Category Archives: India

Bridges Across Forever: 10 spectacular bridges in India

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY profile ten beautiful bridges in India you must surely cross in your lifetime

Calcutta bridge IMG_0985

India is a land of mighty rivers and spectacular bridges. From the hollow chug of a train crossing a river bridge to the rhythmic rattle of automobile tyres on the tarmac or the gentle swing of a bamboo bridge; there’s great romance and excitement in crossing bridges. Be it India’s longest river bridge – the 9km long Bhupen Hazarika Setu across the Brahmaputra or the 5.75km Mahatma Gandhi Setu over the Ganga at Patna to massive bridges over the Mahanadi in Odisha and Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, bridges in India come in all shapes, sizes and statistics.

Do all Mumbaikars know that the Bandra-Worli Sea Link they cross to and fro everyday is the longest sea bridge in the country? Vidyasagar Setu over the Hooghly in Kolkata is India’s longest cable-stayed bridge while the 9.5km long Dhola Sadiya Bridge over the Lohit and Brahmaputra rivers connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, is the longest road bridge. We pick 10 bridges you must surely cross – each unique for its scenic or historic value.

Arunachal hanging rope bridge IMG_5696

Hanging Bridge, Damro (Arunachal Pradesh)
In the mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh, criss-crossed by rivers, you encounter a charming assortment of bridges. From Pasighat, Komsing to Mechuka, you find lovely bamboo or steel bridges lined by fluttering Buddhist prayers flags. But take the back road from Pasighat to Yingkiong, and you come across the longest bridge in Arunachal at Damroh. Stretching across the yawning Yamne river is a giant lattice structure akin to a giant spider’s web. In some places, the planks give way to strips of bamboo that serve as a toehold for nimble-footed kids and local herders going to the forest to tend to their herds of mithun (semi-domesticated bovine)! Stay at Yamne Abor for local explorations.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati and Dibrugarh, from where Pasighat is 155 km away

Meghalaya root bridges DSC01594

Double Decker Living Root Bridge, Laitkynsew (Meghalaya)
In Meghalaya’s remote hill tracts, the Living Root Bridges are centuries old modes of crossing wild mountain streams. Their natural beauty takes your breath away as you wonder how simple village folks could train the roots of the Ficus elastica tree to interweave and create a Cat’s Cradle-like mesh bridge that spans rivulets. The ancient tradition continues to this day so much so that any passing villager, young or old will diligently twist a fresh errant tendril around an older root, allowing it to curl and grow over each other, strengthening over time. Some root bridges are so strong, they are paved with stones! Meghalaya is home to several root bridges like Riwai’s Jing Kieng Jri, a 2km hike from Mawlynnong. Near Cherrapunjee, a long trudge into Laitkynsew valley leads to an ancient double-decker root bridge. Here you can take a dip in blue-green pools set amidst boulders or savour a natural fish spa.

Jet Airways flies to Kolkata and Shillong

Goa Doodhsagar waterfall bridge DSC04320

Dudhsagar Railway Bridge (Goa)
Travellers on the Vasco-Madgao-Londa train route await the moment when they get close enough to be sprayed by one of India’s most spectacular waterfalls. True to its name, the Dudhsagar literally spills over the mountain ridge like ‘an ocean of milk’. Set in the Western Ghats at the Goa-Karnataka border, the waterfall lies within the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary (Mollem National Park). Dudhsagar is created by the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi which plunges 310m to form India’s fifth highest waterfall. Mist covers the imposing ridge that is cleaved by a fairytale bridge and railway line. It is an unbeatable and exhilarating experience for train passengers; some even fling coconuts or coins as sacred offerings, much to the consternation of revelers below! The bridge is accessible from Castle Rock (near Tinai Ghat in Karnataka) or a dirt track from Collem (6 km off Mollem). Stay at Dudhsagar Resort near Mollem checkpost or Off The Grid Farm near Castle Rock.

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa

Pamban Railway Bridge IMG_2153

Pamban Bridge (Tamil Nadu)
Not far from Dhanushkodi’s legendary Rama Setu or Rama’s bridge built by the vanara sena (monkey army) to reach Lanka, lies another epic bridge. Looming forty feet above the sea’s aquamarine waters, the Pamban railway bridge connects Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India. Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first sea bridge and the longest in the country until the Bandra-Worli Sea Link upstaged it in 2010. Despite its beautiful setting, the bridge is located in the world’s second most corrosive environment after Florida, lashed by high wind velocities and cyclones. The metre-gauge line from Pamban to Dhanushkodi was destroyed during the 1964 cyclone. One of the most amazing features of the Pamban railway bridge is its Scherzer rolling type lift span that is raised to let ships pass. Its two wings, each weighing 415 tons, are still opened manually using levers! It’s best viewed from the adjacent Annai Indira Road bridge.

Jet Airways flies to Madurai and Trichy

Howrah Bridge Kolkata IMG_0001

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata (West Bengal)
From Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen to Satyajit Ray’s Parash Pathar and Shakti Samanta’s Howrah Bridge to Shoojit Sarkar’s Piku, Kolkata’s iconic cantilever bridge has been immortalized in celluloid with several films featuring it. Built in 1942 to replace an old pontoon bridge, the Howrah Bridge or Rabindra Setu across the Hooghly connecting Calcutta to Howrah is riveting in more ways than one! The metal wonder does not have any nuts or bolts but was created using rivets. 26,500 tons of steel was used, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile Tiscrom alloy steel was supplied by Tata Steel from its steel plant at Jamshedpur nearby. Within a few years of construction, nearly 27,400 vehicles, 1,21,000 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle used it daily. Till 1993, it carried trams as well! Flanked by 15 feet wide footpaths, today it sees a daily traffic of over 1 lakh vehicles and 1.5 lakh pedestrians, making it the world’s busiest cantilever bridge.

Jet Airways flies to Kolkata

Nilgiri Mountain railway bridge IMG_2054

Mountain Railway Bridges in Nilgiris/Shimla/Darjeeling
There is a quaint romance associated with tooting vintage trains chugging up mountains, tunnels and bridges – a theme exploited repeatedly in Indian movies. Three of India’s Mountain Railways – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) and Kalka-Shimla Railway – have been collectively designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The 46 km ride from Mettupalayam to Ooty in the Nilgiris crosses 250 bridges rolling past tea estates, churches, lakes, gardens and viewpoints. The 96 km train ride from Kalka to Shimla has 864 bridges while the 88km journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling presents stunning views of the Himalayas.

Jet Airways flies to Coimbatore, Chandigarh and Bagdogra

Nurabad Bridge in Madhya Pradesh IMG_4637

Nurabad Bridge (Madhya Pradesh)
Forget the Bridge over River Kwai, the striking bridge over River Kuwari, a branch of the Chambal, has to be seen to be believed. Located between Gwalior and Morena at Nurabad, a city founded in the 16th century, the ornate stone bridge bears a quiet alluring beauty. Pleasing Mughal arches, minarets and stone pavilions mark this bridge built by Motimad Khan, a sardar of Aurangzeb during the Mughal period. Historian James Tod in his 1829 book ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India’ writes: ‘The Taili-ca-Pool, or ‘Oilman’s Bridge’ at Noorabad, is a magnificent memorial of the trade…These Tailis (oilmen) perambulate the country with skins of oil on a bullock, and from hard-earned pence erect the structures which bear their name.’

Jet Airways flies to Delhi

The Wellesley Bridge in Srirangapatna, Karnataka - c1850's

Wellesley Bridge, Srirangapatna (Karnataka)
Stretching across the Cauvery at Srirangapatna is the historic Wellesley Bridge. Erected in 1804 at the princely sum of rupees five and a half lakh, it was built under the supervision of Dewan Purnaiya and named after the Governor General – the Marquis of Wellesley. An interesting specimen of vernacular architecture, the bridge is built only with granite and its stone pillars capped by stone corbels surmounted by stone girders have survived the heaviest floods in the Cauvery for over two centuries. The fact that the bridge is still functional speaks volumes of its architectural genius.

Jet Airways flies to Bangalore

Mahatma Gandhi's call for Dandi march at Ellis Bridge IMG_8218_Anurag Mallick

Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad (Gujarat)
It was from the historic Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad that thousands heard Mahatma Gandhi declare the Dandi March on 8 March 1930. Linking the western and eastern parts of the city across the Sabarmati River, the 125-year-old steel bridge with its emblematic arches was the first of its kind in Ahmedabad. After floods destroyed the original wooden bridge constructed by British engineers in 1875, a new bridge was made in 1892. Engineer Himmatlal Dhirajram Bhachech built it out of imported Birmingham steel at a cost of Rs.4,07,000 and named it after Sir Barrow Helbert Ellis, commissioner of the North Zone. Since the estimated budget was Rs.5 lakh rupees, the Government suspected Himmatlal of using substandard materials. But an inquiry committee found that it was indeed a fine construction and Himmatlal was honoured with the title of Rao Sahib. When the bridge became too cramped with heavy motorized traffic, new concrete bridges were constructed on either side. In 1997, Ellis Bridge was closed to traffic and made into a walkway to preserve it as a heritage landmark of the city.

Jet Airways flies to Ahmedabad

Andamans-Natural Rock bridge Laxmanpur DSC07251

Natural Rock Bridge, Laxmanpur (Andamans)
Neil Island in Ritchie’s Archipelago, one of the 572 islands in the Andamans, is home to a unique geological marvel. On the scenic Laxmanpur-2 beach on the western edge of the island, lies a natural rock bridge fringed with tufts of green vegetation. In this wild untouched corner, the surf recedes during low tide to leave behind shallow pools teeming with marine creatures. A short slippery walk along the beach takes you closer to this rock bridge which arcs into the Andaman Sea like a thirsty dinosaur. Dubbed as “Howrah Bridge” by nostalgic Bengali refugees who were resettled here after the Bangladesh War, it is a photographer’s delight.

Jet Airways flies to Port Blair

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of JetWings magazine.

Advertisements

Into the hearth of North Karnataka

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travelled 20,000km across Karnataka on a food research project for a restaurant, sampling and cooking local cuisine with two chefs and a video crew. This story covers their North Karnataka leg to jola (sorghum) country.

Benagi vegetable shop Dharwad DSC03144_Anurag Mallick

Gangamma Kashiappa Benagi, an octogenarian vegetable vendor from Dharwad, had more creases on her face than the currency notes she handled everyday. She sat singing in her kitchen, involuntarily rotating her arm over an imaginary grindstone! We smiled. Embarrassed, she confided it was out of habit.

The tune, typically sung while grinding grain, recalls a rich oral tradition where everyday chores and harvesting were celebrated through song. Over the next few hours, Gangamma shared recipes and secrets she had learned from her mother Lingamma who started the vegetable shop in 1905.

Author pics IMG_4800

We were two writers accompanied by two chefs and a video crew driving through Karnataka, cooking and sampling local delicacies as part of a food research project for a restaurant. While we had stuffed our faces all day, Gangamma had vended vegetables, tilled her field, changed two buses to meet us and rustle up a great vegetarian spread. She even slapped out 18-inch jolada (jowar or sorghum) rotis by hand. This was Shravana masa cuisine, she explained, using native vegetables available in the monsoon.

On offer were jowari doddmensinkayi palya (stuffed country capsicum), so pungent, it had to be tempered down with curd, gulagayi yenagai (country cucumber fry), jowari mensinkayi (pan fried country chilli), majjige saaru (buttermilk curry) and karchikai palya (Momordica cymbalaria), a little pod that must be consumed right after harvest, before it bursts open. In the old days, the Benagi ladies gave vegetables to local hotels on credit and settled accounts only after the day’s cooking and feeding was done!

Jowar fields DSC02605_Anurag Mallick

This was North Karnataka, the famous jowar belt where sorghum/millet is used to make unleavened bread or jolada roti, served at Lingayat eateries like Basaveshwara Khanavali in Hubli (now Hubballi). In the 12th century, philosopher saint Basavanna started the Veerashaiva-Lingayat faith, marked by Shiva worship and vegetarianism. In Dharwad, every morning Hotel Nataraj displays the saint’s vachanas (sayings) on a board outside.

Lunchtime business is brisk at Basappa Khanavali, a legendary Lingayat eatery started by Basappa Malgond in 1930 with set meals of jolada roti with yenne badnekayi (brinjal curry), hesarukaal palya (green gram curry) and jhunka, steamed gram flour cubes dusted with sesame and coriander leaves. The region is known for its pudis (powders) that supplement the diet as sources of protein – agasi (flax seed), yellu (sesame), shenga (groundnut), puttani (chana dal) and gural or ucchelu (Niger seed), commonly sprinkled on salads and curries or stuffed into brinjal or okra.

Tingal avrekayi palya DSC03376_Anurag Mallick

In the Amingad home, we discovered unusual delicacies like tingal avrekayi palya, a local bean available only for a ‘month’ (tingal in Kannada). Soute Bija Huggi or broken wheat kheer resembles tiny soute bija (cucumber seeds) and features in all Lingayat marriages and functions. The process of rolling out the little pellets of broken wheat dough was tedious. Ashok, who runs Amingad Cool Drink with his father, joked, “In North Karnataka, we also have traditional momos and pasta!”

The ladies rolled out kuchida kadabu (wheat dumpling), kudisida kadabu (stuffed dumpling) and uggi chapattis, steamed on green cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee! Little dough beads were pressed on a comb for stripes and shaped into miniature shells or ‘shankha’. “Bro, it’s like Orecchiette” (ear-shaped pasta), exclaimed Chef Manjit. Epiphanies lurked around every corner.

Soute beeja huggi_North karnataka pasta DSC03411_Anurag Mallick

At L.E.A. (Lingayat Educational Association) Canteen, we tried thuppa avalakki (beaten rice with ghee) and their signature Masala Toast with chatnipudi, benne (white butter) and sauce. Slathered together, it was as good as a desi peanut butter sandwich! ‘Hotte’ (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa was literally a heavyweight in the local food scene.

This sweet stall owner with a heart of gold distributed free treats to children and the poor, before selling mandakki (puffed rice) and sweets to customers. Meghdarshini offered an outsized poori, unlimited sabzi and chutney for those with smaller pockets! Philanthropy ran deep in culture-rich Dharwad.

Hotte (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa Hotel Dharwad IMG_2258_Anurag Mallick

The Dharwad peda story began 175 years ago, when Ram Ratan Singh Thakur migrated from Unnao due to the plague and started making pedas for a living. His grandson Babu Singh Thakur popularized it and people formed such long queues at the shop that the area was named ‘Line’ Bazaar.

In 1933, a penniless Avadh Bihari Mishra settled in Line Bazaar and got into the same business. Today, Mishra peda, with its industrial production and multiple outlets across cities, has made Dharwad peda a household name!

Mishra peda factory DSC02890_Anurag Mallick

Dharwad’s twin-town Hubli is dotted with Lingayat khanavalis like Basaveshwara and Savaji eateries like Nakoda and Devika standing cheek-by-jowl with brass bands and ammunition shops. Durgada Bail, the city’s legendary Khau Galli (Eat Street) fires up the evening with snack stalls serving masala dosa and ‘tomato’ omelette!

But it’s not all vegetarian up north. The bold flavour of Sauji or Savaji cuisine is like a beacon for lovers of meat and spice. Savajis or SSKs are Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriyas who claim descent from the mythic thousand-armed warrior Kartiveerya Arjun. They migrated to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra’s borders from Central India.

Sauji wall decor DSC02742_Anurag Mallick

As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine. During Dussehra, they offer edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings), arithi (wheat flour diyas) and lalpani (liquor) to Goddess Bhavani. We cooked classics like keema ball and khara boti at Hotel Milan Savaji with the Kabadis and traditional delicacies with Vidya and Vishwanath Kathare – rakti (blood curry), tale mamsa (brain curry) and karadu (spicy) mutton. If Savaji cuisine uses blood, its spiciness extracts an equal measure of sweat and tears!

Northwest Karnataka shares a border with Maharashtra and the Maratha love for spice is evident in Belgaum (or Belagavi). Be it rassa (fiery curries) or sukka (spicy dry fry), red chili is essential! Manjula’s chicken sukka and mutton rassa at Pai Resorts left us teary-eyed in more ways than one. An erstwhile British cantonment, Belgaum is famous for its kunda, a milk and khova sweet, best at Camp Purohit. Anyone naïve enough to advertise his travel plans to these parts is saddled with requests for boxes of sweets!

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5840_Anurag Mallick

Overshadowed by Belgaum kunda, is the city’s other sweet, mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khova, it is whirled like a roomali, baked on an upturned tava and folded like a rectangular dosa. At Krishnamurthi Saralaya’s Mandige on Konwal Gali, Vijaykumar shared a fascinating legend.

A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled some dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his tapas (penance). Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! A must in Brahmin weddings, it’s often displayed unfolded in large baskets. Many a marriage has been called off because no mandige was served!

Amingad kardantu DSC03102_Anurag Mallick

North Karnataka loves its sweets as much as spice. Kardant was invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak. In 1907, Savaligappa Aiholi of Amingad mixed dry fruits like pistachio, almonds, cashew, dates, fig, kopra, jaggery and antu (edible gum) and fried them together, creating the karadi-antu (fried gum).

Like a nutty granola gym snack, it became extremely popular among those frequenting garadimanes (wrestling akhadas). Gulbarga is famous for its paan mithai and malpuri, created by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan, while Ballari is known for its ‘Cycle’ khova sold on bicycles!

Ballari Cycle khova IMG_3339_Anurag Mallick

From sheep farms in Haveri, Karnataka’s ‘Chili town’ Byadgi to the erstwhile Muslim principality of Savanur known for Shivalal’s legendary ‘khara’ (mixture) since 1931, we went into virtually unchartered terrain on our food trail. Just past Almatty Dam, Korti-Kolhaar on the Hubli-Bijapur (Vijayapura) highway attracts travelers with fresh fish from the Krishna river. The matka curd, served with puttani-avalakki (beaten rice) for Rs.25, lasts for days without souring.

Menthya (fenugreek) is another staple and sprigs of the smaller-leaved country variety are served at every meal, made into a pachadi (salad) or steamed into kadabu (dumpling). With our Bijapur ‘oota’ (meal), we got crunchy country cucumbers as well. Here, people love their jolada rotis kadak (crisp) and their mensinkayi bajjis fiery. “But why such spicy food in a hot climate?” we cried. Thippanna looked at us incredulously. “It’s a hot arid region; people eat spicier food so it makes them sweat and keeps the body cool.” Baffling, yet believable!

Sauji thali DSC02726_Anurag Mallick

At Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi), the Maratha-run Chaddi Hotel got its name from the owner who wore shorts. Gajanan of Chetak Sauji Hotel recounted how on a busy night, he ran out of food and had to cook a fresh batch in a pressure cooker, which patrons tagged ‘seeti rice’ after the whistle! The small-grained rice goes perfectly with kavala (tender) mutton, mutton keema balls and anda curry.

The Hyderabad-Karnataka region, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, has culinary influences like gongura (Sorrel leaves), made into chutney or cooked with lentils or mutton. Hyderabadi dishes like biryani, dalcha (meat with lentils) and bread ka meetha are popular in these parts, explained Lalitha Jawali.

Gurudwara Nanak Jhira Bidar langar kitchen IMG_5048_Anurag Mallick

In 1512, Guru Nanak came to the Deccan during his second udasi (spiritual journey). When people lamented about the brackish water in Bidar, he tapped a stone with his foot to create a fresh water spring (jhira) that flows to this day. The langar (free kitchen) at Gurudwara Nanak Jhira feeds thousands of visitors daily while Rohit Restaurant nearby serves excellent Punjabi food.

We stopped for Iduga cuisine at Dandina Hirehalu, the historic camping ground for soldiers marching from Bellary Fort to Chitradurga Fort. The Idugas migrated from Andhra to Karnataka centuries ago and are known for meaty cuisine and fondness for chilli. At HRG Farmhouse, Mahadevi explained, “Mutton kebab is best marinated with papaya flowers. Every part of the goat is utilized – trotters for kaal (leg) soup, blood added to boti (intestines) becomes nalla vanta and spleen and liver mixed with hand-pounded chilli makes batti chutney.” The round appetizers tasted like paté!

Batti Chutney IMG_3039_Anurag Mallick

Beyond Hamp’s Hebrew signboards advertising shakshuka, babaganoush and Israeli fare, there’s local food aplenty. At Uramma Heritage Home in Anegundi, we cooked with Sharda and Hemlatha of Bhuvneshwari self-help group, who specialize in traditional cuisine.

They whipped up unusual bhendekayi (okra) chutney, alasande gugri palya of cowpeas or lobia, country brinjals roasted on open fire and mashed into badnekayi chutney and hesaru bele (green gram) payasa (kheer) and kosambri (salad).

Holige making with Bhuvneshwari Self-help group Anegundi IMG_3695_Anurag Mallick

Davangere is synonymous with the benne dosa, made with generous dollops of white butter and served with alu palya (potato mash) and coconut chutney, best savoured hot at Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel. Professor Ganesh took us on a street food tour with a cooking session at Vinutha Ravi’s home.

Davangere has hundreds of bhattis (mills) that produce mandakki (puffed rice), served with mensinkayi bajji (chilli fritters) at street stalls. At TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi, puffed rice was furiously stirred into masala, khara or nargis mandakki. An entire street was dedicated to shavige (vermicelli), dried like screens of silken yarn on terraces. The tantalizing aroma of oggarne (seasoning) hung in the air as someone busily tapped a ladle against a vessel.

Shavige Davangere IMG_2274_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Getting there
There’s a daily flight from Bangalore to Hubli, from where Belgaum is 101km, Davangere 151km, Hampi 164km, Ballari 214km and Bijapur 193km. From Bijapur, Gulbarga is 151km and Bidar 112km further northeast.

Where to Stay
Places like Davangere, Bijapur, Gulbarga and Bidar have regular city hotels. At Bellary, try Hotel Royal Fort, Pai Resorts opposite Killa Lake in Belgaum, Uramma Heritage Home at Anegundi and Orange County’s Evolve Back at Kamalapura near Hampi.

Where to Eat

DAVANGERE

Sri Guru Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel
Medical College Road, Kuvempu Nagar
Ph 9449135100

TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi
Lawyer Road, Jaydev Circle
Ph 9902200924

Hamsini Hotel
Shamanur Road
Ph 9886792331

HUBLI/HUBBALLI

Basaveshwar Khanavali
Opp Old Bus Stand, Kamaripeth
Ph 0836-2357745

Basappa Khanavali Dharwad-local favourite DSC02879_Anurag Mallick

DHARWAD

Basappa Khanavali
Opp Civil Court, PB Road
Ph 9902729973

Hotel Milan Savaji
Jubilee Circle, PB Road
Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875

Kathare’s Savaji Hotel
Line Bazaar, Opp Sangam Theatre
Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450

Hotel Nataraj
Sangam Circle
Ph 0836-2442855, 9964607800

L.E.A. Canteen
Belgaum Road
Ph 9448147157

Megh Darshini Restaurant
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2435147

Amingad Cold Drink House
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2442437, 9740013177

Babusingh’s Thakur Pedha
Near Sri Ram Temple, Line Bazaar
www.thakurpedha.com

Mishra Peda
Court Circle, SH-1
Ph 0836-2213217
www.mishrapedha.com

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5845_Anurag Mallick

BELGAUM/BELAGAVI

Krishnamurti Saralaya’s Mandige
Konwal Gali

Camp Purohit
Opp Shringar Cinema, High Street, Camp
Ph 0831-2422715

Hotel Niyaaz
PB Road, Opp Market Police Station
Ph 0831-2400133

AMINGAD

Vijaya Kardant
SH-20, Raichur Highway
Ph 8123115005

HAMPI

Uramma Heritage Homes
Anegundi
Ph 9448284658
www.urammaheritagehomes.com

Hampi fields IMG_4032_Anurag Mallick

BIJAPUR/VIJAYAPURA

Shri Sai Prasad Khanawali
Sainik School Road, Opp KSRTC Workshop
Ph 9902153239

GULBARGA/KALABURAGI

Hotel Chetak
Humnabad Base
Ph 9901003399

Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri
Chappal Bazaar

BIDAR

Rohit Restaurant
Inside Kamaan, Guru Nanak Colony
Ph 9241374425

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

The Ibnii Coorg: Do the Dew

Standard

When it comes to Coorg, most people have ‘Been there, done that.’ ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go offtrack and discover a delicious secret amid the lush green hills

The Ibnii Coorg-Kaadu

For a region often described by locals as ‘60X40’ (measuring 60 miles by 40 miles), understandably there are few secrets in Kodagu (Coorg). Yet, tucked around a bend just off the Sunticoppa-Madikeri Road, the gates of The Ibnii Coorg open into a hidden world of its own. For a project that was ten years in the making and formally opened this February, the eco resort was truly a well kept secret. Literally ‘Dew’, The Ibnii comes as a breath of fresh air in Coorg’s hospitality scene.

A tree-lined cobbled driveway ends at The Kaadu, a scenic viewpoint overlooking the valley that cradles the resort. Welcomed by lovely hostesses draped in local Coorg style saris, we are ushered down a small wooden bridge to a lookout. The check-in is paperless and we savour the view over some bellath (jaggery) coffee, traditionally served to guests in Coorg in the old days. In the distance, the four-tiered Cascade swimming pool breaks the expanse of dense green in a striking splash of turquoise blue.

The Ibnii Coorg-Kaadu reception viewing deck

We linger over another cuppa and only the promise of greater comfort makes us move! A golf cart transports us to our spacious, private pool villa. Each of the 22 Pool Villas, called Kopi Luwak after the Indonesian civet cat coffee, comes with an indoor Jacuzzi and an outdoor pool. Ten Balinese Wooden Cottages on stilts, named Arnetta, overlook a lake – they are open only to couples. Kids are not allowed here due to safety reasons, but safety be damned, kids could surely be made in here…

In a fragile region globally recognized as an ecological hotspot, everything about the resort is eco sensitive. The architecture and landscape was designed without damaging local flora – all the villas and structures are built around existing vegetation and no trees were cut except dead and decaying ones. Three lakes were created on the 120-acre property for rainwater harvesting.

The Ibnii Coorg-Rainwater harvesting lake

Other green practices include a stringent ‘No plastic’ policy, vermi-composting and waste recycling and fresh bottled water. The resort prides itself in having no room service or phone network (though wi-fi is available), encouraging guests to explore the outdoors with true-to-nature holidays that promise fresh air, fresh living and fresh food.

We get a first hand experience on our ‘Bean to Cup’ coffee tour on the process of making coffee and grading of beans. The venue is Kaldi Kaapee, a tranquil lakeside coffee house named after the Ethiopian shepherd who discovered the rejuvenative properties of coffee after he found his goats prance about after feeding on some wild berries. On display are assorted coffee grinding machines, filters and presses as well as single origin coffee from an all-woman village co-operative in Chikmagalur. Yep, it’s called Halli Berri!

The Ibnii Coorg-Kaldi Kaapee coffee shop

The Boulangerie, tucked behind the coffee counter reveals a hi-tech interactive kitchen where baking classes are conducted for kids and adults. Our impromptu session sharpened our blunt baking skills and soon we are sipping cappuccinos outside, nibbling on warm oven fresh crispy puffs we had kneaded and rolled only minutes earlier! The boulangerie also serves delicious biscuits, cookies and cakes.

Walking to the Greenhouse, an in-house garden where fresh veggies and herbs are grown, we learn that the Ibnii kitchen only uses fresh hand-pounded masalas. Packaged products are discouraged and the stress is on food without preservatives. We are pleasantly informed that the resort also makes its own bread, butter, jams, pickles, ketchup, chicken sausage, baked beans, pastas and cakes… and fresh orange juice using Australian oranges.

IMG_2910

Taking cues from local Kodava culture are the resort’s themed dining spaces with a traditional touch. Set in a single complex called Pattola Palame (‘collection of silk strands’ and also the title of a cultural tome on Coorg) are Ballele (veg restaurant with meals served on ‘banana leaf’), Masikande (literally ‘charcoal’, a covered outdoor barbecue & grill), The Fig (multi-cuisine restaurant serving Kodava, South Indian & Continental fare) and Bendhoota (a banquet hall named after ‘traditional post-wedding family feast’).

The next morning, following the medley of bird calls, we set off on a Nature Walk & Birdwatching tour with our able guide who helps us spot 45 species of birds besides sharing fascinating stories on flora like Gloriosa superba, locally called tok-poo meaning ‘gun-flower’ and tracking the hoof prints of wild deer that had wandered into the property at night. Our trail ends with duck feeding, though the round of fishing at the pond (as per catch and release) is thwarted by rain.

The Ibnii Coorg-Manja Spa

The evening uncoils itself with a relaxing spa session at Manja Spa named after the ‘turmeric’ herb, used in the Ayurvedic and Western spa treatments. The treatments are designed using locally sourced ingredients (including a Coffee scrub) while the techniques adopt Balinese, Swedish and traditional Ayurvedic styles.

With a lakeside Yoga pavilion on the anvil, The Ibnii takes its eco luxe tag seriously. No wonder it has already won accolades – the best eco luxury resort in the country and the first resort in India to acquire IGBC’s (Indian Green Building Council) Green Homes Platinum Award 2017.

IMG_2900

FACT FILE

Getting There
The Ibnii Coorg is at Ibnivalvadi village, 4.5 km short of Madikeri town and around 250 km from Bengaluru. Take State Highway 17 (Bengaluru-Mysuru highway) and turn off before Srirangapatna onto State Highway 88 towards Madikeri.

What to See/Do
Besides local birdwatching trails, responsible fishing and a bean to cup coffee tour, the Tibetan monasteries at Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar, the Elephant training camp at Dubare and sights like Raja’s Seat, Mercara Fort, Gaddige and Abbi Falls in Madikeri are close at hand.

IMG_2962

The Ibnii Coorg
123, Ibnivalvadi village, Boikeri, Madikeri
Ph +91 88849 90000 Email reservations@ibnii.com www.ibnii.com
Tariff Rs.35,000, meals included

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

Landour: Writer’s Bloc

Standard

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!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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.

Landour Lal Tibba_IMG_0661_Anurag Mallick

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.

Rokeby Manor_IMG_0607_Anurag Mallick

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.

ruskinbond-1024x768

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.

Rokeby manor

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!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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.”

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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.

thumb_IMG_0828_1024

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.

Rokeby Manor_IMG_0612_Anurag Mallick

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.

Rokeby manor

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

thumb_IMG_0749_1024

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. 

Long Train Running: India’s best rail journeys

Standard

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

train-over-thane-creek_anurag-mallick

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.

Monsoon scenes along the Konkan Railway DSC04684

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.

Konkan Railway DSC04711

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.

Pamban Railway Bridge IMG_2148

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.

Nilgiri Mountain railway bridge IMG_2044

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.

IMG_2003

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.

Matheran Hill Railway IMG_3812

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.

Matheran Hill Railway IMG_4518

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. 

Lofty heights: Tree houses in India

Standard

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

woodpecker-tree-house-view-from-the-plantation

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.

image description

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.

IMG_1631

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.

woodpecker-tree-house-bedroom

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!

Pench Tree Lodge 3

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.

Treehouse Hideaway Bandhavgarh

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.

Treehouse Hideaway Bandhavgarh 2

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.

Pench Tree Lodge 2

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

Garli: Mansions in the Mountains

Standard

Amid gabled roofs, Gothic windows and English weathervanes, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go walkabout in the surreal heritage village of Garli in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh

Shiva Shambhu at Garli-IMG_4496_Anurag Mallick

A Shiva Shambhu or wandering minstrel in a red and black turban adorned with feathers walked in sounding his bell just as we were being ushered into Chateau Garli with drumbeats, tilaks and a shower of flower petals. For a moment no one was sure whether the itinerant was part of the arriving group or the welcoming party. And then as suddenly, like a mirage, he vanished into the afternoon haze.

Though the harsh sun had obscured the surrounding Dhauladhar range, Garli’s presence here seemed equally surprising and incongruous. We looked around in disbelief at the European style mansions with gabled roofs, Gothic windows and ornate weathervanes wondering how such a place could exist deep in the heart of Himachal Pradesh. It was only after the refreshing mint cooler went down our parched throats and the drumbeats stopped we knew it was real.

IMG_4502_Anurag Mallick

In a dark sunless room, with the only light emanating from a red chandelier, our host Yatish Sud and his friend Atul Lal retraced the story of Garli. The mint had been replaced by hops but we swear the surreal setting made Yatish seem like a character in a Quentin Tarantino flick narrating a fantastic tale. The story went like this…

The 52 clans of the hill community of Soods, who find a mention in the Rig Veda with reference to a sacred fire, were driven out of Rajasthan after successive Muslim invasions. They escaped with a band of professionals – cobblers, carpenters, blacksmiths, craftsmen – and settled around the hamlets of Garli and its twin town Pragpur 4km away and set up a trading town. The location was protected as well as auspicious – surrounded by mountains and the snowy Dhauladhar range on three sides with the Beas river on the fourth and at the tri-junction of three powerful Shakti peetha shrines –Jwalamukhi, Chintpurni and Brajeshwari.

Garli-IMG_4562_Anurag Mallick

Over time, the entrepreneurial Soods became treasurers to the Kangra royal family and as contractors, helped the British build Shimla. The great fortunes they amassed was put back into their hometown and the buildings drew heavily on colonial influences, a touch of Rajasthan and all the finer things that money could buy – Belgian glass, Japanese tiles, fancy chandeliers. Ummm, but haven’t we heard that story before!

In a pattern uncannily similar to the opulent havelis of Shekhawati (set up the mercantile community of Marwaris) and Chettinad (the bastion of the Chettiars), Garli too prospered in the same timeframe. Between 1820 and 1920, the construction frenzy reached its peak, spurring an unstated rivalry to outbuild thy neighbour. And then, by the 1950’s it was all gone.

Garli-IMG_4594_Anurag Mallick

“How?”, we chimed. “We’ll continue that on the evening walk”, winked Yatish and led us to the dining area where hot lunch awaited us. After a terrific North Indian meal, we were ushered to our heritage room where we lay down with the looming danger of missing our tryst with the evening. The four poster bed, the paintings on the wall, the colourful embroidered bedspreads, the vibrant windowpanes and antique furniture really transported us to another era. Each of the 19 rooms in the mansion was unique and distinctive. But sleep be damned, we couldn’t wait till evening for the rest of the tale…

A quick round of masala tea and we were ready for our heritage walk through town. Scattered amidst living dwellings with heaving clotheslines and aam papad drying on charpoys were empty majestic homes that held steadfast against time. Some withering edifices lay forlorn and besieged by neglect. In the snaking alleys, one could sense an eerie silence emanating from the empty halls and corridors of run-down mansions.

Garli-IMG_4609_Anurag Mallick

“That one with the murals is Rayeeson wali kothi, the one with the uniformed soldiers is Santri wali Kothi and that’s Nalke wali kothi! “Why?” “Oh that’s ‘cause it’s got a public tap in front of it!” There are nearly a hundred mansions marked out on the illustrated map so you could go gallivanting on your own. In market lanes, we discovered the progressive town-planning, water and drainage system that the early Soods had incorporated nearly a hundred years ago!

They established a school for boys in 1918 and a specialized women’s hospital in 1921 (the girl’s school didn’t come up until 1955)! The foundation stone for the Garli Water Works was laid on 8th February 1928 and a new road was built for the Governor of Punjab to come for the inauguration. The water works used imported copper pipes from London and wonder of wonders, it still worked!

DSC05744_Priya Ganapathy

We stopped by at one of the earliest bakeries where home-style cookies were being fired in a coal oven. Pots of water were left at every few paces thoughtfully for the public to help combat heat and thirst. Before the advent of electricity, niches in the wall exteriors held lamps to illuminate the path for the pedestrian.

The humanitarian spirit and thoughtfulness was apparent even at Chateau Garli where the compound wall actually curved around a well. In 1920, when Yatish’s grandfather Seth Melaram Sud struck water while building the house, he decided that the natural resource was public property and moved his walls so that the village folk could fill their pots freely! The practice continues to this day. So how did it all go bust?

DSC05752_Priya Ganapathy

The story goes that in the bygone days, the licentious ones left their families back in Shimla and snuck away to Garli for a secret rendezvous with their paramour or another man’s wife. Some say it was the curse of a wronged woman that brought about Garli’s downfall. By the 1950s, the whole place was abandoned and left to ruin.

“Even our haveli was not too different. My grandfather was orphaned very early in life and was taken care of by Atul’s father. I was the first to come back and then Atul followed. It took years of restoration. The annexe in front of the swimming pool was once a cowshed. We built it like the older structure.” The result was spectacular and seamless…

Beas offroad drive-IMG_4681_Anurag Mallick

Yatish then bundled us into his open jeep for a crazy off-road drive. Recklessly ignoring concerned locals crying “Agey raasta nahin hai…(There is no road ahead)”, we drove down a steep incline, bounced along unpredictably before rolling into the vast expanse of weathered boulders covering the banks of the River Beas. We made it in time to watch the big red sun take its final bow for the day from the horizon.

After a quick stop at the ancient Kaleshwar Mahadev temple we went for a cuppa at Naurang Yatri Nivas, a rustic style country lodge restored by Atul and his wife Ira. The elaborate brick structure was built by Rai Bahadur Mohan Lal for the stay of the Lt Governor of Punjab so he could attend his daughter’s wedding.

Garli-IMG_4906_Anurag Mallick

Subsequently it became an accommodation for travellers and merchants who came to Garli for trade. In disuse for almost a quarter of a century, it took 30,000 litres of water, 250 kg of washing powder, 75 iron brushes, 18 people and 15 months to restore it to its former glory.

Returning to the luxury of Chateau Garli, we nibbled on juicy grilled meat and snacks followed by butter naans dunked in mutton gravy. The next day after breakfast local ice-cream man Satpal Sharma ji tinkled his bells to sell his family’s best kept secret – Malai barf! The creamy kulfi-like dessert with an unchanged 40-year old recipe was served on a sal leaf and priced at only 30 bucks a serving. To Yatish, it was “the taste of nostalgia”.

Pong Dam-IMG_4757_Anurag Mallick

Thus fortified, we set off for Pong Dam to witness the massive swathe of wetlands. In the distance, herds of bovines grazed and wallowed in the slush. In winter, thousands of migratory birds come visiting from Central Asia, making it a birding haven.

The Dada Sibba temple nearby has a rich treasure of 200-year-old mural art on the walls. Unusual images of Krishna, Shiva and Parvati made us linger and absorb the genius of unnamed artists who helped evolve and define the Kangra style of painting.

IMG_4812_Anurag Mallick

We drove to the famous 8th century monolithic Masrur rock-cut temples where architectural virtuosity was on full display. Despite being weather worn, the delicate carvings, motifs and expressions were unmistakable. Our guide, like many we had met earlier in other towns and villages across India, claimed that the temples were ‘built overnight by the Pandavas’.

It was too hot for Kangra Fort so we headed back for a swim in Sud’s tempting pool, which boasted a funky underwater sound system! The party was on… and didn’t stop. Around midnight, Yatish mischievous asked, “Ok, who wants to come for an open jeep ride into the wilderness. Last week, we spotted a leopard, right on the road!” We dove right in and the adventure continued. Onion-like, the little town of Garli peels away its layers one by one, to reveal its many hidden secrets.

DSC05823_Priya Ganapathy

Discover This
Garli is best discovered on foot. Start your heritage walk from Seth Melaram Sud’s residence, formerly UCO bank and presently Chateau Garli towards the Beas. Walk by the taal (lake) past spectacular buildings – Kanya pathshala, Mohan Nivas, Govt Girls’ High School, the tall gates of Saraswati Vidhya Mandir and the green gabled roof of the Civil Hospital to Naurang Sarai. While returning, take the left from the Govt Hospital and the right from Kanya Pathshala for scenic viewpoints.

Continue on the main road past Bhagwan Niwas and Peerewalan to the market. To its right lies the Garli Water Works while a left turn from Minerva School leads to Bishnu Nivas and the ‘House with the brick jali’. And for those who are interested, there’s also The Hidden House and a Mystery House, besides several ruins!

Garli-IMG_4951_Anurag Mallick

NAVIGATOR

How to Reach
By Road: Located 4km from its twin heritage village Pragpur, Garli is 60km from Hoshiarpur, 70km from Dharamsala and 186km/4hr drive from Chandigarh via Ropar, Anandpur Sahib and Nangal.

By Air: The nearest airport is 47km away at Gaggal in Dharamsala or Bhuntar (85km) near Kullu.

By Train: The nearest railway station is Amb, 25km away though one can travel to Una or Hoshiarpur, which have more train connections. From Delhi, one can take the Kalka Shatabdi to Chandigarh and drive to Garli.

IMG_4745_Anurag Mallick

Where to Stay

Chateau Garli
Mohan Niwas, VPO Garli, Dist Kangra
Ph 94180 62002, 98104 35554 www.chateaugarli.com
Rs.5000 onwards

Naurang Yatri Nivas
Opp Senior Secondary School, Village Nahan Nagrota, VPO Garli, Tehsil Rakkar, Dist Kangra
Ph 01970-245096 http://www.nyngarli.com

Banta House homestay
Near Garli entrance, VPO Garli, Dist Kangra
Ph 8459220851

DSC05751_Priya Ganapathy

When to go:
Garli is great all year round, though summers can get pretty hot. Time your visit to catch a local festival like Hola Mohalla at Mairi, 15km away or the century old wrestling festival and 3-day fair Maidan ka Mela at Garli in September.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Discover India magazine.