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Wish all the readers of this blog a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2016 .

Hope you take the best of this new beginning with full fun and masti!!


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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kanyakumari - The Southern Tip : South India X


Have you looked around yourself and ever wondered – where does this ever expanding piece of land of our country ends, that is if it ever does. Is there a point beyond which we are no longer there in India. There is an end to everything and it stands true for a country too. There is a point beyond which India- being such a massive and beautiful country – ceases to exist and give ways to oceans spreading far and wide. While the country as a whole has a bottom most tip in the Andaman Islands, the mainland has this tip in Kanyakumari.

We reached the outskirts of this city by about 7:30 in the evening and as the first day of the year 2016 came to end we visited our last spot of the day which was incidentally the first spot of the city. In the suburbs of the city, there is a town, Nagarcoil, which has its own strategic significance. This town lies on main trunk routes and Kanyakumari itself is a small shoot away from mainline. Hence this town has become a major rail head and roadway. It was here that we visited the famed Nagaraj Temple which is an important place of worship for Hindus. There is a huge statue of Lord Hanuman which is believed to be the savior of many when in a problem. Again as we had come to know about South India, temple administrations are very particular about dressing and we had to shed our clothes in favor of traditional “dhoti-gamcha” before we could enter the temple premises. While there was some laxity in the rule, apparently there was a high court order which gave legitimacy to the practice and hence was gradually being implemented strictly. We entered the temple after costuming up and went around the premises. The reverence of devotion was evident in every nook and corner and the one and a half hour we spent there for darshan were full of solace and peace. After spending some time sitting in the realm of the god, we proceeded to the guest house to set our camp. After dinner, we took a walk around the station area to absorb the cool breeze and look of this new city.

Tourists Flocking the Beach for Sunrise
First Rays of the Sun
Next morning had a pretty early start as the plan was to capture the views of sunrise from beyond the oceans. We were all up by 5 in the morning and were driving down to the beach in next 30 minutes to be there in time. We had chosen a designated sunrise point in Vivekanandpuram, a campus of Vivekanand Trust and reached the venue in time to have the glimpses of rising sun across the horizons donned by three large water bodies at once. However, as luck would have it the effort only paid off partially. It usually happens at this place that the clouds play spoilsport to the views for tourists, who had thronged the place in decent numbers. By about 6:15 we had seen the first rays of the sun and acknowledged that it was the best view we would get there and decided to head back. We did stroll on the crisp clean beach under the calm breeze of the morning sea before we got in the car. We readied after breakfast and set forth on our site seeing tour of the city.

The first destination was the Vivekanand Memorial built on an island rock away from the mainland shores by the Vivekanand Trust. Vivekanand is believed to have visited this rock before departing for his famous Chicago’s World Congress on Religion speech. He apparently had to swim to this rock in high waters for a three-day meditation from 25th to 27th December 1982. Today, one has to board the special motor boats run by the city corporation which maneuver through rough seas to reach the memorial. We boarded a boat from the jetty and tied up the jackets as required. Once the boat left the shores, soon we realized that the sea was really wild and navigating through the high waves was a real challenge for the driver. After some adept maneuvering, we docked at the island and disembarked on the makeshift pier. What welcomed us were winds - strong winds, chilling winds - which only grew stronger as we climbed up the stairs to reach the memorial. The strength of the winds was capable enough to sweep anyone off the feet and we could witness tourists crawling to avoid being caught in the sweep-away. The trust has put up a 6.5 feet panchdhatu (5 metal alloy) statue at the meditation place. Though Vivekananda was 5.5 feet in height the extra 1 feet was given to the statue to have its eye have a line of sight to the imaginary legs of Parvati, drawn at a point where she is believed to have prayed on a single foot for want of a groom. The statue is situated in the Bay of Bengal and stands tall in the face of strong with and rough weather. There is also a sunrise calendar which is a topic of interest among astronomical curios. Another feature of the memorial is a meditation room to spend some silent moments amidst peace. Before leaving, we sat on the rock for about half an hour enjoying the wind and the water around and had a great experience at the location. Another important point built next to this memorial is the statue of Saint Thiruvalluvar, a great Tamil poet. This is built on another island rock close to the Vivekanand Memorial. While the memorial is built and maintained by the trust, the statue is a government initiative.

The next destination was the Triveni Sangam where the three mighty water bodies – Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea - come together. This celebrated confluence of water bodies is a place or worship to a lot of Indians. Further tourist enjoys a quick dangling of feet in water over snacks and tender coconut. One can easily differentiate between the three colors of water and sand to realize how the three varied elements come together. We did what other tourists do and spent about half an hour playing in the water as a sign of touching the lowest point. Then we proceeded to the Kanyakumari Temple. The temple is built as devotion to an incarnation of Devi Parvati who prayed for her marriage to lord Shiva. Then we took a break for lunch at the Sparsha Resorts. The place served decent North Indian food for the region with a good spread of options.

Kanyakumari Temple
Vivekanand Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue
Triveni Sangam - Confluence of 3 Seas
Later we proceeded to Baywatch, a theme park in this city with limited population and avenues of enjoyment. For a city which is a tourist hub yet lacks the scale it deserves, this theme park is a welcome addition. It provides a destination for children and grown-ups to unwind and spend quality time. The newly opened park had a scale that was good enough for a city like this and offers over 20 rides and slides. We went to the park and took some dry rides and enjoyed the 9D show which too was of decent quality compared to many other we had seen earlier.

Next stop for us was the wax museum, a copy like of Madam Tussauds Wax Museum. It is touted to be the first wax museum in the country and attraction for many. Though we found the wax work falling short of expectations and the ticket price too high for the offering. However, we were definitely impressed by the quality of 3-D paintings by a local artist – Rajendra. Various creations on walls and floors were brought to life when we posed in a guided way to create real impressions of objects and situations. The staff at the museum was really cordial and cooperative. They made the experience a notch higher by relentlessly encouraging us to pose for pictures and explaining significance and effect of each of the 3-D art.

This was the last location we toured in the city and returned to the guesthouse in time to pack and leave for the railway station – Nagarcoil. The trained rolled off the Nagarcoil Station at about 6 in the evening and reached Chennai Egmore by 6 in the morning. With the end of the trip to Kanyakumari came the end to a fortnight of exploration and relaxation – our trip to South India. Looking forward to the next opportunity to visit the area. Till then keep experiencing cities across India and abroad through my eyes and lens.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Thiruvananthapuram or Trivendram? : South India IX



The first day of the Year – It’s special right!! Who would not want to spend one in a way that is away from the monotonous way of life? We had similar plans and were touring God’s Own Country for our New Year Vacations. We had spent our New Year 2016 eve attending the Carnival on Kochi Beach. To mark the first day of the year 2016 we reached Trivandrum – capital of this beautiful state by about 11 in the morning. Based on the first look of the city, we are assured of a modern city with a metropolitan look all around. Wide roads and contemporary outlook greeted us as we moved across the city from the Railway Station to our guest house.

Thiruvananthapuram Railway Station
Clean and green, Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Thiruvananthapuram, built on seven hills, has today grown out of hills into a sprawling metropolis; but thankfully the city still retains her past glory and charm, and in spite of the frenetic pace of modern life, perhaps it is the most sedate of the big cities of the State. What perhaps is special about the ambience of Thiruvananthapuram is the wonderful blend of the strongly traditional, the nostalgically Colonial and the outright modern elements, be it in architecture, in food or in the dress and manners of her people. The wooded highlands of the Western Ghats in the eastern and northeastern borders give Thiruvananthapuram some of the most enchanting viewpoints and picturesque scenery.

After light snacks, we were presented with traditional Kerala dresses which were a must for our entry into Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The dress predominantly was a dhoti for men leaving us bare top and sarees for women. Many temples in South India impose strict entry conditions, especially with the dressing. Most temples would not allow jeans or denim while many may not even allow trousers, like the one which we were headed to. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a revered place of worship for devotees of Vishnu and is a blend of Kerala and Dravidian architecture. This is considered to be the richest planet of the world. The Temple has been a fascination in India for many years, and one shrouded in mystery and fear. Researchers believe that the temple owns over $1 trillion across its various vaults. Two enormous Cobras are rumored to be protecting the innermost hidden chamber. To make matters worse, legend has it that anyone who opens the vault will be met with disastrous results.

Beach with Golden Sand and Rising Waves

The Jungle Trails
Next on our list was the Napier’s Museum - named after the former Madras Governor General, John Napier - also called Governmental Art Museum. Napier Museum was built in the 19th century and houses a rare collection of archaeological and historic artefacts, bronze idols, ancient ornaments, a temple chariot and ivory carvings. The Japanese shadow plays leather figures, used to depict the epics of Mahabharata and the Ramayana, are very interesting. Another interesting aspect is the natural air-conditioning that keeps the interiors of the building at moderate temperatures throughout the year. A visit to the Napier Museum complex reveals a glimpse of Kerala's rich cultural heritage. This was technically our last stop within the city limits. We had next location on our itinerary as Kanyakumari and we had decided to take this journey on-road. There were a couple of other destinations we had planned to cover on-route. We left for Kanyakumari by about 2 in the afternoon.

After about half an hour’s drive, we were standing at Kovalam Beach. This is a famous beach of South India which has its own identity of having black sand giving way to golden expanse. It is a falcate-shaped beach bordered with coconut trees swaying gently in the soft breeze. The clean sands are ideal for a leisure walk in the evening and at the same time, the pristine clear water will hypnotize you to jump in for an enjoyable swimming session. We spent limited time there as we had been to plenty of beaches by then and plenty more awaited us ahead. However, the few moments we were there over tea and corn were really good.

Bird Sancruary Alongside Pooval Islands
Distant View of Poovar Islands
Cottages on Shores
 Next stop of the road trip was Poovar Islands, an immaculate little land mass surrounded by water. Reaching the island is an experience in itself as one has to pass through a great backwater maze terraced using a small motor boat which takes to depths of Arabian Sea and lands us on an island which has nothing as it submerges into the water during high tides. The sand and water are perfectly clean owing to limited tourist activities. We had tender coconuts which are only thing available there in the name of snacks. The views of the grand sea and horizons across the water were breathtaking. The boat ride to the islands took us through the bird sanctuary which brought us through many birds including water crow, snake bird, ducks of umpteen varieties and cranes. Through the ride mangrove forests of one side and plush resorts on other provide an interesting picture. We saw Elephant rock from a distance. Then, the boat took us through narrow canals with jungles on both sides which was a scene in itself giving thrills of a different kind. The 2-hour boat ride was definitely memorable and worth experiencing. It is hidden treasures like these which make our motherland – Incredible India!

From there we headed straight to our next destination – Kanyakumari. Meanwhile do send in your feedback on the article.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Kochi - New Year Carnival & More – South India VIII


A town by the Arabian Sea which is more popular of a destination that the capital of its state, a sort of gateway to the western belt of Southern India and a base for all tourists heading to the state – Cochin or Kochi is a nice metropolitan town in Kerala. This vibrant city is the symbol of prosperity of the state and embraces each tourist with the urban colors of Kerala. The people are welcoming and courteous and make you feel at home. Moreover, this is an important sea-port on the western coast, only after Mumbai and this strategic location often qualify it to be called the Queen of Arabian. Strictly speaking, Cochin is a small town. But, Cochin has outgrown its original bounds and is now the general name given to much of the region adjoining the original town, which now includes Cochin, Fort Kochi, Mattanchery, Ernakulam and many other nearby towns and villages. This is what was our destination to welcome the new year and as planned we were crossing the city suburbs by about noon. We reached the guest house located beside the Ernakulam Junction railway station and checked into our room. A nice setup, with all the luxuries one could expect in an accommodation and a few co-travelers welcomed us. Yes, mom and dad joined us for the day to celebrate the coming of a new year together.

After a quick lunch and some rest, we were set to begin exploring the city. First stop for the day was the Dutch Palace. The Palace, also known as the Mattancherry Palace because of its location, was originally built by the Portuguese. However, it was taken over by the Dutch who presented it to the Raja of Kochi in 17th Century after some modifications. Since then, it has been the official residence of the King and has seen many coronations. The palace has a fine collection of mural paintings depicting scenes from the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The showcases present the entire lineage of rulers of Kochi including various items used by them – weaponry, equipment, dresses, and coins etc. The rich history of the city and the region are brought to life at this Palace.

Narrow bylanes in Old City
Saint Francis Cathedral
As we moved past the palace, we paid a quick visit to the Vasco house. This small shelter is believed to be one of the oldest Portuguese houses in India. The abode is decorated with attractive artwork and features European glass paned windows and verandahs. The architectural beauty and artwork aside, the prime significance of this house lies in its history. Vasco da Gama is believed to have lived here. After this point, we moved to the Fort Kochi area which is one of the most revered places in the region. It was also the venue for New Year Celebrations. However, we had a few points to cover before the night fell. Next destination on our itinerary was the 14th-century church, St. Francis Cathedral in the Fort Kochi region. It is known to be the oldest church built by Europeans in India. It is believed that Vasco da Gama fell ill when he arrived in Kerala for this 3rd Visit and later died here. He was buried in the St. Francis Church. Later his son took his remains back to Portugal, however, his burial spot inside the church has been clearly marked out. Locals flock the church for prayers. It has become one of the landmarks of the city. Later we visited the flower exhibition where numerous varieties of flowers were decorated in interesting shapes and depicted specific phenomenon/incidents.

In the evening we went to the Fort Kochi beach to roam around the area and did some shopping for souvenirs in the by lanes. While we were here for a different purpose, there was still time for those celebrations. We saw hectic preparations for the event to mark the beginning of the New Year. Artisans were busy putting final touches to “Pappan Ji”, the fiction based character whose large statue is the center of the celebrations here. I tried asking a few locals but no one had an idea of the symbolism of the practice and its origin. While strolling on the beach we observed large nets extended on metallic frames and this definitely intrigued us. We went near the arrangement and inquired about their purpose. These were Chinese Fishing Nets, the unique identity of Cochin. It is believed that traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan introduced these nets here. Oddly, these nets are found only in Kochi, outside China! Many fishermen earn their livelihood by fishing using these massive nets. A whole stretch of the coast along Fort Kochi and Vypeen are dotted with these nets. We spent a couple of hours on the beach and got a chance to observe the sunset there. A stroll along the beach, particularly at sunset with the Chinese fishing nets and sailing ships in the background, is a memorable experience. Many European style bungalows can be seen along the shoreline. The coastal stretch has loads of small stalls, which make on demand traditional cuisines using freshly caught fish. Of course, being vegetarian to the core, we avoided them but could see the mouthwatering impact they had on the locals.

Chinese Fishing Nets
Artful Capture - Sunset at Kochi Beach
Decorations for New Year Welcoming
 By now the night had started befalling on this corner of the world and the clock indicated that there were limited moments left of the year. It was about 11PM when the hustle on the beach suddenly increased and it seemed that almost entire Kochi, probably including all suburbs, were present at the beach that moment. By the time midnight approached everyone had taken their place across the expanse of the beach. Some were standing, others were gossiping, some had made their make-do arrangements for settling down on the sand and some were strolling. In all everyone was excited for whatever was going to happen next. There was a raised dais where a band was playing peppy numbers to keep the excitement going and public engaged. All shops and houses were decorated with lighting which gave the mood of the city as a whole. Roads were decorated too with paper cuttings and trees were lighted. Hawkers were having their day (or night) selling toys, snacks, drinks and souvenirs. Right at the stroke of 12, the lights were off and a spark shined across. The spark ignited the crackers tied to the effigy of Pappan Ji and the large-scale fireworks brought him down to earth. While this happened on land, a couple of ships anchored close to the shores blew their horns in full force to mark the arrival of the New Year. Everyone wished each other happiness and prosperity in coming year and bid goodbye to 2015, which had just gone by. As the time passed, the cheering drowned and people started retreating. We were back at our abode in the city by 1 AM and called it a night, not before another round of wishing each other and friends over the phone.

It was definitely a unique celebration of New Year and we had witnessed and was very different to the parties that urban India sees in plush hotels and clubs. This is what the power of tradition is – getting the entire city together at a moment to celebrate small joys of life. As we slept away, all we thought of was the good time we had in Kochi and better times that lie ahead in the trip.

PappanJi in glory before fallout  
Fireworks Post Effigy
Hope you enjoyed the article and probably, at least some of you, heard about this tradition for the first time. In case this raised some curiosities, try and come down for the next 31st night celebrations here and have a first-hand experience. Until then keep visiting destinations in India and abroad aboard Expressions by KT : Tarun’s Blog. And yeah, before you hit the cross on the corner, drop a note in comments – appreciation, criticism or feedback!! 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Kumarakom – An Evening by Backwaters : South India VII


None can argue against the aptness of title – “God’s Own Country” – bestowed to the beautiful state of Kerala. Every nook and corner offer immense scenic beauty and eye-catching views. The state has hills, beaches, and forests – something for tourist of every taste and like. It was in this state that we spent the Christmas vacations of 2016 and enjoyed thoroughly. One of the stops on the whirlwind tour of the state was Kumarakom. The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake and is part of the Kuttanad region. The bird sanctuary here, which is spread across 14 acres is a favourite haunt of migratory birds and an ornithologist's paradise. Egrets, darters, herons, teals, waterfowls, cuckoo, wild duck and migratory birds like the Siberian Stork visit here in flocks and are a fascinate the visitors.

We reached our resort - Backwater Ripples by about noon and checked into our room. It was a great facility located in the middle of nature. The check-in was smooth and professional. Since we were a bit early for the regular check in time so had to wait a bit but they did provide a room earlier than scheduled. As we moved out of the reception office there was an entourage of staff dressed in traditional clothes ready to escort us to our room. They were armed with musical instruments and we were taken to the room with a lot of fanfare. It was definitely a perfect start to the stay. The room itself was pretty well placed and had all the necessary equipment and facilities. There was a large window overlooking the gardens and covered most of the wall. We quickly freshened up and were ready to explore the resort.

To start the stay we visited the restaurant for some lunch and were pretty impressed with the quality of North Indian food in this South Indian paradise. After lunch, we toured the expanse of the resort to familiarize with the facilities. The entire resort bathed in lush green shower and lawns spread far and wide. On one end there was a big hall for organizing events. As we moved to the other side, there was a big swimming pool which shared its boundary with the lake itself. The entire set up gave an illusion as if the pool was carved out of the lake. The lake itself was barricaded to some distance from the shore to prevent any accident. There was a watch tower on the lawns beside the swimming pool which provided a great view. From there we proceeded to the play arena and picked bicycles. It was a long time since I had laid hands on a cycle and hence it was an exciting ride around the resort campus. After about half an hour of cycling, we gave up the idea and decided to take forward the stay as planned – through relaxation in the lap of nature.

We headed straight to poolside, ordered a lemonade and climbed the watch tower. There were some great moments on top of the lake that we stole from the world and had good fun. Then as the evening progressed, we stepped down to the lawns and picked a bench – going by the relaxation theme. The offered us a one-hour boat ride on a seating based houseboat. However, we’ve had a much better experience at Alleppey that we did not want to undermine the memory. Over steaming coffee, we saw the sun setting down the horizon. The reddened sky across the limits of the eye proved to be an awesome picture. The lake itself is so huge that it almost seems like being on the sea beach. There was a culture show which was performed in one of the platforms to keep guests engaged while they enjoyed the nature. However good it was, it failed to divert our attention from the evening activities in lake and glory of nature. Later we had our dinner and enjoyed the lakeside for some more time before retiring for the day.

Next morning we had a lazy start and we woke up by 9 in the morning. Post breakfast on the lawns, we readied up and checked out of the resort. Next destination – Cochin was awaiting us!!

I know this was a shorter post as this was a resort destination included in the itinerary to enjoy some moments of leisure with no irks and rush. As planned there were limited activities squeezed into the scheduled. To assuage your curiosities, here are few pictures to give you a glimpse into our experience.

Entry to the Paradise - Backwater Ripples
The Reception Lounge
Idyllic Cottage - Hut, Garden, and Water
Long Path Through the Lawns
Long View of the Lake
Lush Green Lawns
Beautiful Sunset

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alleppey - House Floating on Backwaters : South India VI


After experiencing the woods and forests in Thekkady, we had backwaters on our itinerary. For next 2 days, we were going to be either floating over or saying besides the great backwater lakes in Kerala. While we all had been to a number of lakes and stayed at beaches, floating over water for a day was going to be a different experience. With this excitement within, we set forth towards our first destination for this part of the trip – Alleppey. We started immediately after breakfast and were on roads by 10:30. Soon we were leaving the jungle roads behind us and racing ahead towards our destination. It took about 3.5 hours to reach the outskirts of the town.

As we entered Alleppey, the first thought to cross my mind was that the town was bigger than what I had expected. Mirror still lagoons, picture book lakesides, palm fringed canals, shores bustling with glimpses from day to day life in this countryside town of Kerala. Though the destination changed its name to Alappuzha, it still is known by its old name across the country. This town is the center of backwater tourism in the state. The town was traditional a center for coir and coconut oil business however the markets diminished over time. Artisans and labors involved in these business lost jobs and shackles of poverty took its tool. One fine day, a group of unemployed peasants had an idea of developing a tourism industry based on the single asset they had – a beautiful lake surrounded by Kerala beauty.

We boarded the mighty house on the boat at about 2 and the vessel sailed away from shores to take us on its journey. It was a very different experience on the houseboat which is a self-sufficient house unit floating on the waters. We were really excited to be part of this journey over next 20 hours and hence the first logical step was to explore each and every corner of the boat. The end where we boarded had a small protruded platform with set-up for the driver to navigate the boat. Behind this was the generous living area which had a sofa set placed for the frontal view as the boat sailed. This area had a narrow alley running through the remaining length of the boat and ended in the kitchen located on the far end. The kitchen was a fully equipped unit with all necessary provisions to cater to the needs of the guests. Through its length, the alley opened up for two bedrooms – each a double bedded room with attached bathrooms. The rooms were spacious for the platform they were on and had a huge glass window to provide the view of the scenic landscapes. To our surprise, they had provided air conditioners in both the bedrooms which were operational during the night when the boat docks. The alley also had a wash basin and a counter running alongside. The counter was set with fruits and snacks.

Upper Deck Lounge of our Water Abode
Sideways View from Lounge
We were amazed at architecture and how efficiently each inch of the space was utilized. Equally impressive was the attention to detail to provide every comfort to the guests. However, this was not all. This was just the ground floor. A narrow flight of staircase had an opening at the start of the alley and climbed us to a spacious balcony. This was a decently big space with fixed bench running along the periphery of the boat. There was a set of chairs and a center table to complete the look as a secondary living area. There was an arrangement to bring down curtains if one preferred privacy but we were certain that the breeze and views had an upper hand at the time to any privacy requirements. The long uninterrupted views and the cool winds made sure that this would be the place where most of our time on this boat. However for the time we came down to the living area

They served us a welcome drink as the boat embarked on its day-long visit. The drink was similar to a lemon soda’s coconut version. We, then, went to the bedroom and dressed for relaxation. Then we came down to the lounge area and observed excitedly how the driver maneuvered the boat through the river. There was a television in the lounge which failed to gain any interest. The lounge was being cooled by large floor fans. Our interest in the skills of the driver caught his attention. He invited us to try a hand at the steering wheel. This was a very different experience as compared to controlling a car. The steering was hard and playground is tight in some areas. There are narrow canals and wide spreads both equally likely. Moreover, there are houses on two sides of the waterways at many instances and hence a careful concentration is a baseline requirement.

It was already late for lunch and it was the first thing that crossed our mind as we let go of the wheel. As if the staff heard our hearts or had the common sense of the time, the usher asked us if we were ready for the meal. As we settled on the dining table, yes, there was one dining table set too, the staff served the food. It was a very decent meal considering the mobile platform. They had chapatis, dal, a paneer dish and some rice. Papad, pickles, and curd accompanied as sides. And, then came a South Indian sweet to wrap the courses. While the food was good yet simple, the ambiance and the experience simply made it one of the most exotic meals we have had for some time. After the lunch, we decided to try out the upper deck lounge. So owe picked a water bottle, escalated the stairs and set ourselves up on the benches. No, we did not forget to set the camera on the tripod too! The open view of the water, the slowly sailing vessel, the scenery around and a hotel experience on water – it was all too much to grasp at a time. Leaning on the boat’s peripheral parapet was eclectic in its own sense.

As if this was not enough to please their guest, the cook scrambled yummiest of assorted pakoras I have ever tasted. And the bonus was them being served right on the top deck of the boat. While we munched on our snacks, it was difficult to take eyes off the view. There were narrow canals through with the boat steered its way. There were houses on either or both sides and farms beyond that. Almost each house had a boat tied in the waters in front. Apparently, that was the only efficient means to reach the city for them. At the height, we almost brushed aside a couple of coconut trees. It was about 6 PM when we felt that the boat moved towards the shores and finally anchored in front of a house. A look around told that there were many boats anchored similarly. Actually, the houseboats are only allowed to ply during the daytime and need to be anchored from sunset to sunrise. The reason is to provide open playing grounds for the fishermen and reduce noise levels in the night. Logical enough so no complaints. But what does one do when the boat is not moving? The staff offered us some DVDs – English and Hindi movies. We chose otherwise and decided to take a walk. The usher was kind enough to accompany us and show us around. In fact, the house we had docked at was his own. He said that the electricity from his house is used to charge the batteries and power AC. Most operators either have homes or pay a fixed amount to residents for anchoring. We had about an hour’s walk into farms, village streets and through temples. The usher explained to us the significance of the temples and many rituals followed in the area. He also excitedly took pictures of us at places he felt were picturesque.

Our Boat in Deep Lakes - Courtesy an Unknown
Long Canal Waterways with Lush Green Views
Birds Flocking Away - Did We Disturb Them?
Once we were back, it was time for dinner and we had another hearty meal and then went to the upper deck for some good moments under the openness of the environment. However soon the mosquitos proved to be a menace and staff advised us to hit indoors. They brought the curtains down and we moved to the bedroom. The boat kept swaying with waves and the effect was almost of a child’s cradle. We didn’t realize when we went to sleep and were woken up by all the noises of morning activities – the temple bells, the bikes, the motor boats and what not. We freshened up and opened the large window to let fresh air enter the air conditioned room. As we looked outside, the view of children dressed in school uniforms being rowed to the shores by their parents was really beautiful. Fishermen were returning with their catch and looking ahead to sell them at local markets. On the land, ladies were returning after their morning worship and temples had a festive look. And with the view, we were served our morning tea – right in bed.

We readied up hurriedly and moved out to the living area just in time when the driver was firing up the engine. The boat left shores at about 10 AM and proceeded to the remaining part of the journey. Idlis, dosa, and sambhar waited for us at the table. Another wonderful meal cooked on board! The morning waters were bit rushy as most boats left their anchor at the same time. Especially since we were a bit late on the previous day, we had the waters to ourselves. The driver, however, was gracious enough to take a longer route which was away from the regular way the boats moved and hence we finally had our views. After about an hour of sailing, we could see the city of Alleppey and realized that this experience was about to come to an end. As the boat docked at the yard and the staff bid us goodbye, we had our hearts heavy to leave the boat. It was definitely one of the most exotic sites we had visited and hence departure was sad.

Boats Competing to Shores in Morning
Alleppey Beach
We went for a quick stop at the Alleppey beach. This beach is not famous with visitors and we could totally relate to it. Though the beach was clean and silent, it was difficult to give it its due appreciation after the experience on the houseboat. We dangled our feet in the waters and walked a bit on the sand – while enjoying tender coconut water. After about half an hour at the beach, we boarded our car and moved towards our next destination – Kumarakom.

I hope you enjoyed an amazing day onboard the water vessel with us and are tempted to plan a visit soon. It indeed is a wonderful experience and there are few holiday destinations, as exotic as this one. Do let us know what you think about the article. Feedback, appreciation, criticism - everything helps in some way or the other. If you would like some suggestions with planning a trip, reach out to me on kt@expressions-kt.in and I would try to help you out based on our experience. Till then, Happy Travelling !!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Periyar National Park - A Jungle Sojourn : South India V


It was time to experience some jungle life and hence we were headed for a stay in middle of a national park for an entire day and a night. We had planned a stopover at the Periyar National Park in Thekkady, Kerala. As planned we bid good bye to the family and proceeded on our journey to Thekkady by 1:30 PM on 28th of December 2015.

Periyar is the most popular wildlife sanctuary in south India. Though billed as a tiger reserve, Periyar is really famous for its wild elephants, 100-year-old artificial lake and its setting in the beautiful thickly forested Western ghats. This is not your best shot at spotting the Bengal Tiger considering there are less than 40 of them that inhabit an area of 777sq.km but there's plenty of other animals like the Nilgiri langoor, Nilgiri tahr, bison, deer, antelope and about 700 elephants to make the trip worthwhile. The Periyar Tiger Reserve consists of tropical evergreen, semi- evergreen and moist deciduous forests. It was declared a Project Tiger Reserve in 1978 and the first research started in 1991. The results indicate 49 species of mammals, 246 species of birds, 28 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, 22 species of fishes and 112 species of butterflies. The core area is 350 sq.kms. Some of the deeper valleys contain tropical evergreen forest with extremely thick tree cover that even bright sunlight finds hard to penetrate. The few level areas in the park contain marshy grasslands near the edges of the lake and other water bodies. Apart from Elephants, the other animals to be seen in the Periyar sanctuary Kerala are Gaur, Wild Pigs, Sambar, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Dole or Indian Wild Dog and very rarely, a Tiger. There are, now, an estimated 40 tigers in the Periyar national Park. Periyar also happens to be the habitat of the elusive Nilgiri Tahr, which is rarely to be seen.

On Way to Thekkady from Munnar
A Stop at Spice Gardens
On our way to Thekkady, we stopped at a spice gardens at about 3 in the afternoon to have a closer look at the plantation of spices which are famous from this region. The <Name of Plantation>, which we chose for the excursion was a nicely organized facility. The place charged a modest ticket to cover for the cost of tourist visits. We were taken through a narrow lane until the center of the plantation where there was a reception center. We were allotted a group along with a few other tourists who were present there already. Once the required quorum was achieved, the reception assigned a guide to our team who took us around the gardens and explained various spices being grown, their health benefits, peculiarities and a general explanation of their production and manufacturing techniques. There were at least 100 varieties of plants that were being maintained there. The range was as diverse as it could get. It was here that we were made aware of the reasons why some specific spices are expensive in particular. While 5 kg of fruit yields 1 kg of cardamom, the number goes to 8kg for a kg of cloves. There were specific plants which helped in insulin deficiency, skin diseases, or kidney stone. There was a bright pink flower which was named as “love flower” which was sold as showpiece.

After spending about an hour there we proceeded to our destination. It took another hour of drive when we saw a queue of cars. The boards across the shops did inform us that we were in Thekkady. We could notice a predominance of hotels in this area and probably a camp town for most of the tourists at Periyar. The driver informed us that this was a forest check post for entering into the national park and we were required to take a ticket at the reception. I got the tickets, both for us and vehicle, and proceeded towards the Hotel <Name of the Hotel – KTDC Aranya Niwas. The car travelled through the forests and ultimately climbed the slopes of the approach road to the hotel. We disembarked and checked into our room. The room was premium yet simple. It had all the modern facilities and yet an outlook to showcase that we were in middle of a jungle. The usher advised us to keep the windows closed to prevent monkeys to visit us and grab stuff. A view outside the windows was full of the thick forest till far. Towards one corner, we could see waters of the Periyar Lake which reminded us that we needed to make arrangements for our boat safari. 

Periyar Lake Shores
Posing by the Lake
After freshening up, we went out for a stroll across the area. While on our way out we stopped at the reception to enquire about the boat safari. We were informed the all guests at the KTDC facility was automatically enrolled for next morning’s safari. The boat safari has two options – one on KTDC boats while other is the forest department boats. We by default were assigned the first one. What needed some persuasion was assurance for obtaining a seat on the upper deck of the boat. Reviews on internet had advised us of the significant difference in experience. Finally the lady at the reception gave in and assured us that she would try her best to get us a seat on the upper deck. Post this extended discussion, we proceeded to explore the jungles on foot. We took a round across the green spread and had wonderful moments in lap of nature. We returned by about 6 post which we were allowed to be out of hotel campus. We later enjoyed a decent spread of dinner at the hotel restaurant. Post dinner, it was time for an early sleep as we had an early start for the boat ride next morning.

Next morning, the honking alarms and blaring intercom woke us up to get ready in time to reach the boat point in time to board our KTDC ride - Jalatharangini. The boat started at the scheduled time - 6 AM - at its slow but firm pace. Actually we started as a group of 5-6 boats which later separated to take tourists through the lake using different paths. The driver kept the boat slow and removed from the shores to avoid alarming the animals. Throughout the ride we were delighted with exotic birds – of all colors and shapes. The forest officer on the boat was alert with his prying eyes looking for any clue of animals for which we were waiting with bated breath. Soon we noticed that driver killed the engines and officer sought our attention – he had noticed a wild bull. The driver slowly steered the boat to the coast and we all enjoyed a close view of the mighty animal. The forest officer gracefully borrowed my camera to take a picture of the view and animal. After every tourist on board had a chance to have a glimpse, the boat proceeded further. The journey took us through the entire coast of the lake and we got to see deer, reindeer, wild pigs and elephants roaming in their free habitat. After an hour and half’s ride, the boat dropped us back at the boat point and we enjoyed the breakfast at the restaurant. Post breakfast we packed our luggage and checked out. We were in hurry to reach out next destination – Alleppy, where we were to float on water for an entire day in specially designed houses on boat.
Boarding the Boat - Excited for Safari
Sailing into the Lake for Safari
Leaving you with a wonderful capture of the human ancestors carrying on with their daily activities. Did you like the pictures or was there too much text? Little on knowledge or lacks the personal touch? Tempts you to visit the place or took it off your dream list? Whatever it is that you are feeling right now, do not forget to give put down in comments as your feedback and views – for or against :-)

Do visit the link towards the end of the article for more travel experiences.



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