A perfect getaway - BB Estate Homestay, Coorg

We had heard about the BB estate homestay from a friend who had stayed there a couple of years back.
Having never stayed at a homestay, we were both excited and hesitant. Excited about staying in a homestay on a 100 acre coffee estate and hesitant on what awaited us. After all, we valued our privacy just as much.
As we looked over the reviews on tripadvisor, we found it impressive and decided to take the plunge.

The place:
Set amidst a 120 acre coffee estate, this homestay is pure delight. We stayed at the Main Bungalow, which houses the hosts, the kitchen and 2 suites. We were pleasantly surprised when we entered the room. It was impeccable. Not a speck of dust or a stray insect that we usually find in places with incessant rains or dense vegetation. The suite has a dining area, room and ensuite bathroom. There is also a portico/sit out just outside the door where you can curl up with a book and watch the incessant rain. The room (and the bathroom) is done up tastefully in bright colours (yellow/green), with wooden furniture that gave the suite a cheerful and welcome warmth.
The bungalow is set amidst a large garden that gives ample space for kids to do their own thing. The coffee estate that surrounds the bungalow allows for ample nature walks.
(There is also the Ancestral house a little down the road, which is a 100 year old traditional bungalow renovated with the original structure intact. It has 3 rooms that can easily accommodate 10-12 people and is perfect for families of 10-12 people).

The hosts:
The hosts - Madan and Anita. They are the perfect hosts, making you feel warm and welcome into their house. They add a touch of familiarity to the place and go all out to make you feel comfortable. They give you your space, all the time ensuring that you are comfortable and well provided for.
Even though we reached at 9 PM and had dinner along the way, Mr Madan ensured that there piping hot rasam for us, since it was raining outside. :)
They can arrange for pick-ups, drops and taxis at an additional cost.

We only had the breakfast here. It was a traditional fare (dosa on day 1 and akki rotti on day 2, with accompaniments) with bread/butter/jam and tea and coffee.
Going by the breakfast, we are sure the lunch and dinner would be mouth-watering too.
The unlimited tea/coffee, specially when it is raining is totally worth it.

We would recommend the BB Estate Homestay to anyone who is looking for the perfect homestay experience.
Important note: The pics on their website do not do any justice to the place. The place is far more beautiful :)

Losing my religion - Vishwas Mudagal

It was one more of those impulsive picks, about the time when I was tired with intense accounts of Tibet, its trials and tribulations and a David Baldacci book that let me down.

The book traces the adventures of Rishi Rai, a dot com whiz kid, once celebrated but who also quickly fell out of favour when the computer games that he created failed to take off. We are introduced to Rishi at a time when he is at his lowest, his company is winding up, he is coming to terms with a failed relationship and all-in-all he is burnt-out. And then he meets Alex, a hippy, with a devil-may-care attitude, who believes in living for the moment. And what follows is a roller-coaster ride.
Alex and Rishi trek to the Himalayas in search of the Malana cream, the finest hashish, almost get killed, but live to tell the story. Following their impulses, they then set up base in a little beach town on the coast of Karnataka. As Rishi's business takes off, he falls head-over-heels in love with a mysterious gamer, loses her, visits the Kumbh Mela where he starts a million dollar business, finds love again and realizes that it comes at a price. 
The climax, on the sets of a reality show, through predictable, provides some nail biting moments. And of course, all's well that ends well :)

The book is fast-paced maintaining a smooth continuity, of thought as well narration. It keeps you hooked till the last page. There is a good mix of breadth and depth, keeping you interested right through the 200+ pages.
A must read if you enjoy fiction for what it is, and not for what it is not!

Tales of taxi drivers!

On most of our vacations, we use a mix of public transport and hired taxis. While the public transport is largely predictable, the taxis, and more importantly their drivers, with peculiar habits are an important part of the whole holiday experience. There are many types that we have run into, from the i-know-it-all to the you-know-it-all types and the lazy ones to the over-eager ones.

Here is a collection of some of the most memorable drivers we have come across over the years:
1. The warden (Apr-2008) - It was a vacation in Uttarakhand. We planned to cover Corbett, Nainital and Binsar in 6 days flat. And who better to ensure that we covered it all than Mr LDP. Mr LDP would probably find it easy to land a job as a hostel warden or a jailor.
Weirdness quotient: He kept a close tab on the time we spent at each place. Take this: He took us to the golf course in Ranikhet, gave us 30 minutes to enjoy the unending lawn and did not mince words when we turned up all of 5 mins late. And the reason we took 5 extra minutes? Because we had to walk the 500 metres from where he was supposed to wait for us to the place he was actually parked.

2. The highly mobile (Feb-2012) - On a vacation in Shimla, Kullu and Manali, we had the pleasure of his company. A small guy with a big car, that's the best way to describe him. He was on the phone most of the time that he was not driving and sometimes even while he was driving. He must have recharged currency on his phone atleast 10 times during the 7 day sojourn.
Weirdness quotient: Whenever he had to stop, instead of looking for a space of the left side of the road (the side on which he was driving), he would cut right across, head on into the oncoming traffic and park on the right side. While we did find it scary the first couple of times, we gave in, assuming that this was the way of the hills. It was on the way back from Manali to Chandigarh, just before Mandi, while we were counting the miles before we had to part ways with the beautiful Beas and get back to concrete jungle. On our request to stop at an available shoulder to tend to the little one, he swerved right at a sharp left turn and managed to crash into a car that was overtaking us from the right (highly illegal, but hey! they were locals and we were tourists!).
His diminutive outlook belied a steely resolve. He held off 7 hardened locals, negotiating for 3 hours and finally drawing an out-of-court settlement, which he valiantly brought down from 25K to 7K!

3. Rajasthan Royals (Oct-2012): If you want to be treated like Rajasthani royalty, Mr MD has to be your driver! A strapping 6+ foot, 60+ year old, Mr MD was from the camel herders community. Immaculately draped in a pachrangi (five coloured) turban, with a clean white dhoti and kurta, he was straight out of the 1900's.
Weirdness quotient: He refused to drink tea/coffee, replacing it with extreme quantities of chaanch (butter milk). While it definitely helps keep the body cool in the desert heat, it also induces drowsiness. The road from Jodhpur to Osiyan (65 kms) is a single road, passing through typical desert wilderness, pitch dark at 8:30 PM with hardly any traffic and numerous detours owing to road constructions. If this does not get you worried enough, imagine the two glasses of chaanch consumed with dinner an hour before slowly working its effect on the driver, who is your only hope of deliverance. There is nothing scarier than watching your driver driving with eyes half closed, nodding off every now and then, refusing your offerings of the last drops of precious water to wash his face and his only attempt at keeping himself awake was to open the window and thrust his head outside into the cold desert breeze!

4. The one who did not know about Kachori's (Oct-2013): Then there was the driver in Kerala, who did not know what a Kachori is!!! Do you believe it???
Weirdness quotient: He did not know what Kachori was. Do you need more???

Sunset at Binsar, Uttarakhand

This one from one of our earliest vacations in the Kumaon region. It was a cold summer (yes, cold summer) evening in Binsar. We walked about 2 km's from the KMVN guest house where we were staying, lost our way a couple of times and still made it in time to watch the sun playing pee-ka-boo with the clouds before calling it a day.
The haze formed a thin veil over the sun, smoothening out the rays of the setting sun and covering the sky in concentric circles, each a different shade of orange.

Binsar is a forest area about 25 km from Almora town in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.

This one for Skywatch Friday this week! Have a good weekend :)

Backwater cruise in the Vembanad lake!

Go to Kerala and not do a backwater cruise? Well, thats exactly what we planned to for 2 reasons: Firstly, the backwater cruise is what everyone who goes to Kerala does. Secondly, being imprisoned with a hyperactive 5 year old on a narrow country boat for 8 hours was not our idea of an ideal vacation.

Having covered most of what Fort Kochi had to offer on day one, we were at a loss of what to do on day two. After a lot of deliberation, we booked ourselves on a 6 hour backwater cruise with Destination Holidays. The itinerary was simple: pickup from the hotel at 8, cruise till 4 and then a drop back to the hotel. 

We were picked up in a 13 seater TT and off we went, weaving our way through the crazy morning traffic. We were soon dropped off at a small village (whose name I missed) at the border of the Ernakulam and Kottayam districts. Here we were handed over to our guide aka Captain, who took us to the shore where our country boat patiently waited on the shores of the Vembanad lake. The Vembanad lake, one of the largest backwater systems in the country is the hub of tourism in Kerala.
The boat, made of wood, cane and jute appeared exactly like the souvenirs that we had picked up in front of the Dutch Palace the day before. 

The crude but neat exterior belied the comfortable interiors. 

The boat was spic and span, with a coir carpet in case you decided to sit on the floor. 14 cane chairs were lined up in 2 rows, facing the front. There was enough room to move around, store your bags and even sit on the floor! There was even a toilet at the rear (what a relief!). The central area was cleared and used as a general social area, with our patron (our captain) holding a durbar, patiently answering our questions and entertaining us with amusing anecdotes, mastered over his 25 years as a guide.

After an extremely eloquent and animated introduction to where we were and what we were to expect for the rest of the day our guide helped us board the narrow boat. 
And off we went, our two oarsmen, maneuvering the boat through narrow alleys. As you move away from the shore, the breath-taking beauty of the famed Kerala backwaters unfolds. We had a first hand experience of why the Kerala backwaters are so highly rated. The lush greenery, swaying coconut trees and marshy reeds are interspersed with little villages and sometimes island houses (houses that are surrounded by the backwaters on all sides), lending it all an almost postcard-like appearance. A water snake, more often than not, swam through the water right in front of the boat, disappearing into a coconut grove. 

While the lake itself did not look too wide, it was the myriad little waterways that make you take your breath away. With most of canals and waterways barely 20 feet wide, the boat is a snug fit, the shores just a jump away. The maneuvers are a true test of the mettle of our oarsmen. 

The way the oarsmen steered the boats was in itself unique. They used long bamboo sticks to cut through the water. The motion was mechanical: stand on the bow, push the bamboo stick into water, and then walk towards the main sitting area of the boat, all in a single fluid motion. And there were 2 of them, one at the front and one at the rear, matching each others movements with perfect synchronization. Their stamina is tremendous, doing this for atleast 5 out of the 6 hours that we were on the boat. 

As we cruised through the accessible-by-canal-only interiors, we almost felt like intruders, watching from the sidelines as the localites went through their daily life, oblivious to our prying eyes. 
Localites, busy tending to their little farms/gardens, making ropes, drying fish, dredging shells, washing clothes and buffaloes or just steering their little boats to the neighbourhood markets gave the place a busy feel. Not once did we run into an idler, no children were waving to us, all looking busy and industrious alike, on a mission. 
While we, seated in the relative luxury of our country boat, saw the life of the localites as that of peace and calm, we were reminded by our captain that it all came with a price. The nearest medical assistance was often miles away and the only way to get there was a boat ride. The children traveled by boat to school and daily essentials, unless bought during those occasional outings to the town, were sold at inflated prices. Makes you think, doesn't it?

The day included a visit to an island factory that made calcium powder out of the river/sea shells dredged out of the backwaters, a visit to an island where families specialized in making ropes out of coconut husk and lastly, a simple vegetarian lunch on an island. More on this later.

At last, when after 6 hours in nature's lap, through some of the most beautiful of waterways, reasserting our faith that nature shall still find her way, despite man's growing greed, we were back to the world we know best: that of motorized transports, drab grey concrete buildings and incredible laziness!

Skywatch Friday - Cherai beach, Kerala

This picture was taken on the penultimate day of our vacation in Kerala. The sun had almost set and the last of his rays had painted the sky with various shades of red and orange, making it almost picture-perfect. Being a Friday, the beach was not very crowded, with only a couple of tourists enjoying the last rays of the sun, trying to squeeze in that last bit of memory or pick up one last sea shell to take back home, before heading back to their resorts or even home.

Cherai is a beautiful beach located on the Vypin Island in Cochin. It is about 25 kms from the Ernakulam town.

This is my first one for Skywatch Friday, a sign of bigger things to come?

The Penguin book of Indian journeys, edited by Dom Moraes

The Penguin book of Indian journeys, edited by Dom Moraes is a collection of travel essays. It includes essays by some of the best known travelers, writers and journalists like Paul Theroux, Ruskin Bond, Mark Tully, Anita Nair and Bruce Chatwin.
As the name suggests, it is a book of journeys and not just travel. Every story is a unique experience that deals with a different emotion. It is only once you start reading that you realize it is a kaleidoscope, of the colors and contradictions that make India what she is, uneven, unequal and mystic.
The stories emphasize the diversity of India, from the hills of Darjeeling to the beaches of Pondicherry and from the urban noveau riche to the bare existence of indigenous tribes.
Some of those will leave an impression:
  • "Death lives in Varanasi" talks about the many people whose search for strength to cope with personal losses and a quest for inner peace brings them to the Ganga.  
  • "City of Widows" delves deep into the dark, desolate and hopeless lives of the widows in Vrindavan. 
  • "Bandit king and the Movie star", covers the events around the kidnapping of Rajkumar, leaving you feeling a sense of deja-vu. 
  • "Mela madness" captures the the sheer variety, madness and accompanying flavours of a village mela. 
  • "Reports from Orissa" speaks out the grim present and depressing future faced by the cut-off area, a victim of ambitious electric plants and one of the most backward districts in India.    
Overall, the tone is always a little glum, which I have come to believe is typical of most stories and travel essays about India, shooting off dark humour, painting a picture of despair and making India appear a nation of people who are hoping against hope for a better tomorrow.

Did I enjoy this book? - Yes, for the style of writing, the insights, the perspectives and the variety.
Would I recommend this book? - Recommended if you genuinely love India for the way she is: uneven, unequal and mystic and can take all the consequences and contradictions of all this with a pinch of salt.

Most of these essays were written between 1970 and 2001. Are they still relevant in modern India? That is for you to find out :)


As we arrived at Cherai, after a back-breaking 6 hour journey from Munnar (all thanks to the traffic), and I negotiated the stay, this is what Sheetal and Aadi were busy taking photographs of:
Come morning and it gets even better. 

When your backyard looks like this... 

 And a 20 feet road is all that separates you from this...

You know that its going to be a special holiday. And that is exactly what Cherai turned out to be. Cherai, on the Vypin island in Kochi boasts not only of a clean and pristine beach almost 10 km long, but also of close proximity to the backwaters (and if you stay where we did, at the Renai Blue Waters, it is right behind you). 

The 1.5 days we spent here were the laziest and best we have spent in a long time. The beach, the lawn at the rear overlooking the backwaters and the swimming pool kept not only us, but the little one busy as well, right through the day, giving us time for little else to write about!

Happy new year!

Yet another year has gone by. While it was not uneventful by any measures, it definitely left us a lot of warm and special memories. Our first trip to Kerala was definitely one of our best ones till date, read a huge number of books of various genres and authors, followed more blogs that humanly possible, day-dreamed more than night-dreamed, became aware of the carbon footprint I was creating and the weight that I was gaining. :D  
But I will not use this space to recap the year that went by (I am a very private person when it comes to personal memories :)). I thought I would revive my blog with the rather serious (and amusing) resolutions that I have been considering over the last 3 days. Here I go:
1. For every time that I use the lift, I will use the stairs twice.
2. I will travel wisely/prudently.
3. I will take shorter coffee breaks and longer post lunch walks at office. One will ensure I am being more productive, while the other will ensure that I get plenty of sunshine.
4. I will read the hindi newspaper at home, improving my reading speed (carry over from last year, or was it the year before that? Never mind!)
5. I will visit atleast 1 new/novel place within Bangalore every month. Before December, I did not even know there was a Tipu's palace in Bangalore :(
6. I will buy a cycle (Wishlist!!!)

Is the the complete list? Of course not!!!