Landour: Writer’s Bloc

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Expansive view of the Himalayas, shaded wooded glens and quaint colonial bungalows have made Landour a writers’ getaway for ages, discovers ANURAG MALLICK

Landour-Rokeby Manor Log Cabin

As I set off from Rokeby Manor along the old bridle trail called the ‘Chukkar’ encircling the three summits of Landour ridge, the pre-dawn mountain air was crisp and invigorating. The pretty forested hillside was dotted with gabled bungalows with names like Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Waverly and Woodstock, echoing themes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Some of the colonial era cottages mirrored their Scottish and Irish heritage – Scottsburn, Wolfsburn, Redburn, Shamrock Cottage, Tipperary, Killarney. It was hard to understand why the British-era cantonment of Landour, 6km uphill from Mussoorie, was named after Llanddowror, a village thousands of miles away in southwest Wales!

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The story goes back to early 19th century, when the British halted the Gurkha conquest of Kumaon–Garhwal and moved from the plains of Dehradun to create a military sanatorium in the hills. In 1825, Captain Young, the ‘discoverer’ of Mussoorie and commandant of the first Gurkha battalion raised after the Gurkha War, built the first permanent home in Landour. His house, Mullingar, was named after his county town in Ireland. By early 20th century, Mullingar became a hotel, and during World War II, was leased to the army to accommodate the spillover of wounded soldiers from the sanatorium.

I followed the path to Lal Tibba or Depot Hill, referring to the convalescent ‘depot’ that stretched around Landour’s highest point Childer’s Lodge. It was the best spot in town to catch a glimpse of a 200km long stretch of the Himalayas. And I was just in time for the spectacle. As dawn broke, the first rays of the sun fell on Himalayan peaks like Swargarohini, Bandarpunch, Chaukhamba and Nanda Devi, turning them pink, red and then a dazzling golden yellow. The telescope on top of the double-storey viewing platform offered a closer look at the ranges.

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Though the Chukkar became motorable in the late 1950s, a leisurely stroll is the best way of enjoying Landour’s few sights strewn along the  circular route – Landour cemetery, Kellogg’s Memorial Church and St. Paul’s Church. I reached Char Dukan, a cluster of Indian-run establishments since colonial times at the site of the old parade ground. Being a Convalescent Depot, correspondence was critical for those recuperating here so Capt Young started the Landour Cantonment Post Office in 1827, which still stood at the chowk.

Locals and tourists flock to Anil’s Café for his chai, parathas, bun-omelette and Maggi. Sachin Tendulkar, who came on a holiday to Mussoorie, made a stopover here and his Twitter endorsement graces the wall. After a large glass of the famous Ginger Lemon Honey Tea, I walked back to Rokeby in time for a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and delicious Mustard Chicken.

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Rokeby Manor, a colonial bungalow painstakingly revamped into a boutique hotel, was built in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy. Like many of the bungalows, it took its name from the writings of Sir Walter Scott, whose epic poem describes battles fought near Rokeby Castle in England. “I saw his melancholy smile, Where full opposed in front he knew, Where Rokeby’s kindred banner flew…” Rokeby’s restaurant Emily’s was named after British author Emily Eden who stayed in Landour and chronicled the highs and lows of colonial life. Literature runs deep in Landour…

If you turn back the pages of history, Landour’s literary affair is not new. The British cemetery on Camel Back Road is the resting place of John Lang, dubbed as the ‘first Australian novelist’, who lived in Landour between 1850–60s. His grave dating back to 1864 was rediscovered by Ruskin Bond. This quiet nook in the Himalayas is home to leading writers such as Ruskin Bond, Bill Aitken, Allan Sealy, travel writers Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, and film personalities Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj.

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Rokeby Manor changed hands from a British soldier to adventurer Pahari Wilson to Reverend Woodside, one of the founders of Woodstock School, set up in 1854 for American children. After it was acquired by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Rokeby was converted into a boarding house for missionary ladies studying Urdu and Hindi at the Landour Language School nearby. And that’s how its brush with hospitality began…

Away from the clamour of Mussoorie, Rokeby is a welcome patch of serenity. The lovingly renovated rooms with stone walls, quaint arches and parquet floors open out to a Tea Garden overlooking the Doon valley. After soaking in the scenery over a steaming cuppa, it was time to set out again.

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Strewn across the hillside are a cluster of 19th century colonial cottages called Rokeby Residences, each offering stand-alone experiences. Staying at Rokeby gave me a chance to pop by for a look. The three-bedroom Bothwell Bank was a stone-clad log cabin with pine wood décor, fireplaces, a well-stocked kitchen, barbecue area and an outdoor jacuzzi! Shamrock Cottage, built in the 1800’s, came with a spacious garden.

The two-storied Tabor Lodge had a private deck with a tree house sit out lined with herbs in outsized cups. Pine Tree Lodge was inspired by Scandinavian architecture, with colourful patchwork stools, vintage lamps and traditional Finnish artwork. Each residence was unique! The Stubli Café serves Swiss and European cuisine while Ale House was styled like an ‘Olde English Pub’. After a nice relaxing massage at Rokeby’s Little Salon & Spa Shed, I was ready to take on Landour again!

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It is a great base for nature walks to Jabarkhet nature reserve, Kulti village or a more rigorous trek to the nearby hills of Nag Tibba. I was happy to restrict myself to less strenuous perambulations like Sisters Bazaar. Nursing sisters had their barracks near the market and visited it often, hence the name. Since Landour became home to American missionaries as early as the 1830s, it was the first place in India where the peanut butter was made commercially!

When India gained freedom in 1946, most European settlers disposed their properties and left Landour. And that’s how the peanut butter and food-processing machines ended up in the hands of Anil Prakash’s family. Prakash’s Store is famous for its chunky or smooth peanut butter, home-made cheese, jams and preserves, though it stocks pretty much everything. There’s a local saying, “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

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Emily’s sister establishment Clocktower Café in Landour Bazaar, stands at the exact spot of an old clock tower. With funky decor and music posters, it is a great place for pizzas, pastas, burgers and Chinese fare. Back in the day, while Landour largely remained a British preserve, Indians were restricted to Mussoorie. From the Nawabs of Oudh to the princely states of Katesar, Kuchesar, Rajpipla, Alwar, Jind and Baroda, the who’s who of Indian royalty built opulent summer homes and made Mussoorie their retreat.

Hotel Padmini Nivas, set up by a British colonel in the 1840s, became home to a queen from Gujarat. The Nabha Palace is run as a hotel by The Claridges. The Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau occupies a lofty perch above The Savoy. However, one of the oldest buildings in Mussoorie is Kasmanda Palace, built above The Mall in 1836, now a WelcomHeritage hotel.

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Since colonial times, the main hub of activity has been the 1.5km long pedestrian avenue The Mall. Once out of bound for natives, ironically, the same stretch is now overrun by Indian tourists who throng its cafes and shops. A ropeway from the Mall takes tourists up to the second highest peak Gun Hill, where a gun used to be fired at noon to tell locals the time. After a series of accidents, the practice was abandoned in 1919, but the name stuck… Camel Back Road, named after a distinctive camel-shaped rocky outcrop, is a loop trail leading off The Mall with an old British cemetery, where several local luminaries have been laid to rest.

Mussoorie was home to Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India between 1830–43 and the man behind the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Tasked with measuring the world’s highest peaks, it was in his memory that Mount Everest was named. The ruins of Sir Everest’s whitewashed home stands at the edge of a cliff west of town beyond Hathipaon, whose three ridges resemble the foot of an elephant when seen from a vantage.

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Just 3km from Hathipaon overlooking Benog Wildlife Sanctuary, Cloud End is one of the four original houses in Mussoorie. As per legend, when Major Swetenham came hunting from Landour, he heard a Pahari woman singing in the forest. The officer fell in love with Gulabo and followed her home. Her father, a local landlord, presented the estate as dowry in 1838. The house was named Clouds End after a peak opposite Major Swetenham’s home in Edmontia in Wales. Home to four generations till 1965, it is now run as a heritage hotel and the restaurant is named Rose after Gulabo’s baptised name.

I slowly trudged back to the Mall, bowled over by Landour’s wealth of stories. When famous American writer and traveler Lowell Thomas visited Mussoorie in 1926, he wrote about The Savoy: “There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their beds.” Today, Landour depends on more conventional ways of telling the time, though the pace is still languorous and time does stop once in a while to pause and enjoy the view.

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Discover This: Seven Years in Tibet, via Landour
Famous Austrian mountaineer, geographer and writer Heinrich Harrer, part of the four-member team that scaled the Swiss peak Eiger’s legendary ‘North Face’, is best known for his 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet (made into a movie). He was on an expedition to Nanga Parbat when World War II broke out and he was taken prisoner. Harrer was moved to the internment camp in Dehradun, where several failed attempts later, he and his associates finally broke out and escaped to Tibet via Landour.

At its closest point, Tibet is just 70 miles away. In 1959, when the Chinese forcibly occupied Tibet, the Dalai Lama made the epic crossing from Lhasa to Landour. He and his band of followers walked for 15 days and reached Mussoorie on 20 April 1959. Happy Valley, a scenic corner beyond the polo ground, became the first Tibetan settlement in India, before the seat was shifted to Dharamsala.

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NAVIGATOR

Getting there
Landour is 37.5 km from Dehradun by road (1 hr 30 min) and 7km from Mussoorie. The nearest airport is Jolly Grant, Dehradun. Jet Airways, Indigo, Spice Jet & Air India fly from Delhi to Dehradun.

Where to Stay

Rokeby Manor
Rajamandi, Landour Cantonment
Ph 0135 2631093
www.rokebymanor.com
Tariff ₹7000-12000

Cloud End
Near Hathipaon
Ph 9634096861
www.cloudend.com
Tariff ₹5700-7500

Kasmanda Palace
The Mall, Mussoorie
Ph 0135 2632424
www.kasmandapalace.com
Tariff ₹7000

Padmini Nivas
The Mall, Mussoorie
Ph 0135 2631093
www.hotel-padmininivas.com
Tariff ₹3500-7000

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Where to Eat 

Anil’s Café
Pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, parathas, Maggi & ginger honey lemon tea
Ph 0135-2633783, 9259572558

Dev Dar Woods
12 rooms with terrific Himalayan views and wood-fired pizzas
Ph 0135-2632544
Email anilprakash56@yahoo.com

Doma’s Inn
Ivy Cottage, Landour
Tibetan run inn with rooms and a lovely restaurant serving great thukpa and momos
Ph 0135-2634873/4, 9259740461
www.domasinn.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the June-July 2017 issue of Discover India magazine. 

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Long Train Running: India’s best rail journeys

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY track India’s most beautiful train journeys in an ode to the engineering marvel that’s the Indian Railways

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On a hot April afternoon in 1853, Sindh, Sultan and Sahib, three steam engines coughed smoke, rumbling in readiness to tug fourteen garlanded coaches into the annals of history. On board were its elite guests, Lady Falkland, wife of the Governor of Bombay, besides 400 dignitaries, royalty, merchants and sahibs as the hoi polloi waited with bated breath along the sidelines. Flagged off with a 21-gun salute and wild applause, the train let out a long whistle and rolled out at exactly 3:35pm from Bombay’s ‘Boree Bunder’ station. The 21-mile journey to ‘Tannah’ (Thana) was covered in an hour and fifteen minutes and marked the first commercial passenger service in India. It was the dawn of the bold new age of the railways…

Nearly 164 years later, whatever direction the tracks have taken, the Indian Railways has trail blazed new frontiers and altered the very economics and social construct of the country. From the tea gardens of Nilgiris and Assam to mountain ranges of the Sahyadris and the Shivaliks, there’s no corner of India that is left untouched by the railways. And in thus connecting the dots across the Indian subcontinent, the railways present some truly incredible train journeys… In the words of musician Paul Simon “There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.” Long journeys have often resulted in forging tales of life-long friendship and brotherhood among fellow passengers. Train travel presents myriad perspectives of India from landscapes of poverty, profit and pelf to awe-inspiring views of natural splendor in virtually inaccessible zones.

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Who can resist the vision of pristine waterfalls tumbling through dense green forests or roughhewn cliffs? Or the majesty of mighty rivers? Or the thrill of tunnels that draw gasps and hoots of fear and excitement among young and old as they are suddenly swamped in darkness? How many memories run amok about childhood journeys with lovingly packed hampers? These were picnics on the move, sharing food and life stories with complete strangers.

The same Boribunder station of yesteryears (today Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) is the start of the beautiful Konkan Railway from Mumbai to Goa and Karnataka. A trip in the monsoons leaves an indelible imprint on the mind of any traveler. The blinding blaze of green, waterfalls lurking around corners waiting to startle you and little streams emboldened to become boisterous torrents; the transformation in the scenery brought about by the rains is unimaginable. Take the Mandovi Express or Konkan Kanya as you cross little stations like Khed, Chiplun, Kankavali and Kudal, passing through 92 tunnels, crossing 2000 bridges and presenting views of rivers, fields, forests and sea.

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In Goa, seasoned train travellers on the Vasco-Madgaon-Londa rail route look forward to their tryst with India’s fifth highest waterfall. As the train climbs from Mollem to Castle Rock, it passes Dudhsagar waterfall, literally ‘Ocean of Milk’ as it tumbles down the sheer rock face in two tiers from a height of 310m. Set in the Western Ghats on the Goa-Karnataka border, the mist-laden, dreamy railway bridge runs in a neat arc midway across the falls. Some passengers throw coconuts or coins as offerings from the train, much to the annoyance of picnickers below!

To experience India’s western coastline, continue on the Konkan Railway via Ratnagiri to Mangalore. Or take the Karwar Yeshwantpur Express from Mangalore to Bangalore to soak in the beauty of the Western Ghats. The train veers through the legendary Green Route, a thickly forested stretch of 52km from Bisle Ghat, Kukke Subramanya and Sakleshpur. This section has 57 tunnels and 109 bridges, some almost a kilometer long and some as high as 200m!

Palace on Wheels

One of the most talked about rail experiences, especially among international travelers is Palace on Wheels, India’s original luxury train, launched in 1982. The concept was inspired by the royal legacy of the railway coaches. Originally personal saloons of the rulers of princely states of Rajputana, Gujarat, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the British Viceroy of India, the 23 coaches are named after former Rajput states. The interiors bear all the grandeur of blue-blooded lifestyle with posh suites, fine dine restaurants and bar on board!

Starting from New Delhi, the 8-day trip covers Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur and Agra. Another exclusive experience is the Indian Maharaja Deccan Odyssey, which connects Mumbai and Delhi via Rajasthan with tiger spotting in Ranthambore and visits to Ajanta-Ellora caves and the Taj Mahal.

Golden Chariot

Inspired by the success of Palace on Wheels, the luxurious Golden Chariot was launched in 2008 and named after the famous Stone Chariot at Vitthala Temple in Hampi. Dressed in regal hues of purple and gold, the eleven carriages are named after leading dynasties that ruled Karnataka down the ages. The ‘Pride of the South’ tour retraces the Wodeyar trail in Mysore, Hoysala temple architecture at Belur-Halebid, the seat of the Vijayanagar Empire at Hampi, the pinnacle of Chalukyan cave architecture at Badami and throws in a wildlife safari at Nagarahole, the erstwhile hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Mysore. The ‘Splendor of the South’ tour covers Pondicherry, the temples of Tamil Nadu at Chennai, Thanjavur and Madurai, besides a bit of Kerala with stopovers at Trivandrum, Alleppey and Kochi, before returning to Bangalore.

If the western coast is picturesque, the eastern coastline is no less dramatic. Whether it is the train from Bhubaneswar to Brahmapur past Asia’s largest lagoon Chilika Lake or from Vizag to Araku Valley, the Eastern Ghats are a delight for any train traveler. Further down the Coromandel Coast, surrounded by turquoise waters, is the scenic Pamban railway bridge connecting Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India.

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Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first and longest sea bridge until the Bandra-Worli Sea Link overtook it. The most amazing feature of Pamban Bridge is its Scherzer rolling type lift span that even to this day, is opened manually using levers to let ships pass. Starting off at the confluence of three oceans, the Island Express from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum may be a short journey but is an idyllic slideshow of Kerala’s lush countryside.

However, most train journeys pale in comparison to India’s Mountain Railways. Immortalized in several movies and songs that have delighted us down the decades like “Meri Sapnon ki Rani”, “Chaiyya Chaiyya” and “Kasto Maja Hai”, the Mountain Railways are a living heritage. It is for this reason the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) and Kalka-Shimla Railway have been collectively designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Hailed as “outstanding examples of bold, ingenious engineering solutions for establishing an effective rail link through a rugged, mountainous terrain,” the Mountain Railways offer glimpses of raw, natural beauty. Often dismissed as ‘toy trains’, these narrow meter gauge railways redefine the term ‘slow travel.’

Built in 1881, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway covers the 88km stretch from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, presenting dazzling views of the Eastern Himalayas. Chugging along at 12 km/hr past tea plantations, it’s a charming journey of loops, reverses, spirals and zig-zags. Creak past the spiral at Agony Point to Ghum, India’s highest railway station and Batasia loop, as the railway line crosses main roads and runs alongside fruit stalls in its ascent to Darjeeling. On a clear day, you can see the snow-capped peak of Kanchenjunga.

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The Kalka-Shimla railway, built in 1903, scales the rugged Shivaliks negotiating 102 tunnels, 87 bridges and 900 curves. Tugged by the Himalayan Queen, the 96 km train ride takes 5 hours 10 minutes. On its heels, came Nilgiri Mountain Railway in 1908, the only rack and pinion railway system in India. The 46 km ride from Mettupalayam to Ooty crosses 250 bridges, 208 curves and 16 tunnels, winding past tea estates, blue mountains, churches, lakes and viewpoints.

The Jammu Mail to Udhampur, a 53km stretch that marks the northernmost extent of the Indian Railways. Cleaving through 20 tunnels and 158 bridges, the train wends through the rocky Shivalik range where raging mountain rivers and valleys run deep into the Himalayan foothills. The railways are indeed a celebration of man’s triumph against geography and the forces of nature.

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Also nominated for a UNESCO World Heritage tag is the Matheran Hill Railway. It was the brainchild of philanthropist and Bombay’s first sheriff Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy who donated 16 lakh rupees towards the project in 1901. His son Abdul Hussein Adamjee Peerbhoy completed his dream in seven years. In honour of this engineering feat, the British Government knighted Adamjee Peerbhoy.

Juddering up from Neral, sometimes at walking pace, the Matheran Hill Railway covers 21km in little over two hours, tackling steep gradients and the cheeky ‘One Kiss Tunnel’, named by a British officer who found it short enough to sneak a quick peck! The train stops at Jummapatti station for a crossing and Waterpipe station to cool down the engine. Even today, the train halts at Aman Lodge railway station and toots thrice as a mark of respect to Peerbhoy. His bungalow ‘The Chalet’ located above Aman Lodge is named after his late wife Amina.

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On the descent, it is intriguing to watch train assistants crouch between boxcars to manually apply the brakes and prevent the train from over speeding. The Matheran Hill Railway was an extraordinary feat of engineering genius and these lines in the 1924 ‘Handbook to Matheran’ are a befitting tribute:

“Hugh Malet who discovered this hill
Whom we all remember still
Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy for all his skill
In bringing the railway on the hill
Good paymaster with his intellect wise
Turning the lovely hill into paradise.”

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 6 August 2017 as the Cover Story in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald. 

West Java: Bandung & beyond

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Bali remains a favourite holiday destination in Indonesia, but the erstwhile Dutch outpost of Bandung, capital of West Java, offers its own singular pleasures, writes PRIYA GANAPATHY

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Thick plumes of grey clouds shrouded Bandung, forcing the Malindo Airlines pilot to land in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. One more place to see from the window thanks to stormy weather, I mused, before landing in Bandung four hours later. The first discovery to hit me in Indonesia was my name emblazoned on the men’s washroom! Nelson, my guide chuckled, “Pria means Gentleman in Indonesian! We say, “Pria dan Wanita” for ‘Gentleman and Ladies’.” Nice shocker to kick-start my week-long trip in the world’s largest archipelago.

While Bali remains a favoured holiday destination, I was thrilled to begin in the erstwhile Dutch outpost of Bandung, capital of West Java. I walked in the drizzle from Gino Feruci, a hotel in the heart of town to the popular Braga Permai, earlier Maison Bogerijen, a historic 1923 restaurant for dinner. As the only Indian travel writer in a large blogger group from Kuala Lumpur and Java, I was welcomed with a gusty round of applause for my long voyage to the East Indies.

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Mas Aan, my new Indonesian friend elaborated, “Travelling across Indonesia, you discover a variety of cultures. There are 17,000 islands, each with its own unique traditions! We have 800 native languages and almost 1000 different tribes!” The western part is very popular, mainly because of food. The ancient flourishing trade that Sumatra enjoyed with Arabia and India ensured that many flavours and spices perked up their cuisine.

I had “Bandrek” the traditional drink served in a tall glass as an alternative to soup. This Sundanese beverage is a delightful concoction of water, jahe (ginger), gula merah (palm sugar) and kayu manis (cinnamon) and a perfect highland drink to warm you on a cold night. Indonesians enjoy a wide range of “Jamu” or local herbal beverages prepared at home or sold at street corners.

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I tried “bajigur”, popular in central and east Java, made of coconut milk, brown sugar, ginger and salt. Each drink has unique benefits and is a panacea for beauty or health. Bounded by the sea, there was plenty of seafood and we gleefully gave in to crab and egg fried rice with Puyung hi – a thick omelette laden with vegetables.

Visitors can hop onto Street Gourmet Bandung, the first Indonesian Resto Bus that gives a City Tour with a choice of Sundanese meals. In the morning, Bandung’s distinctly Dutch touch was apparent in its heritage architecture and European-style buildings, cafes and boutiques lining Braga Street. Nicknamed Paris van Java or ‘Paris of Java’ in its heyday, the tag holds true till date. Bandung’s glut of factory outlets has morphed the town into a crowded shopping and fashion capital where traders and tourists buy branded goods at throwaway prices! Cihampelas Street has been dubbed as ‘Jeans Street.’ Yet, under its cloak of urbanity, Bandung hides a lot of history.

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The Bandung Conference

From the Dutch colonial era to Indonesian Independence in 1945, Bandung witnessed several tumultuous events. The Dutch considered a strategic shift of their capital Batavia (Jakarta) to Bandung but the move was foiled by World War II. In April 1955, Bandung shot to fame as the venue for the first Asia-Africa or Bandung Conference, when President Soekarno invited heads of state from 29 countries, including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru from India, to join hands for world peace and fight oppression.

Nehru stayed at the heritage Grand Savoy Homann Hotel, which preserves suites of its high-profile guests like President Soekarno and Nehru, besides relics and pictures of the event. From here he made the ‘Historical Walk’ with other world leaders to Gedung Merdeka, a monument and museum that preserves the memories and policies of visionary leaders who continue to inspire future generations.

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Located on Jalan Asia-Afrika between the city’s most famous landmarks – Savoy Homann Hotel and Gedung Merdeka – stands Warenhuis de Vries building. The oldest department store in Bandung and a fine example of Dutch architecture, its quaint tower on the right corner is a major landmark.

Built in mid 19th century, it saw a few style changes in the early 1900s but after years of neglect, a superb restoration process by present owners Bank NISP OSBC has transformed it into a iconic symbol of Bandung’s cultural heritage. The distinct decorative street lampposts add a gorgeous touch of old world elegance to the road.

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The historic Gedung Sate (Governor’s Residence), designed by Dutch architect J Gerber, was once the stronghold of the Dutch. The terrace overlooks manicured gardens, the city and distant hills. Traditional Indonesians believe that a home or edifice built facing a volcano will gain power and fortune.

True enough, in the horizon, the legendary volcanic mountain Tangkuban Perahu (‘overturned boat’ in Sundanese) makes its looming presence felt. Tourists often hike to its crater to witness the constantly bubbling hot springs and sulphur fumes – it last erupted in 2013! The Geological Museum in town is a great place to know more about the volcanic craters the region is famous for.

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Clomping around in keloms

Traditional handicrafts thrive in Indonesia. At Kelom Geulis Sagitria Tasikmalaya, a Sundanese clog-making workshop, special wooden shoes called kelom or kelompen popularised by Dutch settlers, are crafted. Worn especially by women, the shoes became famous as Kelom Geulis meaning “beautiful clogs”. The owner, Rana and his son Kilan, outlined the process of how mahogany wood was fashioned into “kelompen”.

A craftsman deftly carved out a freehand design on leather with a sharp tool as another sprayed colour and livened up a sandal. A lady hammered a stud to fix a strap to wood while another inked a motif using a batik style bamboo spout called “canting”. We stood transfixed as plain wood pieces evolved into ‘designer footwear’.

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Today, kelom guelis is a signature traditional Indonesian handicraft promoted by the government as formal footwear for women. Men have it good too with Sagitria’s Kelom Kasep, an exclusive range for men! ‘Kasep’ in Sundanese means ‘handsome’! They also craft the famous Mizutori ‘Geta’ sandals for the Japanese market. Wearing wooden shoes is said to be healthy as its shape and leather straps stimulate acupressure points. They are easy to wear, fashionable, durable and suitable for casual or dressy affairs.

Here’s the fun part. Visitors can try their hand at batik on clogs and return with a souvenir! I was already imagining myself clomping around the streets in my own “klompen”! At IDR 75,000 (₹360) a pair and an entire showroom of eye-catching designs, it didn’t get any better!

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It was strange walking into a large strawberry doorway…but the cheery strawberry-themed Rumah Makan (restaurant) Liwet Pak Asep Stroberi at Tasikmalaya, is a standout for exotic local food. Sitting cross-legged in the traditional lunch hall surrounded by a tropical garden with lotus pools, we devoured a luscious spread of traditional Javanese and Sundanese food on a low long table.

Aromatic Nasi liwet (rice, oil, salt and red onion), Nasi tutug oncom (rice with fermented soya bean and coconut), the delicious Otak-Otak (grilled mackerel in banana leaf), assorted Gorengan (fries of tempe, tofu, banana, cassava), ikan asin (salted fish), Ayam bakar (Soya grilled chicken) and fried fish. The taste and presentation were outstanding. A cup of the infamous kopi luwak or civet cat coffee followed. Touted as the world’s most expensive coffee, this black velvety brew is made using the choicest cherries consumed and excreted by the civet cat!

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Playing the anklung in Bandung

Back in Bandung the following day, a lovely surprise awaited us – a full-blown gamelan and angklung ensemble at Saung Angklung Udjo, a cultural centre that organises workshops where you learn how the angklung is made and how to play it. Children of all ages are trained by maestros to stage world-class performances of traditional music in a grand display of Indonesia’s traditional dances – with elaborate make-up and resplendent costumes.

Udjo is a perfect window to Indonesian culture. After an utterly engrossing presentation of Wayang Golek (puppet theatre) another emblematic Indonesian artform, the show began. In a space designed for audience participation, we were all soon playing Indonesia’s iconic instrument – the angklung! But the genius of maestro Daing Udjo and his live demo made us fall in love with Javanese music. The angklung orchestra even performed jazz standards and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody!

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Born in Indonesia, the angklung is handcrafted out of simple bamboo and produces an inherently appealing wooden tinkle reminiscent of wind chimes. Its very name is an onomatopic derivation of the klung-klung sound it produces! The Udjo souvenir shop is a treasure of Indonesian handicrafts and goodies – fashion, fridge magnets, batik, bamboo crafts, woven baskets, clogs, besides a range of angklungs. I picked a chain with a tiny bamboo anklung pendant as a reminder of this beautiful country and its glorious cultural heritage.

FACT FILE

Getting there
Fly from Bangalore via Kuala Lumpur to Bandung on Malindo Air. From Bandung, Tasikmalaya is 116km southeast/3hr 30 min by road.

Note
Visa on arrival $35. Currency Exchange 1 INR = 207.41 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah). Don’t let the zeroes bother you. India invented the zero, but Indonesia idolizes it, especially in its currency!

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Where to Stay
Gino Feruci
Jl. Braga 67, Bandung
Ph +262 224200099 W: www.ginoferuci.com

Hotel Bidakara Grand Savoy Homann
Jl. Asia Afrika No 112 Bandung
Ph +262 2242332244, W: www.savoyhomann-hotel.com

Where to Eat
Braga Permai
Jl. Braga 58, Bandung
Ph +62 22 4233 778 www.bragapermai.com

Liwet Pak Asep Stroberi
www.asepstroberi.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper on 18 Aug, 2017. Here’s the original link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/life-style/travel/2017/aug/18/west-java-bandung–beyond-3158.html

Down the cobbled streets of Copenhagen

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PRIYA GANAPATHY takes a heritage walk down the old cobbled paths of Copenhagen to historic city landmarks, where bits of Denmark’s colourful history and culture come alive with a dollop of humour

DSC03034 The painted houses of Nyhavn, a fairytale setting by day or twilight

High above the Richs building at the corner of Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen, I spotted the gilded Weather Girl sculptures. The rotating ladies atop a tower warn Danes about rain and shine! One rides a bicycle and sticks out of the tower when it is sunny. And if it rains, the sculpture swivels to let the other lady out who carries an umbrella and walks her dog! Created by Einar Utzon-Frank in 1936, the artwork summed up a typical scene in Copenhagen – omnipresent bicycles and rain! There’s an inside joke among men in Copenhagen who swear that “these are the only two women you could trust!”

The Hans Christian Andersen heritage walk is a wonderful way to unearth the city’s hidden stories in buildings and landmarks often ignored in everyday urban tedium. We followed our guide Richard Karpen to where the Old City began, past a straggle of tourists posing near the Bull and Dragon Fountain to cut across the massive courtyard fronting the century-old City Hall. At the doorway, above the balcony was the gilded statue of the city’s founder Absalon, the Catholic Bishop who fortified the castle near the harbour in 1167. The Clock Tower rose 105.6m, making it one of the tallest buildings in town, with the Jensen Olsen astronomical world clock on the ground floor.

Bridge of Sighs view in the Old City Quarter

Copenhagen’s emblem or Coat of Arms – a shield with three towers – rests at the base of the flag pole. Six statues at the top represent the nightwatchmen, the police force and the fire department. The polar bears in the corners represent Greenland and the 32 Faroe Islands which are part of Denmark’s territory. The sea faring nation actually comprises 400 islands and is about the size of Switzerland with a population of 5.6 million Danes.

Inside City Hall, we found ourselves in the august company of Denmark’s most famous luminaries. Four wonderful marble busts decorate the vast hall – Martin Nyrop, the architect of the building, Bertel Thorvaldsen one of the greatest sculptors of early 19th century, Nobel prize-winning physicist and atomic researcher Niels Bohr, and story-teller extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen.

DSC03130-Wall murals at the University Law Faculty on mythical themes

After signing marriage contracts inside, newly married couples often clink champagne flutes and pose for a picture against City Hall’s stunning backdrop! Some grooms even cart their brides in Copenhagen’s iconic quirky Christiania cargo bikes! The large hall exemplified Danish pride with its simple walls displaying the Danish flag. It is the oldest flag continually in use since the 1300s and Danes consider its signature Crusader’s Cross a symbol of joy. It is perfectly normal in Danish culture to find these flags decorating Christmas trees, birthday cakes, or being propped around picnic blankets… Danes even carry them to greet someone at the airport!

Thorvaldsen’s exquisite statue of Jason and the Golden Fleece is displayed in one section. Initially following the Classical style, he sculpted statues of Greek and Roman Gods before taking inspiration from Nordic deities like Odin, the king of the Gods who gave us Odin’s Day (Wednesday). Here you discover how days of the week are dedicated to gods featured in Norse mythology – Thor the Destroyer with his thunderbolt gave us Thor’s Day (Thursday), Fria is the Goddess of Fertility to whom Fridays are dedicated and Tuesday is named after Tyr, the God of Combat.

DSC03724-Stroget, shopping mecca and one of the Europe's longest shopping streets

Try saying Strøget in Danish and you’ll confess that Danish is indeed a difficult language. “Everyone here will speak English except your bus driver and the one you’re asking for directions!” Richard joked as we checked out the shopping precinct of Strøget, one of Europe’s longest car-free pedestrian streets. Chockful with global brands and souvenir shops, you will also find upscale shops selling Danish amber, crystal, fur and fashion further down.

A towering bronze Lur Blowers, a pair of Vikings caught in a musical moment nearby paid tribute to the notorious sea-faring Vikings, who were raiders, traders and settlers. For centuries, they struck fear in the hearts of the rest of the world. The sculpture was gifted to the city during the centenary birthday celebration of Denmark’s most famous brewer JC Jacobsen’s who founded Carlsberg. Vikings trace their origins to Danish, Swedish and Nordic tribes who flourished a thousand years ago. Their common language – old Nordic, gave us words like ‘berserk’, ‘kill’, ‘thrust’ and ‘wife’!

IMG_0458-Lurs Blowers statue, a tribute to the Viking legacy of Denmark

We strolled to the old bridge connecting the Court house to the old Debtor’s prison, surrounded by Neo Classical architecture. It was nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs in a nod to the famous one in Venice, which also spans a canal between a Court House and a prison! The spectacular view of the pastel-coloured buildings through the archway was a picturesque angle chosen by Danish painters since early 19th century!

Many of the buildings were designed by the Dutch during the Renaissance in the 1600s like the Rosenborg Castle housing the crown jewels and royal regalia. The elaborate ornamentation of French or Rococo and Baroque architecture emerged in the 1700s. In the 1800s, as artists and architects visited Rome and Greece where great monuments were being unveiled, and often imitated such great works while rebuilding cities across Europe. The antique became the ideal as most cities copied Greek and Roman designs, which spawned the simple and symmetrical Neo Classic architecture in the region. The Danes did not develop their own style of architecture until much later.

DSC03104-Cafe Nytorv, a pitstop for great food and schnapps

We halted at Cafe Nytorv, a small restaurant at the square, run by Dennis and Charlotte that specialises in Danish cuisine. The yellow corner building dated 1792, is a century and a half old and one of Copenhagen’s oldest inns. They welcomed us with a shot of traditional Danish Schnapps or akvavit, a sweet alcoholic drink flavoured with herbs and spices. “It’s designed to make men feel strong and women feel weak,” quipped Richard as we learnt the nuances of its drinking protocol. Our hosts raised a toast and we all uttered the Danish greeting ‘Skål’ (pronounced skol)! The guest could propose another toast and this ceremony could go on “until everyone at the table begins to look good!” If we knocked a couple more, he confirmed that “Dennis will look like Brad Pitt and I will look like George Clooney!”

Today skål’ means hello, cheers, good health or ‘bowl’. But the word holds more history. During Viking times, it was a tradition for the victorious to drink from the skull of the slain opponent or leader after war, which was scooped out to a bowl. It became a warcry and later evolved into a salute to good health. Nytorv stands right near an ancient whipping post. It was hard to imagine how this cheerful café-lined area was a market square where public humiliation was common in the old days. Women brought their children to witness it for it was somewhat ‘educational’ and taught them the consequences of a life of crime!

Caritas Well or Fountain of Charity at the Old Market Square

At the heart of Old Copenhagen was Gammel Torv, the Old Christmas Market Square, the oldest in the city. The marvellous Fountain of Charity of a nude woman with a child at her breast and one at her feet occupied pride of place. It was part of the water system erected in the 1600s by king Christian IV who built Rosenborg Castle and the old Stock Exchange. Two major fires during the 1700s destroyed much of Old Copenhagen. Oddly, most buildings were about the same height; there’s an unwritten law that you’re not supposed to block your neighbour’s sunlight!

We saw a gabled roof carved with Neptune or Poseidon, the God of the Sea holding a trident on one side representing navigation and Hermes or Mercury, the messenger God with wings on his helmet, holding a staff and bag of money, signifying commerce, on the other. An arty sign to inform people that the owner was probably a ship merchant. At the University premises, we admired the Library’s brickwork and stained windows and the vibrant wall frescoes inside the Law Faculty.

DSC03058-Ornate entry of City Hall

Our walk ended at the carved doorway of city’s famous 17th century Round Tower or Rundetarn. It is the oldest observatory in Europe and only 36m tall, yet visitors take a cobbled spiral walk of 209m to reach the lookout for a view of the old city. Apparently, HC Andersen often visited its library hall for inspiration. In about an hour, we had covered entire centuries to witness the evolution of this fairytale city.

FACT FILE

Getting there:
Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways and other airlines have daily flights to Copenhagen from major Indian cities via Dubai, Frankfurt or London. The journey time varies from 11 hour 45min to 12 hours 15min. Air India will soon launch direct flights to Copenhagen from Delhi thrice a week initially, starting September.

DSC03178 A blend of old and new architecture, Axel Towers near the 1886 circular Circus Building and Tivoli

Where to Stay:

Avenue Hotel
Ph: 0045 35373111
Award-winning boutique hotel with cosy simple stylish Danish design rooms in the heart of Norrebro, close to the metro with organic breakfast and signature wine hour at the bar.

Hotel Danmark
Ph: 0045 33114806
Brand new upscale boutique hotel in a historic neighbourhood close to City Hall Square and Tivoli. Has a rooftop bar and terrace with great views, fab indoor and outdoor dining options. www.brochner-hotels.com/hotel-danmark

DSC03232-Grilled avacados at Gemyse, Nimb's latest gourmet restaurant focusing on vegetarian cuisine

Where to Eat:
Copenhagen Street Food is a harbourside hangout on Papiroen Island with foodtruck style local, artisanal and global fare. Gemyse at the historic Tivoli Gardens is legendary Nimb’s newest addition serving gourmet, healthy veg fare with a few meat and seafood options. (www.nimb.dk/en/gemyse)

At Guldbergsgade in Norrebro, taste Danish food with Italian produce at Bæst, a restaurant known for organic food, woodfired sourdough pizzas and handstretched cheese. Its adjoining Mirabelle bakery is famous for naturally fermented fresh bread, house made pasta, Baest charcuterie and adventurous flavoured icecreams outside.

DSC03218-Glasshouse at Tivoli Gardens

What to do:

Visit Tivoli Gardens www.tivoligardens.com
Discover Copenhagen from the water on a GoBoat www.goboat.dk/en
Hans Christian Andersen Heritage Walk www.copenhagenwalks.com
Bicycle Tours with Cycling Copenhagen www.cycling-copenhagen.dk
Aquatic adventure along the canals with Kayak Republic www.kayakrepublic.dk
Savour a community Danish dinner at Absalon www.absaloncph.dk

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper on 21 July, 2017. Here’s the original link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/life-style/travel/2017/jul/24/danes-of-delight-down-the-cobbled-streets-of-copenhagen-2811.html

So long and thanks for all the Hummus: Notes from Israel

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In trademark lightning swiftness, Israel has made the evolutionary leap from the Land of Creation to the Land of Recreation, discovers ANURAG MALLICK

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As Narendra Modi touched down at Ben Gurion airport at Tel Aviv amidst unprecedented excitement, I couldn’t help thinking about my own trip to Israel just a few weeks before his. Modi is the first Indian PM to ever visit Israel and its geopolitical importance is undeniable. But I am just an ordinary traveler – definitely not the first from India to visit Israel and surely not the last – but memories of my warm welcome with open arms everywhere are still fresh.

India enjoys unbelievable popularity and equity across Israel. Unlike other countries, the reason is not Bollywood or cricket, but pure unbridled, unabashed love for India and all things Indian – be it yoga, food, culture, history or hashish. Much of this stems from the three years compulsory combat training in Israel that is usually followed by a ‘mandatory’ (sic!) yearlong holiday in India!

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“You from India?”, they enquired effusively wherever I went. Waitresses, restaurant owners, bartenders, DJs, drivers, in hipster bars and sandy beaches, all welcoming me with the warmth of a long-lost relative bringing tidings from their homeland. They showed the same excitement with which we spot Indian names in the end credits of a Hollywood flick!

“I went many years ago… Beautiful country, beautiful people! It’s been too long!,” sighed Inbara the naturalist at Agmon Hula Birdwatching center as we leisurely explored the park in golf carts. At a candle shop in the town of Safed (Tzfat), former center of Cabalistic learning and one of the four holy cities in Israel, Gabriela reminisced about her trip as a teenager and was looking forward to taking her teenage daughter to India on her maiden visit.

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Tzefat is also the highest city in Israel and offers a close look into Jewish culture and traditions. “So, your PM is coming! You the advance party, eh?”, joked an art shop owner in the Artist Quarter. Some rattled off names of places they visited in India. “One time in Dehli, you know…” Everyone had a favourite India story he or she was dying to narrate…

And the love is being well reciprocated. Since 2015, the number of Indian tourists visiting Israel has seen a jump of 49%. In 2016, it touched 45,000. The numbers were only rising each year… Our amazing guide Ofer Moghadam who specializes in Holy Land tours and often caters to German and American tourists mentioned that he too had seen a rise in Indian arrivals in recent times. What started off as a trickle of pilgrim tours to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, was now a flood that went beyond the holy trail to more offbeat locations.

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The recent bonhomie seems like some strange fairytale love of species as disproportionate as the Ant and the Elephant. India is massive, like a lumbering pachyderm; Israel is tiny in comparison, but swift like a bee. India has the highest mountain ranges in the world in the Himalayas while Israel has the lowest point on earth’s surface – the Dead Sea. Yet, there were uncanny similarities. Ancient lands of spirituality and enlightenment, both India and Israel were birthed in violence, mid-wifed by the British. Both countries run on organized chaos, a concept Ofer explained as balagan, Hebrew for ‘bedlam’ or ‘absolute pandemonium’!

Tel Aviv is the main international port of entry and many assume the vibrant city to be the capital of Israel (which actually happens to be Jerusalem!) But Tel Aviv was conceived as a secular anti-thesis of overtly religious Jerusalem and Tel Avivians are often blamed for being on a different planet. From the time we landed at the Ben Gurion Airport, named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, any place seemed just a short drive away.

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You could have lunch at Israel’s northern tip at the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra that has a cable car descent into sea grottos carved out by seawater into limestone cliffs. And be in time for dinner at Eilat in the south on the Red Sea. One could drive from north to south and be out of the country in a matter of hours. At one moment we are at the border with Jordan, the other instant with Lebanon and Syria.

Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and a port town in the north, shares an interesting Indian connection. During World War I, lancers of the Jodhpur and Mysore cavalry regiment overran Turkish Ottoman and German machine-gun positions in a dramatic horseback charge to win the Battle of Haifa for the British. Many Indian soldiers who valorously took part in WWI in Egypt and Mesopotamia lie buried at the Haifa cemetery, their sacrifice not forgotten.

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Today the same hillside of Mount Carmel is covered with landscaped gardens of the Baha’i world centre, a UNESCO world heritage site. Haifa is proud of its Jewish-Arab coexistence, best exemplified in Douzan restaurant in the old German Colony, renovated into an avenue of bars and restaurants. Owner Fadi explained that douzan was the term for the tuning of the oud, a stringed instrument. The alfresco restaurant with a convivial air was where he fine-tuned people so that they remained in harmony.

All the furniture at Douzan was sourced from Italy, Germany, Lebanon and Syria and no two tables were alike. Each piece, like an individual, was special and unique. The food is hybrid – a shared Mediterranean legacy of Palestinian, Arab and Lebanese dishes with a smattering of French and Italian cuisine. Its friendly vibe recreated what is called the ‘Haifa atmosphere.’

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Our hunt for the best hummus took us from Café Ziad in Jerusalem to Abu Hassan in Jaffa and Osul Restaurant (literally ‘Genuine’) at Yesud HaMa’ala to Magdalena, voted as the Best Arab restaurant in Israel, which serves fresh Tilapia from the Sea of Galilee. Puaa, whose furniture is sourced from the Jaffa flea market and every item is for sale, has been wowing gourmands for 16 years in a country where trends don’t last 16 months.

In Jerusalem, Chef Moshe Basson of Eucalyptus restaurant, who fondly remembers his encounter with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, dishes out meticulously researched Jewish Biblical cuisine. The chef harvests his own herbs like sage, rosemary, mint, using them in dishes like fish falafel, figs stuffed with chicken, eggplant and cream, pate macaroon and maklubah – like a potato and chicken biryani!

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For me, Israel was a childhood dream come true – reading a book while afloat in the Dead Sea, visiting Jerusalem, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea Scrolls, sailing on the Sea of Galilee, eating a ‘Jaffa’ orange! And yet, there was so much more Israel offers… from the Negev desert to the beaches of Eilat, old Crusader towns of Akko (Acre) and Sfad, erstwhile Roman outpost of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, Segway rides down Tel Aviv’s Sea Shore Promenade to food tours through Carmel shuk – the only authentic Arabian style market.

There’s craft beer on offer at Israel’s first microbrewery The Dancing Camel or Beer Bazaar, architecture tours in the Bauhaus district or White City, a Tel Aviv Port Tour, a street art tour in Florentin and night tours through the hip quarter of Rothschild to hipster clubs like Kuli Alma, Sputnik and everything in between. In trademark lightning swiftness, Israel has made the evolutionary leap from the Land of Creation to the Land of Recreation. So long and thanks for all the hummus!

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FACT FILE 

Getting there
Israel’s national carrier El-Al flies direct from Mumbai to Tel Aviv thrice a week and takes less than 8 hrs. Turkish Airlines has daily flights to Tel Aviv via Istanbul – a journey of 11 hr 45 min while Ethiopian Air flies via Addis Ababa (12 hrs). Haifa is just over 90km north of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem 72 km SE.

Shalom-NaMoste: Modi’s pitstops
Ben Gurion International Airport
Danziger Dan Flower Farm
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
King David Hotel
Synagogue Route at Israel Museum
Indian War Memorial, Haifa
Water Desalination Unit, Olga Beach

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Where to Stay

Carlton Hotel, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 3 5201818 www.carlton.co.il

Dan Panorama Hotel, Haifa
Ph +972 4 8352222 www.danhotels.com

Prima-Royale Hotel, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 5607111
http://prima-royale-jerusalem.hotel-rn.com

Rimonim Galei Kinneret Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6728555 www.rimonimhotels.com

The Scots Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6710710 www.scotshotels.co.il

Where to Eat

Douzan Restaurant, Haifa
Ph +972 539443301

The Eucalyptus Restaurant, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 6244331 www.the-eucalyptus.com

Magdalena Restaurant, Magdala
Ph +972 4 6730064 magdalenarest@gmail.com

Puaa Restaurant, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 3 6823821

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What to Do

Holy Land/Tel Aviv/Dead Sea tours
Ofer Moghadam Tours
Ph +972 587833799 www.ofermog.com

SEGO Segway Tours, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 528551932 www.sego.co.il

Tel Aviv Night Tour & Graffiti Tours
Dror Shoresh Ph +972 507814575
GetRealTLV@gmail.com

Cable Car Ride, Rosh Hanikra
Ph +972 732710100 www.rosh-hanikra.com

Ancient Galilee Boat & Museum
Nofalon Tourist Centre, Ginosar
Ph +972 4 9119585 www.thegalileeboat.com

Galilee Sailing, Tiberias
Ph +972 509397000

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Agmon Hula birdwatching centre
Ph +972 4 6817137 www.agamon-hula.co.il

The Night Spectacular Sound & Light show
The Citadel, Tower of David, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 6265333 www.tod.org.il

Wine tasting at Adir Winery & Dairy
Ph +972 4 6991039 www.adir-visit.com

Ilana Goor Museum Tour, Old Jaffa
Ph +972 3 6837676 www.ilanagoormuseum.org 

For more info, visit www.goisrael.in, www.tel-aviv.gov.il

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 14 July 2017 in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express. Here’s the link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/life-style/travel/2017/jul/15/notes-from-israel-so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-hummus-2694.html

Changi Airport: Check in and never leave

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Singapore Changi Airport was voted the world’s best airport fifth year in a row at the 2017 Skytrax World Airport Awards. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover why it is the global favourite…

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After downing our Singapore Slings and Ruchi thali, a ‘Best of India’ menu curated by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor for business class, our Singapore Airlines flight was about to touch down at Changi. The flight from Bangalore was too short to fully maximize the Kris World in-flight entertainment but we managed a few reruns of Game of Thrones. In all our travels and transits through Singapore, this was the first time we would not stir out of the airport. It was a challenge thrown at us by Changi Airport and by the end of three days, we hoped to know the airport inside out, much like Tom Hanks in The Terminal

As we breezed past immigration at Terminal 3, we didn’t even need to step out of the airport or take a cab to reach our hotel. A short walk to the left in the arrival hall led us to Crowne Plaza Changi, voted again as the World’s Best Airport Hotel in 2017. Our stunning room overlooked the runway with flights taxiing by. The toughened glass blanked out the noise but not the view. Changi has hotels in each terminal. Aerotel boasts the only outdoor swimming pool at Changi (SGD 17) while Ambassador Transit Lounge offered deals like unlimited alcohol for 5 hrs SGD 58.85.

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After a sumptuous buffet breakfast, we set off on our tour. Changi is more than an airport or transit point; it’s a destination by itself! Amazing art exhibits, spectacular gardens, duty free shopping, themed decor and the world’s tallest slide in an airport; there are many things make Changi the world’s most loved airport.

Massage chairs are free, not coin-operated. Dedicated Snooze Zones underline why Changi is repeatedly voted as ‘the best airport to sleep in’. But its biggest USP is the ability to take away the stress of travel. Uniformed volunteers rove the arrival areas as ‘Changi Service Ambassadors’ to intuitively help passengers who seem lost or stranded. We noticed each terminal was conveniently coded with a different carpet theme for a sense of bearing!

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Mirroring Singapore’s tag as a Garden City, the airport is full of vertical topiaries and greenery, giving it an air of a tropical garden rather than a busy travel hub. The Enchanted Garden in T3 showcases nearly 1000 types of exotic flora landscaped around four floral glass sculptures with stained glass mosaic. Hidden sensors triggered natural rainforest sounds and blooming of flowers!

Each terminal has something unique for everybody. T1 has an open air Cactus Garden with The Traveller’s Cactus Pub, a favourite beer n’ smokes hangout for Australians flying to/from Australia via Singapore. T2 is packed with attractions. The Sunflower Garden has 500 plants happily soaking up the tropical sun. The Orchid Garden has a thousand orchids from 30 species grouped according to hue, form and the four elements – air, earth, water and fire.

Changi-Orchid Garden IMG_4033_Anurag Mallick

The Butterfly Garden on Level 3 is a magical space home to 47 species. A clear favourite with every visitor, it offers a chance to closely observe the entire life cycle of a butterfly – from the laying of eggs at the Breeding Corner, to becoming a caterpillar and finally metamorphosing from a pupa at the Emergence Cage. Butterfly-shaped Feeding Corners have nectar containers and if you dab some on your fingers, the winged beauties gently perch on your hand for a photo-op.

We headed to the Duty Free Store (DFS), a duplex wonderland of spirits. The Wine Reserve, the Cigar Room and The Whiskey House encourage travellers to sample and experience the products before their final buy. The Changi DFS has the largest selection of Blended Whisky with a ‘Lowest Price in Asia Pacific airports’ guarantee. You can even scan a bottle to compare prices elsewhere! After a whiskey tasting session, we sauntered to the iconic Raffles Long Bar for a complimentary Singapore Sling.

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There’s plenty of entertainment –TV Lounges, Entertainment Decks with Xbox 360, MTV booths and a Movie Theatre at every terminal with free screenings all day, all night. At The Social Tree, Changi’s largest interactive installation, passengers can click selfies, choose a theme and upload their picture on a circular video wall or social media. Interactive installations tell you where to go in the city.

We flipped the ‘Make it Your Singapore’ info-discs to discover interesting factoids and quirky aspects about the island nation. Kids went crazy at the Motion Silhouette Wall and LED Dots Portrait Wall which used motion-sensing technology, allowing passengers to take self-portraits against famous Singapore landmarks!

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Young ones can try their hand at woodblock prints with icons inspired by popular culture, designed by Singapore artist Justin Lee. Changi truly celebrates art with stunning installations. Kinetic Rain features 1216 polished copper raindrops dancing rhythmically. The giant Daisy shaped like a propeller represents Singapore’s importance in air and sea travel. Baet Yeok Kuan’s Birds in Flight is inspired by the migration of the Artic Tern while Jorge Marin’s jaw-dropping Wings of Mexico gives travellers a chance to pose as angels.

By the second day, we were smiling at attendants with the familiarity of being on a neighbourhood walk. It was 9 am, time to be at the serene Koi Pond, where we watched the feeding of the fish (they are fed again at 4 pm, on all days except Sundays). At every step, we discovered a facet we had missed earlier. Recycle bins were shaped like a Plastic Bottle, Drink Can and Newspaper to help segregate plastic, metal and paper waste.

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If you are a foodie, Changi ranks second after Hong Kong as the world’s best airport for dining. The best part is that Singapore’s top street food icons can be found right inside the airport. Straits Food Village, a 24 hr food court was awarded Airport Food Court of the Year at the Airport Food and Beverage (FAB) Awards 2016. It captures the hawker experience, with delicious Bak Kut Teh (pork broth and ribs) and Nasi Lemak (coconut rice with anchovies).

From Vietnamese style food at Pho Street, Cantonese cuisine at Imperial Treasure to Hello Kitty-themed orchid garden restaurant, there’s every kind of flavour on offer – even Indian food at Kaveri vegetarian restaurant! There’s Killiney Kopitiam, which started in 1919 as a little Hainanese coffee joint on Killiney Road serving Kaya toast and freshly brewed kopi.

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Curry Times, Singapore’s best curry restaurant, started in 1956 as Old Chang Kee on Mackenzie Road near Rex Cinema. Their curry puffs with potatoes, chicken and egg in crispy fried pastry puffs gained famed as Rex curry puffs. Tip Top, another classic curry puff icon since 1979, makes great sardine and beef rendang puffs as well.

Since 1969, Fragrance has been serving traditional Bak Kwa (Chinese pork jerky) blended with spices and 18 Chinese herbs like ginseng, danggui and wolfberry. Bengawan Solo serves a range of cakes like Orange Chiffon and Pandan Chiffon, besides Kueh, Prune and Cranberry Lapis. With excellent take-aways and gift packs, they make great last minute buys.

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Those looking for a makeover or relaxation may enter spa haven. Get a massage at Be Relax or a treatment at Shilla Beauty Loft featuring top brands like Chanel, Dior, La Prairie and SK-II. The SK-II Magic Ring predicts your skin in 10 years with prescriptions for suitable products while the Shilla Duty Free below, woos you with its range of cosmetics and perfumes.

For long layovers, take the free 2½ hour guided city tour, jointly organized by Singapore Airlines, Singapore Tourism Board and Changi Airport. The free shuttle leaves every 15 minutes. If your transit is 5.5 hours or more, take the Heritage Tour to Chinatown and Kampong Glam. If it’s 6 hours or more, enjoy the City Sights Tour, taking in Gardens by the Bay and the Merlion statue. Just register an hour before the tour at the Free Singapore Tour (FST) Registration Booth near Transfer Lounge F in T2 or Transfer Lounge A in T3.

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Those transiting on the national carrier Singapore Airlines or Silk Air, even get free Changi dollars to spend ($20/ticket)! By Day 3, we knew enough of the airport to max the quiz and win our share of Changi dollars! I Shop Changi lets passengers shop online 2 weeks in advance and up to 24 hours before their departure from Changi. Your shopping adds up to Changi Rewards, which can be redeemed later and a shot at being a ‘Changi Millionaire’ in the annual lucky draw.

Amid all the excitement, you could easily forget to catch your connecting flight! Weighed down by our buys at Zara and Discover Singapore, we barely made it to our Singapore Airlines gate by final call. Strapped into our seat, a warm towel and a cold welcome drink in our hands and we were ready to say goodbye to the iconic Changi Airport Tower. It oversees the movement of 700 flights a day; one every 90 seconds, catering to 380 destinations worldwide and 58.7 million satisfied passengers each year.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Singapore Airlines flies direct (4 hrs) from Bengaluru, Chennai and other cities to Changi Airport, in the eastern part of town. Singapore is a great stopover en route to Australia with attractive flight deals. www.singaporeair.com

Where to Stay

Crowne Plaza Changi
75 Airport Boulevard #01-01, Changi
Ph +65 6823 5300 www.ihg.com

Aerotel
Level 3, Departure Transit Lounge, Terminal 1 (above Gate D41)
Ph +65 6808 2388 www.myaerotel.com

Ambassador Transit Hotel
Departure, Level 3, Terminal 2 Ph +65 6542 8122
Departure, Mezzanine Level 3, Terminal 3 Ph +65 6507 9788
www.harilelahospitality.com

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Where to Eat

Hello Kitty
#01-22, Terminal 3, Arrival Meeting Hall (Central)
Ph +65 6241 6127 www.hellokittyorchidgarden.com

Straits Food Village
#60, Terminal 2, Level 3, Departure Lounge (Central)
Ph +65 6449 3688

Penang Culture
#036-087-01, Terminal 2, Level 3, Departure/Check-in Hall
Ph +65 6546 7793

Curry Times
#B2-51, Terminal 3
www.currytimes.com.sg

Killiney Kopitiam
#031-001A, Terminal 1, Mezzanine Level 3, Departure Transit Lounge East
Ph +65 6214 1387 www.killiney-kopitiam.com

Fragrance
#026-034, Terminal 2, Departure/Check-In Hall Central
Ph +65 6542 4294 www.fragrance.com.sg

Bengawan Solo
Terminals 1, 2, 3
Ph +65 6242 3072, 6546 9835
www.bengawansolo.com.sg

For more info, visit https://in.changiairport.com, www.yoursingapore.com and www.ishopchangi.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 12 May 2017 in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express. Here’s the link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/culture/cover-story/2017/may/12/singapores-changi-airport-check-in-and-never-leave-1473.html

Lofty heights: Tree houses in India

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY lead an arboreal existence as they pick out the best tree houses in the country

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We remember the first time we got onto a treehouse was sometime in 2001 when Green Magic in Wayanad had pioneered the concept of treehouses in Kerala. It was like a childhood fantasy come true as we imagined we’d be ushered like Phantom and Diana by Bandar into a counter-weighted basket that would magically zoom up in the air. We wondered if the jungle vine would snap or was it a ladder we had to climb? Walking through the lush plantation, we reached the edge of a ravine from where a gently sloping wooden ramp led to the thatched hut.

Gingerly walking up the ramp we reached the rustic hut with a small balcony and a low bed made of bamboo. We were above the tree line and the aerial perch afforded a birds’ eye view, literally. The sight of bright orange and black scarlet minivets flitting about the dense shrubbery was magical. The thrill of being up there and spending a night as the wind creaked the tree can never be forgotten.

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That was 16 years ago, when the concept of a tree house was quite novel and still taking root. Today, every nature resort or plantation stay worth its salt prides in having at least one tree house or machan. But gone are the days of rustic simplicity; today’s treehouses come equipped with all kinds of creature comforts.

The best place to experience tree houses in India is undoubtedly Wayanad. It is no coincidence that the hilly district, with its abundant nature, mountainous terrain and rich tribal knowledge, is a stronghold for tree houses. Many resorts have relied on the traditional knowhow of local tribes.

Tranquil Wayanad

Tranquil Resort at Kolagapara near Ambalavayal used to have a treehouse with an actual basket that transported you to the top. However, they have renovated their old perches into the Tranquilitree tree house, perched at 45 feet on a gulmohar tree. The rustic 572 sq ft living space comes with an en-suite bathroom, verandah, mini-fridge, LCD TV and coffee maker. However, kids below 8 are not allowed due to safety concerns.

High above the rainforest canopy, Vythiri Resort has five tree houses ranging from 35 ft to 80 ft off the ground, including a child friendly one! Natural spring water has been channeled from a high source so gravity takes care of water supply without using a motor for pumping water. The quaint thatch roof and bamboo walls have been built by members of the local tribal community using locally sourced materials. Plenty of precautions are taken – guests are asked to pack light with heavy luggage kept in a locker room and no food, liquor or smoking is allowed up there. It’s the perfect escape for couples or honeymooners.

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The newest entrant into Wayanad’s extended treehouse family is Pepper Trail near Sulthan Bathery. Lined by cheery orange and red heliconia, the driveway sliced through the expansive Mangalam Carp Estate, set up by pioneering planter Scotsman Colin Auley Mackenzie in the 1800s. At the tiled roof Pavilion deck, a refreshing drink of lime was served overlooking coffee shrubs interspersed with tall silver oak and 1,200 jackfruit trees.

On a sturdy jackfruit tree, a wooden walkway rose over the coffee bushes in a gentle ascent to a treehouse 40ft off the ground. The Woodpecker Treehouse was fitted with wood-panelled walls, fine décor and linen, a country style four-poster bed, dressing area, luxurious bathroom and a wide balcony with plantation chairs. Its counterpart, the Hornbill Treehouse was further away. Every morning or evening, we’d eyeball barbets, sunbirds, drongos and raucous Malabar Grey hornbills, sipping our cuppa.

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Lost in the cacophonic din of urban life, we discovered that silence in the remote rainforests sits on an underlay of crooning cicadas. Our arboreal existence drew the attention of a boisterous troop of macaques, who peered through our windows in the hope of some generosity of spirit. With no biscuits or bananas going their way, they’d romp on the railings in wild tantrum displays. Monkeys can be a menace, so catapults are kept handy with air guns to scare them away. We felt mildly annoyed about their infringement when ironically we had invaded their leafy domain!

With a live feed of Animal Planet outdoors, who would miss TV! Pepper Trail maintains a “No kids under 12” policy. While this may seem tough for families with kids, it underlines the resort’s stress on safety and concern for a guest’s need for peace and quiet. The sprawling estate is great for birding besides leisurely walks to see how coffee and tea are cultivated. Take a drive around the plantation in the open top jeep or go on short highway jaunts around Bandipur and Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuaries!

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At Rainforest Boutique Resort in Athirapally, as if the charm of viewing Kerala’s most magnificent waterfall from your room wasn’t enough, a Swiss architect was roped in to design a treehouse as dramatic as the view. Overlooking the Sholayar rainforests, the tree house is the ideal vantage point to gaze at the thundering Athirapally waterfalls. Equally dramatic is the Shola Periyar Tree House perched atop a banyan tree. Another region making a name for its treehouses is the wildlife zone of Masinagudi near Mudumalai with rustic perches at Safari Land, Forest Hills and The Wilds. However, the trend is not restricted to South India.

Tree House Hideaway is set in 21 acres of woodland adjacent to Bandhavgarh National Park. Combine the joy of staying in a tree house with the thrill of spotting tigers in the wild on jeep safaris through Bandhavgarh. Five exclusive tree houses are built on stilts on five different trees – Mahua, Tendu, Peepal, Banyan and Palash. Though grungy and wild from the outside, the rooms are posh. The dining hall is built across two levels around a century old Mahua tree with a dining hall on the ground level and The Watering Hole, a bar cum lounge on the upper floor.

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Pugdundee Safaris, the folks behind Treehouse Hideaway in Bandhavgarh, also run other treehouse getaways in the lesser known parks of Central India. They have six fabulous perches at Pench Tree Lodge at Pench National Park and two at Denwa Backwater Escape near Satpura Tiger Reserve.

Yet another luxurious romantic hideaway is The Machan near Lonavala. Perched at 3300 feet, the 25-acre patch is part of a tropical cloud forest with a choice of treehouses! The Heritage Machan is built across four levels around a wild fig tree, a spiral staircase leads up to the glass encased Canopy Machan, a wooden bridge connects up to the Forest Machan, the Jungle Machans are set amid a thicket of trees while an elevated wooden walkway through thick vegetation leads to the towering Sunset Machans, known for their magical sunset views. The Machan is completely off grid and generates all energy from renewable sources (solar and wind). There’s trekking, birding and local explorations to forts like Lohagad and Koraigad, besides Karla and Bhaja caves.

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Further north, 30 min from Jaipur at Nature Farms in Syari Valley is Tree House Resort. Perched atop keekar trees, the nests have several branches running through the rooms, blending nature with creature comforts. Each Tree House nest is named after a bird found in the area and the 5-room tree houses are counted among the largest in the world.

In Himachal too, the trend has caught on. At Manali Tree house cottages near Katrain, perch on an oak tree while at Himalayan Village Kasol, the tree houses are actually wooden structures called bhandars, representative of typical Himachali architecture. Gone are those days when you just thought of surviving the night on a rickety perch, here you can get out of the rain shower, grab a drink from the mini bar and plonk yourself on the sofa as if it were your own living room… there’s a whole new world up there!

Vythiri Tree House Interior

FACT FILE

Pepper Trail, Chulliyode
Ph +91 9562277000 www.peppertrail.in
Getting there: At Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, 10 km from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, 100 km from Calicut International Airport and 250 km from Bangalore.

Tranquil Resort, Kolagapara
Ph +91 7053126407 www.tranquilresort.com
Getting there: At Kuppamudi Estate on Kolagappara-Ambalavayal Road, 7km from Sulthan Bathery and 105km from Calicut International Airport

Vythiri Resort, Lakkidi
Ph 0484 4055250 www.vythiriresort.com
Getting there: At Lakkidi, 18km from Kalpetta, district headquarters of Wayanad and 85km from Calicut International Airport

Rainforest Boutique Resort, Athirapally
Ph + 91 9995358888, 9539058888 www.avenuehotels.in
Getting there: 30km from Chalakudy, 55km from Cochin International Airport and 63km from Thrissur railway station.

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Treehouse Hideaway, Bandhavgarh
Ph +91 8800637711 www.treehousehideaway.com
Getting there: Bandhavgarh is 34 km/1 hr from Umaria, the nearest railhead and 22km/4hrs from Jabalpur, the nearest airport

Tree House Resort, Syari Valley
Ph +91 9001797422, 9799490390 www.treehouseresort.in
Getting there: Nature Farms, Syari vallry is 35km from Jaipur opposite Amity University on NH-8.

The Machan, Lonavala
Ph +91 7666622426 www.themachan.com
Getting there: Located at Atvan, 17km south of Lonavala and 100km from Mumbai.

Himalayan Village, Kasol
Ph 01902 276266, +91 9805072712 www.thehimalayanvillage.in
Getting there: Located between Jari and Kasol, 25 km from Kullu Airport Bhuntar and 10km before Manikaran.

Treehouse Cottages, Katrain
Ph 01902-240365, +91-98160-78765 www.manalitreehousecottages.com
Getting there: At Katrain, between Kullu and Manali, 32 km north of Kullu Airport Bhuntar

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 17 March 2017 in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express. Here’s the link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/culture/cover-story/2017/mar/17/sample-a-slice-of-the-arboreal-life-at-some-of-the-best-tree-houses-across-india-387.html