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.

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
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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Birding Near Nashik

The early bird gets the worm, and the earlier the birder, the better the birds. Birding is a joy in the grasslands around Nashik. However lazy one gets in the winters of midland India, it’s always more than worth pushing oneself out to the field with the first rays of the sun.

Pushing ourselves out of a comfortably warm room, we moved towards a tiny patch of privately owned grasslands near Nashik, in the hope of a morning well spent birding. A cold breeze number my shutter finger as I tried approaching the tiny rockchats and pippits, already out looking for breakfast, keeping the grassland ecosystem in good shape. We had only about two hours before work made us leave, so we tried making the most of it.

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A Black Winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) circles overhead looking for prey. By eating up any rodents and reptiles these beautiful raptors prove to a farmer’s good friends.

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Sambhar Lake And Salt Pans: Birding Heaven

During a train journey from Jaipur to Jodhpur, we were pleasantly surprised to see vast vistas of shallow salt plains with what looked like Flamingos in the far distance. A quick check on the route revealed we were crossing the Sambhar Lake. Located some 90km South West of Jaipur, it’s India’s largest inland salt lake. … Read more

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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Ranthambhore Fort

One of the things that make Ranthambhore National Park so mesmerising is the backdrop of the majestic Ranthambhore Fort. So a visit to the fort is a must. As we entered the fort one evening, the sun was already down on the horizon, and we weren’t too sure of spending too much time inside. It looked just too ‘touristy’. Soon a local guide started following us, while we didn’t want him. After much negotiation, we agreed to let him ‘guide’ us through a tour of the fort. It turned out, as usual in such places, to be a good idea.

The Ranthambhore Fort has seen many ups and downs and our guide Lal Singh narrated them all, some fact, some legend. As we walked through the stone corridors, the large Pols (or doors), the narrow winding steps, the Badal Mahal, Hameer Palace etc, his stories enacted the scenes in our minds. We felt our blood boil at the back stabbing of Rana Hameer Singh, the heart saddened at the mass Jauhar of the fort women, we heard the footsteps of infantry, and the horses running up the stone steps.

From the Badal Mahal and the higher regions of the fort, we sat and soaked a commanding view of the Ranthambhore National Park and the Padam Talao. We imagined the tigers basking by the lake amidst the tall grass. We heard the Bulbuls sing, the Indian Robins chase flies in the bush. We wished we had come with more time.

Built around 944 AD at an altitude of 700 metres above the surrounding plains by the Nagil Jats, the fort was also known as Ranasthambha or Ranasthambhapura. There is a Buddhist Bharhut Stupa inside the fort. established around 3rd Century BC, by the Maurya King Ashoka. One of the pillars bears an inscription which reads:

Moragirihma Nāgilāyā bhikhuniya dānam thabho.

Meaning: ” Pillar-gift of the Nun Nagila of Moragiri.”

Moragiri mentioned here is a town in Satara district, Maharashtra. Thus Nagil clan was in existence during Ashoka’s period as followers of Buddhism. (From Wikipedia).

Over centuries the fort passed through the hands of many ruling dynasties. The majestic architecture and its history of the Ranthambhore Fort make it a must see in the small dusty town of Sawai Madhopur.

Guide Map of Ranthambhore Fort.
Guide Map of Ranthambhore Fort.

Ranthambhore Fort Steps and Chatri
The winding steps up the fort are designed very well to slow down an enemy assault.

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Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa

Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa’s 2nd largest sanctuary, can be reached on NH17, and is very close to Talpona beach and the town of Canacona. We had reached this sanctuary while on our epic Mumbai – Goa – Kannur – Coonoor road trip.

The dense moist deciduous and in parts evergreen forests of Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary have many a rare plant. If you are lucky you can perhaps spot Gaur, Leopards or Wild Boars. From Wikipedia : “Animals in the sanctuary include the flying squirrel, slender loris, Indian pangolin, mouse deer, four-horned antelope, Malabar pit viper, hump-nosed pit viper, white-bellied woodpecker, Malabar trogon, velvet-fronted nuthatch, heart-spotted woodpecker, speckled piculet, Malayan bittern, draco or flying lizard, golden-back gliding snake, and Malabar tree toad”

We didn’t see any animals and very few birds, but the forest itself is gorgeous. Some of the trees grow to over 30 metres tall.

 

Cotigao Forest Main Gate
The entry of the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary informs visitors about protection offered to our wildlife.

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A panorama of the gorgeous forest.

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Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary

While at Puducherry, we heard tales of a friend’s unwitting motorcycle trip into an enchanting forested beach amidst free running Blackbucks and an old lighthouse in the background. We decided we just had to visit this place. Tracing the route took us to Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Kodaikarai Wildlife Sanctuary. Point Calimere … Read more

Gir : The Land Of The Asiatic Lion

Our Gujarat Road trip peaked at Gir National Park, which is the world’s last remaining home of the critically endangered Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica). We were excited to see the jungles of Gir and made plans for stay and safari.

So, onward we drove from Velavadar Blackbuck National Park towards Sasan Gir. The journey was excellent in parts, passing through beautiful cotton farms. In Sasan Gir, we had booked ourselves at the Maneland Jungle Lodge. The last part passed through a dense forest trail and it was getting dark. We were worried of being stuck in the forest at night, without a proper pucca trail. Finally the trail connected to another tarred road leading to our hotel, which we discovered wasn’t as comfortable as we hoped. The hotel campus is spacious and nice, but the rooms aren’t (we went in March 2014) clean or comfortable. The property is made of cottages with a central kitchen , but there is no intercom, so if you wanted tea in your room, you would have to walk across the property to the kitchen. In the mornings they burnt forest wood to heat the water which made me feel sick, plus also filled our room with smoke. The food was good though.

Next morning, since we hadn’t pre-booked a safari online, we had to stand in the queue at the booking office, Sasan Gir. It wasn’t as painful as the touts kept telling us. One tout even on the sly offered to take us inside the forest in our own car, something which is prohibited. Of course we didn’t accept!

The moment we entered the jungle, we saw a lone, large male Lion sitting in the path. We were so emotionally un-prepared to see him first thing in the forest, that it took a while for the impact to settle in. After this, we didn’t have any other lion sightings, but the forest was so beautiful and full of so many beautiful birds, animals and trees, we forgot all about the lion. However, with only two safaris and not a great stay experience, we feel our Gir trip was incomplete. We are coming back for sure!

About The Safari: You can book it online (Best) or book it at the forest safari service in Sasan Gir. it’s easy and affordable and don’t fall for the touts.

About the stay: We didn’t have a good experience with our place of stay. So don’t really have any recommendations right now.

 

The forest trail that took us towards a road on which our hotel resided.
The forest trail that took us towards a road on which our hotel resided.

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Wadhwana Wetlands : Gujarat

When we were planning our drive from Velavadar to Jambughoda, we were excited to learn we could include Wadhwana Wetlands in our route. It’s a water reservoir which attracts thousands of migratory and many resident birds. An important birding area, it is also a beautiful place to unwind, surounded by green agricultural fields.

“This irrigation reservoir and wetland located 10 kms from Dabhoi & 20 kms from the Jambughoda village, is the water source for 25 nearby villages, and a popular birdwatching site for species including stork, tern, ibis, and spoonbill. To get here you will have to rent a vehicle from Dabhoi, taking the Nanderi Gate road. Apart from being a wetland, it also has an eco tourism campsite. The best time to visit the wetland is from October to March cause that is the main migratory seasons for birds which migrate here from all over the world.” There isn’t any decent place to stay nearby. We stayed at the Jambughoda Palace which is about 25km from here. The Wadhwana Wetlands are home to many birds like the Indian River Terns, Openbills, Grey Lag Geese, Rudy Shell Ducks, Common Pochards, Ferruginous Pochards, Tufted Pochards, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Common Teals, Garganey, Eurasian Wegions, Lesser Whistling Teals, Spoonbill Ducks, Cotton Teals, Comb Ducks, Common Coots, Indian Cormorants, Herons, Black headed Ibis, Black Ibis, Egrets, Purple Moorhens, Osprey, Pied Kingfishers, Wire Tailed Swallows, Ashy Crowned Sparrow Larks, Bulbuls, Green Bee Eaters, and many others. I am not sure about the mammals but I am sue there are various kind of mongooses, amongst others.

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Joy! The Wadhwana Wetlands!

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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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