Posted in European Trips, Life Travel, road trips, travel, UK Dairies

10 things that crossed my mind, in Nottingham

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Nottingham happened long after my Scottish holiday. I was mostly sauntering at the Rising Sun Country Park in New Castle, because it was the most accessible and the most peaceful around my home stay there. I conversed with the strong, gusty winds if I should do the next leg of the trip. There was a lot more to see and experience in this town but the south of England was luring too. The winds convinced me that it was yet another chance to be on the road, meet a few people out there you haven’t seen in a long time and no one really knows when will be the next chance to do so. A large wave of thoughts swept my mind and this led to book my tickets. I was ready to see the next high street, Next River and most importantly the next deck of hills, but this time more residential than solitary.

It was a short stay at Nottingham; life here was a bit fast paced than New Castle. At first sight, it appeared to be a hub of the Asian community, a bit too crowded and a bit too untidy. There were lesser countrymen and more immigrants visible. Very soon it also started appearing to be a student city, not just because of the display advertisements of the colleges in the city but also because of the part time jobbers who fill up the supermarkets and food joints. Many a things that I was observing around were regular, daily bits of life for them and yet appeared to be so different and sometimes strange for an outsider.

Here are a few things that I took note of in Nottingham, however, I wouldn’t hesitate in saying that they pretty much define the life around this country.  Though they are common in the West, I wish the East, especially India picked them up.

  • World Radio Frequency – Radio never fails to surprise me. It is a forever young idea to listen to a song that pops up on the radio out of nowhere. What was even more surprising was to catch a bollywood number on an international frequency. It was probably the last thing that I would expect in a foreign land but made me the happiest of all. Radio, the communication stream that can never go out of fashion, and carries these little bundles of joy. I was happy to hear a Shahrukh Khan’s movie song playing here in Nottingham and what would be equally interesting will be to catch the latest Ed Sheeran’s song reaching out to me when I reach back home.

 

  • Skateboarding – The kids live by their boards, no matter where they go, they want to be on their own two wheels, even if it means an extra luggage to carry around. The feeling of being able to fly, of being on their own and the one of being unstoppable, all come in a package. The fun lies in being able to twist and swipe through the herds and yet not losing the speed. English kids have certainly mastered the skill.

 

  • Cycling – A city without a defined cycling path is a city that needs restructuring. A city with a cycling path is the one that never turns old. Cycling, in my opinion, is the most natural expression of freedom and independence. Whether you are competing with the wind or you are slyly moving the wheels and singing along, the joy of riding was visible around the city of Nottingham. Besides, there is never an age for it; it is something that everyone here loves to do. As I see the rising number of cyclists back home, I only wish there were safer paths.

 

  • Running – Runners need no set paths; they only need destinations and clean air for their lungs. It is a sport without props; all that I saw in people here was the motivation to run.

 

  • A central river – Though it is a natural historic phenomena that cities in their early days developed around the source of water, in modern days, many cities are losing the sheen and shine of their rivers. That however is not the case with Nottingham. Trent River flows through the center of the city, the embankment is well covered with the greener shades and the river is put to use for some really interesting activities. As I walked along the embankment, I saw some houseboats, which I was told were the permanent houses of the families living within them. They, apparently, loved the idea of being on water rather than being on earth. I even feel, it is a great idea to have a home which is just easily movable. Apart from these floating families, there were rowers, speedily rowing across the length of the river. They caught my attention for a really long time. They were fast, moving in an organized way, synergized in their actions. All their energies were put in just one act and whosoever did it the best was always ahead. It may be too much to demand for developing this sport back home but it would not be wrong to demand for the redevelopment of the central river of my city again.

 

  • Country Parks – Country Parks are the proof that we are able to maintain the natural habitat of our area and that we are still closely connected to nature. While we may not be able to go on adventure holidays all the time, we would not mind to get a glimpse of dense, forest-like, natural trails around the house. The green cover of Nottingham is worth the attention it gets from its people.

 

  • Pet-walking – Talk about dogs, cats and rabbits and there is none you will not find here in Nottingham. While some need hand holding, some others are sincerely obedient. There are not just dog lovers around the city but also bird lovers and animal lovers. From horses to rabbits, everyone is pettable. The love for animals is unavoidable here; there is a pie of cuteness in every living being here. My favorite was a rabbit named Jessica, who is fond of strawberries and can chew on them all day long.

 

  • Old Age Enthusiasm – It is not just the animals that are being cared for, everyone who needs attention are entertained here. I happened to witness some feeble, old souls with a very strong heart and a desire to live. Their spirit of life, their will to keep going, their bodily incapability being supported mechanically and the ever shining bright smile that they never forget to carry is evidence that the city never ceases on hope and happiness.

 

 

  • Intended Politeness – This is the one I wish I could pack in my bag and take along with me. What they taught us in our childhood, is practiced all their lives. The mannerism, the amiability, the expressions that kills the ego, they have it all in abundance. It is totally harmless here to be polite; in fact it is a bit negative to be mean and arrogant. It is very easily assumed here that you too will maintain the politeness, but what wrong does it do! It is one of those things that they say speaks aloud of your character.

 

  • Public Display of Affection – And this one is my most favorite. This is the one that brings a wide smile to me. If only love was more acceptable in everybody’s eyes, would there be lesser hatred around. I see it as a sign of hope, as a sign that we all need a little bit of expression in our lives. And an expression of love is also an expression of freedom. The more we can feel it around, the better we are.

Nottingham is the quiet kind of place where I sat and observed. The home stay where I was staying was situated on the hill top, the one that descended downwards and with each descend spread out far and wide, with little houses built in this expanse where the people who carried these small acts each and every day lived. The window of this room opened to the whole city, the city that was vibrant yet simple. No matter how much I was enjoying the simple acts of life here, many of them making the mundane life interesting, I had already started missing my kaleidoscope; my plethora of cultures, food and people. But hey! Not so soon! The Kaleidoscope of England; the city of London was still undone. And that is where I was going to bunk for the next few nights.

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Posted in European Trips, Forests, road trips, travel, UK Dairies

Scotland; The Highlands!

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Imagine your routine life in one of the cities of Northern England. Biting cold, uncanny rains, football fever and running and cycling in the country park are some of the most common experiences that you would live by. The other commonalities will include your frequent visits to the local grocery stores, spending the evenings by the river that flows through the city and enjoying an after work beer in the neighbourhood pub on Fridays. While some may be interested in digging deep into the local history and heritage, some others are keen on drowning into the night life and yet feeling high. Most of you would agree that this pretty much looks like the highlight reel of a common man’s life in any of the cities that they may be residing in. But what takes me particularly to the “Northern” part of England is its proximity to the Scottish landscapes.

Analogically speaking, it is like having an urban life in Delhi and dreaming of Himalayas almost every alternate weekend. In my opinion, it is the holiday destinations around the establishment that makes any location unique.

For a city like New Castle, towards the Northern coast of England, planning a holiday in Scotland is the most obvious thing to do. The summer of 2016 shaped some of my imaginations to reality. During my stay in New Castle, I spent a week amidst the gorgeous glens, lustrous lochs and the wanderous woodlands of Scotland. My ideal holiday was recreated, though very far from my own home and yet close to my home stay in Europe. I lost myself on the spectacular streets of a Scottish village, raged on the road to Fort William, the dream drive that should have never ended, posed for a ‘pretty’ and ‘touristy’ pictures on the banks of Loch Lomond and strolled onto some of the many nature-trails that attracts the explorers to Scotland.

Unlike the weather which always remains unpredictable, the enthusiasm to explore remains a constant here. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned traveller, whether you are a nature lover, adventure lover or culture lover, there is a bit of every taste on the platter. And though five days would never feel enough, I could gladly sweep through some of the popular spots in the centre of this coastal country. During my stay in Scotland I mostly belonged to the clan of nature lovers adding only a flavour of cultural and touristy activities.

Here are a few things that you may be keen on doing depending on the permit granted by the Weather Gods.

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is one of the most popular and easily accessible travel destinations in Scotland. We pre-decided the driving route, crossed the English-Scottish borders in style; received a musical welcome from a Scottish piper as we officially entered Scotland but it was miles to go before we reached our destination.

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After a six hours long drive, we reached at a holiday park in Rowardenann, where we had our cottage booked. A word of caution for the travellers, it is advisable to reach here before it gets dark as you would drive amidst a dense forest and the road tends to be tricky towards the end. No, it is not the lochness monster but the tipsy topsy roads, some of which lead nowhere. We ended up on one of these roads, it was nothing less than an adventure, with the water body on the left and a fierce forest on the right, we were almost frozen with fear inside the car. Dark is a dangerous hour to drive, yet somehow we managed to find ‘The Hoot’.

The Hoot, our home for the next five days, on the banks of Loch Lomond, was a wooden cottage owned by Fiona, a Scottish lady who we did not actually meet. Very similar to caravan holiday, this felt more like a complete home to ourselves. As I cuddled myself up in the blanket, I thought of the next five days, they were going to be exciting. I was at one end of the forest, there was a loch outside the cottage adjoining the hills, a broken internet connection, a pub outside the cottage that plays live music, a cute village at the other end of the forest and the zillion of walks that I could do to explore the greeny side. Not to forget, I was sitting at the foot of Ben Lomond, one of the most popular highland walks in the region. But here I was, engulfed inside the velvety blanket, two pegs down, still thinking of what all should I be doing. There was so much to do that I did not want to rush myself into everything. After all, I was on a holiday and the idea was also to chill along with exploring.

Day two, I lazily woke up to the view of a tall tree behind which was the loch widely spread. The wooden deck was wet but the Robins visited us quite often. As I stepped outside the glass door on the wooden deck, I was mesmerized with the dusky clouds that were settled onto the hills. The sun light made sure it pierced through the clouds making the hills even more noticeable. I was absorbed into the view for a while, a screenshot was placed before me and I did not want any icons on my screen.

It wasn’t very cold and windy, the weather prediction of the day was pretty much suitable for a day out. In a jiffy, we decided to hit the road towards Ben Navis, Fort William. Fort William is one of the very popular towns in the Scottish highlands, towards the western coast. The road to Fort William takes you through the Glen Coe mountain ranges, the ones that cast their spell on you. At first, they seem lonely and barren, as if untouched and uninhabited. But they are not soulless. They proliferate through the highlands, standing erect and uniformly shaped; they do not go out of sight. Some make way for the seasonal rivulets that come to life during the monsoons and traverse a long distance. Many are covered with long grasses that make it challenging to climb them on wet days, nevertheless hold the gravel on the slope. It was a delight to see people hiking in random directions for reaching to the top was something very attractive here.

Some of these mountains were desolate, as if they never needed a company. The sun shone brightly on them as well, and they stood tall with pride. All throughout the way, the clouds darted a dark shadow on these mountains, they were varied in shape and intensified by the sunrays.

As I absorbed this gorgeous beauty of the journey, I also immersed myself in the music; there was no chattering and these hills whispered slowly to us. They diverged and converged, making enough space to embrace us. The awestruck expression flashing on our faces and the glittering eyes admiring the nature were the proof that we were grateful for this day in our lives. As a token of thanks and as a way of hugging these mountains back, we stepped down from our car and climbed one of these hills. They greeted us with warmth and we became unstoppable as we stepped down. The trail went up as far as the eyes could see; we were glued to the trail for as long as there were no stones to block our way. Once the way blacked out, we turned around to witness what we had gained – view and peace. Certainly we were not on top of the world, nevertheless we were still standing at a spot from where the world was visible. We were on a highland.

The day came to an end too soon. We were still in awe of what we saw when we reached home. What tempted us now were some freshly baked pizzas and a bottle of scotch.

Day three came soon; a little drippy and drowsy. The clouds populated the sky so intensely that we couldn’t muster up the courage to explore around the loch. It was best to bring out the board and card games while still stealing a glimpse of the Loch Lomond. After repeated failures to take a walk outside, we finally settled down with a cup of coffee on Uno. We enjoyed the drizzle from within the closed doors, without cold and without wet. Only the sound splattered on the wooden deck and the drops trickled down the glass windows. The old hills exhibited new colours; in some places new waterfalls sprung out and the clouds started to dissolve as it poured.

Once the sky was clearer, we decided to explore a few natural trails around the loch. International Youth Hostel was just outside of our holiday park, on the foothills of Ben Lomond. It is as peaceful as a forest and yet very close to the road. On one side the view opens to a loch with a dock for ferry taxis, and on the other side was the path to Ben Lomond. Up and up it went, for a few miles, as if touching the clouds, like the beard of a man in his fifties, slightly white and slightly grey, entangled into each other with no definite proportions.

The more I looked towards Ben Lomond, the more I got intrigued. I wanted to climb it and see what was beyond the clouds. Probably there was another milestone to reach for it was a long long walk to the top of Ben Lomond. I surely was curious but I did not have the right gear. Soon it was going to rain and I would be not ready to face the harshness. I cuddled it through my eyes and decided to walk back. It was a bit sad walk while going back but not a long one. I opened up another Beer on the dining table, along with some Punjabi beats to uplift my mood again. As the sun set further down, I rolled back through the day in my head.  The Clansman bar must be full of Scotch lovers cosily sitting by the fireplace. The Rowardannan Hotel, by any chance do they serve Indian Food? I doubt them. How very exciting it would have been if I was in one of the caravan parks, along with a tent. It would have been perfect to pitch it under the stars now. But the clouds are being nasty again, so I guess Hoot is just perfectly warm for me. Besides, I have never stayed in a wooden lodge before. All the thoughts kept running through my mind like a fast speed bullet train. This is a place I would visit again in this life. Don’t know when but I am hopelessly optimistic about it. And what adds to my hope is the Youth Hostel in the vicinity.  They only cost 20 Pounds per night for a dormitory accommodation (and 23 pounds for non members). Sadly they do not rent out bikes but they compensate by being located on the foot of Ben Lomond. And around next time, I am not stepping out without the trek gear, I whispered to myself before slipping into my sleep mode.

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Day four arrived with sunshine, accompanied with a lot of wind. We were yet to decide our plan of action for the day. It was a bright day to explore the vicinity; we could have taken a walk on one of the few natural trails in the forests. There was one besides the loch; another one was into the forest reserve and a few more circular trails which were long. I surely wanted to be in the jungle but I also longed to witness the city around. Since, there was no major town in our vicinity we decided to touch upon the local culture by driving to the nearest village. Drymen, a local town, twelve miles away from Rowardannan is a cute little thing that exists on the outskirts of the forest reserve. We parked our car in one of the local car parks and started to walk around. It was a weekday and so the children were busy at school. The walls of this primary school were not high, they were bricked to a level where the little ones could simply lean against and gaze at the outside world. Their smiles attracted us to them; we moved forward and exchanged greetings. Soon the lunch break got over and they had to run back to fall in queues. There is never an enough site of happy children, full of energy and freedom. While the kids were having a busy day at school, the nannies and the grannies were enjoying the sunlit day with their pets. It is one of the most common sights to see people walking with their pets, looks like a moment of de-stress in their lives. The happy heart is extended to the pets and also to the oldies of the town here. As I walked forward I came across the public community hall where there are held weekly meetings for fighting against dementia and depression. People are encouraged to spend time with the oldies by making it a part time profession. Young blood can bring the positive energies to the lives of the others, they feel.

On walking a little further down the road, I saw the cutest bicycle shop ever. It was a shop painted red, with some really groovy bicycles hanging around. There were merchandise too, like coffee mugs with bicycle handles on the sides, the dry fit jerseys and many other things. But it was mainly the bikes that were sturdy. Across the road there was a garden where we sat on the bench and ate our sandwiches. Suddenly we were in the picnic mode, but with a lot of quiet. We maintained the quiet ourselves and focussed just on our sandwiches and juice followed by the chocolates. No one seemed to take notice of us. There were hardly any humans seen around, most of them kept busy with their work. And then we saw a few backpackers walking around, giving a touristy feel to the place. At first, they seemed to have lost their way but soon they picked up bicycles from the red shop and made their way. I was astonished to see that the shop did anything and everything related to biking, even rent some of them. And when I took my eyes off this shop, suddenly my eyes fell upon the Drymen Village Shop. I took no time to see what was inside a village shop. It was quite clear to me by now that villages in India and villages in Europe have a totally different outlook. Inside the Drymen Village Shop, there were souvenirs and other cultural nuggets that reflected Scotland in every ounce. Scottish bread, scotch blends, picture postcards with yak on them, the red cheque hats; every little thing there said to us – Take home a little bit of Scotland, with you! And I could not resist buying the postcards from there. It was the best place to send memories home. And with a bag full of memories myself, we drove back to the Hoot. On the way back, we took a break in the Sallochy car park and fed bread to the ducks.

The energies of the forest and the whispering of the winds in my ears convinced me to enter the green tunnel. The trees were dancing to the tunes of the wind, the water of the loch was singing along with the wind, and I was the witness to this mesmerizing show of the nature. I along with my silence took that path, the one that was visible only for a mile. And the rest of it was a hunt for a treasure.  The hidden treasure that was glorious, the one that is found again and again and again, but only on these paths, in the fragrance of the loch, in the fall of the leaves, in the chirping of the birds and above all in the silence of the nature. I decided to get lost into the divine and fearlessly walked in. In no time, I had lost the network zone, any human sight or contact and was all by myself. There was some sort of curiosity as I climbed up, and slowly some fear also peeped in, what if this is not the way. The arrows helped but they were only a few. The sun was going down, adding more to my anxiety. The natural surroundings were calming me down but being alone was making me freak a bit. I took a deep breath and poured all my senses into what was around me. There came a moment, when it felt beautiful and in that very moment I knew there is nothing to be scared of. There were no assumptions, no hypothesis as to what would happen. I left myself on the mercy of nature and I know someone up there had a close watch on me. For the next two hours I walked on the path, a few drops of rain also fell on me. On one of the turns I found myself closer to the loch. I could see a larger part of loch from this edge and it was here that I took a sigh, Bingo! I was on the right path. But it was miles to go before I would be back to the human settlements. I crossed a bereft old hay factory, which was now a part of the forest. It belonged to old Mr Bill, he who did not seem to be bothered about it anymore. As I crossed it, I met an American couple hiking into the forest. We exchanged glances and for a moment wondered as to why are we the only ones here. It was quite a popular trail but none to be found here. That is probably the beauty of Scottish forests, there are people around but they do not bump into you so easily. There are enough routes and channels to get lost and then be found again. We never met again and yet reassured each other of the presence. Soon after I hit the main road and left the forest behind me. It was a long and tiresome walk, once I was back on the road, I took charge of my senses again to be careful on the road. Rowardannan was just around the corner, a few steps away from the exit. I gladly paved my way towards the Hoot and with a big smile on my face, entered in.

Day five, I woke up with the thought of soon saying good bye to this place. It has been going pretty well till now but as they say all good things have to come to an end. Nevertheless, today was not the end. Today was another unplanned day which we did not want to spend inside the lodge. The weather was unpredictable but still left some hope for us. Hope for no rains. By now, we had become well versed with the kitchen and breakfast skills came in like a quickie. The eggs and bacon were ready, all we had to do was toast some bread with butter. On the breakfast table, the discussion was all about the rest of the day.

The important question to ask was if we wanted a long drive or a shorter one would suffice. Some of us still wanted to walk more and explore on foot. Internet was reaching out to us in bits and pieces and we were making judicious use of it. A safari park nearby popped up on doing a closer research. The public reviews of it also seemed very positive. For us, it meant a perfect blend of driving and walking. Till the park, it wasn’t a very long drive, suited us aptly for the day and within the park we walked around quite a bit. Located in the Stirling area, it was a one hour drive from the Hoot. We didn’t pack much food along, except for the munchies. Rains distorted us for quite some time but as we purchased the tickets, the day gradually started to brighten up. I was astonished to see that they handed us the map of the park, it was the first time ever that I was going for a safari. To call it a zoo would definitely be an understatement. The natural stance was maintained here by a huge team, making it a grand show in itself. From Asian to African, all sorts of animals and birds, big or small are stationed here. There are wild animals, calm animals, never moving animals (rhino), always busy eating animals(elephants), show presenting animals(sea lion show), animals across the river(apes), free spirited animals, anything that you may think of, is found here. The only drawback is that each time you have to park the car to visit the bay. Though it was a good walk, it was a bit too tedious at times. It would have been a little bit more fun had it been possible to take the car a bit closer, we could just roll down the window and say hello.

But never mind the walking, I had not seen so many animals in one place before. The drive from Stirling to Rowardennan is a straight one. It feels like put your favourite music on and put the car on cruise control. Enjoy the view on the sides and munch your muffin while looking at the odd shapes of the clouds. As we reached back to our cottage, we were slightly tired and slightly sad. Tired from the day’s walking and sad about this being the last day of our holiday. Tomorrow will be the last sunrise that I will see over the loch, I said to myself. Without much a thought, I put myself to sleep, cuddled under the blanket.

As we started our journey on Saturday, some jolly good thoughts hovered over my mind. Past few days were really the days that I always dreamt of while sitting back in India. The Scottish hills are one of the firsts that I have seen, apart from Himalayas, though they are more comparable to the Western Ghats of India. They are stout and dry but the monsoonal rains fill them up. They do not hold any of the mythological or warrior stories within themselves but they do hold the spirit of climbers, walkers, lovers, and the tiny feet who would run to reach to the top. The feeling of being an achiever remains strong, irrespective of the continental plate that we stand upon. The mountain chest always welcomes the human feet. The color of the hay fields change every few miles. From light golden to dark brown their expanse is huge. But they are rolled up uniform, they are placed equidistant. They are sturdy, they are cute. The end of the field meets the blue end of the sky and they make for a perfect background for a portrait picture. Hence, we stopped the car and posed. With the glares and without the glares, with pouts and big eyes, of smiles and curiosity, candid and perfected, individual and family picture; everything happened on this trip. After all it was a holiday, the one with regular stuff made excited with our stories.

 

Posted in European Trips, Forests, road trips, south india, travel, UK Dairies

When I spent a weekend in Leeds

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A sunny day is a luxury here in England. Come what may, it must be celebrated. On observing closely, I saw numerous pedals, jogging tracks, dog walks, prams, wheel chairs, kids’ scooters and many other similar things. My favourites are the cyclists of all age groups (No wonder, Team GB had the highest number of gold medals for the cycling events at the Rio this year!). As I hit the road, I wasn’t very amazed to see the cars full of kids making merry, caravans tied to the rear and the open spaces outside McDonalds being crowded. This time I was exploring a new neighbouring town, Leeds. I happened to be there by random chance and had decided to stay there the previous night.

For all those, who love to experiment with food, the Leeds City Centre brings on to the plate some authentic South Indian food. Tharavadu, a super speciality in Kerala food, offering delectable and original recipes from the tiny tropical state of India, is highly recommended. They have a menu full of variety from different regions of Kerala, the taste of food travels straight to the brain and releases a good amount of endorphins for you. The ambience is synced with the aborigines of Tharavadu, you could easily notice the authenticity of the music and the brightly painted walls, Kerala style. Since it is catering to a large number of people in one go, the place is a bit noisy (That is how we Indians can be sometimes!), and the service tends to be a bit slower. But once the food arrives, you would forget the world and shift your focus to the food. Yummy, Mouth-watering, delicious, it was everything that they say about Indian food. With an edge towards keep the taste buds turned on, the south Indian delicacies make sure that the appetite is satisfied way beyond the capacity. Just when we ousted our limits of binging, we decided to get up and take a walk, on the lowly streets of Leeds.

The high street in the City Centre boasts of many big brands. By the time we reached here after our dinner, most of the showrooms had already closed. It was better this way for there was hardly any crowd and yet it was brightly lit. The winds took upon themselves to cut short our stroll; it was a long road, broadened for the walkers as well as hawkers. We let the winds gush past us, setting a bit of cold in us. It was a starry night, the winds were strong and the cars were racing on the empty roads. We were on the crossroads many a times, wondering whether to look at the stars or be alert on the sides. The street lamps made it a bit difficult to spot the stars, so we focussed on crossing the roads carefully. The walls on the sides were painted with graffiti, not the best ones, but still represented some old world charm.

Very soon we reached our hotel and crashed into our beds. It was the sunrise, the next morning that woke us up. The sunshine poked us quite a few times before we managed to leave the blanket for good. A good English breakfast was perfect to bid farewell to our hotel. We ate in abundance and carried the fruits along. The plan was to be picnicking at the Golden Acre Country Park.

Though initially we wanted to see the steam engines at the Middleton Railways, the badminton racquets in our boot convinced us to move towards the country park. If there was anybody who was the happiest about the sunny day, it was the pets of Leeds. They were everywhere in the park, with their masters who carried their throw balls. There were mothers who walked the prams too. While our badminton racquets kept us busy for a really long time, it was the never ending walk across the woods that made our day. There were trees that were magnificent; there were logs of wood that were never moved hinting towards the era when these would have actually been planted. These logs would date back to the grandmothers’ days, how the sapling would have grown to be a beast of a tree, serving beyond dead, the sturdy and the strong one, once deeply rooted and now lazily resting. What startled me was the density of the trees, there was only a thin line of difference between a forest and this country side, some part of it even opened up to a wide expanse of the fields that were actually golden in colour. Perhaps they were the reason, the park was so named.

The wooden bridges that led to the other side of the park were cute. Only one by one could we cross it, and the traffic of the pedestrians made little sense. One path from this bridge led to the lakeside, where were parked the prams and the wheelchairs. The grandparents and the grandkids together fed breads to the ducks. There were parents who could let loose their kids towards the railing of the lake, for the kids got too engrossed in looking at the ducks who were moaning for more bread. The joy of giving was clearly experienced. What we had was the joy of appreciating. We sat there for quite a bit, enjoying the sight, of the little ones handholding the elder ones and giving away something of their own to the needy ones. It was a happily perfected sight.

The next when I started to move, it was towards the ice cream bar that served tall scoops of vanilla. I was tempted to ask for a double scoop but I realized even one would serve me good. I wasted no time in asking for just the flavour I wanted, without exploring the other flavours that the healthy girl over the counter wanted me to buy. If vanilla is good, life is good. With that mantra, and trying to escape from the heat of the sun, we sat on the wooden benches that were lined under the line of coniferous trees. Licking the vanilla makes me forget the world around me. I was meditating upon my cone until the crackling of the biscuit in my mouth made me come back from my stage of nirvana. With a happy heart I walked towards the parking. It was a blissful day, these country parks are a way to enjoy the local spirit of a place. I wish there were some like these in India as well. Though there are large gardens and parks within my city as well but a little more intense like these would have been another level of fun. They are richer, greener and a little wilder.

I stepped out of Leeds with a great day to remember. It was a perfect chilling out day for me, without much a thought and close to nature. I was talking to the trees, smiling to the bridges and playing over the logs. The child in me didn’t want to go home but the adult in me could see the couch at home. So homeward bound I was.

Posted in European Trips, road trips, travel, UK Dairies

A day out at Souter Light House, Sunderland

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Summers in England are very different from those in India. A summer-y day here introduces you to the sun that is being shying away under the clouds all this while. The wind takes a break from its routine and people can wear the floral prints that have been in the closet for a really long time. One of my first outings in the UK was on a typical summer day. It was a Saturday afternoon; the sun was out and there wasn’t much traffic on the road. I along with my Indian family (living in the UK) drove to Sunderland, only 14 miles away from the city of New Castle. Though the plan was to spend the day at the Sunderland beach, something more exciting struck our minds – the Souter Lighthouse. Only 5 miles (10 minutes’ drive) ahead of the beach, in the sleepy village of Marsden, lays a vibrant picnic spot – the Souter Lighthouse.

As we reached Marsden after an hour’s drive from our home, we were delighted to see a lot of families enjoying the sun and the home made food packed in lunchboxes. On the coast road, by the sea, it is a building of historic importance, standing tall since the 19th century. It is a tiny campus amidst the fields, edging the North Sea on one of its boundary walls and on the opposite side across the road is a beautiful residential estate with the view of the lighthouse.

A quick research on the web about this lighthouse suggests that there are two kinds of people who would be itched to visit this light house – science freaks and ghost freaks! While the science side of it claims that it was one of the first lighthouses of its time to work on an advanced technology including the alternate electric current, the quirky side of it holds the rumours of the building being haunted by the ghosts of a maritime celebrity and the strange incidences that have been reported by a few. Though both sides were interesting to know, I did not belong to any of these clans. I was happy to enjoy my homemade cheese and tomato sandwich, sitting on one of the wooden tables, which had a bit of everything – the breeze, the sun and the view of the sea. The Lighthouse Café on the ground floor of the light house, though serving minimum variety on the menu, was seeing a busy day. I entered through the green door, hurdled through the loud voices, looked around the tall walls, and came out carrying with me the aroma of hot pancakes.

Post my lunch and a game of hide and seek with the local kids there, I decided to climb inside the light house. A 10 pound for entry ticket is worth the view from the top of the structure. At the very entrance, you would find the memoirs of 19th century shipping marvels, the machinery and the naval equipment that was once put to use, but now only find its use in the museum placements. As you enter further, you may spend some time on the history of the kingdom that ruled the Souter point and the wars where this light house played a significant role in waving the ships away from the land. There are ancient maps and routes being displayed along with the pictures of the emperors that look more like pirates. If you are a history nerd who gets excited with the mention of dates, then this section might entice you, I merely scrolled through it and ran towards the artefacts in the office space of the light house. A typewriter and a telephone caught my eye the most, their buttons were beautiful. They represented the comfortable pace at which men once operated, it is things like these that take your imagination to people who would have valued them so much for they were pretty much the base of inventions. I get a bit too excited in the antiques section and wonder if the bygone era could return once more.

Anyhow I started climbing the staircase that led to the top of the lighthouse. It’s a long way to the top. The spiral staircase becomes riskier towards the top. The last few stairs turn sharply and end on a wooden plank with a hooter in the middle, surrounded by huge glass windows. Through the windows you can see the far and wide of the sea on one side, a walk way by the sea on the other, the city on another and a grey sky that covers everything. It is a distant view of everything that is there on the ground. This part of the city seems to have a medieval appearance because of the light house, though it is modern in every sense. After enjoying the peace and the view for a while, we descended back to the ground. As we moved out towards the car park, we also saw many of the locals indulging in fun filled family activities; reading the book, cycling in the fields, playing with their young ones and the likes.

A lot of people crossing the town also take a break here at the lighthouse. It is an ideal stopover for stretching the legs for a while during a long journey. Once we were back on the motorway, we could not get our eyes off the windmills that just appear out of the blue in the fields on both the sides of the road. Sometimes they are lonesome, sometimes a duo and sometimes a family. They are huge especially when they are near to the road.

A good day out is the one which is nearly the same as imagined; a long drive, picnic basket full of sandwiches, juices and fruits and a beautiful new place to explore. This was one such day.

Posted in Forests, Himalayan Getaways, road trips, travel, Unforgettable Himachal

Tirthan – for trout, trance and trek!

 

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Photo Credit on this post goes to my brother Vipul Bhagat who has an eye better than me!

I find it best to cover long journeys overnight. Though trains are much more comfortable, enrouting mountains you do not have much of a choice. In fact, sometimes I feel I have overdone the Delhi-NH1-Mandi-Kullu-Manali route until I figure out there is always an untouched detour that branches out to the lesser known regions of Himalayas from this highway that I would have not done before. In the socially super-active world that we are inevitably a part of, where every information travels and unravels at the speed of light. I feel glad to locate spots that are still claimed to be lesser known. Over time, I have also observed that there are certain periods when these places are lesser visited. Gushaini in the Tirthan Valley is one of them. Even though enough websites and blogs have sang the songs of praise for this hillock, it yet does not smell of tourism in its air.

Tirthan is an interesting detour on the Delhi-Manali route and is ideal for those who do not romanticize being on top of the mountain to savor its beauty. The beauty of Tirthan sinks deep into the mostly silent valley except for the monotonous sound of a fast and perennially flowing river in its lap. This monotonous sound you may also say is the lifeline of this valley. When you will reach this part of the valley in search of solace, you will find it only in the simple pleasures of life like the song of the river.

I reached here in search of rains, escaping from the otherwise hot and humid days in Delhi. While that took some time to happen, I relinquished my taste buds with the succulent and tempting trout fish freshly picked from the river. It is so soft and juicy that it melts in the mouth within no time but requires an effort to get rid of the sleekest of thorns. Worth the effort.

Fishing is a common activity here that anyone can indulge in, with the help of a guide and an official permit. There are also some unofficial yet authentic stuff to experiment upon in this valley. Found in abundance is the Marijuana plant here, which you may not even need to hunt for. Owing to the nature of this trip (annual family trip), I could not explore much of its variations. As a crazy family however, we did try “Bhang ka Pakodas”. Sad enough, it did not leave any impact on us.

There was something else apart from food that left an astounding impact on us. It was partly because of its grandeur and the rest because I had not seen one in a very long time. Chhoie Waterfall; a simple hiking trail on the way to Gushaini leads to this source of water falling straight from the heavens. The first part of this hike is straight forward and is mostly steps. It would take you to a tiny hamlet, which is surrounded by vegetable farms all around it. There are widespread and well organized farms ploughed with tomatoes, chilies and cabbage. Tomatoes were still unriped and in case you are lucky to spot a riped, juicy, shining red one, do not be tempted to pluck because the villagers take offence. A due offence for they are as protective about their crops as for their babies.

As you cross these farms, the mountain becomes a little sharp on its edges. You would not mind being extra cautious and taking some support with your hands as well. Keep walking for another twenty minutes and just when you start putting your mind into the effort that you have put already in the last one hour and yet not be able to see or hear anything, you would turn around a really sharp edge and see without quite believing your eyes, the great fall. It is white, it is tall, it is exclusive for there were no visitors except us. It is thatched with the wild shades of green all around. It is in every sense, a spectacular sight. You would wish to run towards it but instead you will be forced to take firm hold on your steps as the freshly unrooted trees, now a giant log of wood, would block your way. With tippy toes and wading through the wild bushes, we reached at the basin of the fall. As I let go of my socks into my shoes, I hurriedly put my right big toe into the water, it did not seem to be very cold. So I moved to settle myself onto a big rock and dip both my feet comfortably. For a good one minute I could not breathe. The water was bitterly cold. Now it was futile to even pull them out, I was too comfortable sitting on that rock. Gradually we moved closer to the point under the fall. Like those mist fans in the Garden or Roof top Restaurants, some of the water here was splashing all over like the mist. The rest was sprinting straight towards the ground. Somewhere in between was our head feeling crushed by the thrust that it was exerting due to the gravitational pull. It was loud and hence the only sound in our vicinity. It coordinated with the hubbub of the breeze and dominated all through the surroundings. These surreal moments lasted for no more than an hour. After dipping, drowning, sinking and singing, we decided to move back. The sun was atop us when we walked back towards our rest house.

A good hike and a great dip always results in lousy afternoons. I soaked myself into my Neil Gaiman book which talked of deep oceans while I sat on a roadside rock overlooking a tall standing mountain. The sound of the river accompanied me every moment. It asked what if this was the ocean that I was wondering about? Thankfully, it wasn’t. It was pure and undiluted; silvered by the sunshine, so sincere and soothing and yet ready to be submerged at its destination. It is not the destination, it is the journey. The journey so long and yet untiring, that carries within a tremendous hidden power.

That rock on which I sat was the ideal place to reach to the conclusion of my book. I continued sitting there for a long time until my mother announced the Maggi Moments for all of us. Meanwhile, the rain drops also started to spatter upon us. We did not intend to move inside our rooms; Maggi is best enjoyed with a view. Our dog Nandu, also seemed happy, even though we did not offer any Maggi to him. He had a broken front left foot but he was still playful and mostly obedient.

Before we could get any sad that very soon we have to say goodbye to Nandu and bid farewell to the mountains, some very exciting conversations kicked off. It was the discussion of dilemma on the return route that we would be taking to reach Delhi. While we had come from Mandi, Simla was not far from where we were then. If we decided to take the Simla route, we would gain even more altitude and cross the Jalori Pass at an altitude of 10,280 feet. That figure to me was thrilling. Besides, I was roused to fully encircle the mountain. In all our excitement we took that call.

The journey started at 7 in the morning. Instead of going straight from the Banjar intersection, we took the left turn and entered into the Banjar town. Gradual upwards, hairpin bends like turns reduced the speed of our vehicle. The valley had started to become deeper. As the valley was now deeper, the clouds were nearer and the deodars were taller. Taller than the tall standing mountains. We were slowly approaching the doors of heaven. Though it was scary as hell if we looked down into the valley or if the driver suddenly broke the momentum of his vehicle, it still comprised of the countless WOW moments at every blinding turn that drew us closer to the heavens.

The route to the highest point of the heaven, Jalori was led through a series of gateways:

Banjar → Jibhi → Sojha → Jalori → Aani →Sainj → Narkanda → Loohri → Simla

It is not at all surprising to know that there were hardly any human habitations visible in this area. The road was not concrete in all the places, while at some places they were not wide enough but surely these hamlets had a view. Each and every window opened to a carpet of blue sky teared over some areas and the cotton like clouds bulging out softly.

As we reached Jalori, we stopped for a cup of hot chai. Jalori Pass is also a popular route for mountain bikers. From here, we can hike towards the Serlousar Lake, at a distance of 5 kilometers from the Jalori temple. Another amazing moment worth the attention was a Mahindra Scorpio that was driven till the Himalayas all the way from Ahmedabad. They had hit the road five days ago and were mesmerized by the Himalayan beauty.

By the time we reached Simla, it was heavily pouring, which further slowed down our sped. Thank goodness, we had enough music and the flawless views that made our 18 hours in the bus worthwhile. 18 hours! Yes! The alternate route to NH1 is not long in terms of distance but in gaining the altitude, we do lose the speed.

By the time, we reached Delhi, we were drained, but in our mind, we had yet not come back. We were probably hiking somewhere amidst the clouds of Jalori Pass and plucking apples from the orchard belt of Himachal that was full of flavors, so juicy and rich and red and are meant to be eaten without using the knife.

Posted in Beaches, HoHo, Kerala, Life Travel, road trips, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Three – Ernakulam

Ernakulam, also known as Kochi, is one of the most happening cities in the tiny state of Kerala. Brimming with art and history it is a paradise for those who are explorers of the city culture. You may find your style, your connection, your purpose and your relation with this city in any of the settings of this place, be it the sun drop sunset, or the coffee shop chronicles with a newbie, be it your love for descriptive or the performing art or be it simply the fishing point, the air here is enriching.

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo Trip

 

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It was the 5th day and the 3rd destination on our list. We started the day early and hit the road before breakfast. In Deepu’s car we drifted on the National Highway 66, leading us to the port city of Cochin. It is a single lane highway and takes about two hours from Alleppey. On our way, we pulled over for the classic South Indian breakfast at the Indian Coffee House. The specialty of this age old chain of south Indian restaurant is the beetroot Masala Dosa, which is not at all easy to find in other parts of the country. It also has a particular style of making coffee distinctive from the western, whipped style coffee.

One of the many perks of traveling far and wide is greeting and spending the time with friends that you had not seen in a long time. I happened to meet one such friend in Cochin. Alyce, my close friend from the UK, also spent the day with us traversing through the streets of once famed Jew Town in India. We came across the remnants of the Dutch and Portuguese exploitations reminding us of the era when the Dutch and Portuguese had entered India through the sea centuries ago in search of spices.

Fort Kochi still beholds some of the stories from the colonial rules that existed in this part of India. From the Portuguese setting up the base, to the Dutch defeating Portuguese and the British conquering over the Dutch, the colonial history of Kochi is an interesting narration through its monuments that have stood against the test of time and in fact are a testimony to the strength of the human skills of those eras.

All of us on the hot Friday afternoon decided to dedicate the day to the significant history of Fort Kochi and the art culture that continues to add more colors to its cultural palette.  Here are listed a few “must visits” and “must dos” in the Fort Kochi area that we took upon ourselves before the sun set for that day.

  1. The St Francis Church, built in the colonial era of the Portuguese, it is also known as the Vasco De Gama Square for Vasco De Gama was once buried in this church. At present, it is undergoing a major restoration process but visitors are allowed during the weekdays.

 

  1. The Kashi Art Gallery in Fort Kochi – visit for grabbing a bite with the backdrop of contemporary artwork. The café is a cozy hangout and the gallery too boasts of a new and fresh collection every day.

 

 

  1. The Mattancherry Palace, is actually a Portuguese palace but popularly known as the Dutch Palace, located near the Jewish Synagogue. A monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, this palace showcases some of the archaic Mural art in the form of paintings of the Hindu folklore. A peek into the history, this palace would easily hold interest of those who are aware of the Rajahs of Kerala. The art flourished in there reign and fortunately preserved till now.

 

  1. The Jewish Synagogue is perhaps one of the major attractions in this area for one simple reason. A handful of the descendants of the Jew Community reside here. There are no more than 2 or 3 Jew families living in India now. It is astounding how they have been able to maintain their true identity amidst many other large communities that have equally contributed in shaping up the history of Kerala. In that sense, the heterogeneity of Kerala is worth admiring. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the synagogue because of the Passover Festival, due to which the monument was not open to the public. This 10 days festival usually takes place in the month of April.

 

  1. The Jew Town Street, right behind the synagogue, is a street buzzing with people selling artifacts and souvenirs to take back home. All the walls here are painted with bold colors that are brightened even more under the sun. A vivid collection of art pieces, metallic as well as beaded jewelry, coffee table books, picture postcards, and a lot of muffins to munch on, make you stay a little longer than you would anticipate. An ideal spot for street photography, Nikita quenched her thirst for photography here.

 

  1. The Tourist Police Museum is also situated on the Jew Town Street. We had no awareness about it, until we actually decided to go inside and check it. Turns out, it was actually one of the funniest museums I have come across till now. Of course, it had a superb collection displayed of the weapons used by the police and its evolution with time. What were disturbingly funny were the effigies of humans that displayed injuries while on duty. Also the fact that there was no one to elaborate on the museum did not leave an everlasting impression on us. Nevertheless, all of us had our five minutes of entertainment inside the museum.

 

  1. Onyx Art Gallery, also located on the same street, very close to the Police Museum, is actually an art studio that belongs to a local artist Sara Hussein. She is ‘Oil on Canvas’ painter who strongly believes in the power of her imagination before she strokes her brush on the canvas. A streak of confidence runs all through her work, there is also awareness and an ounce of her surroundings in her work. It was only by chance that we happened to visit this gallery and sensing our interest in her art, she unveiled her actual art gallery for us. It was a reservoir of her work which exclusively opens up for buyers. She also owns an art corridor in Le Meridian in Bangalore where she regularly exhibits her work. It was by far the most awe-inspiring place that I had visited in Kochi. I guess, some of the best things in life always knock as a surprise. And here stood we, not only surprised but also inspired and stunned.

 

  1. We retired for a while in Café Qissa, on Jacob Road, to have some coolers and contemplated on the overwhelming day. It is a great place to experiment with food, the music and the setup is classy and sophisticated. But they are a bit slow in their service which naturally leaves a lot of room for storytelling. I believe the inherent unhurriedness just grows into everybody and everything here.

 

  1. There wouldn’t have been a better way to bring a closure to our stupendous time in Kochi than catching one last glimpse of the Vembanad backwaters from the Fort Kochi Beach. They submissively merge into the Arabian Sea like the child fondly hugging her mother. The sun sent for us its last rays of warmth, making us slightly sad about our departure from the city. The Chinese Fishing Nets leaned onto the water flirting with the fishes once in a while. The breeze and the waves seemed to be in perfect harmony with each other which the crows seemed to enjoy the most with their little playful acts. All we wanted to do there was to observe the world around us and be immersed in its happiness.

 

It was hard to bid the final Goodbye to Alyce, one last hug is difficult yet mandatory. In reality, we were bidding farewell not only to her but also to Kerala. Kochi was our last stint in God’s own Country, until next time. Kerala has never failed to grow on me and my connection with it only becomes stronger each time. No matter how many times you are here, there are always more reasons to return. With great hope in my heart I promised myself to return soon and moved on to my next destination in Karnataka.

Posted in Forests, HoHo, Kerala, Life Travel, road trips, south india, travel

HoHo Stop Two – Alappuzha

After exploring the tea estates of Munnar and deep forests of Wayanad, in my third visit to Kerala, I decided to spend my time in the backwaters of Alleppey. While tea gardens and forests can be found in many parts of India, it is the backwaters that add a flavor of uniqueness to Kerala.

For more HoHo stops, visit HoHo Trip

 

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From Trivandrum, Nikita and I boarded the Hapa Express, a superfast express train that runs on the Konkan railway route. Though the sight of backwaters was visible from the train window itself, we were absolutely in awe of the canals and streams of water that were spread across the city. A main canal flows through the center of the city, not only dividing the city into two but also serving as one of the major means of transport in the city. There are government run ferries that stop over at the jetties carrying the people from the remote hidden villages along the banks of the Vembanad backwaters to the central part of the city.

Vembanad Lake, the largest lake in India, through its main water body seeps out numerous streams and rivulets, stretching into the hinterlands. Holding onto the banks of these streams are the coconut and mango trees, which bear plentiful of fruits throughout the year. Within a measurable distance, the villagers have also utilized the part of their lands for growing paddy that extend till the highway roads. Many different shades of green would catch your attention but it is the tint of cloudy blue sky amidst the green that will make your heart wonder and wander at the same time.

As Alleppey is quite popular on the global tourist map, Nikita and I decided to explore the city in the touristy way. In the three days that we spent there, we flitted between some of the well known tourist spots and some untouched routes into the wild. Our close friend Deepu, a localite from the Kottayam district of Kerala joined us and subtly enriched our interaction with the minute cultural nuances of this place.

Here are a few experiences that we enrolled ourselves in and elated our travel-itched souls.

Visit the Punnamuda Lake:

This lake happened to be the first spot visited by us due to the location of our resort. Ramada Resort is situated on the edge of this lake, sharing boundaries with the Nehru Trophy boat race finishing point. For those of us who might not know this, Nehru Trophy is for one of the largest boat race events in India, which happens annually in these backwaters. We spent our first evening admiring the widely spread water body and wondered how it was only the baby of the Vembanad lake. Though many options regarding the houseboats and shikaras were available in this lake, we decided to take a bigger shot by witnessing what is known to be the largest lake in India.

Canoeing in the Vembanad Backwaters:

One of the major attractions in Alleppey that tourists enjoy is taking a boat tour in the backwaters and tasting a slice of aquatic life on their plates. Shikaras and house boats are easily available and can be pre-booked for any given amount of time.  If you are traveling in big groups like a family holiday or a friends’ get together, then house boats can set a perfect tone for a floating private party. However, we tweaked our plan to experience something more traditional. Instead of a huge houseboat, we hopped into a four seater canoe. Nikita contacted Tony, a local tour guide who arranges day trips into the backwaters, inclusive of authentic Kerala meals along with the rowing. Canoe is a traditional wooden boat that can even be rowed through the narrow channels of backwaters, thus reaching into the interiors, where there is found a life of imagination coming to reality – peace, peace and only peace. There is stillness in the water and slowness in the air in these areas which can only be touched for a while. We rowed in a canoe that belonged to Satchidanand, a resident of Kainakari village who was also our host of the day. While his wife prepared sumptuous south Indian meals for us, he took us into the by lanes of Vembanad. This way we were able to chit chat with a lot of people around us, getting to know the whereabouts of a tropical lifestyle.

Must Know:  Try and book the canoe one day in advance. Off Season rates vary somewhere between INR 800 – 1000 per head for an 8 hour journey, and is inclusive of food and ferry charges. Tony can be contacted @ +91 9387812427

Good to Know:  Kainakari village offers some extremely scenic views of the lesser visited streams of the backwaters, gives an extra edge to your mission of exploration.

Visit the Alleppey Beach:

We returned to the main part of the city from the ferry and deboarded at the fishing point jetty. It is a 15 minutes ride in the auto rickshaw till the Alleppey beach. An evening hangout spot for the locals, what first caught my eye was an ancient and a rotten pier, unrestored and uncared for and yet complementing the view of the sunset. Though there are hardly any eateries on the beach and you may also find difficulty in finding a bottle of Coke, you would see that the locals are busy picnicking with their families. The water is clean but there are hardly any tourists on this beach. People were busy flying kites in the backdrop of dark grey clouds, on the other side of the sea the sun went down without much intimation, under the cover of these clouds. Getting a glimpse of the sunset is all a game of good luck, especially during this time of the year.

Good to Know: Do not expect a lot of eating joints in this place, but expect a lot of family crowd enjoying the evening breeze along with sea water. 

Visit the RKK Private Museum:

Located on the main road of the city, on the way to Alleppey beach, Ravi Karuna Karan Museum is one of the very few private museums in India. Dedicated to her husband, Betty put on display an enormous variety of collectibles that she received from some of the eminent personalities around the globe. The couple comes from a family pretty well known and well established in the coir making business in this area. Ravi during his glorious days expanded the trails of his business outside India and was one of the major exporters of coir. During his travels to many other countries he was able to collect the souvenirs gifted to him by the presidents and other important personnel. Betty, who now lives with her daughter in Alleppey, is the mastermind behind this enormous collection of art. From the wooden carvings to paintings, sharp cut crystal pieces to scintillating Swarovski work, shining silver to metallic stone work, there are craftworks collected from many different art forms. There is also a magnificent collection of ivory, ebony and tusk in the form of single piece designs. If you are an art lover then you could easily spend at least a few hours admiring not only the collectibles but also the far and wide travel that the couple must have done.

Must Know:  Photography inside the house is prohibited. It is closed on Mondays.  The entry ticket is INR 150, but totally worth it.

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Take a Drive on AC Road:

If you are one of those who love taking a shot at driving at new places, then Alleppey – Changanaserry road is your kind of thing. Bordered with backwaters on the both sides, this road is ideal for a scenic long drive especially during the monsoons. The locals here are skilled in growing paddy fields a little below the sea level which may receive irrigation from the backwaters before the onset of monsoons. So if the paddy has gained enough length and it is not the busy hour of the day and the rain drops are falling on the windshield, you can imagine what it would be like. If you wish to continue the journey, the road further leads to Thekkady, the spice town of Kerala. For us, even though the monsoons had not hit and the paddy was still very nascent, our drive was a fantabulous one, thanks to our dear friend Deepu, his car and his music that made it just the right thing to do that afternoon. What was even more exciting was the detour into one of the pocket roads that led to Thiruvalla city. An insignificant looking lane took us to a village where there were white churches, white eagrets binging on the paddy, a huge lotus pond and backwaters in the hindsight to complete the background for our selfie sessions.

Good to Know:  You can try the local Kerala meals at Avees. They serve some authentic fish preparations like Karimeen (a sea water fish prepared by spicing it up and steaming it while wrapped in a banana leaf).  Average spends – INR 1000 for 3 for a heavily loaded Kerala Meal.

Visit the Mararikulam Beach:

Mararikulam town is located on the Alleppey- Ernakulam highway 11 kilometres away from the Alapuzzha main city. We decided to spend an evening on the Marari beach, quite popular for its Hammocks. We took an internal road to this town instead of the main highway, thanks to the Google maps; it was indeed the right choice made. On the way we saw quite a few home stay options to pick from. The town seems to be popular with the foreign tourists as many were biking and enjoying getting tanned. As we found our way to the Marari beach, we were amazed to see the green cover just before the beach. Tall coconut trees and the stout grasslands holding them looked even more glorious when the divine sun shone behind them turning the green into gold. The beach is a pulling and compelling one. The waves are sluggish which would calm down an ever sprinting mind. The sand was smooth near the water; it looked like a dark brown smoothie; compelled us to take a long stroll while letting our feet dip into the waves time and again. Some real good laughter echoed in the air and we absorbed all the goodness of nature into us that evening getting extremely high on the happy hormones. Though we could not see many hammocks on the beach we were delighted to see the sun making its way through the clouds into the sea.

Good to Know: Much less crowded than the Alleppey Beach, very few eateries. Still holds the feeling of a non commercial, not so touched beach on the western coastline of India. Water is clear and safe to be in.

Visit the Pathiramanal Island:

Pathiramanal in its literal sense means “Sands of the Midnight”. I wonder how it would be like to be on this uninhabited island during the midnight. Belongs to the magnificent Vembanad Kol, this island is a paradise for bird watchers. We were welcomed by the chirping sounds in an otherwise bereft piece of land.  At first, we felt we were about to enter the Forests of Fangorns (Lord of The Rings) which may be guarded by the evil spirits against the holy spirits or vice versa. From the very beginning, the island embraces you and introduces you to a thick forest cover, with trees hugging each other at many different heights. The entangled green makes it dense and yet the sun forces to beam its rays through the natural net. Though a stone trail takes us into the intense wilderness, very soon we find ourselves walking on the dry leaves. The sound of crushing them made us believe in the rawness of this island.  Leaving the concrete behind we were experiencing the vibe of a natural habitat and what life would have been when development was not a daily affair. In these routes, we tried searching for our roots and it so appeared that men with great adventurous spirit have always walked and conquered the unknown. With our minds sunk into deep thoughts, we decided to spend our afternoon under the shades of these spectacular trees. In my illusions, I felt these trees were the close cousins of Onodrims from the ‘Lord of the Ring’ series. How I wished they carried us onto them and had some real historic stories to tell us. Nevertheless we had our own little history there with “We Were Here” selfies. Nikita and Deepu experimented a lot with their cameras as it is a photographers’ paradise too. Only because we were hungry, we decided to take the walk back; else this island would also make for a great camping spot. Though not sure, if they let you stay there for the night.

Must Know:  The place is more enjoyable in small groups. Carry your water bottles along as the place is absolutely uninhabited, you may find a few more tourists though. There are various ways to reach the island; we decided to take the speed boat from Kayyipuram Jetty Road.

Speedboat charges: INR 600 for a to and fro service.  Can take a max of 4 people in one round.

Good to Know: Visit www.pathiramanal.com for a detailed history about the place.

Visit the Thanneermukkam Bund:

To know and enjoy your time in a place like this, it either has to be extremely popular or you need a local guidance to bring enough light on it. For us the latter worked out, and the three of us whiled away our last evening in Alleppey relishing a local mango ice cream sitting on an embankment and discussing some very interesting differences between the three Indian cultures that each of us represented. We never lost the sight of our beloved Pathiramanal Island from here, keeping the smile up on our faces for the rest of the evening.

Good to Know: A tiny hut restaurant called Tharivadu in the Kumarakom city is worth betting your taste buds on.  You may try the mucles, clams, kappa and the meen curry. A great company to this sumptuous meal is the local Toddy, available in this hut.

This pretty much sums up our 3 days in Alleppey. Alleppey also has a popular spice bazaar and a few temples which we could not visit due to paucity of time. Who knows these may become our reasons to return to this alluring city. However, what may really bring me back would be the season of the snake boat races and the enduring monsoons.