Tag Archives: Malabar

Pepper Trail: Treehouse luxury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FACT FILE

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

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

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

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

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

Dance of the Divine: Theyyam & Kalaripayattu

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travel deep into the Malabar hinterland of North Kerala to experience its celebrated art forms Theyyam and Kalaripayattu 

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Somewhere on the fringes of Pallikunnu, a remote village near Kannur in North Kerala, we waited with bated breath to watch the magical transformation of a mere mortal into a god. In the orange glow of an olachottu, an indigenous torch made of dried coconut leaves, flames danced on the somber face of the performer, who recited an invocation. A crowd had assembled in the dead of the night to witness a theyyam performance.

Theyyam is a ritualistic dance form performed in Kerala’s erstwhile Kolathunad region (present day Kasargod and Kannur districts and parts of Wayanad, Malappuram and Kozhikode). The word is derived from devam or thaivam (god) and is as much art as it is ritual. While classical art forms like Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Kalaripayattu flourished in palaces, mansions and temples as exclusive domains of the elite and upper caste Brahmins and Kshatriyas, folklore ran parallel to the mainstream. It represented the hopes and aspirations of the marginalized segment of society and found a platform at sthanams (village shrines) and kavus (sacred groves).

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It is believed theyyam originated from various cults prevalent in ancient Kerala – from totemism to worship of trees, serpents, tigers, ancestors, spirits, heroes, mother goddesses and divinities that ruled diseases. Traditionally held between the Malayalam months of Thulappathu (mid-October) and Edavappathy (mid-May), theyyam is performed mainly by the Ezhavas and Thiyas, traditionally toddy-tappers, besides Hindu sub-castes like Vannan, Malayan, Anjutton, Mannatton, Karimbalan, Pulayan and tribes like Koppalan, Velan, Mayilon and Chungathan.

There are nearly 400 different kinds of theyyam – Vishnu-murti is most commonly performed with some rare ones called Perumkaliyattam that are performed every 12 years. Vayanattukulavan traces the journey of Shiva’s attendant through the forests of Wayanad after he was blinded for drinking from the lord’s cache of toddy. A Brahmin virgin committed suicide to prove her chastity and was deified in the form of Muchilottu Bhagavathi.

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We were witnessing the thottam (preliminary ritual) of Kunnavu Muchilotu Bhagavathy with minimal make-up and costume. Accompanied by singers and musicians, the performer sang the myth or tale of the divinity. In the background, the chenda drummed up a haunting rhythm as folk instruments like tuti (hourglass-shaped drum), kuzhal (double-reed flute) and veekni gave company. The performer received naithiri (lighted wick) in the nakkila (plantain leaf) from the priest of the shrine, who invokes the deity into the wick. Thereafter, god resides with the performer and is ritually returned after the theyyam.

We watched guardian attendants clad in red clothes with swords and shield in hand accompanying the theyyam. They were the komaram or velachipad, who swayed to the hypnotic rhythm, moving in synchronized steps in a group dance is called Kudiyattam. The performer then retired to the aniyara (makeshift green room) to complete his make-up and costume, which took a few hours.

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Make up is done with locally available materials – tender coconut fronds for tasseled frocks or headgear and natural dyes like chayilyam (vermillion), manjal (turmeric powder), arichanthu (rice powder paste) and lamp black are used. The spine of a coconut leaf was used to apply make up. Red clothes, masks, eyepieces, breastplates and tusks are typical accessories of theyyam performances.

After final touches of make-up, the headgear is fixed, usually in front of the shrine. Only then does the performer look into a mirror to perceive the deity for the first time. This ritual, called mukhadarshanam, helps him forget his individuality and become one with his character. It is a moment that sends frissons of excitement through the crowd.

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To perform the theyyam, a person has to undergo tremendous preparation, both physically and mentally. He is supposed to concentrate on the deity and often takes on peculiar vows. Some stay in the premises of the shrine, some prepare their own food while others abstain from meat and alcohol or do not mingle with women. Then, on the big night, all this built up energy is unleashed…

There were gasps in the audience as the theyyam was led out into the arena in full regalia, accompanied by attendants holding the kuthuvilakku (metal lamp with iron rod). The theyyam bore a shield and kadthala (sword) in his hand. He circumambulated the shrine thrice and walked to the family members. A theyyam is usually performed as an offering to a particular deity, to fulfill prayers, after getting a serious problem solved or winning a court case. The person conducting it must bear all the expenses.

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As the clan members sprinkled sacred rice, the theyyam heard their supplications. The theyyam becomes an oracle through which the divinity offers anuvada or solutions to various problems. He then walked rhythmically to the crowds to bless them and continued dancing in the courtyard. Theyyam has different steps known as kalaasams, repeated systematically from the first to the eighth step of footwork. Sometimes, a performance can stretch over hours.

The weapons brandished by the performers hark back to the martial traditions of ancient Kerala society. And there’s no better example of it than kalaripayattu, considered to be one of the oldest forms of combat in existence and a precursor to other martial traditions around the world. The art of payattu (fight) was disseminated through kalari (schools), which served as centres of learning before the modern education system.

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Though Kerala’s culture is rich with several artistic traditions, kalaripayattu blends together various disciplines like yoga, dance, performing arts and Ayurveda with martial art. It is suggested that the art developed during the Sangam Age between 3rd century BC and 2nd century AD, with elements of shastra vidya of warrior sage Parasurama, siddha vaidya of Sage Agastya and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It was codified into its present form only by 11th century, during an extended period of conflict between the Chera and Chola dynasties. The art was widely practiced by the Pada Nairs and Chekavas, a sub group of Ezhavas and gained popularity over time.

Often, to save on the loss of lives and material in a full-scale war, disputes were resolved with ankam, a one-on-one combat between the best fighters from the two sides. It was like ‘Olympics meets Mortal Kombat’. The stakes were high and nothing was left to chance. Every warrior received regular training in target practice, riding horses and elephants and the use of different weapons – vel (spear), val (sword), kedaham (shield), vil-ambu (bow and arrow), neduvadi (sticks), katthi (daggers) and the deadly urumi (long, flexible sword).

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Kalaripayattu bears an uncanny resemblance to kung fu and some conjecture it migrated from India to the Far East with the dispersal of Buddhism. While on the one hand you have Shaolin monks; on the other, are Brahmin warrior sages. Like Kung Fu, kalaripayattu too, borrows a lot from animal movement for vadivu (postures) and combat techniques – asva (horse), sarpa (serpent), simha (lion), gaja (elephant), kukkuta (rooster), mayura (peacock), marjara (cat) and varaha (boar). For all you know, Crouching Tiger and Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow might be more Indian than you think!

To the untrained eye, it may all seem the same but there are three distinct styles of the martial art. Vadakkan (Northern) Kalari, practiced in North Malabar, focuses on weapons rather than empty hands and lays emphasis on meippayattu (physical training and oil massages). Madhya (Central) Kalari, practiced in North Kerala, lays emphasis on application and lower body strength. Thekkan (Southern) Kalari has its roots in Siddha medicine and marma (vital points) techniques.

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After the Portuguese and the Dutch, when the British came to Kerala they realized the deadly power of kalaripayattu. To prevent any potential rebellion or anti-colonial movement, they banned the practice and the Nair custom of holding swords. And thus, an ancient art languished till the 1920s when public interest revived the artform and Thalassery became the epicentre of learning. Though there are several cultural platforms where kalaripayattu is demonstrated, a visit to a kalari is the best way to understand the martial art. We dropped by at the renowned CVN Kalari at Kozhikode for a ringside view.

Built as per vastu sastra, the kalari has an east facing entrance and main door to the right of centre. The sunken central training area is 3.5 ft below ground level with a high thatched roof. The typical architecture shields students against winds that could lower body temperature. Even the floor made with wet red clay offers cushioning and prevents injury. In the southwest corner is a puttara (seven tiered platform) with the guardian deity, usually Bhagavathi, Kali or Shiva. Students offer flowers, incense and water in veneration before every training session. The guru’s stern voice cracked through the chamber like a whip as well-oiled pupils practiced their squats, kicks, jumps and fighting techniques, the way their forefathers did centuries ago. We watched in awe as they flew through the air, swinging swords that set off sparks. In Kerala, the old traditions are well and truly alive…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Kerala is well connected by air with international airports at Trivandrum, Kochi and Kozhikode. Thalassery is 70 km north of Kozhikode.

When to go
October to March is a pleasant time to visit, though theyyam season goes on till May, which can get quite warm.

Tip
Those who can’t catch a performance during theyyam season, there’s an early morning ritual performed in the Muthappan Temple at Parassinikkadavu every day. Local dailies and roadside posters list out theyyams taking place in the area. A detailed list is available at www.theyyamcalendar.com

Where to stay
Gitanjali Hermitage at Bekal, Kannur Beach House at Thottada, Ayesha Manzil in Thalassery and Hari Vihar in Kozhikode are excellent host-run properties that serve as excellent bases for culinary and culture tours.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August-September 2015 issue of India Now magazine.

10 magical drives from Bengaluru

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From the Western Ghats to the Deccan Plateau and the Karavali Coast to Coromandel, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY hit the highways of South India to seek out ten scenic drives from Bangalore

Searching for some great drives around Bengaluru? Look no further than this handpicked list of destinations across regions, themes and geographic zones with everything you need to know – where to stay, what to eat, how to get there, distances, midway stops and what to see en route. Presented in increasing order of distance from Bangalore, take these scenic routes across Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.

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Sakleshpur
Swathed in plantations of coffee, cardamom, pepper and areca, Sakleshpur is the scenic gateway to the Western Ghats. Straddling the passes on the town’s outskirts is Tipu Sultan’s strategic fort Manjarabad. Shaped like an eight-cornered star radiating around a central hillock, the climb is difficult, but offers superb views all around. The 56.8 km Green Route from Sakleshpur to Kukke Subrahmanya, dotted by 58 tunnels, 109 bridges and 25 waterfalls used to be a stunning trek along an abandoned railway track until it was recently converted into broad gauge. Now you can hop on to a train to soak in the natural beauty of Bisle Ghat, home to India’s most spectacular rainforests. From the scenic Bisle viewpoint one can see the mountain ranges of three districts – Kumara Parvatha (1319 m) in Dakshina Kannada, Puspha Giri (1712 m) and Dodda Betta (1119 m) in Coorg and Patta Betta (1112 m) in Hassan district. For a misty drive, head north to Chikmagalur and the Baba Budan Giri hills to climb Karnataka’s highest peak Mullaiyanagiri.
Stay: The Radcliffe Bungalow at the 1000-acre Ossoor Estate 3 km before Sakleshpur off the highway is a charming colonial era plantation bungalow with 3 rooms, red oxide floors and open to sky bathrooms. Run by Plantation Escapes, they also have an 8-room property near Chikmagalur called Mist Valley. www.plantationescapes.com
Distance: 221 km (4 hrs)
Route: Take the Bengaluru-Mangaluru highway or NH-48 via Nelamangala, Kunigal, Hassan and Channarayapatna

Pitstop: Kamath Upchar after Channarayapatna
En route: Drowning church of Shettihalli, Gorur Dam, Hoysala temples at Mosale, Nuggehalli besides Belur-Halebid

Guided Jeep Drive Through Coffee Plantations

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As the winding road climbs the ghats of Coorg, the glossy green coffee bushes and pepper vines present a soothing sight. In monsoon, blankets of mist wrap the rainforest and waterfalls are at their torrential best – be it Abbi and Hattihole near Madikeri (Mercara), Chelavara near Kakkabe or Irpu near Srimangala. Go on a guided Bean to Cup plantation tour with Tata Coffee, enjoy a round of golf at the 9-hole course, grapple with rapids while whitewater rafting at Dubare and Upper Barapole rivers or hike to vantage points like Kotebetta, Mandalpatti and Kabbe Pass. Base yourself in any of the colonial-era bungalows around Pollibetta run by Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trails and feast on traditional Kodava cuisine like koli (chicken) and pandi (pork) curry and monsoon staples like kumme (mushrooms), bemble (bamboo shoots) and kemb (colocasia) curry.
Stay: Stay in premium heritage bungalows like the century old Cottabetta or Thaneerhulla, Woshully plantation bungalow or plantation cottages like Surgi, Thaneerhulla, Yemmengundi or Glenlorna, which offers the rare view of a tea estate in coffee county. They also run the Arabidacool heritage bungalow near Chikmagalur. www.plantationtrails.net
Distance: 230 km (5 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Srirangapatna, turn right onto the Mercara highway and after Hunsur, take the left deviation towards Gonicoppa (look out for the Plantation Trails sign), drive on to Thithimathi and turn right at another sign to Pollibetta, 9 km away.
Pitstop: Maddur vada at Maddur Tiffany’s or puliyogare, pongal, Kanchipuram idlis and Brahmin Iyengar snacks at Kadambam, Channapatna
En route: Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, KRS Dam (Brindavan Gardens) and Namdroling Golden Temple at the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar.

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Lakkidi
Perched at an altitude of 700 m atop Thamarassery Ghat, Lakkidi squats on the western border of Kerala’s hilliest district Wayanad. Located just 5 km from the tourist hub of Vythiri, it is one of the highest locations in the district. The winding Thamarassery–Lakkidi Ghat road, often shrouded in mist and fog, is called the Cherrapunjee of Kerala. Stop by at the freshwater Pookot Lake and the Chain Tree, which pays tribute to the spirit of a tribal chieftain who showed the secret way through the passes to a British officer but was treacherously killed. Head to the district headquarters Kalpetta for Wayanad Splash, a monsoon carnival with mud football, crab hunting, offroad drives and other rain soaked adventures. Hike to the heart-shaped lake at Chembra, Wayanad’s highest peak or take part in cross country cycling, treks and other adventure trails with Muddy Boots.
Stay: Laze in rustic themed tree houses or pool villas at Vythiri Resort, an eco friendly rainforest hideaway landscaped around a gurgling mountain stream. Pamper yourself with rejuvenative Ayurveda therapies, delicious Kerala cuisine and leisurely forest walks. www.vythiriresort.com
Distance: 290 km (7-8 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Mysuru and NH-212 on the Kozhikode Road via Gundlupet, Muthanga, Sulthan Bathery and Kalpetta
Pitstop: Jowar roti, yenne badnekayi, neer dosa and North Karnataka delights at Kamat Madhuvan on the southern outskirts of Mysuru on the Kozhikode Road
En route: Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and the Jain Temple at Sulthan Bathery that Tipu Sultan used an ammunition dump.

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Coonoor
Take a drive up the hairpin bends of the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains for a magical sight of tea plantations that stretch for miles. Escape the bustle of Ooty to quieter Coonoor for drives to stunning viewpoints like Dolphin’s Nose, Catherine Falls, Kodanad and Rangaswamy Pillar. For an offroad experience, drive to Red Hills and Avalanchi or take a 4-wheel jeep ride past Glendale and Nonsuch Estates to Pakkasuran Kote with ruins of Tipu Sultan’s fort. Stay in a plantation bungalow while trekking downhill past Toda hamlets and Hillgrove Railway station. For a lazy slideshow of the hills, hop on to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that covers the 26km uphill climb from Mettupalayam to Ooty in just under 5 hrs, crossing 16 tunnels and 250 bridges.
Stay: Tea Nest Coonoor on Singara Estate Road is a quiet nook overlooking tea plantations with rooms named after tea varieties, a seven-course tea-themed menu and the odd gaur among the bushes. They also run a private 2-room planter bungalow called Tea Nest Annexe 1 km down the road, besides the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road www.natureresorts.in
Distance: 285 km (7-8 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Mysuru, NH-212 till Gundlupet and NH-67 till Theppakadu. The route via Gudalur (right of the Y junction) is 30 km longer with less hairpin bends, though the left route via Masinagudi is more scenic with 36 hairpin bends
Pitstop: JLR’s Bandipur Safari Lodge has decent buffet lunches or try South Indian fare at Indian Coffee House Hotel on NH-67 at Gudalur
En route: Wildlife at Mudumalai National Park, Bandipur Tiger Reserve or Kabini

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Agumbe
One of the rainiest places in Karnataka, Agumbe is significant for many reasons. With a mean annual rainfall of 7,620 mm (300 inches), it is often described as the Cherrapunjee of the South. The sleepy rain-soaked hamlet served as Malgudi in Shankar Nag’s TV adaptation of RK Narayan’s nostalgic tale of Swami and his childhood. It is home to Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) founded in 2005 by herpetologist Romulus Whitaker dedicated to the Indian Cobra. One could visit Agumbe just to see the ‘Top of the Ghaut’ milestone erected by the British to mark the distance from ‘Shemoga’. Or marvel at the sunset from the viewpoint. But one of the biggest incentives is Mr. Nayak, the vada seller at Agumbe Forest checkpost who dispenses vadas with wisdom, stocking books of literary interest, for which regular patrons drive for miles.
Stay: Not too far from Agumbe near Thirthahalli is the quaint Kolavara Heritage homestay, a Chowkimane (traditional home) in a working plantation where you can enjoy Malnad cuisine and nature hikes www.kolavaraheritage.com
Distance: 357 km (8-9 hrs)
Route: NH-4 till Tumkur, NH-206 via Tiptur, Kadur, Tarikere, Bhadravati bypass, Shivamogga bypass, Thirthahalli
Pitstop: Chattambade and vadas at Mr. Nayak’s roadside stall at Agumbe Check-post and meenina oota (fish meals) at Mandagadde, midway between Shivamogga and Thirthahalli
En route: Sringeri temple, Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary and Kannada poet laureate Kuvempu’s birthplace Kavishaila

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Pichavaram
Spread over 2800 acres off Tamil Nadu’s Coromandel Coast; Pichavaram is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. It first shot to fame with MGR’s 1975 film Idhaya Kanni and more recently served as a dramatic backdrop for Kamal Hassan’s Dashavataram. Navigable by boats that weave in and out of narrow canals lined by overgrown mangrove roots, it is a paradise for nature lovers. An early morning boat ride from the Arignar Anna Tourist Complex is ideal for birdwatching. And once you hit the ECR or East Coast Road, extend your itinerary by driving north to the erstwhile French enclave of Puducherry and the ancient maritime Pallava capital of Mamallapuram. Or head south to Tharamgambadi or Tranquebar, once a flourishing Danish outpost with stunning Scandinavian churches and a seaside fort.
Stay: Hotel Sardharam have a decent property in Chidambaram with great food and also run Pichavaram Eco Resort overlooking the boat jetty at Pichavaram backwaters, besides a Chola-themed heritage hotel Lakshmi Vilas near Veeranam Lake www.hotelsaradharam.co.in
Distance: 366 km (9-10 hrs)
Route: NH-7 via Electronic City, Hosur to Krishnagiri, NH-66 to Tiruvannamalai and onward to Cuddalore
Pitstop:
Adyar Ananda Bhavan at BP petrol pump in Chinnar, between Hosur and Krishnagiri
En route: Arunachaleshwara temple and Sri Ramana Maharishi Ashram at Tiruvannamalai, Gingee Fort, Nataraja temple at Chidambaram

Vivanta by Taj Bekal Exterior

Bekal
Remember ‘Tu Hi Re’ from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay and the rain drenched fort where it was shot? That’s Bekal, the largest and most well preserved fort in Kerala built by Shivappa Nayak in 1650. Kasaragod, Kerala’s northernmost district has the highest concentration of forts in the state, highlighting the importance of trade in the Malabar region. Follow the fort trail to Chandragiri and Hosadurg nearby, feast on local Moplah cuisine or take a houseboat ride in the Thejaswini river and the serene backwaters of Valiyaparamba.
Stay: BRDC (Bekal Resort Development Corporation) has facilitated a string of premium resorts like Nileshwaram Hermitage and The Lalit, though the pick of the lot is Vivanta by Taj Bekal. Spread over 26 acres near Kappil Beach, stay in laterite-lined villas inspired by kettuvallam (houseboat) motifs with private plunge pools, signature therapies at Jiva Grande Spa, besides honeymoon packages and vow renewal ceremonies. www.vivantabytaj.com
Distance: 368 km (9-10 hrs)
Route: SH-17 to Mysuru and the old Mysuru-Mangaluru highway or NH-275 via Madikeri, Sampaje, Sullia to Jaloor, and SH-55 via Adhur and Cherkala to Bekal
Pitstop: The renovated East End Hotel in Madikeri is a great place for keema parathas, meat ball curry, though for firewood roasted akki roti with pandi curry stop by at the dingy yet delicious West End Bar on the other end of town.
En route: Omkareshwar Temple, Raja’s Seat and Gaddige in Madikeri, Malik Dinar mosque at Kasaragod

Munnar monsoon IMG_8985_Anurag Priya

Munnar
With most beaches out of bounds during monsoon, the beauty of Kerala in the rains is best experienced in the hills. And what better haunt than Munnar, located at the scenic tri-junction of moon aaru or ‘three rivers’ – Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala? Watch the mist roll over the mountains from your perch as you sip a steaming cup of Kannan Devan Hills chai. Drop by at the tea factory to trace the journey from leaf to cup as you explore the colonial summer hideout of the British through excellent short drives. Go via Mattupety Dam and Echo Point to Top Station or via the scenic lake of Devikulam to Bison Valley. Visit Eravikulam National Park to spot the Nilgiri Tahr or head to Anamudi Peak, at 2695m the highest point south of the Himalayas.
Stay: Tiled roof stone cottages built using rocks from the property, Mountain Club is a picture-postcard resort at Chinnakanal 21 km from town adjacent to Club Mahindra. It has an excellent multi-cuisine restaurant, coffee shop and an infinity pool overlooking Anayirankal Dam. www.mountainclub.co.in
Distance: 478km (11-12 hrs)
Route: NH-7 via Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri to Salem, via Avinashi and Udumalpet onto Munnar Road
Pitstop: Besides Adyar Ananda Bhavan midway between Dharmapuri and Thoppur, there’s all day dining and a great value lunch buffet at GRT Grand Estancia at Salem, besides Hotel Chinnis at Perundurai
En route: Mettur Dam, Bhavani temple,
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Kundapura DSC04826_Anurag Priya

Toodhalli
Ever heard that thing about not eating fish in months that don’t have an ‘r’? May, June, July and August is the monsoon period when fish usually spawn, hence the old adage. But if you were to drive up the Karavali Coast to Karwar, there are several places to drop anchor. Kundapura, a town known for its legendary cuisine, boasts iconic dishes like Kundapur Chicken, Chicken Ghee Roast, Chicken sukka and neer dosa, with enough variety to keep one docked for days. Drive up further to Sai Vishram Beach Resort in Baindoor, perhaps the only non-alcoholic pure vegetarian resort on the coast. But for the best culinary and wellness experience drop by at Wild Woods Spa, which offers rare delights like jackfruit idli and dosa, wild mushroom curry, bamboo shoot curry, pathrode, spinach dosa and the signature dasola yele (Hibiscus leaf) idli.
Stay: Besides Blue Waters at Kundapura and Sai Vishram at Baindoor, Wild Woods Spa & Resort at Toodhalli, 7km from Shiroor checkpost, is a great place to enjoy the rains. A mountain stream encircles the botanical retreat that offers wood and stone cottages, exotic cuisine and spa treatments. www.wildwoodsspa.com
Distance: 496 km (12 hrs)
Route: NH-48 to Mangaluru via Shiradi Ghat and head north on NH-17 to Kundapura, Bhatkal and beyond. If closed for renovation or road repair, take NH-4 via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere to Harihar and turn left via Siddapur and Jog Falls to reach the coast at Bhatkal. Or take NH-48 to Hassan and NH-234 via Belur and Mudigere to Charmadi Ghat, Belthangady, Karkala and Udupi.
Pitstop: Shetty Lunch Home in Kundapura is legendary for its sukkas, ghee roast and the eponymous Kundapur Chicken. Stop at Kwality on NH-17 for Bhatkal biryani (they serve only chicken)
En route: Stunning coastal views, waterfalls like Jog, Arshinagundi and Apsarakonda, coastal pilgrim trail from Udupi, Kukke Subramanya, Kollur Mookambika, Murudeshwar, Idagunji to Gokarna and Jain circuit of Moodbidri, Karkala, Varanga and Bhatkal.

Turiya Spa Canacona Goa_Amit Bhandare

Palolem
Driving through Goa in the rains, especially the rich hinterland, is the perfect foil to the frenetic beach activity of the high season. Away from the secluded coast and the sore sight of fishing boats shrouded with palm fronds and blue tarpaulin, the green of the lush countryside is so bright it hurts your eyes! Explore the quiet south with trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary on the Goa-Karnataka border, the stone cut temple of Tambdi Surla, a railway track hike or adventure bike ride to Doodhsagar waterfall or white water rafting on the Surla Mhadei river.
Stay: A tastefully renovated century old Portuguese villa in a quiet colony of Canacona, Turiya Villa & Spa is named after the fourth state of consciousness and is a great place to relax with lovely homestyle Konkani food and an in-house spa that offers Ayurveda, body and beauty treatments www.turiyahotels.com
Distance: 559 km (12-14 hrs)
Route: NH-4 via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere to Haveri, via Yellapur to Karwar and up the coastal NH-17 to Canacona
Pitstop: Thatte idlis at Bidadi, Sri Kottureshwara or Old Sagar Hotel in Davangere for benne dosas and Amrut Restaurant and Shwetha Lunch Home in Karwar
En route: Chitradurga Fort, Yana Caves (Kumta-Sirsi route), Tagore Beach Karwar

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as a monsoon special on 15 July 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/10-magical-monsoon-drives-bengaluru

Tryst with Destiny: Indian Freedom Trail

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As part of an Independence Day Special, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY retrace the journey of India’s freedom struggle, profiling some key and lesser known historic sites they’ve visited across the country

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Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Allegedly used as a pitstop by Lord Hanuman on his aerial flight to Lanka (hence the name), the Andamans played an important part in the Indian struggle for independence. The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny prompted the British to choose the remote Andamans as a penal settlement. Thousands of Indian revolutionaries were sentenced to ‘Saza-e-Kala Pani’ and made to toil night and day under extreme conditions for 10 years to build a seven-pronged prison. Nearly 30 million bricks, made from crushed corals sourced from Dundus Point were used. Each wing had three storeys for solitary confinement in 693 individual cells, thereby giving its name – Cellular Jail. When the siren blared from the central watchtower it indicated that three martyrs had been hanged. The photo displays, sculpted models, relics and Sound & Light show offer a vivid portrayal of the suffering and sacrifice of the patriots. Ross, at 0.8 sq km, the smallest island in the Andamans served as the British headquarters. When Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, visited Ross Island in 1872, he went to Mount Harriet, the highest point in South Andamans to enjoy the sunset. When he reached Hope town jetty for the ferry back to Ross, he was ambushed and assassinated by Sher Ali Khan, who was later hanged at Viper Island.

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During World War II, after occupying Singapore and Rangoon, Japanese troops landed at Port Blair on 23 March 1942 and captured it without firing a shot. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Supreme commander of the Provisional Govt of Azad Hind, had allied with the Japanese to oust the British. On 30th December 1943, Netaji hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free India for the very first time. Andaman and Nicobar were renamed as Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). Netaji stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial near Netaji Stadium at Port Blair commemorates his visit. However, the Japanese atrocities at Cellular Jail and the island were kept hidden from him. Over 700 innocent people were taken in 3 big boats and thrown overboard near Havelock Island in the dead of the night. In a similar incident, 300 islanders were killed at Tarmugli Islands off Wandoor. Just off the road to Wandoor, lies a dark gloomy park on a small hillock at Humphreyganj. On 30th January 1944, 44 innocent people detained at Cellular Jail on false spy charges, were brought here and brutally murdered. Today, the trench where they were buried is marked by a memorial… Ironically, while India’s freedom fighters perished in prison, some of the islands were named after British heroes of the mutiny like Havelock, Neil, William Peel, Outram and John & Henry Lawrence.

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Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Madurai was an important landmark in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Surprisingly, he made five visits to the city. On his second visit to Madurai in 1921, disturbed by the plight of poor farmers, Gandhiji shed his long coat and donned his trademark loincloth. In 1934 he refused to step inside the Madurai Meenakshi Temple when his escort was not allowed inside because he was a harijan. This triggered the ‘Temple Entry Movement’ for untouchables. Only after Vaidyanath Iyer opened the doors of the temple to everybody in 1939, did Gandhiji enter the shrine in 1946! During the renovation of the temple, a mural artist was so inspired by this event, that he painted an image of Mahatma Gandhi on the temple walls. The Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai, set in the beautiful Tamukkum Summer Palace of Nayaka queen Rani Mangammal is one of the seven museums in the country dedicated to the Mahatma. It showcases Gandhiji’s life through rare photos, quotes, murals and letters. The Hall of Relics and Replicas contains 14 original artefacts used by Mahatma Gandhi including a shawl, spectacles, yarn and the bloodstained cloth worn by him when he was assassinated.

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Vellore Fort, Tamil Nadu
Few people are aware that the first mass rebellion against British rule took place at Vellore Fort, 50 years before the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Independence! Though it lasted just for a day the 1806 Vellore Mutiny wreaked immense havoc and damage on the British. The cause of this revolt was a change in the Sepoy dress code in November 1805. Incited by the decision of the British to disallow Hindus from wearing tilaks on their foreheads and the demand for Muslims to shave their beard and trim their moustache, Indian soldiers stormed the bastion and killed nearly 200 British troopers in a day-long attack that rewrote history. Tragically, they were subdued by reinforcements from Arcot and nearly 700 Indian soldiers were gunned down. However, this wasn’t the first challenge the British faced in Tamil Nadu. Veerapandiya Kattabomman, an 18th century Poleygar chieftain fought against the British alongside the brave Marudu brothers. Treason led to his execution on 16 October 1799 at Kayatharu on NH7, near Tirunelveli. Today, a memorial has been erected at the site. The historic Vellore Fort is a 16th Century citadel that served as the erstwhile headquarters of the Late Vijayanagara Empire. The fort was built in 1566 by Chinna Bommi Nayak and Thimma Reddy Nayak, subordinates to Sadasiva Raya of Vijayanagara. As a result of the struggle for power among the squabbling Raya families, the fort suffered gradual decline and witnessed the brutal royal genocide of Vijayanagar king Sriranga Raya’s kith and kin. Soon the Deccan Sultans swept in to take control followed by the Marathas, the Nawabs of Arcot and the British.

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Pazhassi Raja’s Tomb, Wayanad
This is the story of how the tiny district of Wayanad in Kerala influenced one of the world’s most famous wars, The Battle of Waterloo. Under the treaty of Srirangapatnam, when Tipu Sultan ceded Malabar to the British, Pazhassi Raja of Kottayam (a small village 70 km from Mananthavady) was among the first to revolt against the British. Persecuted, he took refuge in the dense jungles of Wayanad and organized local tribals into an irregular army, launching a long period of guerrilla warfare against the British. In a famous incident, an entire division of 360 soldiers of the British army camping at Panamaram was slaughtered. News of his courageous exploits spread like wild fire, earning him the title Keralasimham or the Lion of Kerala and he soon garnered support from far and wide.

For nine years, he managed to elude the British by constantly moving and hiding in the caves at Pulpally. In a bid to capture him, the British launched a two pronged attack. Young Lord Wellesley camped with his contingent at Mysore while TS Baber, the Collector of the Madras Presidency called in the British army from Thalassery and studied his guerilla tactics. When they caught Pazhassi Raja’s two generals, the Britishers amputated their limbs and hanged them as a warning to locals. Eventually, someone betrayed Pazhassi Raja who chose to end his life by swallowing his diamond ring rather than being caught alive by the British; bringing the rebellion to an abrupt end. Impressed by his bravery, TS Baber carried the king’s body in his own palanquin as a mark of respect. Pazhassi Raja’s tomb is located in Mananthavady.  It is said that Lord Wellesley learnt the rules of guerilla warfare while pursuing Pazhassi Raja in the hills and jungles, which the Duke of Wellington later employed in the historic Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon.

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Phillaur Fort, Punjab 
Located on the banks of the Sutlej, Phillaur is the site of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s historic fort when Lahore used to be the capital of undivided Punjab. On account of its strategic location, it was first developed as a serai for trading and military purposes by Sher Shah Suri around 1540. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan later revived it, using it as a Dak ghar (Postal Center) and Military camp. After the Amritsar treaty of 1809 with the British East India Company, Phillaur became a border post of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Lahore Empire. With help from an Italian architect, the serai was converted into a fort. Presently called Maharaja Ranjit Singh Fort, it houses a Police Training Academy (PTA). The Fingerprint Bureau set up in 1892 is one of the oldest of its kind. The Museum retraces India’s freedom struggle in Punjab and the history of Punjab Police with panels on the Anglo-Sikh Wars, 1928 Lahore Conspiracy case and major battles. Vintage guns, artillery, swords, tools of burglary and theft are also displayed! The highlights include the sword of Lord Lytton, the pen used in Lahore Court to sign the death warrant of Bhagat Singh and the finger imprints of Udham Singh, who shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer in 1940 at Caxton Hall in London. O’Dwyer was the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Interestingly, the popular hymn ‘Om Jai Jagdish Hare’ was composed in Phillaur in the 1870s by local litterateur Shardha Ram Phillauri. 

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Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
On the evening of April 13, 1919, the people of Amritsar gathered for a peaceful protest against the Rowlatt Act in Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden near Harmandir Sahib. It was Baisakhi festival and a Sunday, so nearly 15,000 to 20,000 people had assembled (including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, women, senior citizens and children). When news of the protest reached Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, he arrived with 65 Gurkha and 25 Baluchi soldiers, an hour after the meeting began. The British were already paranoid after the Lahore conspiracy trials, the possible influence of the Russian revolution on India and the Third Anglo-Afghan War, so Dyer was convinced that a major insurrection was on. Dyer ordered fifty riflemen to open fire on the gathering. For the next ten minutes they kept firing till the ammunition ran dry. Nearly 1,650 rounds were fired and 1,302 men, women and children were killed. The narrow lane had a single entry and exit that was blocked by huge armoured vehicles, forcing many to jump into a well in the compound and perish. The site was acquired by the nation through public subscription on 1st August, 1920 at the cost of Rs.5.65 lakh and a Flame of Liberty Memorial erected. The Martyr’s Well from where 120 bodies were recovered and the wall riddled with 36 bullet marks serve as a chilling reminder of this heinous incident.

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Khonoma, Nagaland
The British first came into contact with the fierce Nagas in 1832, when Capt. Jenkins and Pemberton ventured into Angami territory for a strategic road survey between Assam and Manipur. In the years to follow the British met with stiff resistance from the Nagas everywhere. After the British adopted a policy of non-intervention in 1851, the Nagas launched 22 raids against the British, who finally attacked the Angami stronghold of Khonoma. Captain John Butler described Semoma Fort, a stone bastion, as ‘the strongest in the North East’. Each time the fort was destroyed; it rose phoenix-like, defiantly rebuilt to endure the next attack. In 1879, the killing of British political agent GH Damant resulted in the Battle of Khonoma, the last organized Naga resistance against the British. After booby-trapping the area the Nagas escaped to the mountains. The British eventually settled for a peace treaty, ending half a century of fighting and acknowledged their autonomy. The Nagas earned profound respect from the British and their evolution from a ‘savage race of head-hunters’ to the ‘cradle of civilization’ was swift.

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Moplah Rebellion, Malabar
Malabar, the northern tract of Kerala, was the site of a bloody rebellion by the Muslim Mapila community against the British and oppressive Hindu landlords. Perinthalmanna, 3 km from Angadipuram in Malappuram, was the nerve center of the Moplah revolts of 1896 and 1921. The 1921 rebellion began as a reaction against a heavy-handed crackdown on the Khilafat Movement by the British authorities in the Eranad and Valluvanad taluks of Malabar. Even the sacred shrine of Angadipuram was not left untouched and was used as a protective abode by rioters. Open fights broke out in the courtyard during which the temple suffered extensive damages, which were duly repaired. Adjoining the Valiya (Big) Juma Masjid in Ponnani is a mausoleum of the Malappuram martyrs whose deeds have been immortalized in Moplah ballads.

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Sidho Kanhu Smarak, Jharkhand
The Sidho Kanhu Santhali Sanskritik Kendra at Massanjore perform an old Santhal ballad about their folk heroes. As the Mayurakshi flows silently behind, girls sway in their green saris, the mandhar (tribal drum) taps a primal beat and Santhal boys dance with ghungroos tied to their feet. The song recounts the tale of  the brave Sidho Kanhu, who had been imprisoned by the British for rebelling against the unjust tax imposed on tribal forest land. As their brothers Chand and Bhairon wistfully watched from afar, astride their horses, Sidho and Kanhu were hanged from a banyan tree at Bhognadih near Baghdaha More. The song goes on to say that there was so much sadness, even the horse had cried… Another enigmatic folk figure was the brave Birsa Munda, who fought for tribal rights against the British. He was captured through treachery on 3 February 1900 and died mysteriously in Ranchi Jail on 9 June 1900. He was only 25 years old. Ranchi airport is named after him while his birth anniversary, 15 November, is celebrated every year at Samadhi Sthal, Kokar in Ranchi.

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The Ridge, Delhi
The last outcrop of the Aravalli Hills rising 60 ft. above the city of Delhi, the Ridge was where the British pitched camp just 1200 yards from the city walls during the siege of Delhi from June to September 1857. Flagstaff Tower was the first rallying point for the Europeans when the mutiny reached Delhi. The Mutiny Memorial, an ornate 110 feet Gothic edifice, was erected in 1863 after the mutiny at the site of Hodgson’s battery. The red sandstone octagonal structure was built in memory of the soldiers of the Delhi Field Force, who were killed in action or died of wounds between 30th May and 20th September, 1857. The names of the British soldiers can be found etched on marble slabs around its base, which also bear a passing mention of the native soldiers who fought on behalf of the British.

Delhi is littered with sites linked to the 1857 Mutiny. At the Red Fort, mutineers had crowned Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India. Humayun’s tomb was where Captain Hodgson arrested Bahadur Shah who was hiding with his three sons and a grandson, and they were subsequently beheaded. Badli-ki-Serai on G.T. Road was the site of a battle fought on 8th June 1857 between the sepoys and the Gordon Highlanders, to whom a memorial exists in Azadpur Sabzi Mandi. Kashmiri Gate was where the British made a final assault on Delhi on 14th September 1857. Brigadier General John Nicholson’s grave lies in the Kashmiri Gate cemetery. St James Church nearby was built by the legendary James Skinner in 1836 who once lay wounded on the battlefield and vowed that he’d build a church for the British, if he survived. The church was badly damaged during the 1857 Mutiny, its dome was pitted with holes as it served as targets for firing practice by sepoys. The structure was later repaired by the British and restored to its former glory.

Barrackpore, West Bengal
Located on the eastern bank of the Ganges about 15 miles from Calcutta, Barrackpore was the site of a military barrack set up in 1772, making it the first cantonment of the British East India Company. However, not one, but two rebellions took place against the British at Barrackpore. The 1824 rebellion was led by Sepoy Binda Tiwary of the 47th Bengal Native Infantry. Being upper caste Hindus, they refused to board boats for Burma in the First Anglo-Burmese War as crossing the seas would pollute their religious beliefs. The British decimated the rebels with an artillery barrage. Later, rumours that the British had greased the Enfield cartridges with lard (which had to be bitten off) ignited the first spark during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. Muslims suspected the grease to be pork fat while Hindus assumed it originated from beef. Mangal Pandey attacked his British commander and was subsequently court-martialled and executed, while punitive measures were taken against other rebel sepoys.