Remember my posts on Bhutan, in which I lamented my decision to trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery? Despite my earnest desire to go trekking more often since, my loathing for any activity that combines walking with breathlessness and increased heart rate overcame the enthusiasm.
And like all other times when life has made me eat my own words – especially when they involve ‘hate’, ‘don’t’ or ‘exercise’ – this time too, I had to down my loathing with a generous helping of humble sauce. Kemmanagundi is to be blamed for it. This popular-with-government-officials hill station of sorts in Chikkamangalur district cast its spell on a non-trekker like me as well. And my, what a spell it was – lush green hills as far as the eye can see, grassy pathways formed naturally over the hills, flowers in brilliant reds, pinks and blues, and a freshwater spring or two.
The trek isn’t for very long – at least, not if you take your vehicle up to the most accessible point. One can finish it in a couple of hours both ways. I ventured halfway out, and then decided against going any further because the path involved scaling down slippery patches of mountain and I had a big camera bag with me. (Let this be a lesson to everyone.) I am told, though, that the sun setting over the Arabian Sea makes for a magnificent sight.
The trek’s not the only attraction at Kemmanagundi – there are view points, water bodies, temples and more around the place. The most pleasurable bit, though, is the greenery and serenity that comes with it – winding mountain roads with an overarching canopy of giant trees swaying in the wind.
And that sums up everything I have to say about the place – there wasn’t enough time to explore it more extensively, considering it was weekend trip with more time spent biking than exploring. I do say this, though – if a quiet getaway to connect with nature is your thing, Kemmanagundi is definitely a destination to consider.
Getting there: Drive down or bike it – it takes about 6 hours, with stops. The road closer to Kemmanagundi is quite bad, so that takes a chunk of time to get through. There are also overnight buses available. The nearest train station is Chikkamangalur and there are several trains that run every day.
Go if: You enjoy trekking, need some quiet time and want to feel one with nature.
P.S: There are plenty more pictures on my Instagram feed. Check them out to get a bigger picture of what the place is like.
Sometimes, I get exhausted with packing and unpacking my bags, exploring places and coming home and running again to explore some more. That’s when I prefer to lie spread-eagled on my bed and re-live my many journeys. When that happens, the universe conspires to bring interesting visitors to the eye-glass that is my room’s window and at times, the terrace of my home. Here are my top four acquaintances.
Little Monkey Its favourite place is the tree outside my room, making it a regular morning visitor. Seeing as I’m not a morning person, this pint-sized acrobat does everything to replace a super-sized frown on my face with a laugh.
The telephoto and I conduct a love affair with the moon once a month. Sometimes, she relents and poses for us beautifully, her radiant happiness setting her aglow. And sometimes, she likes to be shy and make us work for a mere glimpse of her well-rounded face.
I have no idea what it is that makes bees and birds flock to my room (they also generously fly smack into my face when I’m out riding my bike), but they do. And they adore my tube light. This delicate winged creature stuck to the light like its life depended on it and vanished before the break of dawn. Its kin have been paying me the odd visit since.
He’s the one-man mafia, striking fear in the dead of night. A rare visitor (because I pay my dues on time), he comes over to let me know that he exists and to remind me of how afraid I am of his kind.
“Ganga’s very forgiving”, Vikram, our raft guide from Aquaterra, proclaimed as we paddled vigorously down the river, out of breath and watching in horror as our fellow paddlers from other rafts were carried past us by the currents. She didn’t seem very forgiving at that point, I can tell you that much, but as we continued to raft down the rapids of the Ganges, I could understand what he meant. The waters and the 15-foot rapids might scare the living daylights out of you, but they won’t kill you. (Not unless you do something stupid like panic, or disregard the instructions of the pros.) Instead, they’ll take you along on a joy ride – a very cold, liquidy, watery kind – injecting you with an instant adrenalin rush, and then let you drift gently in calm waters. The river has many moods: persistent, with waves gushing, rushing past and over each other constantly – one can almost hear them go ‘move, move, move, move, make way, make way, make way’; passionate, as the water rushes furiously over eddies and currents to form its famous rapids; and quiet, as it softly rolls to the river bank and slinks back slowly, riding the crest of the oncoming lap of water.
Rafting on the river– getting high on hormones
Rafting on the Ganges is an experience one must have in one’s lifetime. We covered 36 kilometers in two days, complete with many rafts toppling over, many paddlers washed away in the river, and many, many stories of horror and awe from our instructor. Resisting the water’s force to draw us into its depths, seven people paddling as one to catch the crests of the rapids, almost losing my balance (and my sanity) as the raft leaned dangerously to one side and nearly gave in to peer pressure from the water, taking me with it – these are memories I will savour for a long, long time. In those moments, I felt alive. What an adrenaline rush!
But the one thing I will cherish the most is the quiet evening I spent with just the river for company. Ganga and I said nothing to each other. She went about her routine quietly, flowing calmly while I sat on the banks with folded legs and watched her. There was only the tinkling sound of water, occasionally interrupted by the chirps of a flying bird or two. I must have sat that way for hours, I think, because when I dragged my eyes away from the river, it was dusk. I have now found my happy place to go to in my head when things around me get chaotic.
Nature/eco camping – going back to the basics
Eco camping is not for the faint of heart or for those who love their luxuries. The camps are set up along the sand banks of the river and are miles away from Rishikesh town. The first time our jaws dropped when we saw the camp – three leaps away from the holy river, and without floating bodies too! – and the tents that would be our home for three nights. The scene was breathtakingly beautiful. Our jaws dropped a second time when we saw the bathrooms – longish tents, the kinds you find illustrated in Asterix and Obelix comics to show Roman camp settlements, with a deep hole dug into the sand for a toilet and a bucket of sand-limestone mixture for a flush. It. Was. Traumatic. Our expectations from the nature camp weren’t fully calibrated, so despite our ‘make-the-most-of-what-there-is’ attitude eventually, the first few hours were a total shocker. But let me be a good soul and set the dial of expectations to ‘Real’ for you. Here’s what you’ll find at nature camps in Rishikesh:
No hot water
No ‘modern’ toilet facilities
Giant spiders, and very venomous-looking at that
Absolute peace and solitude
An opportunity to be one with nature
Evening aarthi at Parmarth Ashram – a sea of yellow by a river of grey
As I left my footwear and walked past the arch, I was greeted by innumerable devotees donned in yellow. A little beyond was the Ganga, above whom loomed a large statue of Lord Shiva. Notes from the bhajans swirled around me as I took my seat behind a family who were wrapping up a special pooja. Non-Indians sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Indians, all of them clapping in sync to the tune. Disciples of all ages, dressed in yellow dhotis and kurtas with stoles of the same colour, closed their eyes and chanted away. Some others offered flowers and incense to the river, hoping for a blessing in return. Brass lamps took centre stage, waiting to be lit. As the evening progressed, the bhajans increased in fervour, reaching a crescendo as the lamps were lit and passed around for people to do the aarthi. The heady combination of the fire, the bhajans, the riverside, the rush of people and the feeling of godliness made for a mesmerising experience.
Rishikesh was full of adventures, the likes of which I’ve never had before. The camping was different and memorable – despite the bathroom bit, the rafting was brilliant and the trip to town for the aarthi was just as good. In the three days that I spent there, I was more me than I have been in a while. If you’re interested in that sort of discovery, you should go too.
Getting there: Rishikesh is a six-seven hour drive from Delhi. There are no direct flights to the town. There are also day trains from Delhi to Haridwar, from where you’ll have to hire a cab and ride for about an hour.
Go if: You seek adventure, peace and yogic knowledge, want a tete-a-tete with the Ganges, love rafting, wants to see what stillness and silence feel like, want to do high rope courses, like nature camping and are a sucker for cultural experiences.
…And so a Thursday arrives with the promise of a long weekend ahead. You feel a primitive restlessness stirring in your bones; itchy feet that demand that you carry them away from the city. After several hours of your eyes playing tennis between pictures of His Royal Highness Mysore and Pondicherry the Sea Nymph, you decide whom you want to pay a visit: that beautiful, curvaceous mistress of Nature, Dandeli.
Make no mistake, Nature might own her but that doesn’t make Dandeli any less flirtatious with you. She’ll beguile you with her lush greenery, the million glittering forest eyes that come alive in the dark, the velvety fabric of night woven with stars and the fauna that she keeps for pets. For your tired soul, she’ll let you choose between two adrenalin-fuelled activities: a midnight trek through the wilderness or a long, long rafting trip down the Kali river. And should you reciprocate her feelings, she’ll be able to swing a night safari in your favour. (A lucky friend went on one.)
Be warned, though – if she figures that you’re only being nice to her because you want something in return, she’ll let loose a thousand chirping cicadas, snakes and frogs that will slither and croak through the night. Hell, she’ll probably even deny you the rare pleasure of sighting Hornbills. My advice to you? Be good to her, because sleeping in her lap and spotting a Hornbill are two of the best things that will happen to you. (I must have done something only partially right, because I never got to see a Hornbill even once.)
If you’re in the mood for an adventure, then with a sharp snap of her fingers, she’ll get a couple of homeboys to take you to the natural Jacuzzi – a gurgling waterfall that feels like a million dollars worth of spa therapy. Maybe she’ll even let you stay in the tree house, part of which projects out onto the river. If you’re just plain lazy, she’ll lull you to peace with bonfires and sumptuous food.
By the end of the days spent in her company, you’ll long to extend your stay. You’ll turn doleful eyes towards her, beseeching her to understand how you feel. She’ll smile a kindly smile at you and you’ll know then that the decision is entirely yours. And that’s when you’ll feel the burden of the real world, that monster waiting to yank the chain around your ankles the minute it smells your escape. You’ll sigh heavily and just cling on to the memory of the lovely days with Dandeli. As you drive away from her, you’ll look at her, a silent question in your eyes, wanting to know if she’ll be your mistress as well, your escape from reality. And she’ll smile again, that Mona Lisa smile. She’ll look away because what do you know, there’s another car driving right into her arms.
Getting there: Dandeli’s accessible by road and rail. You can drive down – it’s about 8 hours from Bangalore – or take an overnight bus. By rail, you can take a train to Hubli or Belgaum and hire a taxi from there.
Go if: You love nature, wildlife, birds, rafting, seek tranquility and maybe even a holiday romance with the place.
P.S: I’m a big, big fan of Hornbill Resort and recommend that if you’re going to Dandeli, you must stay there. It’s slightly expensive, but the experience is worth it.
I spent last weekend in Wellington, twenty minutes away from central Ooty. And it has without effort replaced Kodaikanal as the greenest, most charming hill stations in my book. Sure, main Ooty is commercial and a large population of tourists is concentrated there (especially couples with paws all over each other. Ugh!), but move away a little bit and it’s an entirely different world. Because it’s nestled among the Nilgiri range of hills, there’s lush plant life everywhere. Colourful houses dot the hills like a fine garnish over a carpet of varying greens, flanked by abundant rows of cabbages, carrots and tea plantations. Picture perfect in every way, it’s mostly clean, quiet and the ideal place to get away from city life to enjoy a quiet, inactive holiday.
I stayed at the army guest house, thanks to my mother’s friend from work, whose son is a Major recently posted in Ooty. She was kind enough to invite us on the trip, and i’m so glad i decided to go because I’ve seen such beauty there that it sort of overwhelms me.
And that’s all I have to say. I’ll let the picture postcards do all the talking from here on.
Getting there: Ooty’s easily accessible by road and train. KSRTC buses ply to Ooty in the nights and i would highly recommend them because they go through the Bandipur forest in the night and there are many nocturnal delights to witness. Besides, government buses are the only ones allowed into the forest at night, don’t ask why. By car, Ooty’s a 6-7 hour drive from Bangalore.
Go if: You love nature, are a wildlife enthusiast, love photography, an avid bird watcher, need some peace and quiet, love hills and mountains, like exploring on your own. Oh, and also go if you love chocolates.