A new Facebook page

So, what’s new on Itchy Feet? A brand new Facebook page, that’s what – https://www.facebook.com/travelswithcharu

Facebook

After years of resisting – how many places in social media can I manage – I finally succumbed to the pressure and set up this page. And now to find interesting content for it on a regular basis (apart from just my own writings, yawn). And more importantly, find people to “like” the page (right now, it feels like an orphan).

And here, dear friends and kind readers, is where you come in. Have you seen the page yet? If you have been a longtime reader of this blog, or just an occasional lurker, or even a one-time visitor who has strayed here through a keyword search, do check out the page and show your liking for it.

Please head there now and make the page a much-liked one, before I lose heart and decide to shut it down. Thank you!

A bit of trivia on the mysteries of social media: I obviously wanted to call my page ‘Itchy Feet’ to maintain consistency across my social media spaces – but Facebook refused it as being inappropriate. Ah, well.

Wind beneath my wings

paragliding1

The takeoff itself wasn’t particularly tough; it was the decision to board that took courage. This happened on a recent whistle-stop tour of Kumaon’s “lake district,” with Bhimtal as my base. Stopping on the hill roads one evening to stretch my legs, I was drawn to the bustle of people milling around a large parachute spread out on the flat surface of the cliff-top. And in front of my eyes, a young couple took wings, each tethered to an instructor who would help them stay in the air for the next few minutes of their paragliding adventure.

I knew that paragliding was popular in Himachal Pradesh, but I hadn’t expected to find it in this remote corner of the Uttarakhand hills. After a few minutes of watching, as I was ready to get back into the car, my cabbie fired the first salvo by inquiring if I had done this earlier. I mumbled sheepishly under my breath, hoping he would drop the subject, but that was not to be.

A moment of hesitation – rightly interpreted by them as a sign of weakness – was all it took for the paragliding team itself to take his suggestion forward. And they went at it non-stop, slyly suggesting that it was silly to be afraid, when even a five year old child could do this easily.

The clinching argument was made as a joke by the instructor who would fly with me – “Oh madam, remember, it is my life also.” So, before I knew it, I went from curious bystander to intrepid paraglider, all harnessed and ready to soar. One, two, three, four steps forward – and the wind force carried us up into the air.

Courage on the ground was all fine, but my first minute up in the air was one of sheer terror. I confronted that with a volley of questions to Vir Singh, who hailed from Himachal and had been doing this for seven years. Vir was remarkably patient as he explained – yet again – that he had all the controls in his hand, direction, altitude and speed included.

paragliding2

I closed my eyes for a moment to take a deep breath; perhaps it was the feel of the wind on my cheeks or the sound of absolute silence, but when I opened them again, I had begun to actually enjoy the ride. There may have even been a brief moment when I let go of the straps and spread my hands in the air a la that classic scene from Titanic. I had been on a hot air balloon ride a few years ago but this exhilarating sense of flying, strapped on to a massive parachute and perched on a makeshift canvas seat was like nothing I had ever experienced earlier.

When it was finally time to land, Vir decided to test my nerves one final time with a few trick moves – and whoosh we went, swinging treacherously to a side, dipping low and high, and almost upside down. Forgive me for not describing it in great detail, for all I remember is holding on tight and pleading for my life to be spared. And unlike the ride itself, I didn’t have time to get used to this and begin enjoying it. But by the time we landed, I had managed to rustle up a halfway genuine smile for the camera that was capturing the flight all the way.

paragliding3

That night, I had adrenalin fuelled dreams of sprouting wings and flying high. My last coherent thought before I fell asleep was that I couldn’t wait to try paragliding again.

TRAVEL INFO

Distance: 307 km from Delhi

Time: 7 hours

Route: Take NH 24 from Delhi towards Ghaziabad and Moradabad. Connect to NH 87 going up north towards Haldwani and Nainital. Or take the overnight Ranikhet Express to Kathgodam and hire a cab for an hour’s drive (Rs.1000) to Bhimtal

Stay: Fredy’s Bungalow; tariff for double room starting from Rs 6053, inclusive of breakfast and taxes.

Essential Details: My flight was with Eagle Eye Adventure (http://www.eagleeyeadventure.com/; Rs. 1500 for the flight from a height of 1500 feet). There are dozens of local operators, so ask around before signing up.

Published in the ‘Weekend Vacations’ section of Mint

Scenes from a street parade

The sixth edition of the Seychelles Carnival, known locally as Carnaval, took place in the tiny capital of Victoria last week. And I was lucky enough to have a ringside seat to watch this parade. Apart from the cheerful and friendly Seychellois, artists and performers from all over the world – from Indonesia to Germany (and India too) – sashayed their way through the parade.

It was a riot of music, dance and colour on the streets of Victoria. I want to share a few standout images from the Carnaval, to show the impressive variety on display that evening.

Starting with one of my favourite performances of the evening, this Chinese masked dancer who changed masks with just facial movements…

Chinese

As a bonus (and because I was so fascinated with this), here is a short video…

And then this pretty dancer from Indonesia, wearing clothes and accessories that must have weighed a ton, through the sweltering afternoon, with a smile…

Indonesia

Colour was the leitmotif of the parade, with stunning, sometimes starling hues on display…

Blues

Multicolour

Not surprisingly, Africa was well represented, with artists from Mauritius, South Africa and several other neighbours showing off their skills…

Clown

Stilts

Dancer

But the undisputed stars of the evening were the Brazilians, with their costumes and chutzpah – it is no wonder that the word carnival brings to mind (atleast mine) images of these sassy dancers…

Brazil1

Brazil2

I hope you enjoyed this short photoessay on the Seychelles Carnaval – do stay tuned for more stories from this beautiful island.

My stay at Jungle Lodges, Bandipur

When we reached the Bandipur Safari Lodge, run by Jungle Lodges, it was only 11 am. We had left Bangalore early in the morning, and even with multiple breakfast and rest stops, we made it to Bandipur sooner than anticipated. The folks at the check in counter were kind enough to give us a room right away, so managed to get some rest before lunchtime. The resort is set in a thickly wooded area, filled with trees and plants, giving us the feel of being close to the forest as soon as we entered.

path

Lunch was a pleasant affair at the gol ghar, with a good choice of south Indian and north Indian food, with vegetarians well catered for. The service everywhere in the resort is excellent, with the staff taking care of guest needs promptly.

After lunch, the manager Mr. Nadaf took me on a quick tour of the property, showing the special rooms, which are slightly larger sized standalone cottages that come with an extra verandah.

cottage

verandah

I was staying in a normal cottage, each of which is named after a different animal found in the forest, and has a wall painting of the same behind the beds. I was staying in the sambar room (none of the rooms are air-conditioned but stay cool with the windows open).

room

The resort is also dotted with hammocks here and there, which make the perfect spot for a quick afternoon siesta before the safari. I made myself comfortable on one of those, with a book in hand, although I did not read much, distracted constantly by the various bird calls.

hammock

My experience at Bandipur Safari Lodge had so far been very good – room, food, service – but then it was time for the main reason I was there. Unlike other luxury weekend getaways, people head to Bandipur not to chill out at the resort but for the wildlife safari. And it is in this that the lodge fell seriously short of my expectations.

From the way guests were allocated to different jeeps, to the attitude of the jeep driver, everything was unfortunately below par. There was no naturalist accompanying our jeep, and the driver was just not interested in stopping anywhere to take in the forest, even for photographs. He was not a keen tracker – in my previous several experiences in our forests, I have only seen drivers who keep their eyes and ears trained for any sign of the tiger, and along with that, also point out other animal and bird species. But none of that here.

We just drove on listlessly, without any purpose or interest in seeing anything. By the end of it, even the guests in the jeep had lost interest in the forest and we were glad to be back at the resort – which is another story, because we reached Bandipur Safari Lodge ten minutes before the safari closing time.

In two safaris, forget tigers, we ended up not spotting even many bird species – a major disappointment. I was invited by the folks at thekarnatakatourism.com to this weekend stay at the Bandipur Safari Lodge and I have given my frank feedback here, because it is imperative for any wildlife resort to have good drivers / guides to make the forest come alive to guests.

Note: Karnataka Tourism is a private website that manages bookings for several nature resorts in the state, most of them from Jungle Lodges. You can visit the website or write to them at book@thekarnatakatourism.com for more information.

The Bungalow on the Beach

Dusk

A few months ago, we went on a road trip through Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, then going up north towards Tranquebar, before finally fetching up at Pondicherry. By the time we – we were tired of the hectic temple visits in and around Thanjavur. And all we wanted to do was put our feet up and listen to the song of the waves.

And Tranquebar is really the perfect place to do, given that there is really nothing much to do there except enjoy the rhythm of the sea, explore the Dansborg fort and walk aimlessly around its neatly laid lanes.

Fort

Steets

Boats

What made our visit special was our stay at the 17th century bungalow of the British Collector, now a “non hotel” from Neemrana – The Bungalow On The Beach. This property is just that – a lovely bungalow right by the beach, overlooking the Danish fort on one side and the Shiva temple on the other. With its graceful white facade, tall white columns and arches, cheery bougainvillea trees and bright, airy rooms, this property alone makes a Tranquebar visit worth it.

Panorama

View

We were staying on a room on the first floor and spent most of our time on the cane chairs on the wide verandah outside our room. There are only eight rooms in all, each named after a Danish ship that docked at this port in the centuries past; our room was the very regal Queen Anna Sophia.

Verandah

The room itself was a throwback to the past: four poster beds, high ceilings, a planter’s chair and elegant wooden fixtures. We found the staff particularly friendly and helpful, one of them even taking us on a tour of the village after showing us Neemrana’s other property there, The Gatehouse.

If The Bungalow On The Beach had a European, colonial feel about it, then The Gatehouse was entirely a Tamil mansion renovated, showcasing that way of life. The decor and accents were all typically Tamilian, again redolent of a past era.

Gatehouse1

Gatehouse2

True to its location, the seafood at the Bungalow is supposed to be excellent, but the two of us vegetarians stuck to the dosa and vegetable stews, with endless cups of tea to battle the rains. Just remember to ask for extra spice (or masala!) to suit your Indian palates. We could not use the swimming pool but really, who felt like swimming in all that rain?

Pool

In all, Tranquebar plus The Bungalow On The Beach is the perfect combination for a totally chilled, battery recharging holiday. What are you waiting for?

***
Also read: my piece on Tranquebar for Mint’s Weekend Vacations column – A slice of Danish history

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