• Panna

    Burning bright again

    Tigers are back in Panna, and how! (Published in the special Wildlife issue of Outlook Traveller in October. Click on the image to read the story in pdf form. Photographs

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  • Brick Lane

    The East Enders

    “Now this is the site where the body of Jack the Ripper’s fifth victim was found,” declares Emily, my guide at the Eating London food tour. That gets our complete

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  • Poppies

    Remains of the day

    Among the stories at the ‘Voices of the First World War’ exhibition at the Brighton Museum, is that of Subedar Manta Singh, who served with the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs. Manta,

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  • Temple

    Ringing in the new

    On any given Friday evening, Mylapore is at its festive best. Men dressed in white dhotis (unstitched cotton garments knotted at the waist and allowed to fall free), with thick

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  • Hanging on

    Losing the fear of flying

    I had never thought I would find myself 65 metres above the ground, hanging on for dear life. And doing this of my own volition. I am not the particularly

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  • Remarkable Rocks

    Roos of the game

    I so want the life Tim Williams has. He drives people around Kangaroo Island, showing them the local colour that comes in the shape of kangaroos and koalas, seals and

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  • The Lunchbox1

    Food for thought

    “Food is music to the body; music is food to the heart,” Gregory David Roberts wrote in Shantaram, his 2003 novel commended by many for its vivid portrayal of life

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  • Yodelers

    The Swiss Sound of Music

    Matthias Ammann puts his hands into his pockets, smiles at us, and yodels effortlessly. Of course he would. He has been yodeling since the age other children learn to gurgle

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  • Tiramisu

    Roman banquet

    My food walk in Rome begins with a near death-by-dessert experience. It is a balmy summer morning and our small group has met in front of a bar in Testaccio.

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  • Ghent3

    Footloose in Flanders

    If Eat, Pray, Love was a town, it would be Bruges. So pretty, so picture postcard that some guidebooks have described it as touristy and a tad fake. Our guide

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A new Facebook page

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


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.

Memories from the road trip

It’s just over a week since we returned, but the eight day road trip in Tamil Nadu is already a distant memory. It was a whirlwind (but great) tour with a bit of everything: starting with the temple circuit of Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, a beachy time at Tranquebar, a bit of wildlife at Point Calimere, nature like nothing else in the form of mangroves at Pichavaram and finally, the French Connection at Pondicherry.

Since the husband and I kept putting up regular updates on social media, this was an itinerary that interested a lot of friends. I am going to be blogging about each leg of the journey in detail, but here, as a starting point, a snapshot (or several snapshots, really) of our trip.

Have a look at the highlights of our road trip and do let me know in the comments if there is any part of it that is particularly interesting to you or you would like more information on.

Happy travelling with us!

Our first stop was Thanjavur (Tanjore, to the more anglicised among us), an easy seven hour drive from Bangalore. Several pitstops later, we pulled up at Svatma, a spanking new heritage hotel close to the big temple. Svatma was a delight in many ways, but the highlight was the food, easily among the best I have eaten at any hotel.


This is from an evening at the Brihadeeswara Temple, known locally as Periya Kovil (or the Big Temple) – all decked up for the occasion of it’s builder, Raja Raja Cholan’s 1030th birthday.


One of the most amazing discoveries in Thanjavur was the area around the palace, especially the art gallery – what I expected to be a modest display of paintings turned out to be a stunning collection of bronze and stone idols, all the way from the 3rd century on. There was a special Nataraja gallery, filled with beautiful bronzes of the “dancing god.”


Then, the two other points in this Chola triangle – Gangaikondacholapuram (built by the son, similar to the Thanjavur temple but smaller in scale) and the diminutive but exquisite Darasuram (built by a later day Chola, and my favourite among the three).



Another surprise discovery came in the form of the Pullamangai temple near Kumbakonam. We had never heard of it before (nor have any of our friends or family) but this was recommended by someone at the resort we were staying in. And I am glad we made the long detour to Ayyampettai. At first glance, it looks like any modern day temple with garish colours, but the inside was another story, especially the carvings along the outer walls. This statue of Parvati – in the form of Mahishasuramardhini (the demon slayer) – was one of the most beautiful, graceful I have ever seen.


After the serious bout of temple hopping, it was time to chill out by the beach at Tranquebar. We stayed at the 17th century The Bungalow On The Beach (which was literally that), the Neemrana property there. Hours and hours of sitting on the balcony outside our room, feeling the cool breeze on our faces, watching the waves crashing against the shore, seeing the fishermen venture out into the sea, wondering what brought the Danes all the way here…



From here, a side trip to Kodikkarai, also known as Point Calimere, a lesser known habitat for the blackbuck. This being the beginning of the migratory season, we were also lucky enough to see dozens of flamingos, cranes and other such avian fauna in Kodikkarai.


Leaving Tranquebar with a heavy heart, we made our way up the coast to Pondicherry, stopping for an hour long boat ride at Pichavaram. After the Sunderbans, it is the second largest mangrove forest in the world, a surreal experience in a maze of narrow canals and arches created by water plants.


Finally, the last stop on our trip – Pondicherry of the colourful buildings, with its filter kapi and French pressed coffee sitting side by side.



Alas, all good things must come to an end; on our way back to Bangalore, we stopped for idli and coffee at Vasantha Bhavan and found it offering paw bachi and thai poori too.



So, until the next post, ta!

The sound of Salzburg


The Sound of Music is the kind of film that defies both superlative and age. Starring the inimitable Julie Andrews, the movie won five Academy Awards back in 1966, and to this day, remains the third highest grosser in Hollywood. It turns 50 this year, and clearly, nobody is immune from its charm, not even Lady Gaga, whose medley of four songs from the movie stole the show at the Academy Awards this year.

Every year, over 300,000 tourists head to Salzburg, where the film was shot, just to follow its trail. Locals say they have never understood what the fuss was all about, but, they have learnt to take it in their stride, some of them even making a living out of it, with conducted tours, cute memorabilia and stage performances.


Exactly 50 years after The Sound of Music the the silver screen, its charm remains undiminished. In honour of this anniversary, I wrote a piece for Conde Nast Traveller India. Read the rest of the story here

5 ways to experience Shreyas Yoga Retreat

I recently spent a couple of relaxing, refreshing days at Shreyas Yoga Retreat near Bangalore – less than two hours’ drive from where I live, and from the international airport. Spread over 25 acres of elegantly maintained grounds, Shreyas is in every way the quiet retreat that it promises to be. The focus here is on overall “wellness” rather than the mere practice of bendy postures that go by the name of asanas these days.

Here are my reasons for thoroughly enjoying my stay at Shreyas Yoga Retreat:

1. The discipline of Yoga

I cannot begin to describe the pleasure of a yoga session that is conducted with care by a proficient teacher. And I am saying this as someone who has practised yoga for many years trying to alleviate my chronic backache, and sometimes, with bad teachers, ended up hurting it more.

Classes are usually in the large hall open on all sides to sunlight and fresh air. When I was visited, there were only four other people and the attention was as personal as it could get in a group setting. Two of these four were on a silent retreat for a week, communicating with me through a notepad and pen – apart from the classic yoga practice, there are other forms of rejuvenation possible here. And although I can’t imagine being silent for a week, the general air of peace there makes it seem very natural.

We started with yoga early in the morning – at 6.30 am – followed by breakfast and meditation. I was recommended candle meditation for migraine but was unable to take that – what I did experience was a yoganidra session with an experienced teacher and I can tell you that it left me calmer than I had felt in days.



Apart from all this, what I really appreciated was the fact that everyone in the staff – from gardeners to teachers – are encouraged to attend a class every day. This makes sure that the ethos of yoga is not restricted to a few at the top but flows through the entire team.

2. Sattvic Food

food2I said sattvic food – and that doesn’t by any means mean unexciting. Every meal was delightful, with a carefully planned menu incorporating Indian and Western food, from soup to dessert. So, there was penne (whole wheat, of course) along with paneer, in a manner of speaking.

Although being a frequent traveller, I am used to eating on my own, it can get very uncomfortable or boring. Here, I was so engrossed in the menu – presented at every table before the meal – that I almost forgot to be bored.

Shreyas also offers 7 day culinary programmes that start with an introduction to the organic garden and the kinds of plants and herbs found there and go on to teach the concepts of Indian vegetarian cooking.


3. The organic farm

farm2An hour’s exploration of the organic garden in the afternoon was so delightful – especially knowing that a lot of my food was coming straight from the farm. The large area is dotted with coconut trees and vegetable patches and fruit bearing plants, people working cheerfully on the soil. And that little machan (sit-out) in the middle of the farm! It made me want to immediately take a book there and spend the rest of my evening.

Apart from the farm land itself, the entire property is filled with trees and plants of all kinds, with lily ponds to break the monotony of the green (as if!) I still remember the sitafal and mangos hanging from the trees, lush and tempting.



4. The Spa-mpering

I had a couple of massage treatments at the spa, including an excellent back massage after waking up with a stiff back. From traditional ayurveda treatments like abhyanga and shirodhara, to beauty treatments with a variety of scrubs, the spa is a great place to unwind and spend the hours away from yoga (and let’s be honest, how long can you do yoga in a day?) And for those who are at Shreyas seeking treatment for any specific ailment or problem, the carefully planned treatments would go hand in hand with the yoga.



5. Pitching camp

tent2There are two kinds of accommodation options there: rooms by the pool and tents in the garden. I spent a day in each type, and really enjoyed the extremely private and quiet tent experience in the middle of the garden, complete with air-conditioning and fluffy towels.

With a verandah in the front – with planters’ chairs – to while away those rainy evenings, and an open-air enclosed bathroom at the back, it offered all the comforts of a luxury room.


FInally – although I have filed this also under ‘Hotel Reviews’, don’t take that literally. Go there with an open mind about your wellness – and that means no alcohol, cigarettes or meat – and remember, if yoga is really not your thing (and why not?), then Shreyas is ideal as a weekend or even a week’s break away from the noise and stress of city life. Unwinding took on an entirely new meaning there for me.

(All photos courtesy Shreyas Yoga Retreat).

Once upon a time in Copenhagen

I had written about one of the world’s most popular storytellers, Hans Christian Andersen, his life in Copenhagen and works for the Economic Times Sunday Magazine recently: Once upon a time in Copenhagen. He was a fascinating character, his life full of contradictions,and above all, he was a man after my own heart – see this line from his autobiography: “To roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live.”



A walk tracing the life and times of Hans Christian Andersen in Copenhagen is fascinating for many reasons. Among them is the fact that many places still look the way they did over 150 years ago, when the writer of some of the world’s most loved fairy tales, lived there.

We meet for the walk one pleasant summer afternoon in front of the town hall – to be precise, in front of the statue of Hans Christian Andersen right by its side. I can barely see the statue, which is photographed endlessly by the hordes of Chinese tourists, who cannot seem to get enough of it. After all, Andersen is one of Denmark’s most famous sons, and Copenhagen’s key attractions even today.

One of the first stops on the walk is a glimpse of the guesthouse – our guide claims that the space was then so crowded that people were forced to sleep standing up – where Andersen spent his first few nights in the city. The most interesting halt on this walk is in front of a tiny window at the basement of the courthouse, once housing the town prison. Andersen was perhaps inspired to write one of his rare happy stories ‘The Tinderbox,’ by the idea of a prisoner gazing out of that window on to a free world.

Born in Odense in Denmark in 1805, Andersen made his way to Copenhagen seeking a better life when he was 14, armed with just 12 kroner and big dreams. His ambition was to shine in the performing arts: the theatre, the ballet or the opera. He trained his eyes on the Royal Danish Theatre, trying his hand at many things, including singing and dancing. With his squeaky voice and gangly looks, he was rather unsuccessful in all his attempts.

Det kongelige teater

Following those youthful pursuits, he became a fairy tale writer purely by chance. It was only in 1835 – a full 16 years after he arrived in Copenhagen – that he published his first collection of fairy tales, which was received warmly. Over the course of his life, he wrote a total of 168 fairy tales, including The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and The Pea.

Over the walk, we learn that Andersen was a man of great contradictions. He was a bit of a grouch, not always getting along with people; yet he constantly managed to find benevolent patrons for his work. He was known to be stingy and cheap but was always clad in elegant and expensive clothes. And most significantly, this teller of tales for children never married and himself had no children.


Perhaps due to the mild underlining of sorrow in his personal life, his fairy tales were never really the cheerful sort, unlike those of the Brothers Grimm from the neighbouring country of Germany, who contrary to their name, wrote the “happily ever after” kind of stories. Whether his stories – with their tinge of dark humour and irony – can be called fairy tales or not, they stay relevant even today, and have been translated into over 150 languages.

The city is littered with monuments to Andersen’s work. For instance, one his most popular tales ‘The Little Mermaid’ is commemorated in Copenhagen in the form of a statue at the city harbour. Much like the Mannekin Pis in Brussels, this small, unassuming statue – blink and you miss it – is much adored and much photographed by visitors. The Little Mermaid who sits sad, despondent, just like the mermaid from the story, was a gift to the city from brewer Carl Jacobsen, and created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen in 1913. Legend has it that Jacobsen was enchanted by a ballet on the mermaid, performed at the Royal Danish Theatre, and wanted to immortalise the character.

The Little Mermaid

Another of Andersen’s haunts that we visit later is the bustling Nyhavn area by the canal, lined with hotels and restaurants with colourful facades. During his time, these buildings were all houses and he lived for over 20 years in this area, moving from one to the other. Today, along with my Andersen pilgrimage, I find it a great place for an evening of beer swigging and people watching.


It is believed that Andersen was shaped by his keen observations of everyday life in Copenhagen and his extensive travels within Europe. Indeed, his passion for travel shines through, in these lines in his autobiography: “To roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live.”

Fittingly, my day ends with a spin through his world, with a joy ride called the Flying Trunk at Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s first entertainment parks. The seven-minute jaunt recreates some of his well-known stories, making me aware that his stories are still capable of delighting not just children, but also adults.

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