey throws up a totally new aspect about the country and its diversity. One would witness the setting sun over the arid landscapes of northern Karnataka and wake up to the rising sun over the green landscapes of central Maharashtra the next the day. How beautiful is that?

Not to miss out are the delicious local short eat outs, which vary from station to station. Another interesting part of a train journey is the numerous people you meet on-board. The interactions and the numerous vivid conversations make the journey a very lively one. Similar are the calls of the tea vendor, the groundnut seller or the book seller, which would remain with you long after you have disembarked.

The longer the journey, the more experiences you collect along the way. A journey on Vivek Express (between Kanyakumari and Dibrugarh) or the Himsagar Express (between Kanykumari and Jammu Tawi) would be a breath-taking experience. However, the smaller ones are no short of excitement. Even a ride as short on a passenger train between Shoranur and Nilambur Road in Kerala, which is considered to be one of the oldest rail tracks in the country is a delightful one with gorgeous landscapes splashed all over. The mountain rails which include Kalka–Shimla railway, Matheran Hill railway, Kangra Valley railway, Nilgiri Mountain railway and Darjeeling Himalayan railway are an integral part of Indian railways. Here one would say, ‘slower the ride the better’, as the landscapes are absolutely delightful. One can gaze at them in oblivion throughout the journey and would still remain hungry for more.

Every train journey evokes a sense of nostalgia and déjà vu. Personally, the most etched frames from my many train journeys are those of the deserted tiny stations where the train does not stop. Those few seconds, during which the guard appears so close that the next moment when he goes far away, myriad emotions come forth. He stands there all alone and waves the green flag until the last bogie goes past the curve. Train journeys across India have always and will always be memorable and exciting. Ideally, one of the best ways to experience India is to take a train journey.

This is a sponsored post, but opinions are my own.

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