Thursday, 24 September 2020

Holidays at a Hill station and in the Forest

We took a flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. Stayed in Bangalore for a couple of days, and here we had a few surprises. First tickets were booked for our trip to Tirupati and back. Next we went on a long drive without knowing the destination. We left on an early morning for the long drive. Reached Mysore, looked around and drove on to cross the Karnataka border to Tamil Nadu through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve on to Madumalai Tiger Reserve. Driving on, we slowly realized on seeing the Coonoor road sign board, we were heading towards Ooty. The beautiful sight of the Nilgiris was visible all around. And we did reach Ooty and went on further to Lovedale, where we stayed. Next in the morning after breakfast left to return home. We were on the road, but again a surprise was in store for us. As we were driving back, took a left turn towards Masinagudi in TN and drove further down the road and entered a private road in the forest area. Here we stayed in a colonial forest bunglow amidst the forest……..

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Enjoying the holidays in a hill station in a chilly weather and than driving down and staying in a colonial British bunglow in a warm but pleasant climate, in a short span of  a couple of days was an unique experience. We fully enjoyed the unusual experience – the chill of Ooty in a cool villa type hostel filled with young tourists, many of them foreigners, overlooking the tea estate and panoramic view of the hills and then the warmth of the forest bunglow surrounded by forest with the sounds of growling and howling of animals deep inside the forest.

We both, me and my wife,  as planned took a flight from Mumbai to Bangalore somewhere in February 2017 to visit our daughter and son-in-law who had shifted to Bangalore some months ago. I had been to Bangalore at least three times earlier, but my last visit was almost more than two decades ago. Obviously the city has changed. It’s more cosmopolitan, crowded with people and many more huge buildings and towers. Being an IT hub with many corporate offices there, you find people from all over India and abroad staying and working there. Traffic is a nightmare with traffic jams, with quite a few roads still under construction. Over two decades ago, it was known as the air-conditioned city because of its cool climate and dust free environment. It was a compact city. Now it has expanded on all sides. However, we looked around the city, visited the the supermarkets, malls and had breakfast and meals in a few popular restaurants around. It gave me a feel of the city once again after decades.

On reaching Bangalore, we had quite a few surprises in store for us. First, our tickets were booked for a trip to Tirupati and back. We had a nice trip and a good view of the deity. The next surprise was a long drive to an unknown destination. We were not told the destination. We left one day, on an early morning for the long drive. Passing various towns, reached Mysore, looked around the city, the Mysore Palace and drove on to cross the Karnataka border to Tamil Nadu through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve on the Karnataka side towards Madumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. Here it was getting hot and could tell the heat. On the roads the trees were all bare with branches, without leaves or greenery and no vegetation in sight. Through the windows we could see deers, wild boars and other animals from the highway. We briefly stopped at a couple of  places to see and click the animals. And driving on for some distance, at one spot caught a glance of a passing elephant. It was pretty hot, unbearable and water holes had all dried up.


Ooty & Lovedale

Driving on, we slowly realized, the change in weather from hot to cool gave us a clue as to where we were heading, and later, on seeing the Coonoor road sign board, we were sure, we were heading towards Ooty. The climate changed and it was quite pleasant. 

The beautiful sight of the Nilgiris and hills in the background was visible all around. And we did reach Ooty and we didn’t  stop here and we were heading further down the road, and went on to Lovedale, where we finally stayed close to the Lovedale station. Since we were not aware of the destination, hadn’t carried any warm clothes, a sweater or a jacket.

From morning  and through the day, though it was chill, it was quite pleasant. But slowly towards evening it was very chilly and cold and literally shivered in my Tshirt. The water was almost freezing cold. We stayed in a beautiful villa type hostel, crowded with young male and female tourists from India and other countries. We got comfortable in our room, changed and relaxed after the long drive. Next morning had a hot bath to beat the chill.

The new day, after breakfast, we moved around Lovedale and Ooty. We went to see the Rose garden, but unfortunately it was closed. We moved around the lanes of Ooty peeping into shops. Later on our way back, we visited the Chocolate Museum. Here we could see and understand a lot about chocolates – the various types of chocolates, how its made, cut and packed. And how it was made in the early years. It was quite an interesting visit and a learning experience.

Masinaguddi forest – The Wild at Northern Hay

After our visit and sight-seeing in Ooty, we were on the road, thinking we are returning back home  to Bangalore, but again a surprise was in store for us. As we were driving back, took a left turn towards Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu and drove further down the road and entered a private road in the forest area.

After driving some distance, we reached the entrance of the forest area. We were asked to park the car here as private vehicles aren’t allowed inside the forest area. After waiting for while and confirming our presence on the phone, a jeep came to pick us up. We all sat with our bags and proceeded towards the forest. Here too, the trees and branches were dry without any leaves or vegetation. There was no sign of water anywhere. The jeep driver pointing to the Caracas of an elephant which had died a few days ago due to lack of food and water. He further added, every year around these summer months, it gets hot with unbearable heat and the water holes too dry up and the animals go deep into the jungle in search of food and water.

Driving in the jeep through the forest and rough pathway and uneven terrain was an unique experience, made us anxious, though it was adventurous. Finally reached the forest bunglow in the midst of the forest. It was a colonial British bunglow well maintained and well preserved with old furniture, fixtures, fittings and crockery. I am sure the Britishers must have lived in style. And we got a chance to experience their lifestyle.

We were instructed not to leave the precincts of the bunglow or stray anywhere else as it might be dangerous as it might attract the wild animals, a risky proposition. It is a well laid out bunglow with areas to relax and a gallery to enjoy the sights. A lot of old mementos, antique ware, swords, axes and other weapons are on display, with a typical old fashioned living room, bedrooms, washrooms, basins, bathrooms and a well laid out typical English dinning room with  a large table and chairs, old crockery and cups and mugs. It’s all reminiscent of the good old British days.

Later in the evening went on a safari into the forest in a jeep. We went through the dense forest and got a chance to see a few animals. We came to the open area where we were told by the guide, the animals chase and kill their prey in this area. We were a bit hesitant to stand there any longer lest any animal see us all. Further down the dirt tracks, the guide pointed at the pug marks, which meant a tiger had walked through this area. It was scary. On the way as it was getting dark, with the focus lights on, we caught glimpses of quite a few animals who turned away seeing the lights. By the time we reached the bunglow it was almost dark. We rested in our rooms, refreshed and changed to casual wear.

We were informed of the dinner as per the menu given earlier. Dinner was served in the spacious colonial style dinning room. The food was delicious and tasty. After relaxing for a while, retired to our rooms. We were told to lock all the doors and windows for our own safety. While we slept we could hear growling  and howling, and even running of animals at a distance. Though disturbed by this, we fell asleep. Getting up early morning, on peeping out through the window could see huge monkeys sitting in the bunglow precincts. They were big  as a average human and reminded me of the monkeys of the Vanar sena of Hanuman!

The next day after breakfast and a wonderful stay in the forest bunglow, we left for home. The jeep dropped us near where our car was parked. And finally we drove back to Bangalore. It was an exciting long drive and a chance to experience the chill in the hill station at Ooty and Lovedale and warmth in the Masinagudi forest. A great holiday indeed.

After spending a couple of wonderful days in Bangalore, we were on our way back to Mumbai. Took a flight from Bangalore and back in Mumbai.

Also read: You too can design your home  *  Taste of South India

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Home-stays score over swanky hotels

Holiday IQ report revealed that majority (40%) of the home-stays in India are in Kerala, followed by Karnataka (27%) and Himachal Pradesh (10%). Home-stays are also common in Goa, Konkan and Mangalore on the west coast of India.

People on official visits prefer to stay in swanky hotel rooms with all the modern gadgets. But for vacations people look for something simple and homely. Given a choice between a tastefully done-up hotel room in a good hotel and a decent villa, cottage or a nondescript house with simple rooms, basic amenities, home-cooked cuisine and locals (either elderly couple or a small family) as hosts, a tourist couple, family or even friends would choose the home-stay with a couple of rooms, get the entire house to themselves. And it suits the budget too and don’t have a bellboy standing on their head asking you often for your orders! There are many travellers opting for a quiet homely vacation, a concept popular in the west and now in India too.

Some even visit every few months or every year. Promotion is through word of mouth, social media and numerous websites devoted to home-stay, where one can register and provide details of the home available for home-stay, which get hits from readers in India and abroad. Sometimes they even do the background check of the travelers from overseas.

According to data from HolidayIQ, home-stays in India have grown almost 100-fold in the last decade especially Kerala, Mangalore and Goa. And for home-owners it is a good way to earn money from the vacant house; and who are not keen to take local tenants for long stay. And also gives an opportunity to meet people from different places and cultures in India and abroad. Some of them have become good friends, visit regularly and recommend tourists to visit a particular place and home-stay.

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Dharmastala Temple, Mangalore, India
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