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Showing posts with label travelogue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travelogue. Show all posts

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Coonoor Chronicles

"It feels great to hit the road", I said. Hubby did not dare to disagree. After all, we were taking a trip after a long gap of almost an year. It was just about 5:30 in the morning and Bangalore was slowly edging into consciousness. We drove as fast as we could to avoid the crazy traffic that has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. But little did we know what lay in store for us.

Feeling a little better once we had left the chaos of the city roads for the picturesque Bangalore Mysore highway, we took a quick break for some tea and snacks at one of the Kamat eateries that line the highway. These places always serve quality food at a decent price. Getting back into the car, we drove past Channapatna, Mandya and even Mysore without facing any traffic at any point.

Driving through never-ending forests of Bandipore, we finally reached the foothills of Ooty around 12:30.  And after those negotiating those 37 hair pin bends and encountering droves of tourists ( May being the peak tourist season), we finally reached Ooty around 1:30 pm. Quickly covering a few of the usual tourist hangouts (all of which were packed to capacity and required one to stand in an incredibly long queue), we settled for lunch at the Planter's Paradise, a centrally located restaurant. It is one of the few good places to eat when in Ooty as other options can leave one with a bad taste in the mouth. Food was predictably good and well priced. Service was quick and I was amazed that they could manage to keep it up given the staggering number of folks walking into the restaurant.

Ooty Botanical Gardens - Anyone game for a song n dance ?

With food in our bellies, the tiredness of the journey finally kicked in. Desperate to reach Coonoor for a siesta, we battled the traffic rush which was unbelievably high due to the confluence of the tourist rush and an upcoming election in TN. But it got worse when one reached Coonoor, much of this sleepy town being designed to handle single lane traffic and nothing more. And since our destination, Lamb's Rock, was situated right next of one of the most popular sightseeing spots of Coonoor, we had to battle it out with others who were eager to return back to Coonoor/Ooty after visiting the spot.

Finally, after witnessing traffic queues that could put Bangalore to shame, we managed to reach the villa. Situated in a tea estate, it looked straight out of a dream. Standing in the tiny patch in front of it, I could only manage stare at the beauty that surrounded this place. To use a much abused expression, it was 'fifty shades of green' and a few more that I could spot around me. Buffeted by the undulating slopes of the tea estates on one side and a awe inspiring Shola forest on the other, this place was situated right in the lap of Nature.

Tea estate in front of our stay

The cozy vacation stay 

While one would expect such places to be enveloped by a deathly silence, it was far from quite. The air was rent with the cries of cicadas and a million other insects. This cacophony quickly changed into a strange howling once the winds started blowing though the leaves of the statuesque trees. Being so far from the main town, there were very few lights to be seen and when the fog suddenly descended upon us, even they dimmed out. A primal fear gripped me at the moment but it was mingled with a sense of exhilaration. Something like being cast out of civilization but at the same time, of being ensconced in a cozy capsule. Maybe it was the effect of the villa which was just so warm and cheerful.

The villa had a kitchen which was stocked with all necessities. If you are a pasta lover, I strongly recommend you to carry some pasta, olive oil and a few herbs when you visit this place. But since we were not carrying anything and also being extremely tired, we had an early dinner ( takeaway from Dragon restaurant ) before dropping dead. And slept for the longest time. Waking up around 7:30 in the morning, I was captivated by the dazzling blue of the clear sky. Brewing a cuppa for myself, I took a short walk in the tea estate and came across some over-enthusiastic bees who did not look like they would take kindly to my strange presence in what was obviously their territory. Taking a cue, I beat a hasty retreat and settled down in the tiny patch of a sun-kissed lawn with a Murakami.

Once kiddo was up, it was hard to contain him inside the house. The cozy tent pitched in the lawn proved to be a magnet for him but what made matters worse was the presence of the four-legged furry friends. The shenanigans of Blackie, Puppy, Socks and Pepper were too much to resist. The breakfast was on the house and we were a bit disappointed with what turned up at the table.

A quick shower and we were ready to step out for some sightseeing. A short trip to SIM's park turned out to be good hike as it is landscaped onto the slope of a hill. The pretty flowers, the ancient looking trees and the small lake built in the center of a garden are the major attractions of this place.

Wanted to hug this grand old tree !!

The next point we visited was Dolphin's nose. Nice view but nothing spectacular. View points like these are the usual suspects in any hill station down South. However it was the ride to this place which turned out to be the best part of the trip as we took a breathtakingly beautiful circuitous route through the tea estates of Coonoor. Yes, it did remind me of Munnar and the song 'Kashmir Main Tu Kanyakumari' from Chennai Express.

The waterfall at the distance !

Yours' Truly striking a pose !

The final stop was the tea factory. It was a quick tour and one ended up much enlightened about what goes into a making of India's favorite beverage. Chai point could not have put it any better than when it claimed that 'India runs on Chai'. And yes, as always I ended up buying every possible variant (read  organic,green, masala, ginger, etc) of the beverage.

How cud I resist this one? Anyone ready to pop the question?

Wrapping up the sightseeing as quickly as we could, we traveled back to the villa. But before that, we stopped for a quick lunch at the Orchid Boutique Hotel. Inspite it's reputation, he food was a complete letdown.

Back to the villa, we settled for a siesta to recharge our batteries. And just one hour prior to sunset, we set out for Lamb's rock. This short walk through the forest canopy was most exhilarating. The thunderous clouds gathered in the sky had darkened the path more than usual. And the chatter of the birds and the insects felt scarier than any of the sound effects in the horror movies. It was enough to send chills down one's spine. But once we reached the point, the throng of tourists broke the spell that had been cast on us. Within a few minutes, it started drizzling and we had to beat a hasty retreat. Half walking, half running we managed to reach our stay but not before we had been drenched completely.

Once we had changed into dry clothes, it took a few cups of steaming hot tea to warm us up. Arranging the dinner turned out be another nightmare as it was raining quite a bit. Inspite of being situated very near to the 'De Rock' hotel, the hosts do not have a tie-up for the meals ( can't really blame them as the place is actually a B&B kinda thing. Chk it out on AirBnB ). That proved to be the only con of staying at the "Welaro'. Finally the dinner arrived late and we called it a day.

The next morning I rose quite a bit early to spend more time amidst the lush greenery of the tea estate. I wanted to capture as much as I could of the awe inspiring beauty that surrounded the place. But then, time is a tricky thing and soon it was time for us to make a move. A quick shower and breakfast later, we were ready to hit the roads by 9. As if on cue, our furry friends too turned up at the doorstep to bid adieu to us. It was a tearful moment as kiddo had become rather fond of one of them.

Striking a pose - Baby and Blackie !!

Since we had started early, we manged to avoid a lot of traffic driving through Ooty and down the hills. A pit-stop at Planter's Paradise for breakfast and a short halt for lunch at Empire restaurant on the Mysore-Bangalore highway helped us reach Bangalore in good time ( just before 5 pm ). Yet another eventful trip had come to an end but the memories would stay with us for years to come.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Weekend Retreat at Yercaud !!!

With the rains wrecking havoc in Wayanad, we had to postpone our planned trip to this picturesque hill station for the umpteenth time (God knows if we will ever get there). But since we had kind of made up our minds to take a break, we quickly googled for other options in Bangalore's proximity. And we got lucky when we stumbled upon Yercaud, a hill station near Salem.

Yercaud is one of those lesser known and hence not quite commercialized hill stations of Tamil Nadu. Located in the Shevaroys range of the Eastern Ghats, it has an altitude of 4970 feet above sea level. With the road connecting it to Bangalore being in top shape, it takes just a little less than four hours to reach by car.

Starting off from Marathahalli at 6:30 am, we traveled through Hosur - Rayakottai - Palacode to reach Salem at just after 12. A breakfast break and the traffic in Salem slowed us down but the overall journey itself was quite nice. We traveled though a enchanting stretch of forest land and the countrysides were dotted with numerous beautiful hills and mountains. The climb up the Yercaud Main Road was awesome with the stretch comprising of 20 hair pin bends and numerous other curves. The verdant passage was almost deserted except for a lone truck or two and we could slow down whenever we wanted to soak in the beauty of a particularly breathtaking view. Two groups of photography enthusiasts had also set up their equipment along the stretch.

We had booked a room at Hotel Shevaroys, which is one of the few good properties of Yercaud, the previous night. The friendly staff quickly completed the check in procedure and led us to our room which was quite cozy (apart from a few fixtures that needed repair). After a refreshing shower, we took a walk around the premises which is quite huge and even included a walk through a coffee plantation. Tried from the journey and the short walk, we opted for a quick lunch at the in-house restaurant 'Silver Oak'. And were frankly surprised by the food and the hospitality. Our relationship manager Mr Johnson suggested that we go for some of their specialties like the Bamboo biryani and the Naduru Kozhi curry, both of which turned out to be good. Even the plain Naan and yellow dal were awesome, much better than the stuff one finds at most hill stations.

Refreshed with a two hour nap, we decided to venture out of the hotel around 5 pm. The Yercaud Lake was at a 10 mins walking distance from our place. Very scenic and well kept, it offers boating facilities at a reasonable price. And these guys are so obsessed with safety that they have made it mandatory to wear life jackets !! There is also a nicely maintained garden where one can sit and look over the emerald waters of the lake which seems to have settled into the cozy lap of Mother Nature with mountains protecting it from all sides .

Since the deer park adjacent to the boat house was closed by 6 pm, we decided to venture to the Anna park which is situated on the other side of the road. This is the place for flower lovers and despite it being off season, the park was a riot of colors. There is also a play area with swings, slides and other stuff for children. We roamed around for half an hour till it was closing time. Like other hill stations, this place has practically no night life. Even the regular profusion of shops selling tourist memorabilia/ knickknacks is absent. Hence we decided to go back to the resort which offered some indoor games. An early dinner followed by another long walk inside the resort and we were more than ready to hit the sack.

Getting up late the next morning, we took a quick shower before heading to the restaurant for a buffet breakfast (included in the room charges). It was a decent spread and though we were late, food was available in plenty. After the breakfast, we headed out for a sightseeing trip. As we were not too sure about the condition of the roads, we hired an auto and ended up covering most of the places within a short span of three hours. Yeah, Yercaud is a small place and the tourist attractions are certainly limited. However, the sheer beauty of nature offered by the stunning view-points of this place make up for the lack of everything else.

And ofcourse the numerous coffee estates !!

The Shevroyan Temple (dedicated to Lord Vishnu) is situated at the highest point. While this cave temple is certainly ancient and not to be missed, one has to walk another 50 meters to reach the viewpoint which offers an amazing  Do not forget to carry a jacket or a stole as it gets quite windy up here.

The Gent's seat, Ladies'seat, Children's seat, Rose garden and Rajarajeshwari temple are the other places we covered. I personally found the view from Gent's seat to be the most spectacular of all. Sadly the Horticultural Research Station and Botanical Garden were closed on Saturday and I could not get an eyeful of those Kurinji and bell flowers. Also, the Killiyur waterfalls were dry and off our itinerary. However the resort guys had arranged for a bonfire and some music and games in the lawns which kept us entertained on Saturday evening.

Saving the best for the last ! The most memorable and romantic click of the trip...something about this couple left me quite stirred.

Photo clicked at Rose Garden, Yercaud !!

Overall, we had a great time relaxing and reveling in the hospitality provided by our resort. Add some great food, a couple of good books and Yercaud is just the kind of getaway one could wish for.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chilika Travel Diaries

Last week I realized my long cherished dream of visiting the Chilika lake. Had caught some glimpses of the vast expanse of this lake (the geographically correct term would be 'lagoon' or a area of sea water separated from the ocean by a reef/sandbar) during my train journeys on the Hyd-Bbsr route and had been mesmerized ever since. Though it is merely a two hour jouney from BBSR (which is my in-laws place), something or the other kept coming up during our Odisha trips and we could never make that trip. That is until last week when destiny finally smiled on me ( my husband has been there a number of times during his school days ). For the uninitiated folks, the beautiful Chilika Lake is the largest brackish water lagoon of India. Spread out over an area of 1100 square kms , it covers the Puri, Khorda and Ganjam districts of Odisha. It host a large number of migratory birds in the winter months and offers a whole plethora of scenic spots within the periphery of the water body.

We started off quite late from BBSR as we were in a big group and everyone took time to get ready and reach the starting point. It was almost 11:30 am by the time everyone got into the car . Though we had booked an Innova for the trip, it felt a bit cramped as there were 10 of us including the driver and two kids. Except for a 5 min halt to sip some sugarcane juice and sample dahi bara-ghuguni-alu dum, we travelled without any halts and reached Balugan by 1:20 pm. The trip was planned for a Wednesday as it is one of those days (the other being Friday) where everyone can indulge in non-veg food without offending any God or Goddess (strictly in accordance with Odia culture, others please excuse).

On reaching Balugan, we headed straight to the Chilika Dhaba, which is touted as the sea-food Paradise of Odisha. Though it looked quite nondescript, the sheer number of people who were having their meals here baffled us. There were different sitting areas designated for different sections of travellers or more importantly different budgets. The waiter guided us to a dining hall which was exclusively meant for families/couples. We ordered for crab, prawns, chicken and fish ("pohola", a local delicacy) along with rice, dal, papad and mineral water. The food was served in about 15 mins. Everything turned out to be delicious though the prawns were a bit overdone. To finish it off, we ordered for some masala cold drink. At the end of it, we were handed over a bill of Rs 1600 which sounded too good to be true.

Getting back to the car, it took us another 5-10 mins to reach PanthaNivas/OTDC, Balugan.  Walking towards the lake, I started to lose my nerves and was literally shaking by the time we got into the boat. Though there are quite a few kinds of boats to choose from, the elders decided to go for a old fashioned motor boat. It had no lights, no life jackets and some rod kind of thing which the old boatman used for steering the boat. Though I thought that it made more sense to go for one of the hi-tech boats, I was too scared to mouth any kind of disapproval at that moment. My fears kept rising as the boat moved away from the horizon and the likeness of any civilization grew increasingly smaller. After around thirty minutes we reached a point where we were completely surrounded by water and there was no sight of any shore. This was the point where I was so taken by the glorious beauty of nature that I completely shed any lingering fear and started to truly enjoy the sights. We saw quite a few varieties of birds like the sea fowl which was serenely sailing along the waters, some were swooping down to catch fish, a kind of crane/ergot standing on one leg on a protruding piece of rock and flocks of white,black and yellow birds (sorry but I am no good with those names) flying very low over the waters. We also caught a lone fish jumping out of the waters. The golden rays of the setting sun had colored the lake in beautiful hues of green, blue and red. No wonder that the beauty of this place during the dusk has inspired a beautiful Odia poem 'Kalijai re sandhya'.

We were headed to famed temple of Maa Kalee Jaee/Kalijai, the reigning deity of the lake. Legend attributes the birth of the Goddess to the appearance of the spirit of a young woman who drowned while traversing the lake to reach her husband's home situated on the other side of the lake ( a village by the name of Parikuda which still exists ). While her own life was tragically cut short by the cruel waters of the lake during a storm which suddenly engulfed the boat, she decided to save others from a similar fate. To this very day, people offer their prayers to the Goddess while boarding a boat on this very lake. Folklore depicts her as a 'pratekshya devi' or an omnipresent force who appears whenever her devotees are in distress and some people say that her cries are still heard on the island during the dark stormy nights.

Image courtesy - Wikipedia

We reached the island just as the evening prayer (or 'aarti') was about to begin. Though small, the temple has a unique charm of its own. There were loads of 'lali sankha' (or the red bangle that married women in Odisha wear) tied almost everywhere by the women folk who pray to the Goddess to keep their marriage intact. We also caught some friendly goats and chicken running around on the island. An elderly member in our group informed me that those animals had been gifted to the Goddess by the devotees whose wishes had been fulfilled. The most important festival here is the Makar Sankranti during which a fair called the 'Makarmela' is organised on the island.

I made the return journey in a great state of mind as a long cherished dream had been fulfilled. The Goddess had finally answered my prayers.

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