Sunday, 6 September 2015

Kodaikanal, our anniversary trip

It was almost 15 years back when I visited Kodaikanal along with my parents.It was a long South India tour for almost 2 weeks out of which Kodaikanal was allotted just a day or half.What all I could recollect from that trip was Kodai was a quiet and sort of lonely place, with few shops and people selling eucalyptus oil to tourists. It also had a lake.I remember one lady demonstrating us by putting some oil in a cotton cloth and then burning it. The beautiful smell filled our nostrils and immediately us and also almost everyone from our tour group took a bottle each. The lady had her day.

The bottle was there in our Kolkata house for a long time. Since eucalyptus oil is meant for headaches, colds and body pains it had its use for a long time and everytime I used to smell the bottle it used to remind me of Kodai. So maybe because of this incident Kodai stood out from the remaining places.

I always wanted to go to Kodaikanal once again with my husband,so for our anniversary trip we decided on Kodaikanal. We took NH7 till Dindigul and the Kodaikanal road thereafter. We stayed at The Carlton for two nights and the stay was amazingly awesome.

The Road

But yes Kodaikanal has changed.It is no more quiet and lonely, there are zillions of hotels, shops, people but still the beauty is intact. The road leading to Kodai is also very scenic with hair pin curves,clouds,ranges and green. The first thing is the silver cascade falls just before entering Kodaikanal.

The first day was reserved for our anniversary celebration and boating on the Kodai lake.The amiable hotel staff bought for us a beautiful cake.After the celebration we hit the lake. The lake is really beautiful and we kept floating on the lake for an hour.Sorrounding the lake are beautiful homes guarded heavily by high walls, infact the whole of Kodaikanal has a lot of these highly guarded properties. The lake has its car parking.

A beautiful house

Kodaikanal Lake

Kodaikanal Lake

Kodaikanal Lake

Kodaikanal Lake

Kodaikanal Lake

The next morning we requested for an early breakfast. After that we went for Coaker's Walk.It is a 1 km stretch that offers nice view of the plains and trees below. Sometimes the clouds come in between  and it looks even more beautiful. Best time to enjoy Coaker's Walk is as long as the sun is not strong.

Coaker's Walk

Coaker's Walk

Next we went to Pillar Rocks.Unless its a very clear day you will not get to see the rocks all the time.So when we arrived there was already a lot of people waiting.Since the wind was strong and the area was full with clouds we did not see anything, so we just sat patiently for half an hour and then luckily the clouds got clear for just 30 seconds and we had our view. While coming out from that place I noticed a lady selling seeds and also bulbs of various local flowers.One special thing I must mention about Kodai is, the place is always in blooms. There is so much of wild and vivid nature gifted blooms all around,much like any of the North Indian hill stations. Its beautiful.

Pillar Rocks

Us at Pillar Rocks :)

We also saw the golf course from outside and its pretty much like any other golf courses,nothing exceptional.Close to it is the Green valley view, but unfortunately because of cloud the valley was not visible.Also the place is too much crowded with shops.

Golf Course

Next we went till the entrance of Guna Cave also called devil's Kitchen, but did not went inside since we were really not interested into walking too much.Also the place is dangerous in the sense that the caves is slippery and steep so there can be chances of hurting oneself.

Our next spot was Liril Falls, yes where the famous Liril soap commercial advertisement was shot.Its a very small waterfall but a damn cute one.

Liril Falls

Liril Falls

We also passed by the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory but later came to know that during the off peak season, the observatory is open to public only on Fridays and that too only in morning.

From there we went to Dolphin's nose.The road is very narrow and no proper parking facility is available,so the place is really not too tourist friendly.To see the rock one needs to walk down 2 km, so we just dropped the plan.Interestingly we saw a shop that has something written all on it in some unknown language.We asked the shopkeeper and he told us that its Hebrew. So we were a little inquisitive and asked him why Hebrew ? He told us that during the winter months a lot of Israelis come to Dolphin's Nose and stay here for months. So he has written in Hebrew to facilitate them.

Fruit bearing orchard at Dolphin's Nose

Fruit bearing orchard at Dolphin's Nose

Next we went to Fairy Falls.The falls is inside the government horticulture department premises.Just like Liril Falls this one is also small but beautiful,nice place for selfie takers.We skipped Bear Shola Falls since there was no water this time of the year.

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

We saw the pine forest on the way to Upper Lake view.Since we had already see pine forests before and all are pretty same we drove straight to Upper Lake view and then back to hotel.

Upper Lake View

We kept Berijam lake for the next day but then we dropped it. In case  you are interested in Berijam let me tell you the authorities allow only 25 private vehicles per day. The gate opens at 9:30 am but you need to be in queue from 7 am.The permit is issued from the entrance gate. The lake is 21 km inside from the gate and passes through the "Shola" or rain forests.If you are lucky you might see gaur,peacocks and deer.Its a part of the Silent Valley National Park.In one blog I saw someone had seen a sand boa.

But then what is so special about Berijam lake that only 25 vehicles are allowed ?It can't be because of the Shola Forest. 25 seems a very small and strict number.On asking locals we came to know the actual fact. The lake is the land of "Magic Mushrooms".So what are magic mushrooms? They are very rare mushrooms and is nature's reply to LSD! yes they are high hallucinating agents and are natural.They are only found in three places on Earth and Berijam is one of them.

It was a great trip, having a good mix of luxury and suspense. Incase you are also planning I am dotting down the places in and around Kodaikanal.

Silver Cascade Falls
Kodaikanal Lake (must)
Byrant's Park
Cloaker's Walk (must)
Pillar Rocks (must)
Golf Course
Green Valley View
Solar Observatory
Guna Cave
Dolphin's Nose
Liril Falls
Fairy Falls
Upper Lake View
Lower Lake View
Bear Shola Falls

Some more pictures of Kodai lake

Some more pictures of Kodai lake

Some more pictures of Kodai lake

Some more pictures of Kodai lake

Some more pictures of Kodai lake

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Yercaud, a day away for Bangalore

I told Ankur that it has been long we have not been on a road trip. He also nodded in affirmation.
So the next thing is where to go? This time we wanted a place not far from Bangalore, we wanted to enjoy the road more than the destination. So obviously Yercaud was the perfect choice.

I have heard about Yercaud and also knew that it very much lag behind Ooty or any other South Indian hill stations in terms of beauty. So the expectations were very much set.

We started around 6:30am from our home, pretty late compared to the timings we generally start.

This was our route:

The road ahead

Here comes a hill

Passing by the hill

Such lovely scenes as you pass

The road is awesome

The road is good but in this short distance of 200 km we had to give toll tax at three places and the prices are steep.We had to get to Yercaud after crossing 20 hair pin curves.At each curve the beauty only gets better.Once on top, we expected it to be a little cold, by virtue of the height.But it was hotter than Bangalore! Yes at 11:00 am in the morning.

Amazing view

Flowers alongside

So first we looked for some of the hotels. Hotel TamilNadu which I think is the best bet in Yercaud is fully booked.Next we check ServaRoys hotel and they had only the premium suits available and that too quite expensive without much reason. There are not too much proper choices in terms of staying in Yercaud.

So we decided to have lunch first and then think whether to stay or get back home. We had lunch at the ServaRoy restaurant. The restaurant location is nice.We enjoyed our meal with a nice view of the Yercaud lake.However food is mediocre and expensive.

Next we went to Yercaud lake.Its a pretty small lake and not sure if its natural or man made.There are boating facilities available and its a good time pass.Once our boating was done, it was only 12:30 PM.

Yercaud Lake

Yercaud Lake

Yercaud Lake

Ankur asked me whether I want to return to Bangalore or stay there for  a day.First I though of staying for a day since going back means again driving some 200 km. But then it was only 12:30 PM we were almost done with Yercaud and the climate is also not great. So whats the point in staying back and wasting a day. I told him that I want to go back to Bangalore and relax at home. After all for me home is the best place once travelling is done.

Its very important to set your expectations proper if you are planning for Yercaud. There is nothing touristy about Yercaud except the lake and nothing much to see except a falls which is dry most of the year and also the not so popular Bear's Cave. In my opinion Yercaud is also not half as beautiful and pristine like Ooty or Conoor. Also its hot. However for a day's outing its a nice place a little break from the regular routine. The road is good and climbing up/down the hairpins, its nice.

If you have already seen Ooty or the Nilgiris you can give Yercaud a miss without any guilt, else if you enjoy the drive more then the destination then Yercaud is for you.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Bolpur,Shantiniketan culturally intoxticating

As a tourist if you are planning a visit to Bengal, then don't forget Shantiniketan. It is the place which Tagore built, where he has spend a big part of his life and till day the place can give you so much of Tagore that no other place can come close.

However for us it was more of soaking ourselves in the rich culture, in the vibrant markets selling handicrafts, listening to the bauls and indulging in some good food.

It is always good to visit Shantiniketan in the month of January when there is the "Poush Mela". At that time the otherwise sleepy town takes a complete makeover. Anyway we went in February end.

We started early from our house in Kolkata, and this time with the full family consisting of our parents and siblings. Shantiniketan is a small town near Bolpur and it is approximately 200 km from Kolkata. We started around 7 am and reached Bolpur at 12:30 pm.

The road was good and we reached Shantiniketan via Burdwan. I will not be able to tell the exact location but while you are in Burdwan keep your eyes open for the markers for the 108 Shiva Temples.

108 Shiva temples

Shiva's Bulls

The pond inside the temple premise

The Burdwan 108 Shiva Temples are more than 200 years old. As the name suggests there are 108 temples all dedicated to Shiva and they all look similar. There is a pond inside the temple premises and all the temples are built surrounding the pond. The temples are build in 1788 and they have the famous Bengal Terracotta style of architecture. The temples are still functional and are maintained by Trust. It will not take more than 30 minutes to see the Burdwan 108 Shiva Temples.

The twin terracotta temples

Terracotta sculptures on the temple wall

A rare to find mud hut

Before entering Bolpur, we chanced upon this pair of terracotta temples at Supur. Though they lie abandoned, uncared and unattended but still they are so beautiful. There are houses that have come along the vicinity of the temples but thankfully the temples are inside a quaint little park, so none really disturbs them. By the way terracotta is fire/sun baked clay.

Once we reached Bolpur, we went straight to Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge managed by the West Bengal government. They are duplex cottages but unfortunately for all all were booked for that day.

There are a lot of homestay and hotels in Shantiniketan, so getting one is not a major problem, but do not forget to prebook if you are planning to visit during the Poush Mela (in January) or Dol ( Holi, we Bengalis call it Dol). We stayed in Shakti hotel which is pretty good and decent.

The last time we came here we had already seen the Tagore Ashram. It is best to hire a guide who will be able to take you to all the places in this ashram and also tell the significance of each. in Bolpur or Shantiniketan if you are not having your own car then the best means of getting around is by cycle rickshaws. They are totally eco friendly and fun to travel in.

The round the year bazaar

Baul with his instruments

Just outside the Tagore Ashram there are stalls all round the year. It looks like there is a fair or mela all the year round. You will get beautiful acrylic painted clothes, block printed clothes, hand stitched bags, brass jewellery, wood sculptures, terracotta artifacts and a lot more. If you are lucky you can see "bauls" ( folklore singers) who sing soulful songs.

There is also a museum nearby called Rabindra Bhaban Museum which houses Tagore's  original belongings, his manuscripts and things that are priceless.

The roadside no frills restaurants in Shantiniketan make amazing food. We were bowled over by their  non veg  meals at lunch.

Deer at Deer Park

The next day in the morning we went to the deer sanctuary which is quite nearby. Next we headed to Bishnupur the Terracotta Capital of India and also the only place in the world that has elaborate terracotta temples.

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