Where Malgudi was born: RK Narayan Museum, Mysuru

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A public outcry saved author RK Narayan’s Mysuru home from demolition. Now restored and converted into a museum, it offers a peep into his life and times, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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If RK Narayan had to have a museum for himself, it would have been like this – simple, unassuming, Spartan. You’d miss it if it wasn’t for the sign that said ‘RK Narayan’s House’ and his photo on the building’s façade. It was in this two-storey house with red oxide floors on the leafy Vivekanada Road of Mysuru that he wrote 29 novels set in the fictional town of Malgudi. Many cannot believe that this vividly described town does not exist and is perhaps a cartographical omission; such was the power of his pen. Fewer still knew that this was where the author spent nearly four decades.

It was almost 5pm but the watchman allowed us entry despite being closing time. There was no entry fee, only a scribble in a register gave us access. We were asked to leave our slippers outside as if entering a shrine. The whitewashed walls were bare except for black and white photos, quotes and information panels that offered an insight into the life of the author. Honorary doctorate degrees and awards lined the shelves and walls. On another shelf were a pair of glasses and few pens.

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To the rear was a dining hall with a small table and four chairs and a kitchen. His first floor study, a bay room with eight windows that afforded him a view in every direction, held his collection of books. In an adjoining chamber, his old stitched shirts, tattered coats, mufflers and worn out sweaters scented the room with his presence. RK Narayan’s museum, like his simple insightful prose, was shorn of any ostentation or grand flourish.

The photographs gave us glimpses into a man about whom the world knew precious little – RK Narayan as a child of 5, posing with his family and eminent personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, during a BBC interview in London with author Graham Greene and playing cricket with his nephews as part of the ‘Rough and Tough and Jolly Club.’ On one wall was a rare black and white illustration of Lord Hanuman done by him; on another a Rs.5 postage stamp dedicated to the author released in 2009.

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The information panels were rich in anecdotes. Indian literature’s ‘dirty old man’ Khushwant Singh often wondered how a storyteller of modern times could hold a reader’s interest without injecting sex or violence into his narrative. “I found them too slow-moving, without any sparkling sentences or memorable descriptions of nature or his characters. Nevertheless, the one-horse town of his invention, Malgudi, had etched itself on my mind.”

But if it wasn’t for Graham Greene, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami might not have become the author he was destined to be. The story goes that Narayanswami gave the manuscript of his first novel ‘Swami and Friends’, set in fictional Malgudi, to a friend at Oxford. However, he couldn’t find a publisher and in despair, told his friend to destroy it. The friend took the manuscript to author Graham Greene who was so impressed by it that he recommended it to his own publisher and the book was released in 1935. Greene also suggested that he abbreviate his name to RK Narayan for ease of familiarity to an English speaking audience! He was instrumental in publishing Narayan’s next three books as well – The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938) and The English Teacher (1945).

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Yet, it was his first collection of short stories Malgudi Days, published in November 1942, that shot RK Narayan to fame. He named his fictional town after the old Bengaluru neighbourhoods of Malleshwaram-Basavangudi. The series was adapted for television by Shankar Nag and the serial was almost entirely shot in Agumbe. Two panels with stills from the making of the serial adorned one wall.

The sketches for the television adaptation were done by his equally talented younger brother RK Laxman. What Laxman expressed through cartoons, Narayan painted in words. Both focused on the mundane, the trials and tribulations of the common man and the observance of daily life that held a mirror to society.

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It was from this house that RK Narayan went on gentle strolls to Mysore market. His observations on life and interactions with shopkeepers and locals gave him much fodder for his books and characters. Having lost touch with England during World War II, he started his own publishing company Indian Thought, which is still active after all these years and is run by his granddaughter.

It was when Narayan visited England that he and Greene finally met. RK Narayan’s works were published in the US for the first time in 1953 and it was during a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1956 that he wrote The Guide. Narayan won a Sahitya Akademi award for his story in 1958, a first for a book in English! The story was later adapted for Bollywood and he also bagged a Filmfare award for the best story in 1967.

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Despite being lauded internationally, RK Narayan remained rooted in his small town Mysuru simplicity. During a literary seminar in Hawaii he would often buy a carton of yoghurt from the supermarket and go from one eatery to another till he found boiled rice! The only compromise he made was eat his curd rice with a spoon. Such was RK Narayan’s zest to write that he admitted he had become lazy after he entered his nineties! His close confidante and The Hindu publisher N Ram reminisces the day Narayan was put on a ventilator. He asked Ram for a diary. When he agreed, Narayan asked whether it will be a 2000 diary or a 2001 diary! Ram confirmed it would be 2001.

The author breathed his last on 13 May 2001, leaving behind a legacy spanning sixty years. Critics lauded him as the Indian equivalent of Guy de Mauppasant, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Despite such acclaim, like the plot of one of his stories, RK Narayan’s house was all set for demolition, until public outcry and universal love for the author, forced local civic authorities to save the building. The dilapidated property was purchased for Rs.2.4 crores and Rs.34.5 lakhs earmarked for repairs. After a neat restoration and landscaping job, the museum was opened to visitors earlier this year and aims to be a literary stopover like Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-upon-Avon.

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It was almost dark by the time we were ready to leave. There was no leaflet or souvenir to take away, except the memory of the visit. The caretaker switched on the decoration lights, bathing the white building in surreal green. The meagre museum may pale in comparison to Mysuru’s grand palaces, markets and temples. Yet, it is a must visit for RKN fans as the endearing memory of the creator of Malgudi lives on…

RK Narayan’s House
D 14, Vivekananda Road, Yadavgiri, Mysuru 570020
Timings: 10am–5 pm

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared on 20 September 2016 in Conde Nast Traveller online. https://www.cntraveller.in/story/where-malgudi-was-born/

The Journey of Biryani

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on the biryani trail across India chronicling the history of this iconic dish and its regional variants 

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In a dark sooty kitchen in Mysuru’s Lashkar Mohalla with only a shaft of light slanting through a glass tile, Sadiq bhai stood stirring a huge cauldron of boiling oil sizzling with onions. Two wide steel vessels had the choicest cuts of fresh pink meat. In another vessel, water was already on the boil and a woven basket on the floor held a heap of washed rice waiting to be transformed into Nasheman’s signature mutton biryani. Sadiq bhai was one of the countless practitioners of a well-guarded craft using secrets handed down by elders.

There is something remarkable in the manner in which humble rice is elevated to a heavenly dish fit for kings and commoners alike, with just a play of ingredients, flavours and techniques. In Tamil Nadu, there is a reference to “oon soru” in Tamil literature dating to 2 AD, a delicious combination of rice, clarified butter, bay leaf, turmeric, coriander, pepper and meat that was served to warriors.

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Though synonymous with Indian cuisine and a part of speciality and mainstream menus of every chef worth his salt, the biryani is regarded as an import from West Asia, more specifically, Persia. The word biryani is thought to originate from the Persian word “birian” which means ‘fried before cooking’ or “birinj” meaning ‘rice’. The washed rice is fried in butter or ghee before being cooked in boiling water – this not only imparted a mild nutty flavour to the rice but also ensured that the grains retained their shape after cooking.

Since medieval times, the recipe of a good biryani has been simple – rice and meat set in layers with the number of spices varying from few to fifteen. Traditionally, long grain brown rice was the preferred option, but now the scented basmati rice has become synonymous with biryani. In south India, local varieties like kaima or jeeraka shala (jeerige sanna in Coorg and seeraga samba in Tamil Nadu), provide their own distinct flavour and texture to the dish. The meats vary from goat, sheep, poultry, beef, eggs to seafood like fish, prawns and crab. Fragrance heightens its appeal and it’s not uncommon to find biryanis scented with rosewater, edible ittar or kewra water and saffron. The cooking technique can be kachchi (raw) where the meat is layered with raw rice in a handi or pot, or pakki (cooked) where cooked rice and meat are layered together.

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Legend has it that Timur the Lame, the Turkic conqueror and founder of the Timurid Empire, was responsible for the entry of biryani to India. Apparently, when he landed at our frontiers in 1398 he served a rudimentary form of ‘biryani’ to his soldiers. His armies would consume a hearty diet of pots of rice, spices and meats that were slow cooked in hot buried pits which were dug out at meal time. While biryani may very well have been part of a war diet, there was always a certain romance associated with it.

Perhaps, the fact that Mumtaz, the inspiration behind India’s most celebrated monument and symbol of love, the Taj Mahal, had something to do with it! It is believed that Mumtaz once visited the Mughal army’s barracks and was dismayed by the dire conditions and poor nutrition endured by the soldiers. She ordered the cook to prepare a wholesome meal that blended meat and rice. And thus, they say, the biryani was born…

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The stories may be apocryphal but there’s no doubt that the Mughals played their part in the popularity and dispersal of the biryani across their vast dominion. Whether it was the Nawabs of Oudh (Awadh) in Lucknow or the Nizams of Hyderabad, the biryani blossomed into regional variations wherever it went. Take Moradabad, founded in 1625 and named after Murad Buksh, son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

When Mohammed Yar Khan, hailed as the founder of the Indian brassware industry, migrated from Afghanistan to India in the 1860s, locals not only picked up techniques of brass making but also the nuances of biryani. The Moradabadi Biryani is typically low on spices and high on flavor and there’s no better place to taste it than Alam biriyaniwala on Galshaheed Road.

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While the journey of the biryani from Persia to India via the Mughals is an incredible one, the way it was Indianized into different variants across the subcontinent is equally amazing. Patronized by royalty, every region, community or socio-geographic condition led to minor modifications and refinements. The Hyderabadi dum biryani developed under Asaf Jah I of Hyderabad. Arab nobleman Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqi, appointed by Aurangzeb as viceroy of the Deccan between 1713 to 1721 laid the foundation of the Asaf Jahi dynasty after the death of the Mughal emperor.

As per legend, while on a hunting trip, the first Nizam was offered some kulcha (oval Indian bread) by a holy man. Asked to eat as many as he could, the Nizam ate seven kulchas and the seer prophesied that seven generations of his family would rule the state. The prophesy came true as seven Nizams ruled Hyderabad for two centuries from 1724 to 1947.

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Inspired by Persian society and their Turko-Mongol Mughal overlords, the Nizams patronized art, literature, culture and cuisine. It is said that the khansamas (royal chefs) of the court could prepare over 50 types of biryani using shrimp, quail, fish, deer, hare and their signature saffron infused rice. Another speciality was the delicately flavoured Doodh ki Biryani cooked with creamy milk, roasted nuts and aromatic spices.

However, the quintessential Hyderabadi dum biryani is made with basmati rice, spices and goat meat in a style known as kachchi yakhni or kachche gosht ki biryani. The marinated meat is cooked along with rice layered with fried onions, chilies, mint leaves and sprinkled with kewda, rose water and saffron. The dish is left on slow fire or dum (steam) and sealed with dough for a fragrant and aromatic flavor.

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It is often accompanied by a boiled egg and raita or mixed salad. While Paradise may have opened branches in other cities, locals swear by smaller establishments for the real taste of paradise – Hotel Shadaab near Charminar, Parvez Hotel at Nampally, Hotel Sohail in Malakpet and Cafe Bahar in Basheer Bagh.

One variant called the Kalyani biryani, often dubbed the ‘Poor man’s Hyderabadi biryani’, originated in Bidar in North Karnataka during the reign of the Kalyani Nawabs, who migrated to Hyderabad after Nawab Ghazanfur Jang married into the Asaf Jahi family. The Kalyani biryani was served by the Kalyani nawabs to guests who came from Bidar and visited their devdi (mansion) in Hyderabad.

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After the privy purse was abolished and the nawabs went into decline, some of their illustrious cooks set up their own stalls and introduced the Kalyani biryani to the local populace. The Kalyani biryani is characterized by small cubes of buffalo meat flavoured with ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili, cumin, coriander powder, lots of onion and tomato, made into a thick curry and then cooked in dum style along with rice.

While the Hyderabadi biryani uses ground masalas, the Awadhi or Lucknow biryani is characterized by whole spices and yellow chili powder for a mild, flavourful dish. The rice is cooked separately in spices and marinated chicken is added later. The ambience may not win any Michelin stars, but locals queue up at Lucknow’s legendary hole-in-the-wall eateries like Lalla biryani at Chaupatiya Chowk, Wahid biryani in Aminabad and Idris ki Biryani at Patanala near Kotwali Chowk Bazaar.

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The Calcutta biryani, a Lucknowi variant, evolved when Awadh’s last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was exiled in 1856 to Kolkata. Settled in the suburb of Metiabruz, the nawab brought his personal chef with him. It is said the poorer households of Kolkata that could not afford meat, supplemented it with potatoes, which became a local specialty. The subtle biryani uses nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cloves and cardamom in the yoghurt based marinade for the meat which is cooked separately from the rice.

This combination of spices gives it a distinct flavour as compared to other styles. The rice is flavoured with ketaki water or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and a light yellowish colour. The usual accompaniment is raita and kosha mangsho (thick mutton curry), best ordered from biryani bastions like Arsalan and Nizam’s. In nearby Barrackpore, at Dada-Boudi Biryani locals buzz around like bees to take away biryani by the boxfuls as large vessels simmer in the back alley.

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As far as the original Mughlai biryani goes, one can still find the authentic taste in the crammed alleys and bylanes of Delhi. Tempered with saffron and enriched with nuts, the mild flavourful mughlai version has many takers, whether it is Al Jawahar near Jama Masjid or Nasir Iqbal in Nizamuddin. The legendary Karim’s, started in 1913 by Haji Karimuddin and ranked by Time Magazine as one of the best non vegetarian restaurants in Asia, trace their origins to the Mughal court.

After the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed and the British crushed the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, many royal cooks fled from Lal Qila and sought shelter in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. In 1911, when the Delhi Durbar was held for the coronation of King George V, several moved back to Delhi to cater to the crowds flocking for the coronation. Starting with a small dhaba serving rumali rotis with alu gosht and daal, Haji Karimuddin established the Karim Hotel in Jama Masjid’s Gali Kababian in 1913 with the lofty aim to serve royal food to the common man.

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Over time, the biryani has criss-crossed the cardinal directions of the country and imbibed spices and flavours from each region, to create extraordinary versions, iconic to places or communities. Of the dozen odd styles found in India, surprisingly most variations can be found in the south!

While the spicy Andhra Biryani is popular across South India be it RRR Mess in Mysuru or Nagarjuna in Bengaluru, the local Donne Biryani is quite the rage, served piping hot in a donne (arecanut palm leaf cups). Share elbow space with die hard patrons at the Gundappa Shivaji military hotel in Bengaluru or Hanumanthu’s in Mysuru. Biryani purists may scoff that these are technically pulaos and unless it’s layered it ain’t biryani, but the proof of the pudding lies in eating it!

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Mysuru is also known for its Tahari Biryani, perhaps a corruption of tarkari or vegetables. Beans, carrots and potatoes are cooked along with rice to create a tasty vegetarian dish that was popularised during the reign of Tipu Sultan and attributed to the austere vegetarian book-keepers in Tipu’s administration. Wherever there was a high Muslim population, the biryani gained tremendous popularity.

A popular variant in recent times is the Ambur biryani, first introduced by the Nawabs of Arcot and spread by their royal cooks in Ambur and Vaniyambadi villages of Vellore district in north-eastern Tamil Nadu. The most famous among them was Hasin Baig, who opened a small eatery on NH4 (Bengaluru- Chennai highway) that has grown into a powerful brand a century later. Ambur’s legendary Star Biryani now has branches in Chennai and Bengaluru and serves 7 types of biryani including a Chicken 65 Biryani!

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Ambur regulars however swear by Hotel Rahmaniya. Authentic Ambur biryani does not use any garam masala powder or coriander powder with the spice and the taste coming from the red chili paste. It has a distinct aroma and the moderate use of spice and curd as a gravy base make it easy to digest. It also has a higher ratio of meat to rice and is typically served with dalcha, a sour brinjal curry or Kathirikai Pachadi (Khatte Baingan).

Another legend in the galaxy of stellar biryani makers is Dindigul’s Thalpakatti biryani. What started off in 1957 as a humble betelnut shop and a 4-seater Anandha Vilas Biriyani Hotel, is today the first non-veg South Indian restaurant to open in Paris! Its founder Nagasamy Naidu sported a thalapa (traditional turban) and hence the hotel’s popular name Thalappakatti.

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Such was its taste that Tamil star Sivaji Ganesan often made a ritual stop at Dindigul for the Thalappakatti Biriyani while visiting his farmhouse at Soorakottai nearby. The Dindigul Biryani uses flavourful Parakkum sittu or Seeragasamba rice, top quality meat sourced from the cattle markets of Kannivadi and Paramathi, besides curd and lemon juice for the signature tang. Mutton bones are boiled and brinjal, potato and pulses are added to create an accompaniment called dalcha.

Many of the biryani varieties found on India’s eastern coast can be traced to Arab traders who sailed to port cities in the Konkan, Karavali and beyond. Malabar, Kerala’s northern region stretching from Kasaragod to Kozhikode, has long attracted Arabian sailors who came to India’s Spice Coast for trade. Over time, they married local women and a new Muslim community called the Mappilas (anglicized to Moplah) was formed.

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Thalassery, Malabar’s culinary capital, is known for its delectable biryani made with local spices, ghee and the small-grained fragrant kaima or jeerakasala rice. The meat and rice are prepared separately and layered together for a final dum, sealing the lid with maida or dough and placing red hot charcoal or flaming coconut shells above the lid.

Very little chili or chili powder is used, leading to a subtle dish served with raita, mango or date pickle and coconut-coriander chutneyAnd it’s no secret, you get the best Thalassery biryani in Paris. No, not the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Arc de Triomphe Paris, but a tiny shack on Thalassery’s Logan Road called Paris.

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When cooks from Thalassery moved to Calicut, it led to a new coinage – Kozhikode or Malabar Biryani! We went backroom into the kitchen of Paragon restaurant to see a large vessel of chicken being stirred continuously into a thick gravy. Another man was cooking rice in cauldrons. A third deftly heaped steaming small-grained rice over a generous piece of chicken, as platefuls of Paragon’s famous biryani rolled out of the assembly line.

Besides meat, local cooks also turned to the bountiful sea to make fish or prawn biryani, sometimes made with a variation of vermicelli, instead of rice. Ayisha Manzil, a heritage homestay at Thalassery teaches the nuances of Moplah cuisine in gourmet cooking holidays.

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In Mangaluru, the South Canara trading community of Bearys (derived from the Tulu word ‘byara’, meaning trade or business) have their own distinct cuisine. Just like Mangalorean food, they use coconut, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and spices like pepper and cardamom. The dum style Beary biryani is subtle and delectable. Further up the Karavali coast, the Navayaths of Bhatkal have a Bhatkali or Navayathi biryani.

Navayaths are migrants predominantly from Arabia and Persia, who married into local Jain trading families to form a new community called Navayaths or the ‘newly arrived’. Like their language Navayathi, their cuisine too is an amalgam of Persian, Arabic, Marathi and Urdu with Konkani as its base. The biryani often has a vermicelli version instead of rice and is served with accompaniments like baingan ka khatta (tangy brinjal curry) and sirke ka pyaz (onions in vinegar).

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The biryani alters in taste and appearance as one travels up the coast. But have you ever heard of a biryani without rice? The Dawoodi Bohras are a sect of the Ismaili branch of Shias residing mainly in Mumbai, Gujarat and western India. Like their language – a dialect of Gujarati mixed with Arabic and Urdu – their biryani is also unique, made from colocasia leaves normally used for patrode. The Bohri patra biryani is flavoured with a lot of tomatoes and the best place to have it is in Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla. Firoz Farsan dishes out a limited quantity every Sunday, though Ramzan is a great time to savour other delicacies.

There’s a Sindhi Biryani as well, with a pleasing bouquet of flavours using scented spices, roasted nuts, slivers of green chillies and a tang imparted by sour yoghurt and Aloo Bukhara (plums). The Memons of Gujarat-Sindh have a spicy Memoni biryani made with lamb, yoghurt, fried onions, potatoes and fewer tomatoes than the Sindhi version. They also use less food colouring, allowing the rich colours of the various meats, rice, and vegetables to blend in an appearance that is pleasing to the eye, as it is to the palate.

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Even far flung Assam has its own version called the Kampuri biryani, where chicken is cooked with peas, carrots, beans, potatoes, and yellow bell peppers before being spiced up with cardamom and nutmeg and mixed with rice. The outcome is a tasty, simple dish with meat soaked in fresh flavours of local vegetables.

The recipe to a good biryani is often a closely guarded secret handed down generations, be it in homes, royal kitchens or local restaurants. Hidden in the layers of rice, spices and succulent meat, are little stories of nameless and famous people who have contributed gems to the culinary treasures of India. The adventurous will continue to drool and explore the dazzling range of biryanis on offer while others will seek out the old haunts for time-tested familiar tastes, tinged with nostalgia. Today, preparing a biryani almost has a celebratory connotation. It is a complex culinary creation that requires love and patience above all other ingredients. Otherwise, the world would be happy with fried rice!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared as the Cover Story on 16 October 2016 in Sunday Herald newspaper.

Stags Only: The best bachelor holidays

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Planning a bachelor party with the boys? Skip Las Vegas and Bangkok and try these holiday ideas from ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY.

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So you’re getting hitched and your wild lifestyle is threatened by an Extinction Level Event (read marriage). Mad drunken parties with the boys, binge eating, dirty weekends, scanning dance floors and bars for fun, checking out the ‘scene’, ah the joys of bachelorhood… All this might seem history to the groom apparent, however, your friends couldn’t care less. They just want you to ride into the sunset of marital fidelity with all guns blazing. The idea is to go out and have fun. Here’s how to make it a bachelor party to remember… or forget!

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Get high in Dubai
What better way to celebrate with your mates than getting high together? And what better place than the world’s tallest building and the loftiest observation deck? Just short of a kilometer (828 m, 160 stories) At The Top in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is as high as it gets. Make it special with a signature taster menu (caviar, truffles, foie gras) at the stylish SKY lounge and Atmosphere restaurant at level 148, manned by top chef Jerome Lagarde.

But there’s no reason you can’t get higher! Feel the adrenaline rush as you skydive from 13,000 ft over Palm Jumeirah or get on a hot air balloon, chopper, gyrocoptor or a Sea Wings seaplane for an aerial tour. Dubai is the place for bad boys to have a good time, with dune-bashing, belly-dancing and adventures like Ski Dubai (Middle East’s first indoor ski resort) and iFLY Dubai (indoor sky diving and wind tunnel experience).

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Easy rentals make it easy to zip around in your dream luxe car or set sail on the Persian Gulf in a luxurious yacht with Jacuzzi, barbeques and champagne. Pimp it up with model hostesses, resident DJ and bouncers. And if you don’t mind getting wet, strap on a hydrojet equipment and get set for shred sleds, jet packs and jet blades.

Stay in style at Palm Jumeirah at Anantara Resorts as you go party-hopping at Sanctuary in Atlantis nearby, Zero Gravity, White Dubai, Trilogy, Rattlesnake, Ku-Bu, Cyclone or Ibiza club Blue Marlin, a weekend-only beach bar. With Dubai’s diverse expat mix, it’s like attending the UN’s sorority bash.

Jet Airways flies to Dubai and Abu Dhabi

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

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Get lucky in Hong Kong
For King Kong fun, head straight to Hong Kong. Terrific street food, night markets, rooftop bars, a vibrant ‘scene’ and the world’s largest permanent light and sound show Symphony of Lights; what’s not to like? The central party district of Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai and SoHo buzz with bars and clubs like Magnum, Volar, Play, Dragon-i, Ce La Vi, the world’s highest bar Ozone at Ritz Carlton and Aqua Spirit rooftop bar overlooking Victoria Harbour.

To up the ante, take the hour-long ferry to Macau, a mecca for boys who like to party hard. Like HK, a Special Administrative Region (SAR), the Portuguese presence in Macau over four centuries gives it an exotic appeal – from its food, culture to architecture. Having the world’s highest population density (20,497 people per sq km), two islands south of the mainland Coloane and Taipa were joined in a massive land reclamation project to form the Co-tai Strip, a 5.2 sq km gambling haven.

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In 2007, it turned the tables on Las Vegas as the world leader in gambling revenue. Most of the 30 million visitors to Macau are drawn by 24-hour gambling at the 33 casinos and integrated resorts – Venetian Resort, City of Dreams, Sands Cotai, Galaxy Macau Resort and Wynn Palace, which opened this year. Event planners like Ludih can help you organize the ultimate stag bash with stretch limos, VIP access at clubs and private parties in luxury hotel suites.

Jet Airways flies to Hong Kong

For more info, visit www.macaotourism.gov.mo

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Go beer guzzling in Germany
Beer by the tankards or ‘ein mass’ (one measure in a large mug), pigging out on red meat (sausages to steaks) and busty bier mädchen (beer maidens) dressed in dirndls (Alpine peasant costume) and tight-fitting bodices that make Hooters seem like a church choir; Germany is custom-built for a boys’ week out. Beer Bike Tours combine two of the best German specialties – beer and engineering – plonk with your pals on stools around a small bar and quaff beer while pedaling your beermobile. It’s a good way to burn off what you’ll put on.

Drive from north to south Germany on the Deutsch Fachwerke Strasse (Half-Timbered House Road), checking out local brews at the 1200 breweries between Bremen and Munich. Pop in at Munich’s famous beer hall Hofbräuhaus and the Bier & Oktoberfest Museum. Or head straight to Berlin, legendary for its hedonistic club scene and endless party hours. There’s hardly a block in Berlin without a bar though the top spots are in the hipster district of Kreuzberg.

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Check out Berlin’s oldest biergarten Prater or rent a raft and float down the Spree River. Go dancing at the open-air Club der Visionaire off the Spree or Matrix in an abandoned train station – almost every club in Berlin is built in an abandoned something! Split up into smaller groups to get into clubs like Sysiphos or the infamous techno haven Berghain.

The German love for kink is apparent in strip clubs like Golden Dolls or CP Club and adult entertainment venues like Artimis and Kit Kat Club. For a mad time, visit during the 16-day long Oktoberfest (mid-September to first Sunday in October)! Don’t forget to take home a stein (no, not a stain but a stoneware mug) as a memento.

Jet Airways flies to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, from where its codeshare partners Etihad and KLM have several connections to Frankfurt, Munich or Berlin.

For more info, visit www.germany.travel

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Rum tasting in Mauritius
If you were considering Mauritius for your destination wedding or honeymoon, your bachelor party might be a good way to scope it out. Sensuous Sega dancers and fire-eaters by the beach, endless rum tasting sessions at rhumeries like Chateau de Labourdonnais, Chamarel, L’Aventure du Sucre and Saint Aubin and riding out to reefs for diving or snorkeling with the boys; Mauritius is not your average lazy tropical paradise.

There’s a lot for the adventure enthusiast – SeaKart, UnderSea Walk, Sub Scooter and Submarine tours with Blue Safari (the only sub operation in the Indian Ocean), the world’s third longest zipline and Quad Biking at La Vallée des Couleurs and Casela Nature Park. And if you’re into golf, there are over a dozen world class courses.

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With all the action packed in a relatively small island nation (65km long, 45km wide) and plush beachside resorts like Shanti Maurice, Sofitel Imperial and Radisson Blu Azuri, no adventure is far away. Dine on the best of French, Caribbean and Creole cuisine and wash it down with rum macerated with tropical fruits and spices.

Jet Airways flies twice a week from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to Mauritius

For more info, visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu

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Bar hopping in Dublin
Few cities have the pulse and vibe of Dublin where the pub, the poet and the pint are seemingly inseparable. The Irish are a friendly lot and it’s easy to strike up a conversation, make new friends and party like a local. Start your pilgrimage with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and their St James Gate Brewery where they teach you everything from how to pour the perfect pint o’ Guinness and how to drink one!

For a traditional Dublin pub experience with a live band, Irish music and food, The Merry Ploughboy Irish music pub is a must do. Wowing audiences since 1989, they even have a pick-up and drop facility from town. Go on a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl with quirky book-themed tours in the footsteps of famous authors through Dublin’s cobbled streets. Professional actors double up as guides performing from the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

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Sounds too dense? Hit the Temple Bar area to wet your whistle at Kitty O’Shea’s, The Hole in the Wall and The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub that opened in 1198. Not into beer? Take the scenic Giant’s Causeway Coastal route and head for an Irish whiskey experience at The Old Jameson Distillery (reopening after a makeover in March 2017).

Jet Airways flies to London, from where you can fly to Dublin or Belfast.

For more info, visit www.ireland.com

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Go Down Under in style in Australia
If you’re all set to change your FB status from Single to Married (or It’s Complicated), go down under in style by celebrating Down Under. Base yourself in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) and you’re just a hop, skip and jump from all the entertainment – bars, restaurants, gentleman’s clubs and a variety of shows. Plus, in CBD, the trams are free!

Stay at Citadines on Bourke Street or check into luxe tents at St. Jerome’s with scenic views and bespoke brewery tours run by the Temple Brewing Co. For whiskey tastings, there’s The Humble Tumbler, Bar 1806 and Whisky & Alement. Australia is the perfect place for XXXX fun and we don’t mean Castlemaine!

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Take the fun out to sea with a stripper cruise or have a poker party with topless barmaids and nude waitresses. Drive out of town with your mates to Philip Island for surfing and to watch penguins, seals and wallabies in the wild. The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit which hosts the Moto GP in October also has a 720m go-karting track. Continue the party on the Great Ocean Road past the Twelve Apostles to Sydney if you have more time… and stamina!

Jet Airways flies to Singapore, from where its codeshare partner Qantas flies to Melbourne and Sydney

For more info, www.visitmelbourne.com

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Island hopping in Indonesia
Imagine this. The moment you land in Bali, you and your Wolf Pack is whisked from the airport to your private pool villa in Semenyak where party girls welcome you with chilled Bintangs. Your pool party has its own DJ, with VIP access to top clubs at night and cruising on a luxury yacht with your bevy of beauties. Yes, in Bali, everything is possible.

If you don’t want to depend on an event planner, DIY, but don’t DUI. Choose a regular hotel in the main tourist hub of Kuta so you’re never far from action. Catch the sunset at beach shacks like Ku De Ta, Potato Head, Cocoon or Mozaic, then go late night clubbing at Sky Garden in Legian. The next day, recover with Balinese massages and foot reflexology. In the posher precinct Semenyak, you can have your own pool villa with party spots like Bounty, Mirror and Koh close by.

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Fly out to Labuan Bajo in Flores, where you can go diving and deep sea fishing or head out on a boat trip to Komodo Island to watch giant reptiles. With getaways like Sulawesi, Lombok and nearly 18,000 islands (of which 8844 are named and 922 permanently inhabited), you are indeed spoilt for choice.

Jet Airways flies to Bangkok and Singapore, from where its codeshare partner Garuda Indonesia flies to Bali

For more info, visit www.indonesia.travel

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Glamping in Oman
Oman may not seem like the most obvious choice for a bachelor party, but if you’re looking for good clean fun, the Desert Nation has quite a few surprises. Smoke sheeshas on the sands like a Bedouin, swim in wadis with barbecue parties at Wadi Bani Khalid, trek in the Al Hajar mountains or go dune bashing, quad biking and sandboarding with your buddies at Sharqiya Sands.

But perish the thoughts of basic ‘Abdullah and the Camel’ sort of tents, Desert Nights Camp will spoil you silly with glamping (glamour-camping). Tents fit for sultans dressed up with plush rugs and drapes, the nomadic strains of the darbouka (stringed instrument) and oud (percussion) and the tantalizing aroma of barbecued meat, Oman is as sensory as its aromatic frankincense. Fly from Muscat to Khasab for 4X4 drives across rugged terrain and luxury dhow cruises with dolphin spotting and snorkeling at Telegraph Island.

Jet Airways flies to Muscat

For more info, visit www.omantourism.gov.om

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Explore the coffee shops of Amsterdam
Amsterdam has all the ingredients to threaten your marriage, so go at your own peril. A lot of the stuff illegal elsewhere is legit here. Much as the city likes to shrug the tag, over half a million tourists are drawn by visions of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Amsterdam’s legendary coffee shops, currently trimmed down to 220, come with elaborate menus offering everything from Moroccan Ice to Malana Cream for a Cheech & Chong stoner holiday.

There’s no better example of Amsterdam’s drug tolerance than Bulldog Leidseplein, formerly a police station, decorated with criminal artifacts! Scour the top forty listed in the local Mellow Pages: A Smoker’s Guide to Amsterdam and pop by at the award-winning Green House, The Grasshopper or Barney’s for a hit. The Cannabis Cup in November used to be a great time to visit until the recent clampdown. Another mandatory pitstop is Amsterdam’s red light district De Wallen, where you’ll learn a new meaning to the term ‘window shopping’. For those racked by guilt, look out for the “Pimp Free Zone” sticker.

Jet Airways flies to Amsterdam

For more info, visit www.holland.com

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Get unreal in Montreal

With its trendy bars, nightclubs, strip clubs, every sort of club, Montreal is not called Sin City of the North for nothing. Get party girls to go clubbing with you, visit lap dance bars, try naked sushi or get your freak on at Kamasutra Club and Club Supersexe. St Laurent is a buzzing entertainment quarter while Crescent Street has great bars like Mad Hatter and Churchill’s, which has daily happy hours.

Montreal has a certain French flair and many time their bachelor parties in time for the cold winter sports season (thus justifying the need for warmth) or events like the jazz festival. Looking for an all-expense paid pre-arranged tour? Connect with www.connectedmontreal.com

Jet Airways flies to London Heathrow from where its codeshare partner Air Canada flies to Montreal, Toronto and other destinations

For more info, visit www.canada.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared in the October 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Royal Rajasthan: 7 Wow Places for your 7 Vows

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out seven dream locations in Rajasthan for the ultimate destination wedding 

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Few places can match Rajasthan for the sheer opulence and grandeur it imparts to a destination wedding. With forts and palaces doubling up as venues, there’s no better location for Maharaja style nuptials. Ghodis (horses) are too plebian; here the groom arrives in style on elephant back or in a vintage car.

Monuments brought alive with 3D laser mapping, processions carrying mashaals (torches) and entertainment that ranges from local folk musicians to international pop stars; whatever you want, if you have the budget, you can get it. Here’s a look at seven wow places for your seven vows.

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Suryagarh, Jaisalmer
The splash of celebratory orange safas (turban) over fort turrets and ramparts, lavish floral arrangements, starry skies and a cool desert breeze; Suryagarh on the Jaisalmer-Sam Road has wowed many as an unforgettable wedding venue. By day, mandaps and pavilions bedecked with orange and white parasols add colour while thousands of lamps light up niches around the Bawdi (stepped tank) by night.

With classy rooms in the main building for guests and exclusive haveli and suite Residences in a quiet corner ideal for the bride and groom’s family, the 77 rooms can accommodate the whole band, baja, baraat. Rait Spa offers specially designed beauty and wellness therapies for a pre-nup, using locally sourced Thar sand and Luni river salt, besides a stunning indoor pool and gym.

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The top notch cuisine blends the best of international fare with Indian cuisine, served in a variety of dramatic locations – from a lavish Halwai Breakfast in the central courtyard, Silk Route Dinner and Sangeet at the Enchanted Garden by the Lake to Wedding by the Bawdi at the Baradari pavilion of the Celebration Garden. Small celebrations take place in the Mehendi Terrace and musical evenings at the Tulsi Garden. Sundowners, strains of the algoza (double flute) and performances by Kalbeliyas and Manganiyars on the dunes culminate in fireworks, making it an unforgettable exeprience.

Kahala Phata, Sam Road, Jaisalmer 345001
Ph +91-02992-269269, 78271 51151 www.suryagarh.com
Tariff Rs.14,000-1,00,000

Jet Airways flies to Jodhpur, from where Suryagarh is 285km/5hrs by road.

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Neemrana
Located south-west of Delhi in Alwar district, Neemrana’s advantage is its proximity to the national capital. Set against the Aravali hills, the sprawling 15th century fort palace is one of India’s oldest heritage hotels and a destination in itself. The Rs.7 crore renovation project took 15 years and it shows! Cascading down a hillside over 12 tiers of lush landscaped terraces, Neemrana is a stunning location for weddings. From the first regal wedding in 1992 (a London-Singapore affair) to a Punjabi royal bash, it has played matchmaker in many an alliance.

Various functions can be held in the fort’s seven palace wings overlooking 6 acres of terraced patios, alcoves and magnificent gardens like Uncha Baag, Mukut Baag and Sirmaur Baag. Blending Sultanate, Rajput, Mughal and colonial styles, each room is unique – Paashan Mahal (Rock Palace) is built around a rockface of the Aravalis, Uma Vilas has terrific hill views, Chandra Mahal was the old Hall of Justice while Francisi Mahal is a French suite. Enjoy alfresco dinners, Ayurvedic massages, two swimming pools – Raj Kund and the exclusive Surya Kund and Mahaburj restaurant serves excellent Rajasthani and North Indian cuisine.

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There’s plenty to do for guests with camel rides, audio tours, camel cart rides to an 18th century stepwell, vintage car rides and a 5-track Zipline, the first in India, by Flying Fox. Being a hill fort, be prepared to walk and climb high steps to reach different levels. For a smaller, more intimate experience, try Neemrana’s Hill Fort Kesroli near Alwar.

122nd Milestone, Off Delhi-Jaipur Highway, Neemrana, Alwar District 301705
Ph 01494 246007, 9310630386 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.6,500-28,000

Jet Airways has several flights to IGI Airport, Delhi from where Neemrana is just 108km

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Udaipur
Steeped in romance and the beauty of its seven lakes interlinked by canals, Udaipur has hosted many a celebrity wedding. In 2004, actress Raveena Tandon got married to film distributor Anil Thadani at Jagmandir Island Palace at Lake Pichola and the whole place transformed into a giant film set with Bollywood biggies flying in from Mumbai. The venue was immortalized in the Bond flick Octopussy.

New York hotelier and Bollywood dilettante Vikram Chatwal married model-turned-entrepreneur Priya Sachdev in 2006 with lavish pre-wedding parties like the masquerade-themed Fantasia that took place in the Zenana Mahal of the City Palace. The sterling guest list of 600 from 26 countries included Bill Clinton, Naomi Campbell and P Diddy, flew in on chartered planes from Bombay, Udaipur and Delhi during the 10-day bash.

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Jagmandir Palace featured again in the marriage of tycoon Sanjay Hinduja with Anu Mahtani in one of the mega wedding spectacles of the country. The global cuisine from 16 countries was served to 16,000 guests in a week-long celebration. There were traffic jams; caused not by the BMWs flown in from Mumbai for transporting guests but due to 208 private chartered planes! The wedding bill alone was £15 million with top artists like J-Lo and Nicole Scherzinger performing at Manek Chowk, a Mughal garden in the City Palace. The mehendi was held at the Shiv Niwas heritage hotel while the starlets stayed in £3,000-a-night luxury suites at Oberoi Udai Vilas.

Besides Fateh Prakash Palace and Shikarbadi Hotel in Udaipur, the HRH Group also lets out Gajner Palace, Karni Bhawan Palace in Bikaner and Gorbandh Palace in Jaisalmer for regal weddings. Udaipur’s advantage is the profusion of excellent lakefront hotels that serve as great nuptial venues. Ferry guests in style at the Taj Lake Palace, opt for a Wedding Package at The Leela Palace or escape to the hilltop fort palace of Devigarh.

HRH Group of Hotels, Udaipur
Ph +91-294 2528016-19, 1800 180 2933, 1800 180 2944
Email events@eternalmewar.in, crs@hrhhotels.com www.hrhhotels.com
Tariff Rs.23,500

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur 313001
Ph +91 0294 2428700, 2428800 www.tajhotels.com
Tariff Rs.29,000 onwards

The Oberoi Udaivilas, Haridasji Ki Magri, Mulla Talai, Udaipur 313 001
Ph +91 0294 243 3300 www.oberoihotels.com
Tariff Rs.30,000 onwards

Jet Airways flies to Udaipur

Umaid Bhawan Palace/Jodhpur/India

Jodhpur
The big ticket wedding of actress Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar in 2007 didn’t last as long as it took to build the Umaid Bhawan Palace, but that doesn’t dent the eternal charm of Jodhpur. The opulent golden-hued sandstone palace floored well-heeled guests like Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Sting, Diana Ross and others. Set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens with 347 rooms, it is the sixth largest private residence in the world, with as many as four indoor and six outdoor venues to accommodate a dream Maharaja style wedding.

The palace has a private museum (with a Champagne Museum Walk), marbled squash courts and a subterranean pool under the palace decorated with zodiac signs on the pathway. Pamper yourself at Jiva Spa. Typically, a two or three-day wedding celebration begins with a cocktail dinner by the Poolside, a Mehndi ceremony at Mehrangarh Fort, Sangeet at the ornate Marwar Hall and Wedding-cum-Reception at the famous Baradari Lawns.

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The Mehrangarh Fort itself is a great location for a destination wedding as the lofty citadel is lit up in laser lights while the revelry on the ramparts continues late into the night. For a price, wedding planners can also organize an elephant polo match for guests. Don’t want to break the bank? Try Ranbanka Palace or Ajit Bhawan.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur 342006
Ph +91 291 2510101, 2510100 www.tajhotels.com
Email umaidbhawan.jodhpur@tajhotels.com
Tariff Rs.77,400

Jet Airways flies to Jodhpur

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Deogarh Mahal
Located between the two nodal hubs of Udaipur and Jodhpur, Deogarh or the Fort of the Gods was once the fourth largest jagir (estate) in Rajasthan. In the aristocracy of the Mewar court, the Rawats of Deogarh were counted among one of the sixteen umrao’s (senior feudal barons) of the Maharana of Udaipur. Built around 1670, their citadel is now a luxury heritage resort run by the Deogarh family.

Its 75 rooms stretch across three locations just 5km/15 min apart – 16 luxury Swiss camps at Khayyam, four exclusive suites at the renovated lakefront hunting lodge Fort Seengh Sagar and the rest at the Mahal (palace). Each room is reflective of a different era with Gokul Ajara, Moti Mahal and Ranjit Prakash rooms dating back to 350 years! With wide courtyards and terraces, there are several locations for various events.

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Gala evenings feature folk music and dance while one has a choice of theme dinners – Royal Desert Dinner at Khayyam with folk artists, Lake-side Dinner at Seengh Sagar or a Chowki dinner with low seating on chowkis, silver ware and typical Rajasthani menu. Fruits, vegetables, milk products and oils are all in-house, lending freshness to the typical Mewari cuisine. The Mahal can take care of all your needs – from elephants, buggies, royal processions, vintage cars, mandap décor, puja accessories, fireworks right down to the purohit!

Deogarh Madaria, District Rajsamand 313331
Ph +91-2904-252777, 253333 www.deogarhmahal.com
Tariff Rs.8,500-25,000

Jet Airways flies to Udaipur and Jodhpur, from where Deogarh is 135 km and 175km respectively.

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Jaipur
With its pink sandstone monuments, opulent palaces and festive spirit, the Pink City seems perennially drenched in celebratory hues. No wonder, businessmen, Bollywood stars, TV actors, royal scions, NRIs and foreign visitors, all make a beeline to Jaipur for their nuptials. Shivraj Singh, the prince of Jodhpur, got married to Gayatri Kumari of Askot here in a glittering ceremony in 2010. Jaipur’s advantage is the wide range of hotels geared up to host a wedding, with all facilities at hand – brass bands, vintage cars, elephants, artists and the best of shopping.

The stunning monuments and palaces like Raj Palace and Jai Mahal Palace also form a great backdrop for pre and post wedding shoots. Taj Group’s Rambagh Palace, voted among the top romantic hotels in the country, offers multiple locations and experiences. The royal meal is served in peacock thalis at the Rambagh Lawns, while private lunches are arranged at the royal hunting lodge.

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You could have an intimate family dinner in the Rajput Room or a royal Indian feast at the former palace ballroom Suvarna Mahal, with 18th century French décor and massive crystal chandeliers. Saving all that money for your honeymoon? Opt for Shiv Vilas Palace or Alsisar Haveli in town or drive out 43km northwest of Jaipur to Samode Palace, snug in the Aravalis. For nearly two and half centuries, the palace and its tented camp Samode Bagh have hosted weddings. Have the mandap or sacred fire in the beautiful courtyard and a royal banquet in the opulent Darbar hall.

Samode House, Gangapole, Jaipur 302002
Ph +91-141-2632370, +91-1423-240013-15 www.samode.com

Alsisar Haveli, Sansar Chandra Road, Jaipur 302 001
Ph +91-141-236 8290, 236 4685, 510 7157 www.alsisar.com

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur

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Ranthambhore
When Katy Perry and Russell Brand got married in 2010 at Aman-i-Khas, a luxury resort outside Ranthambhore tiger reserve, it didn’t escape the attention of wedding planners and matchmakers looking for theme weddings! A local priest officiated over their grand Hindu wedding and Katy even put on a nath (nose ornament) and mehendi for the occasion. The nuptials featured a procession of 21 camels, elephants, horses, dancers and musicians. Part of the Aman group of hotels, the venue (and its tariff) is ideal for small, exclusive gatherings.

Each of the ten high-ceilinged tents is inspired by the airy abodes of Mughal emperors while on hunts or expeditions. You can opt for a ‘Machan’ wedding with the ceremony (sans the sacred fire) taking place on a platform 20 ft off the ground and guests watching the proceedings from elephant back. For a more regular affair, choose a swank hotel like Nahargarh to tie the knot.

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Aman-i-Khas, Sherpur-Khiljipur, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur
Ph +91-7462 252 052 Email aman-i-khas@amanresorts.com www.amanresorts.com
Tariff Rs.1,06,000

Nahargarh, Village Khilchipur, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur 322001
Ph +91-7462-252281-83 Email alsisar@alsisar.com www.nahargarh.com
Tariff Rs.25,000

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur, 160km from Ranthambhore

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story on Destination Weddings in the October 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

Bad Ragaz: Heidi-ho from Heidiland

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PRIYA GANAPATHY visits the medieval spa town of Bad Ragaz, riding in horse-carriages past quaint Swiss villages and alpine meadows, a setting that inspired the literary character Heidi

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Zurich from the skies was a muddle of green tree clumps and brown gabled rooftops broken by tall clock towers and a river running through. I landed not to explore this global hub of finance and banking but to romp in the hills where ‘Heidi’ roamed. Boarding the 7.43am train to Bad Ragaz, a spa village frequented by the rich and famous since Baroque times, I was treated to Switzerland’s many moods gliding across my window.

The steep craggy mountains possessed a frightening beauty that suddenly slipped into childlike innocence in its rolling meadows and valleys where curious cows wore tinkling bells and ducks floated along the shimmery lakes of Zurichsee and Walensee. Now and then, a waterfall slithered down like a white snake in the misty grey landscape as sailboats bobbed gently by the pier. In this dream state, wispy ribbons of clouds cut low across hills and swept past rambling barns and a tumble of wooden chalets festooned with fiery blooms in baskets and ivy riddled walls.

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The train soon pulled into Bad Ragaz station, set in the foothills of the Pizol Mountains in the Canton of St Gallen. The Rhine Valley spa town presented a sublime welcome – its encircling lofty peaks were dusted by the season’s first snowfall while the town was wet and aglow after a sun shower. Home to only about 7000 people, the historic town totes an 800-year old legacy of healing in its soothing thermal waters.

It is believed that the hot springs emerging from the cavernous tracts of Tamina Gorge were discovered in 13th century by two hunters from the Benedictine Abbey in the Pfӓfers mountains. The abbots decided to tap its curative powers and built the earliest bathhouse at the source, accessible only by strapping and lowering people using ropes. Pilgrims flocked in, willing to risk everything for their health and well-being; some were left there for an entire week to heal!

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The trend gained momentum after noted physician Paracelsus von Hohenheim validated the purity of the waters in 1535. Since then, Tamina’s 36.5˚C waters have healed czars and commoners alike. It wasn’t until the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz was built in the 1840s that Bad Ragaz gained recognition as a spa destination. Little did the abbots realize how they seeded the concept of modern spa tourism. Even the invalid little Clara in Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic “Heidi” published in 1881, came to these waters to cure her paralysis.

Last year marked the 175th anniversary of channelling the Tamina waters to the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz where guests enjoy its abundant curative powers on tap or in its waterfalls, pools, saunas and steam chambers. Knitting its heritage, luxe modernity and hi-tech medical facilities seamlessly, its two hotels Grand Hotel Quellenhoff & Spa Suites and Grand Hotel Hoff Ragaz draw the elite with world-class health and well-being treatments.

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The resort was walkable from the station but we hopped into our van, not wanting to lug our bags all the way. It was a bright day that seemed perfect for a tour of the sprawling resort and its premises, which extends over 500 acres into the valley. Unlike other spa towns, the resort was really the core identity of the place as the town grew around it. Yet, with no formidable walls, it melted seamlessly into the town in a welcoming embrace. Perhaps the very nature of its design and the promise of its founders to be open to the public, make it unique. While large spaces are open to public, certain zones are exclusively meant for guests, ensuring complete privacy.

Our host Kathrin Boerger-Bechtold said that in the old days, those who knew the value of therapeutic waters, hazarded an arduous journey to take advantage of this ‘blue gold’. Outside, the valley glittered in the sunshine and the encircling mountaintops wore a snowy marbled texture. The resort’s media manager Martin Leiter ushered us towards a fantastic luncheon of seafood, cheesy delights, fine desserts and great wine. Of the eight restaurants, the Michelin-starred Abestube had been recently relaunched as ‘Igniv’, Swiss chef Andreas Caminada’s gourmet nook!

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A few hours of rest and we were ready for supper at Zollstube, the traditional Swiss restaurant with all-wood interior, antler lamps and hunting trophies. We huddled together for excellent Zurich-style veal and hay soup (yes, a delicious concoction made with hay!) Inspired by the décor, I ordered game meat – sautéed deer escalopes, yellow mushrooms, red cabbage and Brussel sprouts.

Another special offering from restaurant manager and ace sommelier Sondra Klutz, was the aptly named Quelle 36.5 (quelle means spring water). Dressed in a red, black and white dirndl (traditional Swiss dress), Sondra told us how this in-house craft beer was created using Tamina thermal water! Dessert was a delicious glass of Toblerone mousse and marinated strawberries.

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The next morning, after an aqua fit lesson and a low-cal Cuisine Equilibreé  menu – a 3-course 600-calorie meal, we strolled to the town square to board the sunny Schluchtenbus to the famed Tamina Gorge. Like other fabulous discoveries by monks – from champagne to coffee – Tamina’s hot water springs too were discovered in 1240 by Benedictine monks. The narrow road leading to the historic gorge is accessible by foot, bus or horse-drawn carriages. No other vehicle is permitted here, so many prefer to walk up.

“I’m Heidi from Heidiland”, our storyteller guide introduced herself, adding that it really was her Christian name, a common choice of parents in these parts! She narrated Tamina’s history as we trod down the 450 m tunnel to the fountainhead with the thundering waters of the Tamina River roaring in our ears.

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We entered the Altes Bad Pfӓfers (old thermal spa), a Baroque building built between 1704-1716 to see how things were done for nearly two centuries. It was a virtual museum with old relics and even a baroque kitchen that once served 500 guests. Today, it also houses an excellent restaurant and has a small renovated chapel with ancient wall tracery, dedicated to St Maria Magdalena, patron saint of the sick.

Heidi whispered conspiratorially, “The monks carried the paralyzed people all the way through the rocky crevasses and finally lowered the patients down using ropes to a platform from where they again carried them through a natural tunnel right up to the spring itself, where they left them for days in the water. Nice and cosy, all the time at 36.5 degrees! That was the basic cure. The monks even brought food and wine from the cultivated blue burgundy vineyards in neighbouring Malans.”

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The journey was deeply mystical for it reminded us of how grim things would have been in the past with poor access to this remote locale. We walked along the sunless pathway past jagged rock faces swept into the thundering soundscape of water that tumbled into a stream below, before reaching the site where it all began – the sacred grotto of Tamina behind a sheet of glass, bubbling and gurgling out 7000 litres of thermal water per minute. After a quick visit to the museum, we hiked back to the resort along the narrow road.

Channelling the waters from a spring deep in a grotto, the resort was a grand aqua haven comprising the colonnaded Helenabad, the Sportbad and open Garden pool besides the public Tamina Therme, replete with an outdoor rocky waterfall and panoramic views of snowy peaks. Carrying forward the vision of its founding architect Bernhard Simon, the place retains much of its historic architecture but reinvents its ambience and infrastructure to complement modern demands of luxury. In-house designer boutiques, two golf courses, a casino, ski safaris, outdoor activities, Harley Davidson bikes and low-slung sports cars to zip around the countryside besides a dog-friendly code; all add up to its lavish appeal.

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It was tough to tear ourselves away from the relaxing massages, luxuriating soaks and sumptuous meals but the carefree Alpine hills which inspired the book “Heidi” beckoned us to Maienfeld for a true taste of Heidiland. En route, we stopped at a local flea market and the Fromm vineyard in Malans to try the signature Pinot Noir with Francesco Benvenuto, the resort’s passionate Italian sommelier. However, the guided tour with founder Georg Fromm, regarded among Switzerland’s finest wine makers, was a bonus. We clip-clopped in a quaint horse-carriage down the narrow lanes of Grison canton past vineyards, torkels (wine bars), wooden chalets and meadows where herds of cows gawked with odd curiosity before we reached Heididorf.

It was a return to innocence as scenes from “Heidi”, the book I won in a school elocution contest came flashing back. We trudged up to Heidihaus, the 19th century homestead regarded as Heidi’s original house, a souvenir shop and a museum replete with statues, models and props that brought the book to life… Just a little further down was Switzerland’s smallest post office, perfect to mail a ‘Wish You Were Here’ postcard to the world.

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FACT FILE

Getting there: Swiss Air flies direct from Mumbai and Delhi to Zurich (8 hr 55 min). A train from Zurich Airport to Zurich HB connects to Chur via Bad Ragaz, a 1½ hour journey.

Stay: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz www.resortragaz.ch/en.html

For more info, visit www.myswitzerland.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 11 Sep 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Melbourne: Hidden Secrets Tour

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ANURAG MALLICK goes on a Hidden Secrets Tour through Melbourne’s Central Business District with local artist Nicholas Jones. The Lanes and Arcades walk uncovers the secrets behind the city’s most iconic buildings and bylanes.

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‘Meeting under the clock’ at Flinders Street Railway Station
Dominating Federation Square, is the Art Nouveau building of Flinders Street Railway station, built in 1909-10 in Edwardian style. The pattern of striped bare red brick and white plaster is interestingly called Blood and Bandage! One of the longest railway platforms in the world, running over four city blocks, its western end has a ballroom and there’s a jogging track on top!

A row of clocks in front earlier displayed various train timings so that people returning from Sunday Church could see what time their train was. It became a bit of a Melbourne tradition to ‘meet under the clock’. Though the building is beautiful, it is not as grand as India’s Victoria Terminus, leading to an apocryphal lore that the plans for the train stations in Mumbai and Melbourne got mixed up in the post!

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Eureka Tower and the Gold Rush
The 91-storey Eureka Tower is the tallest completely residential structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Many are fascinated by its appearance that looks like a calculator or ruler – Melbourne in the 1880’s was the wealthiest city in the world, rich from its gold trade. The skyscraper was built in memory of the 1854 Eureka Stockade at Ballarat, where miners revolted against unjust taxation and were eventually killed.

The blue and white represents the Eureka flag, the building’s 24 carat gold-plated exterior represents the gold rush while the red strip symbolizes all the blood spilt! SkyDeck, the 88th floor observation post offers dizzying views.

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Why St Paul’s Cathedral is twin-coloured
Built at the site of the first ever church service in Melbourne, St Paul’s was originally a small wooden church later rebuilt out of loose stone. The present edifice was designed by ecclesiastical architect William Butterfield. Unfortunately, the architect was so busy the plans were shipped from England and the church ended up askew – 90-degree off axis!

Built as a flat top church out of locally sourced blue stone in the 1870s, the top spire of St Paul’s cathedral was added later out of Sydney sandstone. The difference in shades is apparent and tourists often remark, “It’s great they’ve cleaned the top part, when are they going to clean the rest of it?”

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‘Having a drink with Chloe’ at Young & Jackson pub
The site of the Prince’s Bridge Hotel (named after Prince Albert), where the Young & Jackson Pub now stands, was purchased for £100 at the first Melbourne land auction in 1837 by John Batman, the city’s founder. A stone tablet outside the pub commemorates the incident. The pub’s famous inhabitant is Chloe, an 1875 nude painted in Paris in the Salon style by French artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

Back in the day when Melbourne was a puritanical colonial backwater, the painting was put up in the National Gallery leading to clergymen demanding that she be removed as it affected the social moral fiber. She was taken down and kept in storage between 1883-1907, until the pub owners bought it for 800 pounds; today it is independently valued at $5-6 million. Since women were not allowed into pubs those days, a naked woman gave the impression of a Gentleman’s Club and ‘having a drink with Chloe’ meant a visit to the pub.

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Platform 2 Artist Project & Sticky Institute
The subterranean Campbell Arcade was built just before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (dubbed as the Friendly Games) to take pressure off the train station. Forgotten for many decades, in 1995 local artists formed an initiative called Platform 2 Artist Project in the Degraves Street Subway (Platform 1 was on Spencer Street, Southern Cross Station) where the display cabinets served like an art gallery!

In the small clutch of shops is the legendary artist-run Sticky Institute. If you write a book of poetry, a comic book or fanzine on your favourite band, you can print it, staple it and put it up here like a locally produced mag.

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Use Melbourne’s first escalator at Manchester Unity Building
In 1932, in the middle of the depression, Melbourne was hit badly and thousands of young men were desperate to find work. The result was Manchester Unity Building. Running three eight-hour shifts with non-stop construction, nearly one storey was built a week and the whole building was finished within a year.

Marvel at its copper elevator doors, mosaic tiles and relief work on the ceiling (depicting gold mining, farming and the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932). Walk past the Latin motto on the floor Amicitia Amor Veritas ‘Friendship, Love & Truth’ to the first escalator in Melbourne.

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The Newspaper House mural
Rupert Murdoch’s father Keith Murdoch built Newspaper House in 1933 for the Murdoch family. The mosaic tiled façade features a quote ‘I’ll put a girdle about the earth’ taken from Shakespeare’s The Midsummer Night’s Dream – pretty accurate for the Murdochs’ sense of ambition.

It was designed by local muralist Napier Waller, who also did the murals at Myer, Melbourne Town Hall, State Library of Victoria and the T&G Life Building. Not many know that Waller served in the first World War and his right arm got blown off in 1916 in France; as a result, he had to retrain to work with his left hand!

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Checking the time at Royal Arcade
The oldest arcade in Australia, the 1869 building with ornamental Italian architecture was based on Galleria in Milan. The faint lettering on the exterior ‘1912 BATH’ indicate its use in the past. Beautiful hand made tiles lead into a hall lined with premium shops. It’s only when you turn and look back you see two seven feet giants.

Gog and Magog have been striking the clock – built by Thomas Gaunt & company – since 1892. This was where gentlemen in the past would stop to check their fob or pocket watches to make sure they are on time. On the far end in the corner is a figure of Father Time keeping a watchful eye.

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Flinder’s Lane
This was the hub of Melbourne’s garment industry, so anyone who wanted a suit, a hat or boots came here. The number of clothing firms in the ‘Lane’ reached 610 in 1939, right until the early 1960s. When people took clothes out into the Lane they had to cover it with calico to stop people pinching the design. The Lane is home to luxury French label Chanel who have a flagship store at the fashionable “Paris end” of the city.

Full of structures related to the textile industry but now known for its SoHo atmosphere, boutique hotels, cafes and bars, it connects to smaller lanes like Degraves Street and Manchester Lane, where a piece of public art pays tribute to its textile history – a giant zipper running down the laneway.

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Presgrave Place’s 3D graffiti
Melbourne is a city that teems with graffiti, be it AC/DC Lane or Union Lane, a tiny alley between David Jones & Book Building given to local street artists in 2008 as a graffiti mentoring project. But at Presgrave Place off Howery Place, you’ll find no space for aerosol cans.

After someone put up a framed artwork and stuck it to the wall in 2007, the alley became a bit of an artists’ shrine. Strange arrangements, curious collections of plastic dolls, installations of rats with parachutes, 3D graffiti to a miniature Mona Lisa with 3 plastic soldiers pointing guns at her. It even has its own Banksy – except he’s called Kranky!

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Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 26 July 2016 in Conde Nast Traveller online. http://www.cntraveller.in/story/melbournes-10-secret-experiences-hiding-in-plain-sight/

Pepper Trail: Treehouse luxury

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Tree-houses, colonial charm, Kerala cuisine and jeep rides around the estate and a wildlife sanctuary, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY enjoy their plantation stay in Wayanad

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We trudged up the wooden ramp that snaked 40ft above the coffee bushes in a gentle ascent to the Woodpecker Treehouse. Inspired by local Wayanad tribal styles and built on a sturdy jackfruit tree, our lavish perch came with wood-panelled walls, fine décor, luxurious bathroom, a wide balcony with easy chairs besides a country style four-poster bed next to a tree jutting through the floor. While we’re no strangers to Kerala or treehouses, Pepper Trail was definitely the most luxurious perch we had been to. Its twin, the Hornbill Treehouse was a little further away.

Every morning and evening, we’d sip coffee, watching barbets and sunbirds flit about while Racket tailed drongos and Malabar Grey hornbills competed with their vocal calisthenics. Lost in the cacophonic din of urban living, even silence in the rainforest sits on an underlay of crooning cicadas. We sat watching the constant rain beat down on the heart-shaped pepper leaves that quivered in the cool wind.

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Apparently, when the British were taking the pepper plant back to England, the Zamorin of Calicut had scoffed, “They may take our pepper vine, but they cannot steal our Thiruvathira Njattuvela” (the 15-day assault of the monsoon that triggers the fruiting of the pepper)!

Our arboreal existence drew the attention of a boisterous troop of macaques, who would peer through our windows in the hope of biscuits or bananas and romp on the railings in wild tantrum displays. Snootily, we became the burra sahib and memsahib who would descend from their lair only to feed.

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Pepper Trail is a good place to know your poriyal (dry fry) from your ulithiyal (roasted shallots in spicy tamarind coconut gravy). The genuine warmth of our host Anand Jayan was apparent as he patiently explained how farm fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from the 200-acre coffee, tea and spice plantation was used to make irresistible home-style delicacies.

Meals were served under the tiled roof Pavilion, its deck hovering over a swathe of coffee shrubs broken by the shade of tall silver oak shade and jackfruit. From cheruvayur pindi toran (tempered green gram) to chena mizhaku pereti (yam fry), nendra pazham curry made of ripe bananas to kayi toran, stir fried with unripe ones; each meal was a culinary journey.

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A common local produce like coconut had been reinterpreted into a chapati
 and coconut milk chicken curry. Sometimes, the chicken came in a varatherecha curry with roasted ground masalas or as Chicken kizhi (bundled in a leaf pouch, Ayurveda style) with mint chutney. The diversity of the repertoire can be gauged from the fact that when a Japanese couple came here for three weeks, no dish was repeated! The lean staff toiled away like genies, speaking in hushed tones ready to take care of every need, appearing and disappearing magically to make the holiday experience, a private indulgence. With a maximum occupancy of ten guests, it’s truly personalized service.

After two days of trudging up and down from the treehouse, we moved to the 140-year-old Pazhey Bungalow the ‘old’ plantation bungalow. Set in a manicured garden, the upstairs houses the Mackenzie Suite, in honour of the estate’s original owner Colin Auley Mackenzie who founded the Mangalam Carp Estate in the late 1800s. Mackenzie was a Scottish pioneer planter who was part of the first wave of colonial planters in India.

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After he died in 1920, Anand’s maternal grandfather PB Kurup came from Africa and bought the colonial estate in 1932. Long before biotechnology had taken off in India, this biotech pioneer got into the manufacture of distilled water and extraction of oil from eucalyptus, patchouli and bergamot… People called him Techno Kurup.

The ground floor, with its offices and red oxide floors was renovated into the Malabar Suite, with a hall, bedroom, sit out and the old chemical storeroom converted into a large ensuite bathroom! The philosophy of the place is rooted in Anand’s vision of creating special places to stay – a dream he nurtured even as a child. Taking up his father’s challenge, he renovated it with utmost care. Each Basel Mission roof tile and anjali (wild jack) wooden board on the wall was removed, numbered and put back.

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The old glass swivel windows on its façade have watched history unfold. With heirloom and colonial furniture collected from antique shops, this wood-scented hideaway is ideal for solitude or romance. Lounge in wicker plantation chairs or in reading nooks where speckled piculets peck at windows indignant at their own reflections, or relax in the secluded balcony overlooking a backyard garden with bamboo thickets and trees frequented by scarlet minivets.

The sprawling estate is great for birding besides leisurely walks to understand how coffee and tea are cultivated. Guests can participate in farm work, as experienced hands harvest coffee, tea and spice, using centuries old methods. In the heart of the estate, fed by natural springs, the acre-wide natural reservoir forms the focal point for local flora and fauna. Perfect for fishing or a leisurely canoe or coracle ride, this is one spot where you’d like to linger. Or laze in the pool and get an Ayurvedic spa therapy.

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We decided to head out on an open jeep ride around the plantation. Lined by cheery orange and red heliconia, the driveway cut through the expansive estate with tea bushes on one side and coffee on the other. Driving through the buffer zones of Muthanga and Bandipur wildlife parks, we spotted seven elephants, wild boar and numerous chital (spotted deer).

It was time for dinner by the time we returned. The piece de resistance was the mola ari payasam or sweet porridge made of bamboo rice, jaggery and coconut milk. Each time the bamboo flowers – once every hundred years – the entire bamboo forest dies. It’s a fascinating natural phenomenon that’s as tragic as it’s beautiful. After blossoming, the flowers produce a fruit called ‘bamboo rice’, which is collected and stored for future use. Last year was a bumper harvest in Wayanad. Who knows it would be decades before the flowers would bloom again, but we wouldn’t wait that long to return…

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FACT FILE

Getting There
Located at Chulliyode, 10 km from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, Pepper Trail is 100 km from Calicut International Airport, 130 km from Mysore, 250 km from Bangalore and 280 km from Cochin.

What to See/Do
Visit the old Jain shrine converted into an ammunition dump by Tipu Sultan (hence the name Sultan Battery), hike to Edakkal Caves in the Ambukuthi hills to see the Neolithic cave drawings dating to 6000 BC and go on wildlife safaris in Muthanga and Bandipur.

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Pepper Trail
Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode
Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad
Ph: +91 9562 277 000 www.peppertrail.in

Tariff
Malabar Suite Rs.11,750
McKenzie Suite/treehouse Rs.14,750
Inclusive of breakfast, Meals Rs.600 lunch, Rs.750 dinner

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August, 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.