Category Archives: Top 10 Lists

Beautifully Bespoke: Unique experiences in India

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From desert camps, mountain abodes, rainforest retreats to beachside bungalows, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY curate bespoke indulgences across the country

DSC04556_Suryagarh Priya

Suryagarh, Jaisalmer (Rajasthan)
The welcome is grand. An open jeep with flags aflutter leads guests to the fort-like entrance where a pair of camels leads you up the driveway to the porch. A Manganiyar troupe welcomes you with song, Panditji applies a tilak on your forehead as a flower petals rain from above. At the foyer, an attendant hands a towel, another plies you with cool beverage before ushering you to the room. A manganiyar seated in a jharokha of the central courtyard welcomes you to the world of Suryagarh. Few hotels match the art of hospitality and pampering of Suryagarh. Its diverse dining experiences are beautifully curated – Breakfast with Peacocks, Halwayi Breakfast in the courtyard or Dining on the Dunes, at Fossil Hill or lakeside.

Its bespoke Desert Remembers trails present the Thar desert’s lesser known history – Bhil settlements, ruins of caravanserais, rainwater harvesting techniques of Paliwal Brahmins who prospered from the Silk Route, cenotaphs of merchants and travellers, ancient stepwells and the sweet water wells of Mundari. Retrace old trade routes on camel safaris or go on a midnight Chudail (Witches) Trail at Kuldhara. The hotel’s design elements are inspired by its surroundings – the jharokhas mirror Jaisalmer’s havelis, windows and friezes from Khaba Fort and stone walls and ceiling from Kuldhara. Suryagarh’s Residences, exclusive private havelis and suites handcrafted from sandstone, are reminiscent of Paliwal villages. They even have your photos printed and placed in customized frames in your room as a personal touch. Each day, halwai chef Gatta Ram sends a mithai platter with descriptive historical nuggets on scrolls. Surrender to specially designed therapies at Rait Spa that uses locally sourced Thar sand and Luni river salt.

Ph +91-02992-269269, 7827151151
www.suryagarh.com
Tariff 14,000-1,00,000/night

Coco Shambhala_2

Coco Shambhala, Nerul (Goa)
No matter whether you’re in Bangalore or Burkina Faso, a friendly phone call one day prior to your arrival at Coco Shambhala notes your dietary preferences in detail. Spread over an acre near Coco Beach, the secluded villas – named Bharani, Aslesha, Ashwini and Rohini – come with two rooms, treetop living room, private plunge pool, open showers, equipped kitchen and complimentary mini-bar stocked with beers, wine and champagne. The Panchvati style interiors by Belgian designer Lou Lou Isla Maria Van Damme uses colonial furniture in a tropical jungle style garden with ethnic accents. There’s no separate restaurant but signature dishes like Prawn & Chorizo Bruschetta, Basil Prawns with Lemon and Namibian Chicken are served in the comfort of your villa.

Relaxing treatments of 2 Heavens Spa can also be arranged in your room. Meals are ordered a day in advance so only fresh produce is bought and used. Savour the exclusive menu and gustatory experiences curated by India’s top wine and food specialist Shagun Mehra. The stunning pool uses chlorine-free well water. Guests are handed a cellphone pre-fed with staff details, including a complimentary cab and driver for excursions, with free pick up and drop to the airport. Sounds too good? No wonder Coco Shambhala was ranked among the Top 25 Beach Villas in the World by Condé Nast Traveller and recently bagged Outlook Traveller’s Best Boutique Hotel Award 2016.

Ph +91 9372267182
www.shambhalavillas.com
Tariff 30,000-42,000/villa, incl. breakfast

reception - viewing deck

 

The Ibnii, Madikeri, Coorg (Karnataka)
Opened in Feb 2016 after an extensive 10-year development project, The Ibnii (literally ‘Dew’) offers true-to-nature holidays. The check-in is paperless and a welcome drink of bellath (jaggery) coffee is served at The Kaadu, a wooden machaan overlooking the 120-acre property. The Ibnii takes great pride in having no phone network or room service (though wi-fi is available). Ten Balinese wooden cottages on stilts overlook a rainwater harvesting lake and 22 private pool villas called Kopi Luwak come with Jacuzzi and outdoor pool.

Guests are encouraged to walk to Pattola Palame (meaning ‘collection of silk strands’) to dine at the multi-cuisine Fig, veg restaurant Ballele (banana leaf), outdoor barbecue Masikande (charcoal) and Kaldi Kaapee coffee house where the Bean-to-Cup coffee tour culminates. Duck feeding, responsible fishing, nature trails, interactive kitchen with baking classes at the Boulangerie; there’s plenty to do here. Try the signature coffee and sugar scrub, besides Ayurvedic and Western spa treatments at Manja Spa named after the healing ‘turmeric’.

Ph +91 88849 90000 www.ibnii.com
Tariff Rs.35,000, incl. all meals

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Chamba Camp & The Grand Dragon Ladakh (J&K)
Could a high altitude cold desert like Ladakh offer comfort you’ve never imagined? Experience ‘Glamping’ or glamour camping at Chamba Camp Thiksey, part of Cox & Kings’ The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC). Individually designed luxury tents come with en-suite bathrooms, colonial furniture, a private deck and personal butler. Experienced guides accompany you on personalized cultural trips to monasteries and oracles, regaling you with folk tales by campfire. Watch a game of polo, raft down the Indus River and enjoy lavish picnic lunches. In 2015, it won Robb Report’s 27th Annual International Best of Best Awards, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s finest things. The only hitch? Just a 4-month season.

Thankfully, The Grand Dragon Ladakh, Leh’s plushest hotel is open all year round offering great winter packages besides swanky new suites. Centrally heated with impressive views of the Stok Kangri range, it serves terrific food and traditional Ladakhi cuisine. Move over from momothukpa and discover skiu (wheat pasta stew), timstuk (wheat strips and black gram soup), nang (Ladakhi sausage), shapta (meat curry), phingsha (keema with phing or glass noodles), taint (Ladakhi spinach) and tingmo (Tibetan steamed buns). Unique cultural experiences like learning calligraphy, a session with a Ladakhi oracle, tea by the Indus and Zanskar rivers and witnessing prayer sessions in monasteries make your stay special.

Ph 1800 123 0508
www.coxandkings.com
Tariff Rs.2,45,355/person for 6 days, 5 nights

Ph +91 9906986782, 9622997222
www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.10,670-43,000

Rokeby Manor_Pine Tree Lodge - Dining

 

 

Rokeby Manor, Landour (Uttarakhand)
A colonial era boutique hotel between the Shivaliks and the Himalayas, Rokeby Manor was built at Landour in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy and named after the writings of Sir Walter Scott. With stone walls, wooden floors and quaint niches and nooks, the renovated rooms overlook the valley or the Tea Garden. The restaurant Emily’s serves gourmet cuisine and house specials like Mustard Chicken. While the second oldest villa in the erstwhile British cantonment is special, wait till you discover the cluster of 19th century colonial cottages called Rokeby Residences!

Offering stand-alone experiences, every mountain retreat has 2-3 bedrooms and its own Mr. Jeeves. Shamrock Cottage, built in the 1800’s, has a spacious garden. Bothwell Bank is a stone-clad log cabin with knotty pine wood décor, original fireplaces, kitchen, barbecue and outdoor Jacuzzi. Tabor Lodge has a private deck lined with herbs in outsized cups. Pine Tree Lodge displays Scandinavian architecture with patchwork stools, vintage lamps and Finnish artwork. Whatever your choice, exclusivity is guaranteed, with the Swiss-style Stubli Café, Ale House English pub and Little Shed Salon & Spa bound to keep you occupied.

Ph 0135-2635604/05/06, 9634443666
www.rokebymanor.com
Tariff Rs.10,000-70,000

 

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the Q4 2016 issue of Audi magazine.

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Get Lost: 15 Off-the-Grid Holidays

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Had enough of partying and want a quiet escape away from it all? Sit around a bonfire, watch the stars and get away from the crowds in these remote places that aren’t too difficult to reach. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY show a whole world out there to lose yourself in…

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Get some Soulitude in the Himalayas at Ramgarh (Uttarakhand)
‘I’m off to Ramgarh’ you can announce nonchalantly and let the world figure out which of the dozen Ramgarhs in India you have toodled off to. Thanks to its remote location, the village of Gagar near Ramgarh (35 km north east of Nainital) is free from tourist traffic. Tucked away in the slopes of a scenic hamlet at 7,000 ft, it commands a majestic view of the Kumaon Himalayas – Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchachuli, Pindari Glacier, Nandakot, Nandaghunti and Kamet. Its ten rooms, named Nirvana, Bliss, Quietude, Awakening, Peace (you get the idea), offer ample ‘soulitude’ and inspiration. Hike to the local Ramgarh market and continue to scenic orchards and old dak bungalows of Ashok Vatika renovated by Neemrana into the Ramgarh Bungalows. Wake up to a magical sunrise in this quiet nook that served as Rabindranath Tagore’s literary retreat for six years – he even considered it as the location of his dream abode and university Shantiniketan! The renowned poetess Mahadevi Verma too lived in Ramgarh – her home is now a library of her works. You might consider reading a book here, if not writing one! Owner Manish Chandra also runs another quiet retreat called Soulitude by the River at Chanfi nearby.

Soulitude in the Himalayas
Gagar, Nainital-Mukteshwar Road, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Ph +91 99993 30379 http://www.soulitude.in
Tariff Rs.8,000-12,000

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Swing in a hammock by a gurgling river at Shanthi Kunnj (Karnataka)
Deep in the heart of Malnad on the banks of the gurgling Bhadra River, swing lazily in a hammock while staying in wood and bamboo thatched cottages overlooking the river and forest beyond. The Areca House, Log House, Glass House, Mud House, Tent House are all made of locally available timber, tucked away in a coffee, cardamom, areca and pepper plantation. Go on a tour of the Holy Cross Estate run by the Saldanhas or take an adventurous jeep ride to the river bank for a splash and barbecue picnic of fish baked in sand. The area was called Masigadde (Coal Field) as the forests were burned for producing charcoal to power the steam locomotives during the British era. Thankfully the forests are now protected as part of the Bhadra and Muthodi tiger reserves. Guests have reported rare tiger sightings just across the river though otters are aplenty.

Shanthi Kunnj Homestay
Devdhana Village, Honnekoppa, Sangameshwarpet, Near Kadabagere, Chikmagalur District, Karnataka Ph 0824-2485180 www.shanthikunnj.com
Tariff Rs.3,500/person, all-inclusive

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Have a wild time of a different kind in Chambal Safari Lodge (Uttar Pradesh)
The once notorious bandit terrain of India, the Chambal valley today offers exciting opportunities for wildlife tourism and eco conservation. Spearheading these efforts are Kunwar Ram Pratap (RP) and Anu Singh who run Chambal Safari Lodge in their ancestral property. Mela Kothi, the family’s field camp that once hosted a cattle mela (fair) has independent cottages on 35 acres of private farmland. Enjoy fireside dinners under the stars, go on bicycle jaunts, horse rides and camel safaris in the ravines or village and nature trails on foot. The signature experience is the jeep drive to the banks of the Chambal River for a guided boat ride. Spot gharials and muggers on the sandbanks and flocks of Indian skimmers besides other wildlife. Watch camels ford the river loaded with firewood on an excursion to Ater Fort (2km) across the Chambal. At Bateshwar (11km) view the riverside temples on the banks of the Yamuna from the riverside retreat The Kunj.

Chambal Safari Lodge
Mela Kothi, Village Jarar, Tehsil Bah, District Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Ph 9997066002, 9837415512, 9719501517
Email rpsjarar@chambalsafari.com www.chambalsafari.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-9,000, meals and excursions extra

Neemrana's Bungalow on the Beach IMG_8106_Anurag Mallick

Experience tranquility at Tranquebar at the Bungalow by the Beach (Tamil Nadu)
Imagine a red sun casting golden spangles on a sea with silhouettes of fishing boats dancing past the waves. Throw in an easy chair on a wraparound balcony that overlooks India’s most oxygen-rich beach in front, the 17th century Danish Fort Dansborg to the right and a Pandya temple to the left and you have the perfect do-nothing holiday. Tharangambadi, literally the ‘Land of the Dancing Waves’ became Tranquebar under the Danes. Neemrana’s Bungalow by the Beach offers privacy with a dollop of wistful colonial nostalgia and rooms quaintly named after old Danish ships – Christianus Septimus, Countess Moltke, Prince Christian, take your pick! Period décor, stewards in attendance, a blue pool by the beach and delicious cuisine; this is old world luxury redefined. Visit the Fort museum or take INTACH’s heritage walk to leisurely explore the last vestiges of Scandinavian heritage at the only Danish outpost in India. In this time warp, Tamil culture seamless blends into the town’s landscape though streets still bear names like Kongensgade (King’s Street), Borgan Street and the old gateway Landsporten, besides historic churches, homes of former Danish Governors and pastors, an old cemetery and India’s 1st printing press! Neemrana has also restored two other heritage houses – the Gate House and the Thanga House into their signature ‘non-hotel’ hotels.

Bungalow on the Beach
24 King Street, Tharangambadi, District Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91 11 4666 1666, 9310630386, 9786100461 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-7,000

Turiya Spa Canacona Goa_Amit Bhandare

Explore your fourth state of consciousness at Turiya Spa near Palolem (Goa)
Let’s face it, everyone has had their share of unconsciousness in Goa. But true to its name, Turiya explores the fourth state of consciousness. Set in a serene corner of Canacona, the 100-year old Portuguese villa and spa was renovated by architect and designer Sandesh Prabhu to help visitors to Goa find innermost peace. The 12,000 sq ft landscaped property has an inviting ambience, cheery colours and an intimate Eden-like garden with chikkoo, mango, avocado and frangipani trees. Get pampered with delicious home-style Konkani cuisine, bathe in open to sky baths or soak in a step-down bath, savour rejuvenative spa treatments based on Western methods and traditional Indian systems of Ayurveda. Uncover local culture with visits to a local market or farm or hire a bike to scenic Palolem (2km) and Agonda beaches (10 km north). Boat trips to Butterfly Island for dolphin sightings and day trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Karwar are other activities.

Turiya Villa and Spa
House No 16, Chaudi, Canacona, Goa
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-9,500

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Watch the stillness of Umiam Lake & enjoy Khasi hospitality at Ri Kynjai (Meghalaya)
Located on the outskirts of Shillong, Ri Kynjai is a boutique lakeside resort in Meghalaya really lives up to its tagline ‘Serenity by the Lake’. The resort reflects Khasi traditions in every aspect of hospitality and architecture. Stay in plush cottages and stylish thatched huts on stilts. Wrapped within its warm pine interiors and wooden floors, watch drifting clouds and watercolour beauty of the surroundings or sit in the balcony and contemplate on the stillness of Umiam Lake. Submerge yourself in high-end spa treatments at Khem Janai or indulge in gourmet fare at the restaurant Sao Aiom (Four Seasons) specializing in North Eastern delicacies like jadoh, smoked pork with bamboo shoot and the famous Cherrapunji Chicken. The 45 acre wooded estate and gardens are great for leisurely walks, though for more adventure visit the nearby village of Umiuh or hike around the Khasi Hills.

Ri Kynjai
Umniuh Khwan, UCC Road, Ri Bhoi District, Meghalaya
Ph +91 9862420300, 9862420301 www.rikynjai.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000

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Find Alpine comfort in India at Chalets Naldehra (Himachal)
Undulating grassy meadows fringed by tall cedar trees, Naldehra (22 km north of Shimla), was so enchanting that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1899-1905) renamed his youngest daughter Alexandra as Naldehra after his favourite haunt. The undulating golf course set up by Curzon – the oldest in India and one of the highest 18-hole golf links in the world – still ranks among the most challenging in the country. Not far from the course, beyond a manicured lawn and a pretty garden, Finnish log cabins stand at multiple levels, no two of which are alike. Set on a 2-acre patch owned by the enterprising father-son duo Yatish and Amish Sud, the personal holiday home strategically built close to the golf course soon transformed into a resort., a Every chalet, named after early explorers who mapped the hills, sports commemorative brass plaques – F Younghusband Chalet, Gerard Chalet, Captain Kennedy Chalet, Sir Henry Collet Chalet. The revolving restaurant, 360˚ Top of the World, is the first of its kind in Himachal Pradesh! The small octagonal restaurant seats 20 and is a great perch to unwind and enjoy a delicious meal with laser lights, sunset views and starry nights. Hike to the picturesque village of Kogi to see old Himachali temples and homes with slate roofs.

Chalets Naldehra
Naldehra, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Ph 0177-2747715, 9816062007, 9816039162 www.chaletsnaldehra.com
Tariff Rs.14,990-22,990 (2n/3d package)

Deluxe Room --The Grand Dragon Hotel Ladakh-2

Fly to the roof of the world while enjoying plush comfort in Ladakh’s winter (J&K)
While thousands drive to Ladakh when the high Himalayan passes open in summer, the relatively quiet winter holds its own charm. Not just the air, the crowd too thins out as the temperature drops. The sheer joy of leaving fresh tracks in snow will make anyone feel like an adventurer. And what better way to do it than pamper yourself at Grand Dragon, the swankiest 5-star hotel in Ladakh? Stay in plush rooms that open out to a view of the snow-capped peaks of Stok Kangri, Khardung la pass, besides landmarks like Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. Sip a hot cuppa and dine at the specialty restaurant Tusrabs, literally ‘from ancient times’ that serves a fusion of Ladakhi, Tibetan & Chinese cuisine. After acclimatizing to the 3500 m, take a day trip along the Indus river past Nimu where it meets the Zanskar to Chilling, the start point of the Chadar (Frozen River) Trek. Visit Ladakh’s oldest living monastery Alchi, the moonscapes of Lamayuru, Atishey village and attend local festivals like Gustor (Jan 7) at Spituk gompa or Losar and Dosmochey (Feb).

The Grand Dragon Ladakh
Old Road, Sheynam, Leh, Ladakh
Ph +91 1982-255866/266, 9906986782, 9622997222 www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.22,999-32,999/person (3n/4d Winter Offer)

IMG_6904 Samten Yongjhar Gompa prayer flags

Escape to Mechuka on the China border (Arunachal)
Mechuka is so remote, it’s closer to the Chinese border than to any Indian town. Named after the hot water springs found in the area (men means medicine, chu is water while kha literally means snow or mouth), the far flung town lies in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Reached after a circuitous drive from Aalo, the road deposts you at a wide plateau surrounded by an amphitheater of hills. The Siyom or Yargyap chu river snakes across the valley criss-crossed by bamboo bridges lined with prayer flags. Being an advanced airfield and staging post for the Indian Army, you wake up to the sound of bagpipes and military drills in the morning as wild horses graze in the fields. Base yourself at local guest houses and quaint homestays while visiting Tibetan monasteries like Samden Yongjhar gompa and Dorjeling gompa, besides the cave where Guru Nanak is supposed to have meditated 500 years ago on his trip to Tibet.

Department of Tourism, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
Ph +91-360-2214745 www.arunachaltourism.com

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Gaze at the Aravalis as you listen to folk musicians at Dadhikar (Rajasthan)
Rajasthan is a land of forts and palaces, which is why it’s easy to miss out on some of the lesser known gems in the state. Dadhikar Fort, northwest of Alwar, is one such jewel. Wander into a world scented by 1000 years of history as you sip morning tea on the ramparts with unbeatable panoramic views. Choose from a bouquet of regal suites and stone clad rooms to curl up, with impeccable meals served in the courtyard and soul-stirring folk music under the stars. Balladeers sing ‘Saher Dadhikar Pargana, Alwar Garh ke paas, Basti Raja Chand ki, Abhaner nikas’ as they recount the legend of Raja Chand who camped here after his capital Abhaneri was flooded. The campsite (dera) came to be known as Derakar, which over time was corrupted to Dadhikar. Explore the hill fort, Sariska tiger sanctuary and nearby forts of Ajabgarh-Bhangarh besides Alwar’s hilltop bastion Bala Qila.

The Dadhikar Fort
Village Dadhikar, Alwar, Rajasthan
Ph +91 9871655431, 9950669900
www.dadhikarhotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,500-14,000

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Enjoy high tea at Tea Nest in Coonoor (Tamil Nadu)
Rolling tea estates, cool wind perfumed with the freshness of eucalyptus and pine, gushing waterfalls and exotic flower gardens; the Nilgiris is a dream destination. If you wish to stay away from the rumpus of Ooty, check into Tea Nest – a tea-themed hideaway outside Coonoor surrounded by 1800 acres of tea plantations. Wake up to birdsong in this perch on a hillock as gaurs graze in the bushes nearby, walk or cycle around the plantations dotted with tea-pickers busily plucking away or relax in the patio admiring the Pakkasurankote hill range. The early 19th century colonial villa has rooms tagged after tea varieties and presents a splendid 7-course tea-inspired menu served by friendly attentive staff. The Tea Nest Annexe, a 2-room planter’s bungalow scarcely 1 km away from the main house offers more privacy in a romantic setting. Don’t miss the nature trail past Toda hamlets and Hill Grove railway station to the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort, the company’s flagship enterprise nestled in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road.

Tea Nest
Singara Estate, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91-423-2234018, 9442147198 (Tea Nest), +91-423-2233030, 8903502763 (Tea Nest Annexe) www.natureresorts.in
Tariff Rs.2,500-4,000, incl. breakfast

Woodpecker Tree House- View from the Plantation

Perch in a tree house at Pepper Trail in Wayanad (Kerala)
In a recent survey, Wayanad ranked among the top 10 best accommodations in the world. Adding to the present mix of specialty hotels, nature resorts and boutique hotels is Pepper Trail. The highlight of the 200-acre coffee and spice plantation in Kerala’s hilly district is a charming 140-year-old colonial bungalow. The lovingly restored Pazhey Bungalaav (Old Bungalow) houses the Malabar and Mackenzie Suites with quaint four posters and antique furniture. Perched on giant jackfruit trees nearby, the tree houses are 40 feet off the ground. Just because you are at the treetop, doesn’t mean you scrimp on luxury. Named Hornbill and Woodpecker, each tree house comes with large bedrooms, outdoor living spaces and safari inspired furniture. There’s plenty to do in and around the estate – guided plantation walks, cycling, open jeep safaris and coracle rides or fishing on the estate reservoir.

Pepper Trail
Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad, Kerala
Ph +91 9562277000 www.peppertrail.in
Tariff Rs.4,700-18,000

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Stay in a house on stilts in Dibrugarh (Assam)
Head to Dibrugarh in Upper Assam to live the lazy life of a tea planter in a chang bungalow (traditional house on stilts). Rooms named after the tributaries of the Brahmaputra River look out to manicured lawns as fresh brewed tea is always available. Specially designed horse-riding tours take you around century old tea estates or cross-country along the banks of the Brahmaputra. Picnic on grassy banks, boat cruises and kayaking or extend your itinerary to visit the ancient Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the wildlife preserves of Kaziranga and Dibru Saikhowa. Purvi Discovery runs another lodge closer to town called Chowkidinghee Chang Bungalow and the new boutique property Wathai Heritage Bungalow at Limbuguri Tea Estate in Tinsukia, a good base to explore Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Purvi Discovery
Ph 0373 2301120, 2300035 Email purvidiscovery@gmail.com www.assamteatourism.com
Tariff Rs.3,500-9,000, incl. breakfast

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Maroon yourself on Neil Island (Andamans)
The boat jetty at Bharatpur on Neil Island juts out into the vast Andaman sea of electric blue. You can walk to it each day from your beach hut just to watch the daily boat from Havelock sail away. In this nook, it is easy to stay in self-imposed exile for as long as one wants, snorkeling around the reefs and eating fresh seafood. Spread over 18.9 sq km and only 5km at its widest point, Neil is a tiny speck in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands nearly 1400 km from the Indian mainland and 40 km east of Port Blair. Its five villages harbour 3000 fishing and agricultural families, which gives the island its popular name – ‘Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans’. Neil is so small one can cover the whole island on foot in a day. The beaches (originally numbered for convenience) took on their present names after Hindu migrants were resettled here by the Indian Government after the 1971 Bangladesh War. Watch the sunrise at Sitapur or see it go down at Laxmanpur and marvel at the natural stone bridge and corals in shallow pools during low tide. Laze at Ramnagar or swim in Govindnagar, but whatever you do, don’t glug Neil down like a vodka shot; savour it like single malt…

Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Ph 03192-232694, 244091 www.andamans.gov.in

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Stay in an erstwhile hunting lodge at Kila Dalijoda (Odisha)
Once an exclusive hunting lodge of Raja Jyoti Prasad Singh Deo, king of Panchakote Raj, Kila Dalijoda is a beautiful two storied stone house 22 km north of Cuttack in Odisha. The heritage homestay is named after its proximity to Dalijoda Forest Range, part of the newly declared Kapilas Elephant Sanctuary. The European style mansion, with arched windows and tinted glass was built in 1931-33, and at that time boasted tech advancements like self generating electricity, electrified fencing and water harvesting. Present hosts Debjit Prasad Singh Deo and his wife Namrata have kept its wild soul intact carrying out only minor renovation. With just three suites, it is the perfect hideaway where guests get a dose of rural lifestyle with visits to weekly village markets, tribal settlements and nature walks. Savour delicious home-cooked Odiya meals, with quail eggs available all year round (and duck eggs in winter), preferred over the plebeian chicken eggs due to traditional reasons.

Kila Dalijoda
Ph +91 9438667086 Email debjitsinghdeo@yahoo.co.in www.kiladalijoda.com
Tariff Rs.3,000-4,000

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unedited version of the article that appeared on 18 December, 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/off-the-grid-getaways-for-your-next-long-weekend/

Cherry on the Pi: Pondicherry’s most charming hotels

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The erstwhile French enclave of Pondicherry was the filming locale of Ang Lee’s film Life of Pi. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick the most charming boutique hotels for a delightful holiday.

Palais de Mahe IMG_0107_Anurag Mallick_Priya Ganapathy_Pondy-Anurag Mallick

Palais de Mahe
CGH Earth’s new boutique hotel, a yellow and white, high-roofed colonnaded building echoes French colonial architecture. With 18 luxury suites overlooking a swimming pool, an Ayurveda spa and long arched verandahs lined with leafy planters, the hotel is a stone’s throw from the Promenade. The terrace restaurant’s delightful Indian fusion cuisine made with fresh catch and vegetables, ensures why people return for their pan-seared fish masalas, beef steaks and tangy daals laced with piquant spices.

4, Rue Bussy (LBS Street) Ph 0484 3011711 Email palaisdemahe@cghearth.com www.cghearth.com Tariff Rs.13,200; 18 rooms

The Promenade
Located in the heart of the French quarter overlooking Pondicherry’s beachfront, this luxury boutique hotel was once the old Railway Station building. Associated with one of India’s top fashion brands Hidesign, this stylish hotel has a French colonial exterior with ultra-modern minimalist interiors. The rooftop restaurant Lighthouse offers a great view of the Pondy skyline and the sea.

23, Goubert Avenue Ph 0413 2227750 www.sarovarhotels.com
Tariff Rs.6,750-Rs.8,500; 38 rooms

1169_Pondy-Anurag Mallick

Le Dupleix
The 18th century French villa, converted by Hidesign into a designer Heritage Hotel, is named after Francois Dupleix, the Governor of Pondicherry. Stay in ultra-modern penthouses with private terraces or cozy heritage rooms with the smell of aged wood, evocative of a plush colonial life. Dine on Mediterranean or Pondicherry cuisine at the gourmet restaurant under a mango tree in the courtyard. The Governor’s Lounge bar has embroidered artwork by Jean Francois Lesage and a richly carved wooden ceiling commissioned by le Dupleix.

5, Rue de la Casserne Ph 0413 2226999, 2226001 www.ledupleix.com
Tariff Rs.5,200–10,200; 14 rooms

Maison Perumal courtyard_Pondy-Anurag Mallick

Maison Perumal
The first CGH Earth initiative in Pondicherry’s Tamil Quarter holds all the old world charm of a traditional Franco-Tamil home. Blending stark simplicity and antique furniture with a dash of stained glass vibrancy, the 2-storeyed 200-year-old mansion’s rooms retain a sense of warm sepia-toned familiarity of a lived-in home. Attentive staff and a flavourful menu at the gallery cum in-house restaurant set around the inner courtyard accentuate the irresistible charm of the place. Explore the hidden heritage of Pondy on quaint rickshaw rides or cycles.

58, Perumal Koil Street Ph 0413 2227519, 9442127519 www.cghearth.com Tariff Rs.8,360; 10 rooms

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Villa Shanti
An elegantly restored 19th century home run by Sylvain Paquiry with a grey and white façade, Villa Shanti manages a seamless blend of tradition and modern aesthetics. A newly added wing, vertical garden and airy well-lit rooms set around a green courtyard promise a pleasant boutique hotel stay. Signature dishes made with fresh farm products are procured and prepared by the chef himself, and served in its roomy chic restaurant and café bar.

14, Rue Suffren Ph 0413 4200028 Email s.paquiry@lavillashanti.com www.lavillashanti.com Tariff Rs.7,000-11,000; 15 rooms

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La Maison Tamoulle
Formerly known as Calve Hotel run by WelcomHeritage, the 150-year-old Chettiar bungalow has been recently taken over by Neemrana. Its French rebranding literally means ‘Tamil bungalow’ as the Chettinad plaster, Athangudi tiles, pillared columns and stained glass windows suggest. The thematic rooms are named after the navaratna (nine gems) and the delectable mix of French and Baroque elements with vernacular architecture is echoed in the in-house restaurant that serves great Creole and Indian cuisine.

Old No.36, Vysial Street Ph 0413 2223738, 2224103 www.neemranahotels.com Tariff Rs.3,000-5,000; 10 rooms

Gratitude
Painstakingly restored over three years in collaboration with INTACH, the 150 year old bungalow suffused with Anglo French furnishings is the perfect writer’s retreat. With no TV, it’s ideal for creative people seeking quietude. Long-term stays are possible at reduced rates. The house is entirely a non-smoking zone and the terrace has daybeds with attached yoga and massage rooms. The in-house La Boutique de la Maison Gratitude has exquisite vintage jewellery, clothing in natural fabrics, bags and clutch purse; all limited edition pieces.

52, Rue Romain Rolland Ph 0413 2225029, 9442065029 www.gratitudeheritage.in Tariff Rs.4,000-6,200; 9 rooms

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Hotel de l’ Orient
An old Tamil home rebuilt by the French in the 1760s that once housed the Department of Education, the Neemrana hotel proudly retains the old name Instruction Publique at its entrance. Rooms overlook a foliaged central courtyard with Carte Blanche restaurant specializing in excellent Creole cuisine.

17, Romain Rolland Street Ph 0413 2343067/68/74 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,000-7,000, 16 rooms

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Hotel de Pondicherry
A 170-year-old French townhouse, later converted into a boutique heritage hotel, has rooms named after former French governors and Tamil luminaries. The Dupleix suite opens into a terrace. Antique teak beds, Thanjavur paintings and sepia tinted photographs transport you to a bygone era. Though no food is served, the French cuisine restaurant Le Club is located in the tropical garden to the front.

38, Rue Dumas Ph 0413 2227409 www.hoteldepondicherry.com Tariff Rs.3,000-5,000; 12 rooms

The Dune Eco Spa where no two rooms are alike IMG_0632_Pondy-Anurag Mallick

The Dune
Run by Sunil Varghese and Frenchman Dimitri Klien who has a keen eye for art, recycling, and environment, this ‘Lost Paradise’ is set in a sprawling 35 acre organic farm and flower garden with a private 700 m seafront. No two rooms at The Dune are alike with a wide range of eclectic and individualistic arty villas and suites with reclaimed doors and windows. As the manager says, ‘Apart from the staff, everything else in antique’! Enjoy healthy organic meals at FUN (Food U Need) Restaurant, sizzling seafood at The Seaside Bar, rejuvenating therapies at Veda Spa, besides outdoor games, cycling, boating and rural experiences like milking cows and farming. The Artists in Residence programme makes it a popular base for international artists while proceeds from the Artyzan Shop & Design studio fund school fees for underprivileged children.

Pudhukuppam, Keelputhupet (after Pondicherry University) Ph 0413 2655751, 9364455440 www.thedunehotel.com Tariff Rs.5,500-Rs.17,950; 50 rooms

Mango Hill Hotel  IMG_0661_Pondy-Anurag Mallick

Mango Hill
A French-run hotel on a hill planted with mango and cashew trees located between Pondicherry and Auroville, Mango Hill has a quaint brick and pastel feel. Rooms have a private terrace with sea-views and Thai style cottage rooms with sit-outs overlook a pool. Organic home-grown vegetables, fresh fish, cured ham, pâté and cheeses produced in-house are stirred into lovely dishes in the open kitchen. Owner and cheese-maker Marion Ducret conducts workshops (Ph 8098809089, Email cheeseyclass@gmail.com) and the hotel has a dairy room, cold rooms and a large wine cellar. The weekday Swim n Lunch offers visitors pool access and lunch at Rs.490.

Old Auroville Road, Bommayapalayam Ph 0413 2655491-3 www.hotel-mangohill-pondicherry.com Tariff Rs.2,500-3,750; 25 rooms

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Villa Helena
The colonial heritage guesthouse started out as an annex for Roselyne Guitry, a perfumer from Burgundy to store her collection of antiques. Currently owned by Benjamin Passicos, the century old building has a lush courtyard, open-air lounge with planters’ chairs, large rooms furnished with antiques and colonial furniture and the in-house Satsangh Restaurant.

13, Bussy Street Ph 0413 2226789, 4200377 Email villahelena@sify.com
Tariff Rs.2,800-3,000; 7 rooms

Villa Christophe
A boutique guesthouse in a restored 19th century villa with rooms with floral themes (Jasmine, Hibiscus and Frangipani) and equally beautiful bathrooms. Breakfast is charged at Rs.250/head.

5, Surcouf Street Ph 90258 17351 www.villachristophe.com Tariff Rs.3,000-3,500; 3 rooms

Le Reve Bleu & The Pink Ambassador owner IMG_0532_Anurag Mallick_Priya Ganapathy_Pondy-Anurag Mallick

Le Reve Bleu
Literally ‘The Blue Dream’, this small budget guest house is run by a quirky French woman Christelle, know locally as the lady with the pink ambassador. The Tamil home comes with 6 rooms and a common kitchen-cum-hall on the ground floor for breakfasts, discussions and evenings. It’s quite popular among French backpackers.

95, Montorsier Street Ph 9894802333 www.lerevebleu-pondy.com Tariff 1,200; 6 rooms

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 7 October 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/where-stay-puducherry/

Faith Accompli: 10 Quirky roadside shrines in India

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Bullet Motorcycle temple, Aeroplane Gurudwara, Traffic Ganesha to Visa Hanuman, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 10 quirky roadside shrines in India

Chinganachera Temple Kerala DSC_0355

India is a country that takes religion quite seriously. As if 33 crore gods in the Hindu pantheon were not enough, there are temples dedicated to seers, saints and larger than life figures. Actors are often idolized – there’s an Amitabh Bachchan temple in Kolkata, a Khushboo shrine at Trichy and a Namitha temple in Tirunelveli. Politicians too have ardent followers – a Mahatma Gandhi temple at Bhatra village in Sambalpur to a cardboard temple in Karimnagar dedicated to Sonia Gandhi, an MGR shine at Thirunindravoor, Chennai or a proposed Mayawati temple at Natpura in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. Actor Manoj Tiwari takes hero worship to a new level with a Sachin Tendulkar temple (because he’s the ‘god of cricket’) in his hometown Atarwalia in Bihar’s Kaimur district. Forget humans, there are shrines for animals too. Rats are deified as ancestors at Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke in Rajasthan while dogs turn into gods at a unique canine temple at Ramnagar in Karnataka’s Channapatna district! Here we showcase some truly offbeat roadside shrines in India…

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Bullet Bana temple, Pali (Rajasthan)
Nobody can deny the cult status the Royal Enfield motorbike enjoys in India, but a shrine dedicated to the 350 cc Bullet? Bang on the NH-65 highway via Rohet to Jodhpur stands the roadside temple of Bullet Banna or Motorcycle Baba. It is in memory of Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a motorcycle accident in 1988. The cops took his bike to the police station, but the next morning it went missing and was strangely found parked at the crash site. Each time the bike was impounded, it returned on its own to the accident-prone spot. Believing it to be divine will, locals built a temple in Om Banna’s memory with his Bullet enshrined alongside his garlanded photo. Travelers stop by to light incense sticks and pray for a safe passage.

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18 bata 2 temple, Naldehra (Himachal Pradesh)
In the hills, it’s not unusual for shrines to crop up at accident prone areas and treacherous spots. However what makes this Naldehra shrine unique is its name – ‘Atharah bata do’ or 18/2. It is believed that in a tragic crash some years ago, a bus went over the precipice resulting in eighteen fatalities and only two survivors. The temple that came up on the dangerous curve thus got its strange appellation.

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Chain Tree, Vythiri (Kerala)
In Kerala’s hilly district of Wayanad, beyond the misty ghats of Lakkidi near Vythiri, just off the NH-212 stands an unusual tree in chains. It recounts the tragic tale of Karinthandan, a young tribal who guided a British engineer to find a safe route through the treacherous Thamrasseri Ghat. He was killed equally treacherously. It is said his troubled spirit began haunting travellers and often led to accidents. So a puja was performed by a priest to pacify his soul which was then chained to a tree. The iron shackles still drape the branches of the famous Chain Tree as tourists drop by for a quick picture. While on trees, the nature temple of Chingan Chira, 10 km from Kollengode in Palakkad district, deserves mention. With a canopy spread over 2 acres, the cluster of banyan trees looks eerie with wooden houses and offerings dangling from it. Adding to its strange mystique are blocks of flat stone with grinders, mortars and pestles placed around it. Devotees drop by on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays to perform pujas, sacrifice fowls and prepare thanksgiving meals to the deity. It is a popular spot for shooting films, videos and the odd wedding album!

Traffic Ganesha Bengaluru

Traffic Ganesha, Bangalore (Karnataka)
The Ganesha temple on Kasturba Road in Bangalore is known by many local names – Vahana (Vehicle) Ganpati, Traffic Ganesha or Accident Ganesha. Though the temple is believed to be 600 years old, for the last 60 years, motorists have been bringing their new vehicles for blessings of an accident-free life. After all, it has royal approval! As per temple priest Subramaniam Deekshit, the Maharaja of Mysore Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was travelling in his Rolls Royce from Mysore to Bangalore, when his car broke down nearby. Forced to abandon his vehicle, the king started off on foot and saw the roadside temple. On performing a puja here, his Rolls Royce mysteriously sputtered to life. This happened a few times. Even the Diwan of Mysore, T Ananda Rao, after whom the Anand Rao Circle is named, stayed at Cantonment and regularly prayed at the shrine. When TVS opened its showroom in Bangalore, it brought its new chassis and vehicles for puja. With the opening of the Benz and Nissan showrooms on Kasturba Road, the practice caught on. The belief that an accident can be averted if you perform a puja is so strong that people come in the thousands for vahana puja during Ayudha Puja. Two-wheeler owners believe that they would upgrade to a car and small car owners think their aspirations to buy a bigger car would be fulfilled. Whether the vehicle is old or new, a cycle or a Merc, Traffic Ganesha’s fame only increases each year.

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Jaswantgarh Memorial, Near Sela Pass (Arunachal Pradesh)
Maha Vir Chakra Jaswant Singh of 4 Garhwal Rifles laid down his life during the 1962 war, fighting the Chinese Army for 72 hours along with two other soldiers. He was eventually caught and hanged at the same place where the Jaswantgarh Memorial now stands, 14 km from Sela Pass in Arunachal Pradesh. Besides a garlanded bronze bust of ‘Baba’ Jaswant Singh, the war hero’s belongings are also enshrined – his Army uniform, cap, watch and belt. An earthen lamp placed in front of the portrait of Jaswant Singh burns round the clock. While the rifleman may be no more, his six caretakers from 19 Garhwal Corps believe Babaji’s spirit lives on. He is served bed tea at 4:30am, breakfast at 9am and dinner at 7pm. They make his bed, polish his shoes, deliver the mail sent by his admirers and even clear the mails the next morning after ‘he has gone through them’. They change his bed sheets every Tuesday. Besides serving Baba, the soldiers manning the unique shrine also help needy travelers along the hazardous mountain road.

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Betaal Mandir, Mithbav (Maharashtra)
Maharashtra too has its share of strange shrines – be it a Shiva temple at Kunkeshwar built by shipwrecked Arabian sailors as thanksgiving or Pune’s Khunya Murlidhar temple whose foundations are soaked in blood. Even as the idol was being consecrated, a feud took place outside between the Peshwa and Dada Gadre, a local moneylender, leading to its strange name. Across the Konkan region, it is not unusual to find village shrines of gram-rakshaks, like the Shreedev Upralkar Prasann near Sawantwadi. Echoing the tale of Wayanad’s Chain Tree, the shrine is dedicated to a dhangar (shepherd) who revealed the passage through Amboli pass to the British and thereby got killed. He became the custodian of the passes and once when the British attacked the region, his spirit protected the people. Speaking of spirits, the small Betaal Temple by the road near Mithbav beach is much revered. The wandering spirit is invisible to the human eye. It is said, every evening, his palki (palanquin) carried by his ganas roams the area for an hour. People avoid going near his shrine around 7, else they get possessed, pull their hair and go mad. The madness is abated only after the god is appeased.

Ayyanar shrines Tamil Nadu

Keeranur Ayyanar (Tamil Nadu)
Though Tamil Nadu has many celebrated temples of the Cholas, Pandyas and Pallavas, the roadside shrines of village deities called Ayyanars are quite fascinating. Often seated with a sacrificial sword in hand or shown riding horses or elephants with a retinue of lesser gods and attendants, the deities act as guardian of the adjoining village – as rainmaker, protector of the fields and night patroller of the village borders. As votive offerings, people donate terracotta horses lining the pathway leading to the shrine, usually located in the shadow of a sacred tree or grove. Perhaps the best example can be seen off NH-210 at Keeranur, 25km south of Trichy on the road to Pudukottai in Chettinad.

Aeroplane Gurudwara gateway

Aeroplane Gurudwara, Talhan (Punjab)
Punjab’s Doaba region, the fertile land between the two rivers Beas and Sutlej, has over six million natives settled abroad, with at least one member from each family staying overseas. Many of them owe their overseas stint to Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara at Talhan village near Jalandhar, better known as Hawai Jahaz or Aeroplane Gurudwara. Just off NH-1, a gate capped with a British Airways aircraft model leads to a road lined with shops selling toy planes of Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada and other international carriers. These are not souvenirs, but offerings to the gurudwara in the hope of going abroad! The inner sanctum on the first floor of the century-old gurudwara has several plane models in neat rows. Because of the lack of space, the gurudwara committee has started distributing the toys to underprivileged children.

Hanuman ji in Kuldhara Rajasthan IMG_9558

Visa Hanuman, Ahmedabad (Gujarat) & Hyderabad (Andhra)
Lord Hanuman is often considered by some as the unofficial god of encroachment. One day suddenly someone may find an udbhav murti that’s manifested itself magically or after a dream. Some just have to place a Hanuman statue or idol and within no time a small shop and a cluster of buildings will come up around it. But Hanuman or Balaji is no ordinary god. In the narrow by-lanes of Desai-ni-pol at Khadia in Ahmedabad, a Hanuman shrine guarantees 100% visa approval for any foreign country. Himanshu Mehta, priest and caretaker of the 250-year-old temple elaborates on this amazing feat. Once eight applicants had their visas approved on Diwali eve after seeking Lord Hanuman’s blessings. The temple is packed on Saturdays, with nearly a thousand ardent devotees filing their appeals for his consideration. Similar is the tale of Chilkur Balaji Temple, popularly known as Visa Balaji. Located on the banks of Osman Sagar Lake, 17 km from Mehedipatnam near Hyderabad, the temple of the Visa God is perhaps the only one in India that does not accept money offerings or have the ubiquitous hundi for donations from the devotees.

Anicut Hanuman of the 19th Vent, Trichy (Tamil Nadu)
There are Hanuman shrines on hillocks, at crossroads and by the river, but a temple in a dam, now that’s a first! Situated 15km from Trichy, the Grand Anicut or Kallanai (kal means stone, anai is dam) built by Tamil king Karikala Cholan 2000 years ago with unhewn stone is believed to be one of the world’s oldest man-made dams. At its base lies an unobtrusive Hanuman temple that has been there for 200 years. A stone tablet in one corner has an engraving of Lord Hanuman on one side and an 1804 inscription by British captain JL Calddell. Despite several attempts, engineers of the East India Company could not complete building the 19th vent of the dam. It is said that Lord Hanuman appeared in a British officer’s dream and instructed him to build a temple for him at the spot. Brushing off the bizarre dream, the officer didn’t act upon it but was soon accosted by a troop of monkeys. Strangely, the local mason too reported receiving a similar vision. Fearing further disruption of the dam work, the officer conceded and a temple was eventually built at the 19th vent. Work magically resumed thereafter and jinx was broken. Today, despite the force of River Cauvery’s waters lashing through the temple and perilous water levels in the rains, the tiny shrine still stands in defiance, almost echoing the indomitable qualities of its God.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 30 March 2015 in National Geographic Traveller online. Read the story here: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/web-exclusive/web-exclusive-month/india-shrines/

10 Ways to spot a true Bangalorean

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY, better known as her radio avatars Miss Lingo Leela/Sister Stella, paint an irreverent image of the true blue resident of Bengaluru  

Habit_Eating with two spoons

1. Eats idli vada with two spoons and sometimes dosa with fork and knife
A typical India Coffee House trait, the practice has permeated to darshinis (stand-up South Indian eatery). Old Bangaloreans take their table manners seriously – there are quarter plates (for snacks – and you thought one plate serves all?), marrow spoons (what, gnash and gnaw a bone like a dog?), serviettes (napkins to the gauche) and doilies (to cover glasses). Only meals and mudde may be consumed by hand while coffee and tea between friends is always ‘One by Two’.

Windmills Craftworks Beer

2. Believes if it comes out of a bottle it ain’t beer
To the rest of India, a cold draught is something that comes in through a window or under a door. In Bengaluru, it is what the bartender smacks down on the counter. Long before the world discovered microbreweries, Pecos was serving draught and issuing tab cards for a free pint after ten cumulative pints. Today, every restaurant worth its hops makes its own beer. Understandably, there are over a dozen microbreweries in town – Toit, Prost, Geist, Arbor, Barleyz, The Biere Club, District 6, Big Brewsky, Big Pitcher, U4iA (alphanumeric for Euphoria in case you’re wondering), Murphy’s Brewhouse, but the best brews can be found at Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield.

NH-7 Weekender Bangalore IMG_5920

3. Knows its Carnatic from its Cannibal Corpse
Unlike Delhi, where burly boys shout ‘Oye November Rain’ at Deep Purple concerts, Bangalore is quite aware musically. From music shows at Chowdiah Memorial Hall to mouthing lyrics at a rock concert at Palace Grounds, a true Bangalorean will drive miles into the wilderness to attend dusk to dawn gigs with fireflies for company. Be it blues and jazz to all the sub-genres of electronica and metal, the city features on the itinerary of every international act coming to India. Jazz legend Ahmad Jamal to Baul minstrel Paban Das Baul, metal gods Opeth and Lamb of God to house trio Dirty Vegas; some of the biggest names in music have descended onto the Bengaluru stage – Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Bryan Adams, Scorpions, Sting, Aerosmith, Elton John, Guns n Roses, Santana, Megadeth, Metallica, Prodigy… the list goes on!

Old MG Road

4. Laments about the good ole days…
Old time residents of the city are suckers for nostalgia. Sigh… the lakes, the bungalows, single-screen theatres, tree-lined avenues and daily showers every morning and evening. When Mekhri Circle was actually a circle and Victoria was not a mall but a shaded restaurant with mosquito coils in beer bottles under the table. But no matter when you were in Bengaluru, it was always better before that. If you went to Freedom Jam, there was Music Strip in the 80s, if you attended Music Strip, there was disco and day-parties in the 70s and thumbing a nose to that was the Bandstand in the 60s! As they say, even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…

Priya Ganapathy aka Lingo Leela in Radio City studio

5. Runs on a totally different phraseology
In Bengaluru, recess (pronounced rhesus) means ‘piss’, tiffan is ‘brekker’ and distance is still indicated in ‘furlongs’. The average Bangalorean liberally punctuates his/her sentences with unique slang words and one would require the help of local radio icon Lingo Leela’s slanguage improvement classes to understand – bombatt (fantabulous), chilrey (loose change or two-bit), sakkath (solid or fantabulous), bakasura/bakapakshi (one with gargantuan appetite), dadhiya (fatso), drabay (slow on the uptake) or dogalayrama (shoddily dressed in baggy clothes).

Scientific colonies of Bangalore

6. Takes pride in its scientific temperament
Around the time JN Tata conceived the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at the turn of the century, the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam was constructed by Sir M Visvesaraya, which led to Bangalore becoming the first city in India (and Asia) to get electricity in 1906. Many believe this paved the way for the city’s rise as a scientific and academic hub. Long before the Wipro-Infosys brigade, everyone knew someone who worked at HAL, BHEL, DRDO or some scientific institution of repute. Here, retired gentlemen stay in housing layouts that has at least one acronym in the address – UAS (University of Agricultural Sciences), NTI (National Tuberculosis Institute), AECS (Aeronautical Employees Co-Operative Society), CIL (Central Inspectorate of Electricals and Electronics), NGEF (New Government Electrical Factory) or XXX (Insert Scientific Acronym here). If there’s a branch of study, chances are there will be a scientific institute for it. Where else but in Bangalore can you find the NBAII (National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Insects) or NBSS&LUP (National Bureau of Soil Survey & Land Use Planning)!

Yezdi

Photo courtesy: Akshita Anil Kumar 

7. Loves the Yezdi/Jawa as much as the Bullet (if not more)
The Royal Enfield may have its legions of fans, but Bengaluru runs on Jawa (both the bike and the brew). Here, the roads resound with the distinct loud throttle of the 250 cc Road King. An uncomplicated motorcycle perfect for the highway, it can be push started, repaired by any roadside mechanic if it breaks down, and some swear even rides in reverse! Loyalists insist that if the Bullet is an elephant, Yezdi is a cheetah. Even its classic design suggests so!

8. Sucks at street fights
A Bangalorean can argue for hours, mouthing yenu, yenu (what, what?), doing that thumb thing (an aggressive posture with an upturned thumb pointing at oneself), but will never really get physical. In a first hand account, we chanced upon the following exchange between two motorists on Old Airport Road. It was a scene of utter devastation. Headlights and taillights had smashed like bones into smithereens and green engine oil and fuel lay spilt like blood… In Delhi, a similar scenario would have resulted in a full-blown gang war, yet in genial genteel Bengaluru all we overheard was ‘Why you did that?’ ‘Aye, don’t tell lies…’

Bangalore Traffic Rules

9. Has an in-built GPS
For a city with a proclivity to change a road from a ‘two-way’ to a ‘one way’ with whimsical frequency or divert traffic for some reason, a true Bangalorean is pre-programmed to know exactly which route to take. Anyone else facing a similar situation could very well be bewildered, get lost or exasperatedly run around in circles. While newcomers to the city get stranded and cuss at Bengaluru’s legendary traffic jams, locals know precisely when to sneak into the hidden bylanes and get out through a maze of alleys to avoid snarls during peak hours. And if all else fails, there’s always the pavement…

Davangere Benne Dosa

10. Knows all the food secrets of the city
From the best idli vada coffee joints to mudde-mamsa (ragi balls with mutton curry) in Gandhi Bazaar, Maratha style ‘donne’ biryanis in Balepet (served in leaf containers), camel meat near Russell Market and where to eat at Mosque Road during Ramzan…he knows it all! In fact, the true Bangalorean has mastered the art of procuring the most scrumptious Davangere benne dosas, the softest Bidadi thatte idlis, ghee-soaked Mysore Pak and delicious Dharwad Pedas without leaving the confines of the city. From Brahmin Messes, Iyengar Bakeries and Hindu Military Hotels to eateries from Kerala, Andhra and Chettinad, such obsession with appetite has also endowed locals with special powers. Like the ability to decode dishes, be it Jilli (Chilli) Beef or Gopi Manjuri; after all the humble Gobi Manchurian is to Bengaluru what CTM (Chicken Tikka Masala) is to London.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is an unabridged version of the article that appeared on 1 Oct 2014 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story here: http://www.cntraveller.in/story/10-ways-spot-true-bangalorean

Offbeat Destinations for 2015

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trundle off the beaten track across India to find uncommon faraway places filled with history, beauty and intrigue

As people wander to predictable destinations around the country, there are several places that lie unnoticed in the back lanes of public memory. Mark this year with an exploration of less known holiday spots and offbeat experiences ranging from forgotten French enclaves, wild getaways and ancient animal fairs to organic farmstays, rock cut caves, Himalayan villages and more. Here’s a pick of places chanced upon while joining dots on the map, which remain relatively unmarked by GPS, untouched by cable and some beyond the connectivity of phone and internet networks.

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Achanakmar (Chhattisgarh)
A wildlife park that takes its name from an unfortunate incident where a British officer was ‘suddenly killed’ by a tiger may not seem like a cheery getaway, but a century later, Achanakmar still retains much of its wild charm. Located 60 km from Bilaspur at Chhattisgarh’s northern border with Madhya Pradesh, the 914 sq km sanctuary is part of the much larger Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve. A wildlife corridor across the Satpura-Maikal hills connects it to Kanha. After a 700-year reign of the Kalchuri kings, the region came under Maratha control between 15th-17th centuries and in 1818 Major Blunt became the first British officer to come here, followed by General Smith. British-built forest rest houses dot the park – from the entry gate at Lamni to Achanakmar 35km away, besides Chaparwa, Surhi and Sonbhadra Tourist Resort at Amadob. It’s a great place to spot leopards, wild dogs, jackals and hyenas. The forest is rich with sal, sag (ironwood) and tendu, whose leaves are used to roll beedis. A heady fragrance of mahua flowers hangs in the air and the canopy is broken with the riotous splash of palash or Flame of the Forest, prized as a dye, cosmetic and antiseptic. Home to Gond and Baiga tribes who depend on the forest and collect flowers to make hooch, deep inside Achanakmar you can find sacred trees and Gudgud Ped, which rumbles like a noisy stomach! Ph 0771 4028635/6 http://www.chhattisgarhtourism.net

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Bateshwar (Uttar Pradesh)
While innumerable spiritual spots on the Ganga, Bateshwar is an ancient pilgrim centre located on the banks of the Yamuna. The ancestral home of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bateshwar is also famous for its 500-year-old cattle fair held over a month after Diwali on the riverbank at Bah near Agra. After Bihar’s Sonepur Mela, Bateshwar is the oldest and largest cattle fair in India, where animals are traded in a rural fair. A string of riverside temples dedicated to various manifestations of Lord Shiva like Panchmukheshwar, Pataleshwar and Gowrishankar lie on a scenic curve of the river. The main shrine of Bateshwarnath, which gives the town its name, is dedicated to Shiva’s ascetic form Batuk nath, who is believed to have rested under a vat (banyan) tree here, which still shades the shrine. Perched on a raised platform with ghats (steps) leading down to the river, the complex once had 108 Shiva temples! Sadly, only 40 remain due to the fickle course of the river. Explore the maze of mud caves and hillocks inhabited by sadhus. A Maha Aarti is held on the ghats every full moon but the biggest celebration takes place during Karthik Purnima, when pilgrims come for a holy dip in the Yamuna. As part of an eco-tourism project by the Chambal Conservation Foundation, the Jarar family’s riverside retreat The Kunj offers a pleasant rooftop view of the crescent of temples. Local guided tours arranged by Chambal Safari Lodge include a boat ride and visits to noteworthy temples. Rs.1500/person. Ph 9997066002, 9837415512 http://www.bateshwar.co.uk

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Chandernagor (West Bengal)
While there’s no better place than Pondicherry to savour the vestiges of French colonial rule in India, Chandernagor (or Chandannagar) lies quietly in the shadows. In the constant Anglo French tussle for trading supremacy, the British razed Chandernagore’s Fort d’Orleans and much of the French outpost in 1757, to bolster British Calcutta. Today, St Joseph’s Convent built in 1861 with its little chapel bearing the historic 1720 door through which British generals Clive and Watson marched in stands as a mute reminder. The French motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité is emblazoned on the town’s entry gate. If Pondy is a cradle of Franco-Tamil culture, Chandernagor assimilates Bengali flavours, visible in mansions like Kanhai Seth’er Bari, Nundy Bari and Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir, which fuses Corinthian columns with Hindu motifs. Past the Sacred Heart Church lies The Strand, a mile long paved avenue lined with historic buildings, reminiscent of Pondy’s Promenade. To the north, stands Hotel de Paris, built in 1878, presently housing the Sub-divisional court and the 1887 Thai Shola hotel is now the Chandannagar College. Stroll past Rabindra Bhavan, the Gendarmerie and an 1845 Clocktower to Dupleix Palace, the erstwhile Governor’s residence converted into an Indo-French Cultural Centre and museum. Joraghat or Chandni, a decorated pavilion at the ferry point bears a plaque dedicated to Dourgachorone Roquitte (Durgacharan Rakshit), courtier of the French Government and the first Indian to be given the Chevalier de legion d’Honour in 1896. Underground House, originally a rest house of the French navy with its lowest level underwater, later hosted Rabindra Nath Tagore, who popularized ‘Patal Bari’ in his stories. In its heyday, Chandernagore was the most decorated ghat on the 2500km stretch of the Ganga. Local resident Kalyan Chakravarty, leads walking trails and heritage tours. Stay in the colonial comforts of Red Brick Residency in Kolkata for a day visit to the town, 37 km away via GT Road. Ph 9831330846 http://www.chandernagorheritage.com

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Dhankar (Himachal Pradesh)
As you trudge 8km up the bare mountain road from Shichling, midway between Kaza and Tabo, the 1000 ft high rocky spurs of Dhankar appear. Literally translated as ‘fort on a cliff’ (Dhang means cliff in Tibetan, and khar is fort), the sight of a precariously balanced fort on a 1000-foot high wind-eroded sandy spur makes one think its collapse is imminent. The World Monuments Fund lists Dhankar as one of the World’s Hundred Most Endangered Sites, yet locals believe that when the world ends, Dhankar will be the last monastery to fall. The village has remnants of an old palace, a prison and a cave that provided shelter to all the village folk during war and a museum showcasing its historic past. Poised on steep southern slope of the village, the Dhankar Monastery overlooks the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers. One of the five major monastic centres in Spiti, it belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Vajrayana Buddhism and was founded between 7th and 9th centuries. The gompa displays exquisite thangkas, murals and a riveting statue of Vairochana with four figures seated back-to-back. A 3km road from the village goes to Dhankar Lake (4517 m), a 2-hr hike, or a treacherous vertical ascent that takes an hour. Trek for 3 hrs from Dhankar to Lhalung (3758 m) to see the 1000-year-old Sherkhang Temple notable for its stucco building with wall and ceiling paintings. From Lhalung trek further to Demul, Komik and Langza, staying in rustic homestays run by Spiti Ecosphere. Ph 01906-222-652 http://www.spitiecosphere.com

Katrathal potter making chillums IMG_1018Anurag Priya

Katrathal (Rajasthan)
Counted among the ancient villages of Rajasthan, Katrathal dates back 5000 years to the Mahabharata era when it served as the capital of Kichak, army commander of King Virat of Matsya desa. Kichak was slain by Pandava Bhima for insulting Draupadi. The village also has an unusual cenotaph of Maharaja Budh Singh, a remarkable warrior who was beheaded in battle 25km away but legend recounts how his headless body fought its way back to Katrathal. A chhatri (cenotaph) marks the spot where his body fell. Yet the nondescript village’s has bragging rights as India’s largest producer of clay chillums (earthen pipes). Potters attribute it to Katrathal’s extraordinary mud. Experience the region’s rustic charm at Jor ki Dhani Godham, a 15-acre farmstay about 15km from Sikar on the Katrathal-Hardyalpura Road. Host Kan Singh Nirvan, an advocate of organic farming and healthy living, considers the desi gaai (country cow) as the focal point of his farmstay. Thanks to the germicidal and anti-bacterial properties of cow dung and urine, Kan Singh uses them in a self-concocted solution called jivamrit (organic nectar) for farming. In a small garden patch, rose bushes, papaya and musambi, prosper without being watered, deriving moisture and nutrients from a pit of organic waste. Stay in thatched huts with walls of aran, a medicinal plant eaten by goats and camels, which has therapeutic air-cooling properties. Enjoy farm-fresh milk, curd, buttermilk, white butter and ghee besides bajra (pearl millet) roti, pulses, vegetables and jaggery served on a traditional bajot (low stool). Ph +91-9875039977

IMG_6904 Samten Yongjhar Gompa prayer flags

Mechuka (Arunachal Pradesh)
The road from Aalo winds through the folds of Arunachal’s never-ending hills to finally reach a clearing surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains – Shinjong, Damjen and Lola. This is Mechuka, named after the medicinal hot water springs in which locals take a therapeutic bath (men-medicine, chu-water, kha-open area). Site of India’s most remote airfield on the China border, one wakes up to the sound of bugles and bagpipes of the morning drill. The old gompa of Samden Yongjhar sits on a hillock overlooking the Yargyap River criss-crossed with lovely hanging bridges. 7km from Mechuka at Dorjeling, is the large clay idol of Jawa Jamboku, a manifestation of Lord Buddha as protector against demons, split across two floors as if straddling two worlds. Stay at Nehnang Guest House, locally known as Private I.B.

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Melghat (Maharashtra)
The rediscovery of the Forest Owlet in the forests of Melghat has brought international attention to this forested tract of Central India. Thought to be extinct for nearly 113 years and often confused for the more common spotted owlet, it was rediscovered in the foothills of the Satpura Range in November 1997 by American ornithologist Pamela C. Rasmussen. Though the park is a noted tiger reserve, birders flock to Melghat for a good sighting of the critically endangered bird. The small owlet can often be seen perched atop tall teak trees scouting for its prey. Stay at the MTDC hotel or Harshawardhan at Chikaldhara and visit the Gawilgarh fort, named after the Gawli (cowherds) who have inhabited the pastoral tracts of Berar (modern day Amravati) for centuries.

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Mukhwa (Uttarakhand)
When the Gangotri temple closes for winter after Diwali, the idol of Ganga is shifted to a lower altitude. Mukhwa is the lesser-known winter seat of Gangotri. Stay at riverside tents in an apple grove at Leisure Hotel’s Char Dham Camp at Dharali and stroll across the bridge for a temple visit at Mukhwa and a view of Chandraparvat, Srikanth, Himvan and Bandarpoonch peaks. The village marks the Himalayan ascent of the Pandavas and locals eagerly guide you to the jharna (waterfall). It is believed that Bhima created the Bhim Ganga waterfall to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. Imprints on a rock are regarded as the hoofmarks Bhima’s horse en route to Mansarovar. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while ambling up the mountain. The trail beyond leads to Danda Pokhri for views of Mount Sudarshan and Sumeru with other trails to Sat Tal and Kedarnath via Bhrigupanth. http://www.leisurehotels.co.in Ph 011-46520000

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Narthamalai (Tamil Nadu)
Just 25km from Trichy off the Pudukottai highway is a cluster of nine hills with some of the longest edicts and oldest rock cut cave temples in South India. What makes Narthamalai even more charming are its tarns – rainwater runoff from the rocky hills collect in natural cavities creating small ponds. On the southwest foot of Kadambar malai, facing a water-filled trench is the Kadamba Nayanar temple hewn into the hillock. To its right are two sets of inscriptions of Rajaraja I and Rajendra II inscribed on a specially prepared surface, comparable to Ashokan Rock Edicts. Nearby, shrines of Mangalambigai and Nagarisvaram stand apart on the rocky bed. At the other end of the village, a good 20 min hike up Mela malai leads past Thalayaruvi Singam Sunai, a green pool that has a rock-cut shrine, seen only when the water is drained. Peeping from behind the rocky incline is the turret of the Sivan kovil. The Vijayalayacholeswaran Temple towers above the facing Nandi, subsidiary shrines and fields below. Constructed in 9th century by Vijayalaya Chola, the first king of the Imperial Cholas, this temple is very important as it served as the prototype for the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur. Snug against the mountain is the cave temple of Pathinen Boomi Vinnagaram or Thirumerkoil. Set on a platform with makaras, yalis, lions and elephants in the frieze, the highlight being a dozen near-identical bas-relief sculptures of Vishnu standing on lotus pedestals on the mukha mandapa wall. The adjacent cave shrine of Pazhiyileeswaram has a nandi and dwarapalas guarding the linga inside. The newly renovated Sangam Hotel in Trichy or Chidamabara Vilas near Tirumayam Fort, make ideal bases to cover Narthamalai. Ph 0431-4244555 http://www.sangamhotels.com

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Tilari (Goa)
While white water rafting has recently taken off in Goa on the Mhadei River, it is largely a monsoon driven activity with a season lasting till October. But a new, relatively unknown haunt on the Goa Maharashtra border is being hailed by rafting pioneer John Pollard as ‘a cracking little rafting stretch with one of the most technical and steep sections run in South India.’ Located not far from the Tilari dam and backwaters near the border town of Dodamarg, the river technically falls in Maharashtra but enters Goa as the Chapora River. The 6km stretch has rapids of upto class 4 with a small gorge section that builds up to a real belting rapid called Wrecking Ball and obstacles like Rocky Garden, Kudashi Falls and Below the Bridge. The season lasts from October to Jan but being a dam released river, this year water might be released right up to May. The minimum age limit to raft is 15 yrs. Swimming is advisable but not a must. Rafters are trained thoroughly first and do various rescue drills. Small sporty rafts better suited to this steep technical river are used that seat 3 to 5 (unlike 8 or 9). Trips start at 10.00 am or 2.30 pm at Rs.2250/head. Ph 7387238866, 8805727230 http://www.goarafting.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 4 January 2015 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Gushing about Waterfalls

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a waterfall trail across India to chronicle the Legends of the Falls

Niriang waterfall Meghalaya DSC00927_Anurag Mallick

With the advent of the monsoon, India’s many waterfalls revive into gushing torrents. Many are named after the closest village – like Jog (Gersoppa) in Karnataka or Amboli and Vihigaon in Maharashtra. Some are named after their appearance – Dhuandhar in Madhya Pradesh or Hogenakkal after hogey nakkal (smoke stones) on account of the rising mist. There are still others that are labeled after the creatures that frequent them – Bear Shola Falls in Kodaikanal, Hirni (Doe Falls) in Jharkhand, Chitrakot in Chhattisgarh (after chital or spotted deer) or Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls) in Courtallam. However, in a country where mountains and rivers are steeped in fables, can waterfalls be far behind? Here, we showcase some unique falls whose waters hide legends of kings, sages, gods, mortals and maidens…

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Dudhsagar (Goa)
Legends recount the tale of the princess who used to bathe in a scenic nook of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi. After her bath, she would sit with her attendants, and drink a tumbler of sweetened milk. Once, on hearing voices in the woods, a prince stumbled upon the waterfall. To protect her modesty, the princess upturned the tumbler of milk and the water became milky and fell down as Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk). The waterfall – India’s fifth highest – plummets 310 m off a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a scenic bridge!

Access: Trek from Braganza Ghat near Castle Rock while staying at Off the Grid Camp at Poppalwadi or Dudhsagar Resort at Mollem, 14km away

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim

Nohkalikai falls at Cherrapunjee

Nohkalikai (Meghalaya)
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, Nohkalikai drops from misty cliffs into an aquamarine pool. However, its natural beauty hides a sinister tale. In the village of Rangjirteh, from where the stream passes, there once lived a poor lady called Ka Likai. When she gave birth to a child, her husband passed away. In due course, she got married again. However, her new husband did not love the child and often got angry with Ka Likai for not taking proper care of him. One day when she was away to carry iron ore, he killed the child, cut the body into pieces and prepared a curry. He tossed the head and bones away but forgot to dispose the fingers he had hidden in the betelnut basket. When the lady returned and enquired about the child, the man said he had gone out to play and excused himself. She relished the rice and curry, thinking it to be meat from a sacrifice in the village. However when she reached for some betelnut, she stumbled upon the fingers. Letting out a terrible shriek, she grabbed her dao (machete), ran out and threw herself off the precipice. From that time, the waterfall was known as Noh Ka Likai or the Fall of Ka Likai.

Access: At Cherrapunjee, 60 km from Shillong; track the monsoon while staying at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati

Irpu Falls Coorg_Anurag Mallick

Irpu (Karnataka)
It is believed that in their conquest to Lanka, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana were crossing over the Brahmagiri Hills from Kodagu to Kerala. In a rare display of disobedience, Lakshmana felt a sudden surge of anger, returned his bow and arrows to his elder brother and stormed off. Oddly, the moment he stepped into Kodava land, his anger dissipated. Rama, walked up to Lakshmana, carrying a lump of earth from Kerala and explained that Kerala’s earth was Parashuram Kshetra, reclaimed by the sage after several bloody carnages against kshatriyas, and thus incited passions. Overcome by remorse, Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri mountain and threatened to fling himself into the flames that shot forth. Rama created the Lakshmana Teertha, extinguished the fire and blessed its waters with the power to absolve a person of his sins. Some believe it was Lakshmana’s tears of remorse that became the Lakshmana Teertha. Oddly, irpu in Sanskrit means ‘enemy’ – a place that made enemies even out of brothers. Even now, in Coorg when brothers fight, they ascribe it to this legend.

Access: A 5 min walk from the Irpu Rameshwara temple at the base of the Brahmagiri mountains in Coorg, stay at Ramcad Estate or other homestays

Jet Airways flies to Bangalore and Mangalore

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Bheem nadi (Uttarakhand)
After the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas renounced their kingdom and headed to the Himalayas to atone for all the bloodshed. At Dharali, the Pandavas took a bath in the river to remove the sin of hatya (murder) and thus the stream was called Hatyaharini. While going to Manasarovar, Bhima’s horse allegedly left its hoofmarks on a rock, which can be seen even today at Mukhwa. Locals believe that Bhima created a waterfall (Bhim nadi or Bhim Ganga) by shooting an arrow into the mountain to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. The niche where he supposedly rested a knee to take aim, still exists besides the image of a sleeping horse. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while walking up the mountain. Village boys from Mukhwa often lead you to the jharna, where quartz stones, called moti patthar by the villagers due to their pearl colour, can be found around the waterfall.

Access: Stay at Leisure Hotels’ Char Dham Camp at Dharali and cross the bridge on the Ganga to Mukhwa, from where the waterfall is a short hike away.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun

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Courtallam/Kutralam (Tamil Nadu)
It is believed that after separating from his wife Kaveri, Sage Agastya headed further south and climbed the loftiest mountain to meditate. Named Agasthiyar Malai, it is from the hill’s lofty heights that the Chittar River dashes down through roots and herbs as Kutralam Falls. Tagged as the Natural Spa of the South, (or Kuttralam Courtallam) Falls is the collective name for a diverse cluster of nine waterfalls. Peraruvi (Main Falls) plummets from a height of 120ft with people of all ages jostling for a good shower. In what appears like a mega community bathroom, fully clothed women cluster to the right, the elderly and children stay to the left and oiled men of all shapes and sizes brave the full force of the central torrent. The gentler Chittaruvi Falls is close by. Spreading like the hood of a five-headed serpent is Aintharuvi (Five Falls) 5km from the Main Falls with a shrine dedicated to Ayyanar Shastha. Around 6.5km from the Main Falls is Pazhaya Courtallam (Old Falls) with the ancient Thirukoortalanatheeshwara (Lord of the Peaks) shrine at the foothills. The conch-shaped temple has a stunning Chitra Sabha (one of the famous Pancha Sabhas) with beautiful mural paintings and wood carvings housing a Nataraja deity. A mile-long trek from Main Falls up the mountain leads to Shenbaga Devi Falls, after a temple nearby. Puckle’s Path, named after the District Collector who laid it in the 1860s, leads to Thenaruvi  (Honey Falls), alluding to the honeycombs garlanding the overhanging rocks. Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls), once the watering hole of the big cats, has bathing ghats for pilgrims visiting the Pashupathi Shashta Temple. Pazhathota Aruvi (Fruit Garden Falls) near the Govt Horticulture Park above Five Falls is off-limits to the public. An hour’s drive from Courtallam past Shenkottai, Palaruvi (Milk Falls) plunges from the forests of Ariyankavu and offers a panoramic valley view. The best season is June to September and between November and January during north-eastern monsoons.

Access: Located 5km from Tenkasi, it’s 167km south-west of Madurai via NH-208 on the Tenkasi–Shenkottai Road in Tirunelveli District.

Jet Airways flies to Madurai

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Yapik (Arunachal)
As the high road plows deep into the folds of the mountain on the drive to Mechuka, a stunning waterfall makes every traveler stop and marvel. The wispy Yapik descends like a fairy. However, after a brief pit stop, our co-passengers urged us to hurry up. We wondered why. The oldest in the group explained, ‘Yapik is beautiful, but you must not overstay your welcome. After some time, red egg-shaped stones fall from above. And bad things happen!’ We did not stay long enough to find out…

Access: On the drive from Along to Mechuka while basing yourself at Nehnang Hotel (Private IB)

Jet Airways flies to Itanagar

Thoseghar waterfalls IMG_3848_Anurag Mallick

Thoseghar (Maharashtra)
During the course of their exile, Rama and Lakshmana are supposed to have drifted down from Nashik and Mumbai down the Sahyadris. As they came to Saputara or the region of seven hills, like Banganga, they shot an arrow and created a spring. The twin streams of the Thoseghar Falls are known as Ram and Lakshman, though locals also refer to them as Mota Dhabdaba (big fall), which plummets 250 m in wide tiers and Chhota Dhabdaba (small fall), the three-ribboned stream to the right. However, it is water collected from the surrounding range of mountains Mahabaleshwar, Yavateshwar, Kas and Panchgani that forms this cataract and the origin of the Tarlee River. Access to the waterfall in monsoons is tricky due to slippery rocks and force of the water. A board with a list of lives lost in drowning accidents serves as ample warning.

Access: Drive 26km from Satara on the Sajjangadh road; stay at Nivant Hill Resort, on Kas Plateau Road

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune

Bhagsu (Himachal)
As per local legend of the gaddis (shepherds), nearly 5000 years ago Vasuki, the King of Serpents, stole Lord Shiva’s miraculous bowl holding the water of immortality. Having incurred the Lord’s wrath, the snake god fled with the bowl, which turned upside down while escaping. Its contents were released and formed the waterfall while the spot itself was name after the serpent’s (nag) attempt to flee (bhaag) – as Bhagsunag. While the story may be more fable than fact, the naga connection is apparent. According to another lore, once the region of Alwar in Rajasthan was facing a severe drought. For the benefit of his people, the mystic king Bhagsu left his kingdom and wandered everywhere for a solution. On reaching the slopes of the Dhauladhar mountains, he chanced upon a magical spring owned by Nag devta. Seeing the serpent god away, the king stole a little water in his kamandala (water pot) and left. On returning to his abode, the Naga instantly sensed his water had been pilfered and knew who was the culprit. He chased the king and in the ensuing scuffle, the water spilled and created the waterfall. Bhagsu was shattered. On learning of his noble quest, the serpent blessed his kingdom with rain. He also decreed that the place would become a spot of pilgrimage and be named after the king…

Access: Just 2km from the Himalayan retreat of McLeodganj lies the temple of Bhagsu nag and a short 20 min walk leads to the scenic 30 ft cascade.

Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar

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Athirapally (Kerala)
Perhaps no waterfall in India has been depicted in films as much as Athirapally. Kerala’s biggest fall has served as a backdrop for several songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi cinema. A major portion of 1986 Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan, starring Kamal Hassan and Revathi was based and shot near the falls, leading to its popular nickname as Punnagai Mannan Falls. But the waterfall might as well have been named Mani Ratnam Falls, whose love for the location made him cast it not once, but again and again. It featured in his 1997 film Iruvar starring Mohanlal and Aishwarya Rai, the 1998 film Dil Se with Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, the 2007 Guru with Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and then again in 2010 in Raavan (Raavanan in Tamil). Such is Athirapally’s popularity that nearly 7 million tourists visit the falls and nearby Vazhachal annually.

Access: 30 km from Chalakudi, 55km from Kochi Airport and 58km from Thrissur. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally with waterfall views from every room.

Jet Airways flies to Cochin, Kozhikode and Coimbatore

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the cover story for the July 2014 issue of JetWings International magazine.