Breaking the break!

My beleaguered blog needs some revival, its been a while I even looked at the blog, forget writing a post, consciously I need to now get back to regular posting and note down my travel experiences before I start forgetting them! I guess writing down is a habit and it is safe to say this time I am out of habit. Life has been way to eventful at times to actually sit back and soak it all in and summarise and hence the absence from the writing scene. I guess it happens to almost all of us. So many times it feels like the blog is dead and then somehow something inside me tells me to never give up on this idea, somehow keep it alive and sustain it and keep writing, whatever gibberish it may be, just do not give up!

 

At the very least remember to post travel stories! Although pretty much in a phase of life where I am not travelling right now, I must though ensure I tell you I did travel in January to the city of joy and then went tiger spotting in Sunderbans! 😀 😀

 

Yes bitches! I did, ate many Rosogullas and Kolkata Rolls and Mishti Doi’s and even went gliding down the beautiful mangrove forests! So whilst I am not telling you everything about the entire trip right away. I am atleast breaking the break from the blog and am promising to myself more than anyone else that I will be here more often! 😀 😀

 

I’ll leave you with one photo taken during our gliding around the the delta of Sunderbans, on a misty day when the horizon disappeared this boat broke the illusion that had been created! 🙂

 

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Old Magazine House

I have been planning to go to the Western Ghats for a birding trip since long, many articles, pictures and stories have been coming my way since a long time about how the bio-diversity here is amazing. Eventually this Diwali we managed to go and finally made a road trip down to North Karnataka.

The first destination on the list was The Old Magazine House a jungle camp that is run and managed by The Jungle Lodges and Resorts. As it turned out this place is a heaven for bird watchers!

Tucked slightly away from the highway, a 2 kms off-road drive brings you to this small camp. Amidst tall trees and very little sun peeping through the camp gives you a feel of calm and peace and tranquility about it. They have a small area that has been cleared of the trees where they have put some bird baths and on days when there is no rain around these very bird baths are an absolute favourite of the birds. The birds come here in throngs and they have put some green nets with small gaps made for the camera so that the birds are not disturbed by the bird watchers and photographers.

The first evening itself after around 5 till around 7 we counted 32 different species of birds at one spot, all you had to do was keep your note and pen ready, we would sit around sipping tea or reading a book and the birds would come! I mean I have gone to a lot of places to spot birds and yes there is a lot of fun and a sense of achievement in walking on trails and identifying birds but this was a first!

 

Here you just wait and all the birds from the surrounding woods come and give their attendance! How cool is that!? We counted 48 species in 24 hours and that I think is an amazing number! So many firsts that I cannot even tell you! This place is an absolute paradise for bird watchers who are lazy to go on trails I tell you!

 

The staff in the place is also very well equipped in terms of bird, plant, reptile identification and can have a conversation with us quelling all our curiousness. They not only are efficient that ways but are extremely caring and hospitable, never imagined govt tourist houses to have such a courteous and caring staff. They made some awesome meals as well and also took us out on trails in the woods.

 

The boarding facilities are basic, whilst the cottages are under repair the dormitory that they have are quite simple and good and adequate. Very neatly run this place has to be up on your list if you are looking to go birding in the Western Ghats. Here are some of the birds that we spotted here!

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Flame Throated Bulbul

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White Bellied Flycatcher

 

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Spider Hunter playing hide and seek with us

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Orange Headed Thrush & Fulvetta

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Emerald Dove, the state bird of Tamil Nadu

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Asian Paradise Flycatcher (female)

 

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Hump Nosed Pit Viper. Apart from the birds there are many other things to spot too 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

The secluded beach and the sunset

Call me snooty but I generally prefer places with less people, the more quiet, the more I can hear the sounds of nature, my thoughts and just be with my thoughts without any distraction. I love trekking in the Himalayas precisely for that reason, for the only way you can go away from people to the real places is when you walk away from the road and take up a trail up the slopes!

 

There always is an effort going on whenever I travel to go find such spots, sometimes its great to be just by yourself in nature, watching a sunrise or a wave crashing on a rock or a squirrel making merry with some nuts.

 

Recently we stayed in a place called Balapitiya, kinda in between the more famous Bentota and Hikkaduwa on the west to southwest sea coast of Srilanka, whilst Hikkaduwa and Bentota both are pretty nice beaches, there is a lot of activity there too, we did immerse in those, however, in the evenings after a couple of Mojito’s we preferred to walk on the beach across the road from the villa we rented. Barely 50 meters away is this beautiful beach, the best part was very very few people were about and so it was great fun to have this all to ourself.

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The beautiful Balapitya Beach!

 

We took long walks whilst watching the waves, collecting shells, getting our legs wet, spotting snails stuck on stones, and when tired we sat down to see an ethereal sunset! A very quiet, peaceful evening on this wonderful beach that was also where we took our first dips in the morning, albeit in the morning there were a few joggers around!

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The waves crashing on the rocks

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Soon enough the sun started going westwards!

 

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continually showing different hues as it went on its way!

 

There always are hideouts everywhere, remember that! If you are one of those who likes finding them, this is one nice beach tucked away in Srilanka that is not “developed” and at times I am thankful of that! 🙂

Living with locals

Ever since I discovered AIRBNB, I have fallen in love with it, its very different from what I had always tried, apart from having a home with a lot more space and facilities that hotels ever provide, there so many times is an opportunity to engage with a local. Not always have I had a host who is living hands on, however, many times I have had the chance through AIRBNB to actually stay with some locals and that I must tell you is where AIRBNB takes the cake in comparison to all other websites that aid travel. I must confess I have not really travelled to Backpacking hostels which are next on my list to visit and experience but till then AIRBNB is doing a wonderful job really.

I have to mention this now especially when I am back from Sri Lanka, where we visited not one but three different homes and hosts. Amongst them one experience was so wonderful it will stay with me for life.

I have to mention the wonderful stay we had with Domaine de Bellevue, a home hosted by Valerian a Sri Lankan and Laure his wife who comes from Switzerland. As much as I regret that I could not meet Valerian’s wife or kids who were holidaying whilst we were there, I think that gave us more of Valerian’s time and interacting with the guy was a wonderful thing to do. The guy has travelled extensively all around the world doing all sorts of jobs, speaks 7 languages and now seems to have settled on this little mountain he bought, yes, you read that correct, he bought a mountain with a view and then he built his house. The location is so superb that sitting on his porch in Wattegama we can actually see & determine what weather is in Kandy(18kms away), Colombo(153kms away) & Nuwara Eliya (91kms away). To actually reach his house you have to climb around 400 meters inside his property from where the vehicles stops!! I told you, the guy bought a part of a mountain!

What we learnt from him was most Sri Lankans are involved in making their own houses, unlike us who basically hire people to do stuff. Very proudly Valerian would tell us that the tiles on the porch we were sitting on were actually done by his own hands! How amazing is that?! The man would go for his job, cook breakfast and dinner for us, do gardening, most of his food came from his own garden, would clean and do the dishes, feed his dogs, cats and birds, regale us with his chats, arrange transport for us and all that single handedly! I mean how industrious and resourceful is that, honestly I have come back with a big complex from there!

The other benefit is that it offers so much insight when you have a local who is ready to talk and converse with all the time, so many of your questions have suddenly got some answers, there is ready information to feed all your curiosity about the place.

Another amazing thing was, when at night we would sleep or when we would go out all we did was just close the magnet locked net of the door, the door would be otherwise open for anyone wanting to enter. That is how safe it was around there! Imagine doing that in a foreign country?

I actually joined him in the kitchen, he even made me love eating a pumpkin, I tasted several new fruits in his garden, Katu Anoda juice being new for me and one that fast became a favourite with the meals. We even made a wood fired pizza with me helping him a teeny weeny bit of garnishing. The pizza again was made from dough, that he prepared, most of the ingredients for the toppings came from his own garden, was wood fired, yes he had a wood fire oven made for this specially!

Infact one night he had some other guests who were a french couple who wanted to eat french food and Valerian made a complete french dinner and even asked us what sort of wine we would like to drink alongside! We had a wonderful dinner that night with some awesome classical music collection that Valerian has, the conversation during that dinner was enriching, I love interacting with people from different countries and cultures.

I wonder if hotels can ever provide such experiences? Atleast I have never had any of such in Hotels, its with homestays, which have locals living alongside that such pleasant benefits exist.

Apart from giving so many wonderful moments as far as the stay facilities are concerned the houses have so much more character than hotels, so much more space than a hotel room and actually a lot more privacy than hotels plus this wonderful insight into local life. Isn’t that what most travellers look for when they set out to travel???

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When we reached a little late in the noon to his place and claimed we were hungry, he made us this wonderful salad and Katu Anoda juice. The orange thing in the salad is actually Pumpkin boiled in just nutmeg water and salt and tasted wonderfully with pepper! I never knew I would say I loved eating Pumpkin you know!

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For really wonderful photos of the place you have to visit its page on FB on the link I shared above.

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We spent a lot of time here lazing with a book and sipping tea or just admiring the view.

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The view of Kandy city from our HOME in Wattegama! 😀

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Lest I forget, the place is a treasure trove for birds, we spotted many many birds of whom I have to identify many yet! Here is a Scarlet Minivet we spotted from our hammock!

 

I just can go on and on about the benefits of staying with locals or staying in homes instead of hotels, not taking anything away from hotels, I use them as much, however, for the sheer varied experiences you get from a home and living with someone it just cannot match up.

 

So have you ever stayed in a homestay or with locals?? If not don’t wait, give it a try!

 

 

Sea, Sand & Fun

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A couple of kids jump into the Indian Ocean at a beach in Galle under the watchful eyes of their father. A beach is a wonderful blessing to have nearby and the Sri Lankans are pretty lucky in this regard, especially the ones that live near the coast. We happened to spend a week there, which coincided with Sri Lankan holidays as it is their festival season. It was a short, sharp trip but we loved it anyways watching the mild, smiling Sri Lankan’s enjoying their holidays and basking in the glory of their rich lands. Finally after the war ended some 6 odd years ago the emerald isle is set to shine and grow.

 

I guess the abc tag has to take a break, there are a lot of stories from Lanka to share. So stay tuned for more!

When in Rishikesh…

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it is inevitable that at some point or the other the spiritual journey will begin, near Laxman Jhula, I came across this painting on the wall, one of the most famous quotes of Mooji with his picture.Makes you think, doesn’t it?! Rishikesh does that to you and more.

 

Rishikesh is a discovery we must go on, I reckon we stop bothering if we are out discovering a city or ourselves. Its narrow lanes, chaotic traffic, noisy tuktuk’s not withstanding, the town has a charm about it. The amazing cafe’s, chaat shops that will wow you, the ashrams to aid you into a journey deep within or simply rafting about the Ganges, Rishikesh has a lot to offer.

 

Walking about near Lakshman Jhula and being coaxed into buying a stone by one of the salesman is an experience, it amazes you how much effort he puts into it, the product not withstanding, that is a lesson on keeping motivation high for all people involved in sales, who says rejections can act as a downer, the energy these guys have is amazing!

 

This was my first, short visit to the town, however, its not my last, I actually can now imagine, why so many foreigners make a beeline for this town. It showcases an India that is different from the one that I have seen. Perhaps next on the list should be making a few visits to the towns on the banks of Ganga. They seem a lot more interesting to me now, earlier I always used to think, its just crowded, dirty, religious cities best to be avoided, however, a brush with Rishikesh and I am compelled to make a journey of these cities! From Rishikesh to Haridwar to Allahabad to Benaras all these places are now on my list!