Grass Roots Wayanad : A Stay Amidst The Jungles

Our whirlwind Wayanad trip was very pleasurably spent at the wonderful Grass Roots Camp at Koilery. Run by Ravi and Rachel, coffee planters, Grass Roots is set inside a small coffee, areca nut and pepper plantation and  has extremely comfortable tents with large luxurious bath rooms attached. The meals are fresh, and prepared with much love.  You can book a stay at Grass Roots from here.

Though the tents overlook old tea estates, and there are plenty of walks around, spending a lazy day in your tent is very rewarding. We spent half a day bird watching and managed to photograph so many.

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Not sure but looks like a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae)

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The Beautiful Wilderness Of Wayanad

Often, when you are reaching the tipping point at work, all that you want to do is to go somewhere you can relax and do nothing. Our recent stay at Wayanad was one such ‘do nothing’ type trips.

After a few months of stressful long hours of work, we decided to take off and wanted to be amidst dense greenery. Wayanad was decided upon and we selected Grass Roots for the stay. They have extremely comfortable camps near huge tea gardens, and it all was too inviting to search further.

We drove to Wayanad from Bangalore and took a route driving past the Kabini Reservoir and through the Bandipur forest road. The drive itself is gorgeous, with enough stopovers for great food (the Kamat’s Lokaruchi on Mysore Highway is great for breakfast). If you avoid a weekend, you can avoid the heavy traffic on this road. The journey next to the Kabini Reservoir and through the forest is beautiful with enough sightings possible in the forest road. We spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela), Common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius), Bonnet Macaques (Macaca radiata), Malabar giant squirrels, (Ratufa indica) amongst many other birds and small mammals. People have spotted tigers, leopards and elephants here.

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Neemrana Hotels in Tranquibar : The Bungalow On The Beach

During road trips, one looks for great places to stay, which have a magical way of relieving one of the journey’s fatigues and rejuvenating the whole travel experience.  So in our long Mumbai – Puducherry Roadtrip, we found such a place in Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) tucked right into the beach, and aptly named The Bungalow On … Read more Neemrana Hotels in Tranquibar : The Bungalow On The Beach

The Serenity of South Goa

We have never been excited by the noisy, crowded parts of North Goa. And when we had to reach Goa around Christmas for work we were afraid all places would be sold out or too loud. A bit of a search around South Goa, an oasis of calm and serenity, and we locked on to a beautiful place called Ordo Sounsar  (meaning Another World, in Goan), on Talpona Beach, run by the charismatic Serafin Fernandes.

The Location:

The location was a bit of a trouble finding at night, which is all the better, since it attracts less crowds. At one point we had to cross a narrow iron bridge over the river Talpona, fearing it could scrape our car from either or both sides.

Bridge on Talpona River
An extremely narrow bridge on the way to Talpona Beach in South Goa.

Once we found the place, we were shown our lovely shack, made of bamboo, raised on stilts. These shacks are temporary and taken down every monsoons. The rooms were cozy and the open top bathroom very cool. Goa during end December becomes very cold at night with temperatures dipping to around 15 degrees, and add a cold sea breeze to that. We were thrilled to have discovered just the tucked away place to spend our Christmas and New Years’.

Mornings here wake up to a clean and serene beach, with only a fellow traveller or two practicing yoga. Our shack was right on the beach so we could hear the sea throughout. If you are the types who likes to connect to a peaceful and very indigenous local culture, South Goa would appeal to you. There isn’t much to do around here, which is very good, because you can truly relax. We discovered another shack next to ours which serves delicious local food, at very reasonable prices, called Deepiksha, and it became our meal destination. A walk down the road either way, and we discovered just a couple of more places, all serving great food, and all very peaceful.

The Talpona river forms a beautiful estuary as it meets the Arabian Sea. It’s home to many species of bird and marine life. A small ‘mangrove safari’ in a local fisherman’s boat is highly recommeded. Do carry your binoculars for spotting the many species of birds found here.  Evenings are spent lazing around, taking walks down the estuary backwaters while listeing to a Lineated Barbet, and stopping by some shack for your tea. It was during this trip that we also visited the nearby Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.

South Goa is very peaceful and gorgeous, if you want to be away from the crowds. And lets hope and pray it stays that way.

Dinner at beach shack in south Goa.
Dinner at the shack was delicious and cozy, amidst the sea breeze and rustling of casuarina trees.

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Bir – Billing, Himachal Pradesh : Away From The Maddening Crowds

After a hectic recce in Kullu, our shoot got postponed. Therefor, we had the option of going to Delhi and wait out for further information or explore somewhere in Himachal. Just then, a team member suggested Bir-Billing and we jumped on it.

Bir – Billing are two different but closely linked places. Bir is a tiny village town, which has scenic meadows, farms, forests and is also a Buddhist settlement. As such, it has many monasteries and a stupa as well. Bir is a quiet, sleepy little village, yet not big on the tourism map, which is what makes it all the more attractive. Once in Bir, we stayed at the Namlang Himal Resort, a beautiful tucked away resort amidst trees and meadows, made of tiny independent cottages, each named after a town/village of Himachal. The rooms are basic, there is no room service, which we didn’t mind at all, and the food served at their dining area is excellent. The only thing that made me sad about Namlang Himal was a poor imprisoned Alexandrine Parakeet. Upon asking I was told she had a damaged wing and was unable to fly. I tried to connect with some local wildlife groups to rehabilitate the parakeet, but haven’t heard more on the issue. If you do visit Namlang Himal, do check on the parakeet.

There isn’t much to do in Bir apart from long walks through the village and meadows, and visits to the monasteries. This makes Bir an excellent place to unwind. There are plenty of treks around as well.

Billing is the paragliding hotspot of the world!

Billing is a meadow in the forests, a 7km hike (or drive) away at an altitude of 2400 metres above sea level. It’s weather and wind makes it one of the best destinations in the world for paragliding. September to October are supposed to be the best times for flying, though when we visited in end May, lots of people were still flying.

The para-gliders land at the meadow of the village Chaugan, at a place conveniently named ‘Landing’. It’s a pretty little meadow with a lone tea-shop (tapri) under a tree, which sells chai, cigarettes, instant noodles etc to visitors. Every evening at Landing is like a little festival with gliders landing, local people out for a walk, and an excellent sunset in the cool Himachal breeze. Chaugan is the village which has the most number of tourist accomodations, bicycle rental and sale shops, and plenty of eateries. The food here is yet unspoilt and still tastes of home made fare.

This year in October (2015), Billing is set to host a World Championship of Paragliding. The tiny village town is gearing up with plenty of construction and new shops are opening almost every day.

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The path leading to Namlang Himal Resort.

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Fort Seengh Sagar : Probably The Most Romantic Getaway In Rajasthan

Soon after our lunch at Deogarh Mahal Palace, our warm and generous host, Veer Bhadra Singh Ji asked us what would we like to do? Of course, we would like to see around the place. He suggested we take a look at one of their hotel properties, Fort Seengh Sagar, in the nearby rural area. … Read more Fort Seengh Sagar : Probably The Most Romantic Getaway In Rajasthan

Deogarh Palace, Rajasthan : A Hidden Jewel

Built over 300 years ago, the splendid Deogarh Palace is a delight for architecture, royal living and art. We surely couldn’t give it a miss, and especially when it is so close to Todgarh. The city of Deogarh is about 2100 feet (roughly 700m) above sea level. This keeps it slightly cooler than neighbouring areas … Read more Deogarh Palace, Rajasthan : A Hidden Jewel

Mumbai – Velavadar – Sasan Gir : Road Tripping

We had been planning for a long time to visit the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Gujarat. And when we finally found some time, the summers were beginning to set in, and we decided to make a quick trip. We drove from Mumbai to Velavadar via NH8, and stayed a night at the Khaliar Bhavan, Blackbuck National Park. There is a beautiful but tiny grasslands National Park at Velavadar which houses a few blackbucks, wolves, hyenas and many birds. April was a good time to spot the large mammals, but post monsoons, this place is a must visit for the Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus), a highly endangered bird. The next day after a brief safari at the Blackbuck National Park, we moved ahead towards Sasan Gir. The roads were generally nice and not too crowded, and passed through beautiful farms on either side. We passed through Sihor, an ancient city which has a hill fort as well, but we didn’t have the time to stop for a visit. We like to keep stopping for photos or for a decent looking place for food/chai or snacks. And we found plenty of such opportunities. We stayed for about two nights at Sasan Gir, at a place we will not recommend. From Sasan Gir, we went back to Blackbuck National Park, spent a night there, and then went via Wadwana Wetlands to JambuGhoda, a delightful little palace in a sanctuary, and a world heritage site at Champaner – Pavagad. So our journey was: Mumbai – Velavadar – Sasan Gir – Velavadar – Wadwana – Jambughoda – Mumbai. The roads are generally good throughtout.    

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Dry mud flats on either side of the road right outside of the Blackbuck National Park.
Approaching Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar.
Approaching Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar.
In Sihor, we went to take an inquisitive look at an old colonial building, now housing for government department.
In Sihor, we went to take an inquisitive look at an old colonial building, now housing for government department.

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Gulmohar Homestay : A Beautiful Home

In our quest to find quaint and quiet places, we discovered Gulmohar Homestay. Just on the outskirts of Nashik city, Gulmohar is a beautiful home amidst a private farm. Large swaying trees, singing birds and many beautiful flowers surround the home run by Vinod and Kamala Parekh, along with their son Sumit and his wife Anjali. The rooms are spacious and clean, and the food delicious. Plus the loving family makes for great company.

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Kamala and Vinod Parekh are a lovely couple and make for engaging conversations.

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Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary

The drive to Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary was like a Safari in itself, passing through amazing Aravalli Hills, dry scrub land, degraded hill slopes and many a hairpin bend. At the village Todgarh, we called Gopal Ji, the caretaker at the forest rest house, to check what was cooked for dinner. He didn’t have much, … Read more Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary

Velavadar Blackbuck National Park

I could see the horizon as a cool evening breeze hurriedly chilled my chai. Sitting on a chair outside the forest rest house, the expanse of the Blackbuck National Park with hundreds of its natural residents filled me with imaginations of what the world must have been like before modern humans took over. The Blackbuck … Read more Velavadar Blackbuck National Park

Amban Heritage Home : A Great Place To Stay In Kannur, Kerala

We were driving from Goa to Kochi and picked on Kannur in Kerala, as a mid way stop over for the night. After some searching around, we discovered Amban Heritage Home. And boy, did we love it!

Amban Heritage Home was built in 1904. The rooms are small, very affordable, but very clean and so are the bathrooms. The property is run by the family and the food is excellent. We had some awesome prawns, fish, rice, chutneys, veggies etc, all true Kannur traditional style.

We changed our plans of driving to Kochi, Kerala, because of the terrible traffic on NH17, and decided of going to Kotagiri in Tamil Nadu instead. Suresh was kind enough to suggest an absolutely beautiful drive to Coonoor, something our mapping devices could never think of. Thank you Suresh!

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Suresh and Sudha own and run this beautiful 104 year old property with their family.

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