Category Archives: Travel

The greenery awaits you as you make your way through the forest

Forays into the forest: Here’s why I love it!

I look forward to opportunities to travel to the different jungles and reserves in India whenever I can. We don’t realise it but we’re really lucky – there are so many (still) to choose from. Most states boast of such rich flora, fauna and reserved forests and I am still discovering many of them. I’ve written about my experience in Kaziranga, the amazingly beautiful sanctuary in Assam and home to the endangered rhino.

safari

Last December, I travelled into the dense and magical jungles of Kanha and came back mesmerised. What variety and beauty around every corner. Every trip into the forest was filled with surprises and delightful encounters. So what if I didn’t spot the elusive cat (well, that’s another story, for another day!) but I’ve loved every adventure into the forest.

Male spotted deer

This time, it was an opportunity to visit the Kali Adventure Camp, thanks to Jungle Lodges, and though the monsoons have set in, I still thought it would be a good experience. I was also lucky to be in the company of Supriya Sehgal, who blogs at Teafortravel and is a well-known author of several Lonely Planet guides. So I was in good company!

The green view from the cottage of the Kali River Camp, Dandeli

Here’s why I love my adventures into the forest…

A chance to take in the peace and quiet

I frankly much prefer the chirping of birds, the cacophony of cicadas or the call of a deer. We easily call it noise, but it’s more like sounds of the jungle. And I would rather listen to these sounds than the constant honking of vehicles in the city, where people are in a mad rush to reach Lord only knows where and create such a ruckus in the process.

Into the forest

The jungle on the other hand is the last refuge of a different kind of quietude. Some people call it “dull”. Some people don’t actually know what to do with themselves in a forest. There’s a stillness that can be a balm in our hurried lives. I think if you want to just step back for a while, and let a different kind of peace wash over you, the forest is the place to head to.

The anticipation of what’s to come

Arjun our guide on this trip has his ears and eyes attuned to everything; even the slightest movement catches his eye. It’s interesting to watch naturalists in their habitat and at work. They are extremely sharp and develop an innate sense of knowing when an animal is nearby. Their ears alert to even the smallest of sounds. I remember a time in Kanha, when we sighted a dead sambar on the roadside. It was definitely a tiger kill, and we thought he would come back for his lunch. So we waited there for nearly an hour.

Tiger kill

There’s nothing much you can do really but hope during this period. And anticipate. And try and predict which way the animal might appear from. Sadly, it was not to be. The tiger was in no mood to appease our hunger for a sighting. But a lot of the fun was in the anticipation.

You’re alert, you know there are many eyes watching you from behind the tall bushes and grasses. But whether you get to see them is a matter of your luck and chance! The animals are not going to give you anything on a platter for sure.

The thrill of the sighting

While most people think they’ll see a tiger the first time they go out into the forest, the chances are actually quite low. Arjun tells us that there are around 15 tigers in this massive Dandeli-Anshi stretch. Imagine the possibility of a tiger in your path just as you happen to be on a safari. You can just calculate and imagine the chance. It’s rather low. But there are so many other animals in the forest, that while you’re possibly looking to sight a tiger, it’s really interesting to see other animals in their natural habitat. Many endangered, rare and quite shy of any thing that resembles a human being. Arjun spots a pack of wild jackals in a far away bush. Something we would never have seen without his help. Jackals are shy (like most other animals) and we are lucky to sight 3 of them in a pack. They look at us too for a moment. It must be a better sighting for them I’m thinking. There are 4 of us.

Then there are the spotted deer who stare at us when we are quite a distance away. Or dash across the road trying to avoid us. But as soon as we approach, they skitter away.

The shy spotted deer looking at us before disappearing into the bushes

High up on a tree is the serpent eagle, regal and patient, waiting to spot his prey on the ground. Once he catches sight, he will swoop down and catch it, leaving his prey very little chance to escape. On another branch is the pretty peacock, exhibiting his feathers in a downward swoop and letting us admire him from afar. When he’s had enough, he disappears into the wild.

The thrill of a sighting can keep a wildlife lover in raptures for hours, days and even years!

It’s a lush, human free zone

There’s something I really like about the fact that the forest is lush, green and also an area where there are very few humans. The forest is one last refuge that we must guard strongly. Especially, in a country teeming with a billion and a half people, it’s absolutely refreshing to not sight another human. Though I was deeply disappointed when at the end of our safari, we encountered a jeep filled with loud tourists, whose group contained two women wearing yellow neon-coloured clothing and a few guys wearing the shiny multi-coloured sunglasses.

So, yes – there are those who have absolutely no idea about the rules of the forest and it’s sad that people carry their city behaviour and bad habits back to the forest. I wish there was a way in which such people could be banned from entering. They deserve to live only in the cities and not be let out.

But otherwise, the monsoons are a low peak season so not too many people venture to these parts. I’m glad we did though. Despite the showers, we did sight animals and enjoyed the lushness that the forest offers during this season. An an interesting fact to know: Karnataka’s forests are open throughout the year, unlike many others which close down during the rains.

The forest is lush and green and so beautiful during the rains

Just as we were exiting the reserve, we catch a glimpse of this beautiful guy with rippling muscles. The Indian gaur, in case you were thinking of a Bollywood actor. The gaur is a rather huge creature and with his impressive horns; you don’t want to be too close. He looked up for a bit to give us a pointed stare and then went back to his busy work task of chomping on something green. Was he scaring us off to say don’t come back too often?
Just after he went back to his meal of the day!
But, despite his word of warning, I know I’ll be back.

About Jungle Lodges
Jungle Lodges operates 16 resorts spread all across Karnataka including Bheemeshwari, Dandeli, Devbagh, Bandipur, Kabini, Bidar amongst many others. Accommodations varies from tents to rooms to independent cottages. Besides, there are 3 resorts operated on management contract. The company promotes eco-tourism, wildlife tourism, adventure tourism and various outdoor activities like trekking, camping, white water rafting, fishing etc., that are non consumptive components of eco-tourism and in general help in environment conservation.

Visit:
Jungle Lodges | Facebook | JLR Explore

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Vietnam: A few first impressions

This was a different kind of trip. I didn’t do much research since my fellow traveller and photographer Hema took control of everything including the planning and organising (which I usually enjoy doing for my trips). For a change, I took a backseat as I was already busy planning an all girl’s trip to Wayanad. So I didn’t really have any notions/impressions except a guide book that I’d borrowed from a friend.

The guidebook indicated there were a few scams in some parts of Vietnam. But we didn’t come across any such unpleasant experiences. However, another group we met did tell us that cab drivers purposely take long routes even if the places are close by, just to make an extra buck. But after dealing with auto drivers in Bangalore, I think one is armed to take on a few greedy errant taxi drivers.

At no point during our trip did we actually feel threatened or unsafe in Vietnam. (In fact, I have at time felt more unsafe in some parts of India). The people are quite stoic but once you converse with them (or try as their English is very limited), they are quite friendly. Except for one very surly cab driver (he was definitely unhappy with his life) people were generally quite nice. English is not their strong point, but with a lot of effort (and gestures) usually we got our message across. Sometimes not successfully. But no matter. We managed to navigate despite all of these issues.

Streets of Hanoi

We walked out of our hotel located in District 1, Saigon on our last night and there were people everywhere. This was at 1130 pm at night. There were people singing, eating, drinking, chatting and generally lounging around till 3 am in the morning. Unlike Bangalore, where you feel like a criminal at 11 pm, this was place was just the opposite. Many street side pubs were also cashing in on football fever.

Night life in Hanoi

There are millions of motorbikes in the cities, especially Hanoi and HCM which we visited. Interesting though the fact that even despite heavy traffic, there is lesser (noticeable) aggression. In India, we’d be punching one another and bringing our dear departed generations into our brawls. However, the Vietnamese all congregate in the center of the road, at the same time, and then make their way around each other. Magically, everyone finds a way. In the few times we went out, we didn’t see too many folks lose their temper. The honking is relatively lesser too.

Two wheelers rule the streets

And then there are cyclists. Even in the middle of this chaos, cyclists of all ages made their way on two wheels. And they didn’t seem to be bullied into corners or edges of the street, unlike what happens in India. They were very much a part of the ecosystem, demanding an equal share of the road. No one was treated as a lesser mortal on the road because they happened to be on a cycle. And there were so many women, girls, older folks cycling even in peak hour that I was quite amazed. I even saw a dad with two of his young sons cycling on a busy road (a sight that you’ll be hard pressed to see here).

Everyone cycles - old and young

Everyone is a moving market!

Masks are a fashion statement. And supposedly keep pollution at bay. I’m not sure about the efficacy of these masks, which mostly women wear. They adorn every second face. A young university student called Ly I met on a bus said women are very beauty conscious and basically do it to protect their skin from the sun and pollution. I was tempted to buy one for myself, but couldn’t find a mask with cats on it.

Street corners and roads are relatively clean. I saw a lot of sweeping going on in the mornings. This might also be due to the fact that the Vietnamese eat on the streets all the time so they probably want to keep it clean. Except some parts where there was littering (like the China town area in HCM), largely the garbage disposal system seems to be working. And people seem to be a bit more conscious of littering than us Indians.

Street food is a way of life

There is excessive use of thin plastic bags everywhere. They possibly don’t know how much harm all this will do to their environment (yet), but shopkeepers are only too eager to flash out the bags even for the smallest purchase. Whether it’s water, chips, biscuits or anything you buy, the first thing you get is this flimsy plastic bag. And tourists are equally responsible for accepting these despite the fact that everyone is carrying a rucksack or a bag they can carry the stuff in.

Packing it in

Clean rest rooms (and no smell!). What a boon. Especially coming from a country like India where the level of sanitation can drop to dismal lows, I was really thrilled to find clean loos. And most of them didn’t smell. I’m not sure how or what they did, but they didn’t announce their presence the way Indian loos did. Even in remote villages and towns, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness and accessibility of restrooms, a major concern for travellers in India. And hardly anyone pees on the road (if it’s practiced, it wasn’t as noticeable as in our country).

Connected everywhere!. This was surprising as we were gearing up to be off the network for a few days. In fact, my fellow travellers armed themselves with local SIMs, which I decided not to go in for. And there was connectivity everywhere – whether it was the hotels, cafes, restaurants, a rustic home stay in a remote village or even our cruise boat on Halong Bay. Wi-Fi is a given and most places will let you use it for free. We actually weren’t off the network anywhere at all!

There are no overweight/obese people in Vietnam. This is actually true. In all our travels there, we didn’t come across one overweight person. Everyone seems to come out of the same sized mould! Despite the fact that their portions are generous and everyone is eating all the time. They’re doing something very right. I want their secret!

Enjoyed the trip immensely and wouldn’t mind returning to see parts of the country, which we missed out this time around.

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Why buy when you can try? Camera Equipment from Bookmylens.com

I’m super thrilled to announce my photography gear/equipment partner, Bookmylens.com, a camera and lens rental service based in Bangalore. They also offer additional services like photo editing, and monitor calibrating services.

FACEBOOK: BookMyLens | TWITTER: @bookmylens

On my Wayanad trip earlier in the month, I tried out a Canon 500D and a 17-85 mm lens and most of the photos from my earlier post was taken by this camera.

For me, photography is a way in which I can bring my stories alive. And it makes sense therefore to take updated gear and lenses when on a trip. But I discovered that you don’t really need to buy so much equipment, when you can easily just try it out for affordable prices instead. That way, depending on the kind of trip you’re going on and what you’re planning to do – you can decide on the equipment you want to carry. It’s a much better deal according to me, rather than accumulating a lot of equipment, which you might use only sporadically. Not to mention the fact that equipment can get frightfully expensive.

Goutham Shankar, who is the founder of BookMyLens (with a lot of support from his friends, family and customers, he says) answered a few questions I had of their service and I am sure you’ll find them useful too.

Q1. When did you start off and how did it happen?

BookMyLens is a photography equipment rental service company. We provide an easy and quick service for photography enthusiasts to experience all kinds of photography related equipments.

We have wide range of equipment covering entry level DSLRs, Pro-DSLRs, and Lenses ranging from 50mm to 600mm, video equipment (including our newly acquired cinema cameras like Black Magic), support rigs, audio equipment used for video shooting etc. which are used by budding photographers, wildlife photographers, wedding photographers, short filmmakers alike.

I started testing the waters sometime early 2011 and within a period of 5-6 months I was convinced with the business model, which I had in mind. By Sep 2012, I quit my IT job and started full time.

First and foremost reason for me to start this venture was my passion for photography. Having started as an amateur photographer in early 2005, which slowly turned out to be serious hobby over a period of time. That’s when I realized that not everyone could afford to buy photography related equipment owing to the huge cost and hassles involved in procuring them here, also felt the need for have different equipments under one roof.

I could figure out a huge potential in the market with just not hobbyist photographers but also for ad agencies, event companies, short filmmakers, wedding photographers etc., the demand is going to increase in the future.

I realized a rental service providing high quality gear at affordable prices was essential.

Q2. How has the scene changed over the years?

There has been a fantastic response (+ve). Lot of people want to try their hands on photography without the need of spending huge amount on buying these expensive equipments. On the other hand, there are lot of other rental companys which have come up in recent times which has lead to price wars.

Q3. Any bad experience or learnings in the last few years – things you hadn’t accounted for?

Lot of learnings, everyday there is a learning as in when we meet different customers. Lot of things we learnt and implemented it in a jiffy to make the entire business model stronger.

Q4. So who is your typical customer?

It’s a mixture of professional / amateurs. Apart from that we have lot of companys who rent our equipments for their in-house shoots.

Q5. What would you say your USP is? Why should someone come to you?

The market for photography is growing day by day exponentially. People have started to realise the ability to rent any kind of equipment without spending huge amounts.

There is a high demand for the same and so are the services available. One has to take care of all aspects including providing high quality gear, delivery/pick up and guiding people for picking the right equipment.

Our aim is to provide the best in class lenses, DSLRs, video equipments and accessories at affordable rentals and we believe that our service and range speaks for itself.

If you want to try out their services, head across to BookMyLens.com

Six reasons why you should travel in the monsoons

I’m sure there are more, but let’s start with six. In fact, while many tourists shy away from travelling because it’s raining, true travellers will tell you that a place can be enjoyed despite the rain. It’s a mindset that you need to avoid a destination when it rains. Unless, it happens to be a big city. In which case I would say avoid it like plague. You don’t want to deal with clogged roads, drainage overflowing, traffic jams and all the associated issues that the rains bring to our very well planned cities.

A little piece of paradise
The view from a tea garden in Pozhuthana, Wayanad

Anyway, this is about the monsoons. And why it’s a great time to travel. Any place takes on a different hue during the rains. I was in Goa last year for 3 weeks and had the time of my life despite the torrential downpours.

It’s lush and green

The valley before you spreads out like a lush carpet. The roads are framed by green trees and grass on both sides. The hills are showing off their full foliage, again in green. It’s so green that if you’re not used to it, you’d probably need tinted glasses to tone it down. But seriously, green is definitely the colour of the season and we all know that it’s the best one to get your relaxed and rejuvenated. Nature really wears this colour well.

boys having fun
A sight for sore eyes!

You get better deals

You might need to look around a bit and even ask for discounts, but this is a season where you will get lower prices from a lot of home stays, resorts, hotels. If you’re not sure, just ask them. We are spoilt for choose today in the array of options available. And in this era of social media, even if we don’t look for them, they will probably land up in our stream anyway.

Lesser people to fight with for space

So one of the reasons I travel is to get away from the city (where I clearly see the alarming impact of producing a billion and more people) to smaller destinations and locations where you’ll see a soul once in a while. Get away from the madding crowds, the hoi-polloi and give yourself some breathing space. I love the feeling and I recommend it to everyone (at least once in a while).

Nestled in between
Choose places a bit away from the main towns – usually they’re much more peaceful and calm

There’s colour everywhere

Just before the onset of the monsoons, it’s a pretty sight all around. While on a walk outside today in Wayanad where I am currently, I saw so much variety in foliage that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking everything in sight. From vivid reds, to oranges, to colourful yellows and pretty pinks – there are beautiful blossoms everywhere adding to the prettiness quotient of your frames.

A time for blossoms
It’s amazingly pretty this time of the year and you need to step out to witness nature’s gorgeous hues

Carrying a torch for you
A flower called ginger torch that I saw for the first time

Rediscover the joy of getting soaked

I remember as kids, we loved getting wet in the rains. In fact, we would wait impatiently so we could all rush out and do our rain dance. Our parents had to cajole us to come indoors since we would just be out for hours on end. But what a feeling. Do it sometime. Just get wet. Feel the rain on your skin. Instead of running for a raincoat or an umbrella, soak in the sensation of a rain bath. I can tell you from experience – it’s true joy. Last year, on a trek in Wayanad, I got soaked to the skin as it started pouring cats and dogs. But once I gave in to it, began to enjoy the feeling, I realised that I need to let go. (And yes, we will eventually dry off.)

Comparing notes
With or without rain gear, have some fun

Smell the coffee. And the flowers

The monuments are done and dusted. The hectic sightseeing has been completed. Now, just sit on your balcony and watch the rain. Meditate. Open the door of your room and just relax. Do yoga. Listen to the birds. The rains are a great time to just not venture out and give yourself the “me” time you so badly need (and you didn’t even know)!

A welcome view
I totally believe in doing nothing holidays – they are good for the soul

ADDENDUM:

Another reason, contributed by a friend

Monsoons are the best time for ayurvedic massages

So, during the Kerala Blog Express, we met a doctor at the Manaltheeram Ayurvedic resort who told us about how the ayurvedic massage is the most effective during the rainy season. In fact, many guests come specifically during this period for treatments. A combination of the temperature, rains and other factors all adds to increasing the effectiveness of the oils. So, isn’t this reason enough?!

So there – I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to step out this rainy season. And if you did, or plan to, do share your “getting soaked” experience!

More photos on Flickr

(NOTE: On this trip, I am using the Canon 500D body and the 17-85 mm lens. All photos [except no 3 and 7 from an earlier collection] in the post are with this equipment provided my photography gear & equipment partner, “Book My Lens”. I’m happy to announce them as a partner and I’m quite impressed with the kind of services they provide. They are a photography equipment rental service based in Bangalore which provides quick service for photography enthusiasts who want to experience all lenses and accessories from Canon and Nikon. Their aim is to provide the best in class, at affordable prices. Do check them out on bookmylens.com)

Happy in Kerala!

Finding happiness in Kerala!

Pharrell Williams set off a really large happy virus when he released his “Happy” song. Now there thousands of versions around the world now with everyone hooked into making their own videos and if you haven’t starred in one yet, make sure you do it quickly. It’s catchy, fun and good for your soul!

We made one during the Kerala trip, thanks to the camera work of Anthony, who’s captured some amazing shots of us dancing (and trying to dance) to the tune in scenic locations during our 15 day journey. Well, it’s difficult not to be happy in Kerala!

And go make your own happy video now!

Yoga

And this is how we bend it!

After 15 days on the road, the Kerala Blog Express chugged into Cochin and came to a halt. It’s been fun. It’s been tiring. It’s been exciting. Yes, it’s been quite a trip.

And instead of writing about more sights or sounds, here’s a fun post. Introducing some of my fellow passengers on board the Kerala Blog Express (KBE) 2014. It’s been fun getting to know them and though it’s impossible to cover everyone, but here’s an attempt to present a few. And with a twist. Yes – I’ve convinced, sweet talked and arm twisted them to do various yoga poses with me.

A disclaimer – these might not be “real” yoga poses, but we should at least get brownie points for trying.

Daniel Nunes Gonsalves
Daniel is from Brazil and is a very well-known journalist and writes for several high profile publications in his home country. He’s in India for the second time and is excited to be Kerala. From here, he goes onto Ethiopia for an assignment (I’m jealous!), before flying home. And I have a new friend in Brazil now. Besides the scuba diving, we’re going to do in New Zealand! Right?

Gaia Calheiros

Gaia, is also from Brazil and has been a very popular DJ in the country. She’s also a journalist and blogs here. She also knows more about Hindu gods than I do. And looks rather Indian when she’s dressed in a salwar kameez, which she grew pretty fond of of wearing! I definitely want to grow my twitter following to hers, even if it takes another decade!

Nelson Carvalheiro
Nelson Carvalheiro is from Portugal and an extremely prolific food and travel photographer, now based in Berlin. He’s got years of experience in the food/hotel industry. This is where he blogs and he has about a gazillion followers on twitter too.

Emanuele Siracusa
Emanuele is from Italy, but an avid traveller having lived in Thailand recently for a few months. He’s now on the way to Portugal to be reunited with the other half of the Siracusas. And then start planning his next trip! He loves travelling and discovering new places – don’t we all?

Ola Wysocka
Ola is from Poland but loves travelling to different parts of the world. Doesn’t like the cold (and she lives in Warsaw!) and is enjoying the Kerala sunshine. She usually travels with her husband and her two kids, all of them true travel enthusiasts. They travelled across the US in a trailer for six months last year. She also runs a coffee place in Poland and I have been promised a good cup of coffee when I visit! (Ola – I’m packing a bit of the sunshine that you can take along).

Desi Traveler Prasad
The man who doesn’t want to be identified, the Desi Traveler, Prasad is from Hyderabad. We tried this in the side of the road, while trying not to get run over, so I’m not sure this is a certified pose. But, it was fun trying!

Elsie Mendez
After which, Elsie joined in the fun on the crowded road. This was enroute from Kappad to Kochi, where we stopped for “tea and toilet” as our guide called it. Elsie Mendez is from Mexico, loves wine and the good life and is now planning a wine tour in Spain. (Take me with you, Elsie!). Before that, she also stops in Mumbai.

Vijay Nambiar
With Vijay Nambiar, who is a travel enthusiast who is getting ready for an out of the country assignment and is enjoying his last dose of India before he departs for foreign shores. Being 6 foot something, he does a great job of the backward bend (ardha chandrasana). Vijay – you need to do more yoga!

Taufan
Taufan is from Indonesia and we tried this on the beautiful private beach of the Kadappuram resort in Thrissur. What we were trying was the “trikanasana”, but what we did in reality looks nothing like it.

Dina Rosita
Dina Rosita, also from Indonesia with a penchant for running into trouble. She’s already hurt herself and is carrying a huge scar from a fall – a memento from the trip. Dina is an ex-ballerina and can do things with her legs that I can’t do in this lifetime. So we settled for a nice stretch over the bridge instead!

Edin Chavez
And lastly, the highly talented Edin Chavez – a hot shot photographer based in Miami, Florida (now that’s what I call living life!) who was game to try this with me on the same pristine beach. Here’s him doing out the “standing stick” (tuladanasana) pose – he’s a natural!

Edin has a jaw dropping portfolio of work (mine dropped!) and you must check out his aerial photography, while you’re at it. I am hoping he takes me on a helicopter ride with him while he’s doing his aerial photography, if and when I visit the reach the American shores again. Though I’m half scared, he’ll be surrounded by beautiful women on a beach sipping beer and say, “Anita who?”