Category Archives: India & Around

feature_bhuj

Wanderings in Bhuj: a photo journey

Like any other small but burgeoning town in this country, Bhuj exhibits all the usual signs. Development on one side – good wide main roads, vehicles, ATMs, and everyone flashing smart phones. But on the other hand, the litter and garbage everywhere is an indication that no lessons in waste management have been implemented. Sadly, it’s just everywhere, including the water body in the middle of the city – the Hamirsar lake.

Steeped in history, and scarred by a devastating earthquake in 2001, some parts of the old fort are still standing and visible as you move through the town. There are monuments that are crumbling, derelict, which give you a glimpse of those glory years. The small gallis through the town hold a quaint charm, albeit a little diminished by large amounts of garbage lying everywhere.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Like any small but growing town, Bhuj has fallen prey to all the usual problems

Wanderings in Bhuj
The narrow lanes are abuzz with activity

As I touched down in the small Bhuj airport and made my way down the main road, I am excited about my first trip to Gujarat. I decided to bypass Ahmedabad and Baroda, the larger towns, and head straight to Bhuj. My primary reason being that my hosts, Katie and Jehan Bhujwala have graciously offered to put me up at their ancestral home in the town and also help me out with my itinerary.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Situated in the camp area, the view from the home of my hosts Katie and Jehan

Wanderings in Bhuj
The house is lovely and is currently being renovated. It will soon be possible to stay there as Katie and Jehan will open it out as a home stay, hopefully from January 2015 onwards

The house is in the camp area and is constructed in the old style, with tall ceilings, filled with charming antique furniture around a large centre courtyard. The old world ambience still lingers on when you enter.

Once I’ve gotten my bearings, along with my hosts, I set off on a small “discover Bhuj” tour. The town still has the remnants of the old fort, and in places it’s quite intact. We pass by a beautiful gate with some detailed carvings.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Parts of the old fort, still stand tall

The narrow gallis take us to an old building from the British Raj – an orange coloured structure that was the district collector’s office. In the afternoon sun, it reflects the light and still looks regal and stands out amidst the new concrete structures. Today, it faces a grim fate though. Like many of our beautiful old buildings; it will likely be ruined totally or razed to the ground.

Wanderings in Bhuj
A building that is now abandoned; testament to the glory days of the past

A short ride away, is the Prag Mahal palace. The old jharokhas and balconies are still intricate and stand out on the palace wall. To the opposite side, is the new version of the palace. The earthquake of 2001 affected quite a lot of the palace walls and structure.

Wanderings in Bhuj
The old palace walls, though affected by the earthquake still sport intricately carved jharokhas

Wanderings in Bhuj
The new Prag Mahal palace, opposite the older one

The new building has an imposing clock tower and with its red brick walls, it projects a feeling of warmth in the fading light.
We wander over to the Bhuj market. Like any Indian bazaar, it’s busy, crowded and filled with people, cows and assorted creatures. Two wheelers and rickshaws honk, trying to assert their right of way. Mostly to be ignored. The honking gets more insistent. Women are about doing their clothes shopping, buying vegetables, silver jewellery, “farsan” – you name it, and it’s available in the market. Including music systems in case you’re missing one at home.

Wanderings in Bhuj
For any kind of shopping, head to the Bhuj market

We wander around the streets for a while peeking into the different shops. A farsan shop walla generously allows us to taste a bit of his freshly fried goodies.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Women flocking in front of an obviously popular shop
Wanderings in Bhuj
A shopkeeper gets creative with his doors!
Wanderings in Bhuj
Beautiful antique silver jewellery for sale
Wanderings in Bhuj
No trip to Kutch without stocking up on their intricate embroidery work

A great place for juice is Bhudia’s which is another ride away from the market in an area near the Hamisar lake. The juice is fresh and we choose a delicious mix – guava and pomegranate – much recommended. They also have an organic farm a little outside of Bhuj where you can get a taste of the local thali, if you want to make the journey.

I’m happy with my first taste and sights of Gujarat. I even have fish fry for dinner, (after a visit to the local fish market) which I was a bit surprised about. I had planned to go vegetarian for this trip!

Wanderings in Bhuj
The local fish market in Bhuj is an assault on the senses. But we did get some fresh fish

Wanderings in Bhuj
A fish monger at work

I settle into my large room, adjoining a busy road listening to the hustle and bustle of traffic. My initiation into Gujarat has been hectic, noisy, smelly and colourful. But then I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Also check out the Bhuj Diaries album on Flickr

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

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?”

DSC_0489

Fun, curious and interesting facts about Kerala

Just some notes from the road as we meander through Kerala on a 15 day trip with Kerala Tourism on the Kerala Blog Express taking in lots of sights, sounds, history, monuments, beaches and backwaters. So while the rest of the troop are in the thick of action sightseeing somewhere in Wayanad, I am enjoying a “do nothing” day at the pictureque and peaceful Vythiri Resort. And while I’m trying to make friends with the monkey who keeps dropping by, these are some thoughts that cross my mind on a particularly lazy day.

Density and number of moustaches
More often than not, Malayali men will sport moustaches. Most heroes and famous people/ politicians (seen on hoardings – haven’t seen that many in real life) all sport large, abundant moustaches. “Why” is a question that befuddles me and I haven’t gotten an answer from anyone yet. It’s also a fact that it’s not in vogue in the North.

Coconut here, coconut there, coconut everywhere
Has anyone taken a census of how many coconut trees there are in Kerala? Because I would be curious to know if anyone ever counted. It might possibly be the highest density of these trees on earth. And how many people have died from coconut related injuries. Surely, someone walking down the village path would have a coconut fall on his head. At least once, I would imagine. There are actually no reported numbers on coconut related deaths, not just in Kerala, but in the world. Isn’t that strange?

But I am rather alarmed when I read this article about the decline of the coconut. And then I realise, it’s a dated article. A more recent one indicates the price is rising. Yay! “A steady increase in coconut prices has given a new twist to the coconut sector which had been marked by low profitability for long. The retail price of coconuts has gone up to Rs.17-20 per nut.” The widespread availability of coconut also means that you get to experience it in your food, your drink and your hair.

Gold’s own country?
How much gold is “really” there in Kerala is anybody’s guess. Combined with the Padmanabhaswamy temple and every Kerala household, I am thinking it might possibly be the richest state in the country, if not the world. And a NYT feature reports: “Kerala gobbles up 20 percent of the country’s gold every year, and the World Gold Council estimates that India, the largest consumer of gold in the world, consumes 30 percent of the global supply.”

Kerala brides apparently wear so much gold that on their wedding day, that they could potentially wipe off the debt of a small 3rd world country.

Land of heaviest drinkers?
Somewhere enroute, as a few of us were talking outside the bus, in the morning about to board, we noticed a seemingly inebriated guy who was just barely able to stand, hanging around our bus. Now, I’m not about to disapprove of drinking, and early in the day. But at 8 am? Fully drunk? What time would he have started? And seriously why do men in Kerala drink so much? (I have no idea about the women, since I never see them in those long serpentine queues outside wine shops).

Someone else has pondered on this heavy issue and this BBC article has facts and personal accounts that might give an insight. “Kerala is India’s tippler country. It has the highest per capita consumption – over eight litres (1.76 gallons) per person a year – in the nation, overtaking traditionally hard-drinking states like Punjab and Haryana. The curiously-named Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) runs 337 liquor shops, open seven days a week. Each shop caters on average to an astonishing 80,000 clients.”

And the heaviest readers too!
In case you thought drinking and reading don’t go together, you’re mistaken. Kerala also reportedly has the highest literacy rate among the states of India, followed by the state of Mizoram. It’s a common sight to see people read local language newspapers. People are generally very informed. Ernakulam became the first district to attain 100% literacy. And programs like Literacy Mission, Kerala and the state government’s education efforts help reach this figure.

However, I also read that recently the state from my part of the world, Tripura has actually beaten Kerala in 2013, but this is what I’d call healthy competition.

More interesting facts