Tag Archives: Pondicherry

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.

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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

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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

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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/

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11 ways to enjoy Puducherry

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Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, set in the former French enclave of Pondicherry (now Puducherry), notched up 11 Oscar nominations. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick 11 unique ways to discover Pondy, hailed as La Côte d’Azur de l’Est or French Riviera of the East

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1. Celebrate Pondy’s cultural diversity
Witness the unique amalgam of the quiet sea-facing French Quarter with its wide rues (streets) blending into the bustling hinterland of the Tamil Quarter. One can fathom how Piscine Patel embraced multi-culturalism in Pondy’s diverse air with shrines like Varadaraja Perumal in the Hindu Quarter, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the Christian Quarter and Khutbah and Meeran mosques in the Muslim Quarter. Meditate in silence in the leafy courtyard of Aurobindo Ashram or retrace Pi’s footsteps as he followed Anandi through the colourful, chaotic markets of Grand Bazaar. 

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2. Go French
Amidst policemen wearing red kepis and locals playing petanque (hurling metal balls), get a dose of French culture at Alliance Francaise and Institut Francais de Pondicherry (IFP), whose precious manuscripts find a mention in UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ register. Observe prayers in French at Notre Dame des Anges, the only church in Pondicherry to have mass in three languages (English and Tamil are the other two). Don’t miss the marble statue of Jeanne d’ Arc in front and the tomb of French governor Marquis de Bussy in an adjacent cemetery.

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3. Walk down the historic promenade
Explore Beach Road or Goubert Avenue on foot, a seaside avenue lined by charming colonial buildings like the French Institute, French Consulate General, Secretariat, Villa Bayoud heritage hotel and Promenade Hotel, built in 1878 as a railway station! Amble down to the old groundnut bag embankment where a statue of Mahatma Gandhi now stands, the tallest in Asia. Beyond the 88ft lighthouse, the first on the Coromandel Coast, are the Custom House, French War Memorial, Le Café (a porthouse till the 1930s) and statue of French Governor Dupleix at the southern end of the promenade. With no vehicular traffic between 6pm to 7:30am it’s ideal for evening and morning jaunts!

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4. Get blessed by an elephant at Manakula Vinayagar
The 500-year-old shrine of Lord Ganesha was once closer to the shore where sand (manal) often swept into its pond (kulam), giving the temple its name Manakula Vinayagar. Having survived attempts by French missionaries to pull it down, the popular temple is a celebration of the elephant-headed god, whose various forms adorn the walls. Hand a coin to Lakshmi, the temple elephant to receive a thump from her trunk as blessing!

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5. Hang out at a café
Get drawn into Pondy’s many cafes and boulangeries where the tantalizing smell of fresh baked croissants and baguettes hangs in the air. Overlooking the pier where Pi bid adieu to Anandi, is Le Café, a 24 hr coffee lounge serving organic beverages, pastries and snacks. Catch an evening concert at Café de Flore, an informal garden restaurant at Alliance Francaise’s Maison Colombani.

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6. Go boating at Chunnambar
If drifting on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger on the high seas isn’t your kind of escapade, try the tamer pleasures of Chunnambar. Drive 7km south on Cuddalore Road to the serene backwaters for a leisurely boat ride. Besides river jaunts, go on a sea cruise for dolphin sighting or take a speedboat to Paradise Beach with a picnic hamper.

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7. Get a wat-su treatment at Paradise Spa
For aqua adventures of another kind, get initiated in the art of wat-su (or WATer ShiatSU) at The Dune Ecotel’s Paradise Spa. Enriching your visit are rejuvenative therapies, art in residence programs, shopping at the ArtyZan boutique, gourmet cuisine and stay in eco friendly rooms, no two of which are alike!

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8. Get a history lesson at Puducherry Museum
While little remains of the Roman trading settlement at Arikamedu when Pondicherry flourished as the port town of Poduke, one can piece together the jigsaw at Pondicherry Museum. The century old Law Building, erstwhile residence of the French Administrator, displays Roman pottery and Megalithic burial urns. The Transport Gallery features palanquins, carts and the Pousse Pousse, a vehicle pushed from the rear and steered by a rider. In the French-India Gallery see period furniture like tête-à-têtes (S-shaped sofas), comptoirs, escritoires (writing tables and desks) and the cot used by French Governor Dupleix (1742-1754), whose bust adorns the museum.   

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9. Try Franco-Tamil cuisine at a restaurant with no name
Located on Perumal Koil Street in the Tamil Quarter is Maison Perumal, a Chettiar mansion beautifully restored by CGH Earth. Like in a house, the rooms are left unnumbered and the courtyard restaurant bears no name. Dine on the day’s fixed menu of fresh seafood platters surrounded by ooralis (brass troughs), sepia tinted photos and stain glass panes glinting in the sun.

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10. Botanical garden
While there’s no zoo in Pondicherry (there are plans to set up one after the movie’s success), it was the scenic locale of the Botanical Garden that served as the film set. Established in 1826, the 22-acre garden was a French experiment to analyze the feasibility of crops in the area. Flowerbeds and graveled pathways were added later and today it’s a treasure trove of 900 exotic plants, with an aquarium, a toy train and a musical fountain as its other attractions. The centrally located Bharathi Park, at the site of the demolished Fort Louis and military parade ground, is the city’s other lung space with the Arc de Triomphe-sque Aayi Mandapam dominating the centre.

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11. Hone a skill at Auroville
There’s more to Auroville than just the Matri Mandir. Live and learn in this global city of ideas where its inhabitants perfect crafts like handmade paper (Auroville Papers), indigo-dyed clothing (The Colours of Nature), incense manufacture (Encens d’Auroville) and bodycare (Maroma Spa) to energy-efficient solutions. Besides workshops and internship programs, there’s a huge communal bonfire in the Amphitheatre on 21 Feb and 28 Feb to celebrate the birthdays of the Mother and Auroville.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 18 Feb 2013 in Conde Nast Traveller online.  

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013: Great Places to Party

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out the season’s hotspots and their favourite new year getaways 

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Amidst New Year resolutions and social engagements, if you still haven’t figured out where to let your hair down for the year-end, don’t fret. Having been to full moon parties, 5-star bashes and quiet escapes, here’s a lowdown of our best party spots – from winter festivals and cultural carnivals to frenzy on the beach and solitude in the hills.

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So when was the last time you spent a new year at Hampi? At sunrise, marvel at the Tungabhadra slithering through mist-covered boulders from your aerial perch at Anjanadri. Have some banana lassi and pancakes at Mango Tree restaurant or lose yourself in the maze of cafes at the backpacking haven of Virupapuragadda. To immerse yourself in local culture, take a coracle ride across the river to The Kishkindha Trust at Anegundi, Hampi’s oldest quarter. Learn about shorba (banana fibre) handicrafts, appreciate the vernacular architecture of quaint homestays run by TKT or enjoy classical concerts by the river. Boulders Resort nearby has integrated boulders into its architecture with a beautiful stone pool and walkways along the river bed sculpted by water.

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Many tourists tend to couple a visit to Hampi with Goa, though this connection is not new. The Vijayanagar Empire enjoyed trade links with Portugal via Goa, so travellers are merely retracing a historic trade route. If you’re a fan of electronic dance music, head to Candolim for Sunburn (27-29 Dec), which has emerged as the premier EDM platform in India. Having recently broken all records, outselling the online sale of even IPL tickets, this year’s edition features big names such as BT (Brian Transeau), Paul Van Dyk, Richard Durand and Roger Sanchez, besides top artists from the country. If Sunburn’s 3-day, 9k price tag is going to burn a hole in your pocket, try Palolem in the south or Morjim and Arambol to the north, besides old faithfuls like Curlies, Hilltop Anjuna, Shiva Valley and Primrose Vagator.

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Partying at New Years in Goa has its pitfalls – the crowds, traffic snarls, over-priced rates and bumping into acquaintances as if it was a mini Mumbai or Bangalore! For a less commercial trip with fewer people, try Gokarna, whose bouquet of beaches like Kudle, Om, Paradise and Half Moon wear a rustic and earthy charm. Ambient dub reggae beats blare from beachside speakers while someone plays a djembe or Diabolo. It was a New Year party many full moons ago that led to a phone call a month later saying ‘Hi, this is Willem. I’m in Bangalore. You told me I could stay with you. We had met at Namaste Café at Gokarna… (No recollection) We were in front of the speaker and had trouble talking (Bingo)!’ If mud huts and teepees in the forest are not your thing, opt for more creature comforts at SwaSwara. CGH Earth’s swanky resort near Om Beach is a great place to unwind with yoga in the attic, meditation in the Blue Room and gourmet cuisine.

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Further down the west coast, Kerala is excellent for a quiet escape. New 5-star properties like Taj Bekal, The Lalit and Neeleshwar Hermitage have firmly placed Kasaragod, the state’s northernmost district on the tourist map. With only 35 rooms, The Lalit is exclusivity personified with Balinese décor and a range of rejuvenative programs at its trademark Rejuve Spa. Go kayaking and canoeing in the Nombili river or opt for a houseboat cruise at Valiyaparamba, easily Kerala’s most pristine backwater stretch. If Alappuzha’s kettuvallam circuit is too commercial for your liking, choose CGH’s Spice Coast Tours, which has its own private jetty and transfer to Coconut Lagoon after a cruise on Vembanad lake. At the Cochin Carnival (Dec 22-Jan 1) catch colourful pageantry and traditional art forms, besides dirt bike races, beach volleyball and fireworks display at Fort Kochi.

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The fun is not relegated to India’s West Coast alone… there’s a lot happening on the East Coast as well. Get a music education at the month-long Madras Music season in Dec-Jan at Chennai with over 1500 performances of Indian classical music, dance and allied arts. Soak in the majestic ambience of the newly opened ITC Grand Chola, the world’s largest LEED-certified green hotel and the third largest hotel in India. Enjoy a quiet walk along the beach or indulge in the luxurious oasis of Fisherman’s Cove on East Coast Road.

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Just beyond the Madras Crocodile Bank, welcome the new year through a celebration of dance. The famous Mamallapuram Dance Festival (Dec 29-Jan 1) is set against Arjuna’s Penance, the world’s largest bas relief. The Mayan Doomsday might have come and gone but Krishna’s Butter Ball promises to roll down at the end of the world, as per Hindu belief. Party at Butterball Café, Moonraker Restaurant on Ottavadai Street or pamper yourself at Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort, marveling at the Shore Temple from an early morning catamaran ride.

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If you can’t go to Paris in a hurry, you can still rekindle romance in true French style in Pondicherry (Puducherry). With its profusion of French heritage hotels, cafes and bakeries serving French and Creole cuisine, designer boutiques and beach getaways like Serenity and Paradise, the place leaves you spoilt for choice. Boogie all night at the Ska Bar cum Disco at Ocean Spray or go on a long romantic walk along the Promenade. A stay at any of the Aurobindo ashrams is spiritual and peaceful while a short drive to The Dune offers a plush holiday experience with gourmet seafood and Wat-Su (water shiatsu) aqua treatments.

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There’s no state that understands the need for a lavish holiday like Rajasthan, throwing in a burst of colour and culture. Come winter, you can choose from Shilpgram Art and Craft Fair near Udaipur (23 Dec-Jan 1), Mount Abu Winter Festival (29-31 Dec) and Desert Festival at Jaisalmer in February. Be it Deogarh Mahal, Pal Haveli, Nachna Haveli or Neemrana’s string of palace and fort hotels, the numerous havelis and heritage hotels let you usher the new year with royalty and style. Sumptuous meals, bonfire nights with folk singers and dancers performing under the stars… you couldn’t ask for a livelier setting.

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Neighbouring Gujarat too doesn’t fall behind in churning up a festive spirit. The Rann Utsav (15 Dec-31 Jan) offers a spectacular array of cultural events and an exhibition of the state’s vibrant art and crafts like Ajrakh hand block prints and Kutch patchwork with mirror embroidery. Stay in tented camps or mud huts adorned with wall paintings. The best time to see winter migratories, watch birds by the thousands at Narayan Sarovar or chase khur (Asiatic Wild Ass) at the Wild Ass Sanctuary.

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We remember an unforgettable new year in Corbett National Park where we sat around a campfire exchanging wildlife stories. There was no music except the continuous symphony of cicadas and the occasional warning call of furtive barking deer. You can get a similar experience closer home at Mudumalai, Bandipur or Kabini, which have several wildlife resorts to pick from. If you’re looking for a back to nature theme, Coorg, Wayanad and Nilgiris are also scenic places to drop the pace. 

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If you are looking for a convenient international destination to party, you could ring in the New Year with new buys at great discounts, competitions, prizes, fireworks and entertainment at the month-long Dubai Shopping Festival (3 Jan-3 Feb). As far as new year festivities go, celebrate the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (4-17 Feb) in the Year of the Snake with night parades, dragon dances and fireworks over Victoria Harbour. For an affordable exciting vacation nothing beats Thailand; fly to Bangkok to experience its vibrant nightlife and see why it was an apt setting for The Hangover 2. Or travel onward to the beaches of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi.

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However, if your idea of fun is an endless night of pub crawl, let the Irish teach you how. Be it the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast or the Temple Bar area of Dublin, the alehouses and taverns of Ireland can give the pubs of London a complex. Dublin’s New Year Eve Festival heralds the start of The Gathering Ireland 2013, a year-long celebration of all things Irish. Learn how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse. Do a Literary Pub Crawl in the footsteps of James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Or take a leaf from Irish author Brendan Behan’s book who moved to Toronto because he saw a coaster in a pub that said ‘Drink Canada dry!’ Happy partying…

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 23 December 2012 as a cover story in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

Trunk Call: 10 Unusual Ganesha shrines of India

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In celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY criss-cross the country in search of extraordinary shrines dedicated to Ganesha, the Elephant God 

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Ganpatipule, Konkan Coast (Maharashtra)
According to legend a local cowherd’s cow had stopped giving milk but would spontaneously offer milk only at a particular spot on the reef, leading to the discovery of the swayambhu (self-manifest) stone image of Lord Ganesha. Since it was found by the pula (sandy dune), the place was called Ganpatipule. Once a year the surf comes up to Lord Ganesha’s shore temple as if to touch the feet of the idol in reverence. The unique west-facing temple is built in such a way that in the months of February and November the sunrays fall directly on Lord Ganesha’s idol. Devotees whisper entreaties into the ears of the large brass mouse before offering their prayers inside. The temple is located at the base of a hill believed to be shaped like Lord Ganesha, so pilgrims do a pradakshina (circumambulation) of the entire hill along a paved path.

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Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Mumbai (Maharashtra)
What used to be a small 3.6 m x 3.6 m shrine is today the richest Temple Trust in Mumbai. The filmy rags to riches story of Siddhi Vinayak in Prabhadevi is quite like the meteoric rise of a street kid to superstar. Consecrated in 1801, the original square brick structure with a domed shikhara (spire) was built by contractor Laxman Vithu Patil for Deubai Patil, a rich childless woman who thought it would benefit other barren women. Over the years, news of its siddhi (wish-fulfilling powers) spread like wildfire and patronage from politicians and film stars catapulted it to fame. The temple grosses nearly Rs.50 crore every year. The inner roof of the sanctum is covered in gold while the wooden doors donning a silver carved mantle are carved with intricate images of Ashtavinayak or eight manifestations of Ganesha across Maharashtra – Moreshwar (Morgaon), Siddhivinayak (Siddhatek), Ballaleshwar (Pali), Varadavinayak (Mahad), Chintamani (Theur), Girijatmaj (Lenyadri), Vighnahar (Ozar) and Mahaganapati (Ranjangaon).

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Ranthambhore Ganesh ji (Rajasthan)
Atop Ranthambhore’s historic 1000-year-old fort is a unique temple of Trinetra Ganesha, the three-eyed god in a slab of bright orange. Every day, the Lord receives 10kg of mail from across India and the globe. Traditionally people send the first wedding invitation card here for the Lord’s blessings. As per folklore, the first wedding invite sent here was Lord Krishna and Rukmini’s marriage, roughly dating the temple to 6500 years! So what happens to all the wedding cards? The envelopes are recycled for giving prasad and the cards are cleared periodically! The annual Ganesh Mela wreaks havoc on the ecology of the tiger park when over 1 million pilgrims visit the Ganesh Temple over 3-4 days. Located in the heart of the park, it makes a mockery of the recent ruling on making core areas no-tourism zones. According to tiger expert and wildlife photographer Aditya Singh of Ranthambhore Bagh ‘This number far exceeds the total number of tourists that have visited the park since it was declared a national park in 1980.’

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Karpaga Vinayakar Temple, Pillaiyarpatti (Tamil Nadu)
One of the most popular Ganesha shrines in Tamil Nadu, this rock cut temple is dedicated to Valampuri Vinayakar, a large Ganesha seated in padmasana (lotus position) with a gold-fronted trunk bent to the right. Carved from the rocks against which the temple is set, it is the idol’s black appearance that gives the shrine its popular name Karpaga Vinayakar. Believed to be 1600 years old, the temple’s northern tower was erected by the Pandya kings while the Nagarathar community, who renovated it in 1284, added the eastern tower and an adjoining mandapam. The ceiling of the hall is painted in vegetable dyes and bears old inscriptions while ornate sculptures adorn the pillars. The place itself is called Pillaiyarpatti after Pillaiyar or Lord Ganesha.

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Rockfort Ucchi Pillayar Temple, Tiruchirappalli (Tamil Nadu)
Though Vibhishana and Ravana were on opposite sides of the Ramayana war, their failed quest to take the Lord’s supreme form back to Lanka is almost identical. After killing Ravana, Lord Rama gifted Vibhishana an idol of Lord Ranganatha, cautioning him that it would take root wherever it was placed. Though an ardent devotee of Rama, Vibhishana was Ravana’s brother and an asura (demon), so the gods entreated Lord Vinayaka to stop him. On his return to Lanka Vibhishana passed through Trichy and seeing the beautiful Kaveri River, wished to take a holy dip and perform his daily rituals. Lord Ganesha appeared as a young cowherd and offered to hold the idol while he bathed. The moment Vibhishana stepped into the water Vinayaka put the idol on the sandy banks. A livid Vibhishana chased after him, but the nimble cowherd ran up a hill by the riverside. Vibhishana finally caught up with the boy and hit him on the forehead. When the boy revealed his divine form, Vibhishana apologized and left empty-handed to Lanka. Thus the rock where Lord Ganesh escaped became the Ucchi Pillayar temple or ‘Lord Vinayaga on the hilltop’ and the place where the idol took root became the Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple at Srirangam. Steps tunneled through the rock lead to the Ganesha temple on the hill, accessible by another steep flight of steps carved on the rock face, offering panoramic views of the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers.

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Manakula Vinayagar Temple (Pondicherry)
This is the epic tale of a shrine that defied the might of the French in their own backyard. Dedicated to Lord Ganesha venerated as Vellakaran Pillai, the temple was constructed five centuries ago, long before the French arrived at Pondicherry. The name is derived from the old kulam (pond) on the western side of the temple that used to be full of manal (sand) blown in from the shores. On several occasions, French missionaries attempted to raze the shrine, but ardent worshippers saved it from destruction. Each time the idol was hurled into the sea, it would magically return. Today, the temple stands defiantly rooted at the same spot in the heart of the French Quarter. Various manifestations of Lord Ganesha adorn the inside walls. The 18-day Brahmotsavam and Ganesh Chaturthi are grand celebrations. Be sure to give a coin to the temple elephant Lakshmi in exchange for a friendly pat on your head from her trunk as blessing!

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Madhur Maha Ganapathi Temple, Kasaragod (Kerala)
Located on the banks of the Madhuvahini River 8km northeast of Kasaragod, the spectacular Madhur temple was built in 10th century by the Mypadi Rajas of Kumbla. Though Lord Shiva is the presiding deity, it is his son who draws the crowds. Lord Ganesha’s idol is not made of stone or soil but some unknown material; hence all abhishekas (oblations) are done for Ishwara. The temple has an imposing structure with its gables, copper plate roofing and wooden statues. During his invasion of Malabar, after conquering Kumbla, Tipu reached this shrine intent on destroying it. Overcome by fatigue, he quenched his thirst from the temple well and underwent a divine change of heart. He left the shrine unharmed, except a mark left by his dagger on the intricate woodwork. The temple well’s water has no frogs or fish, tastes good and is said to possess medicinal and curative properties. Another highlight is the Moodappa Seva, a special festival where Maha Ganapathi’s large figure is covered with moodappam (sweet rice ghee cakes) but no matter how much you stack up, it’s never enough. A very costly affair, the festival was last held in April 1992, and earlier in 1962 and 1802.

Sasive Kalu & Kadale kalu Ganeshas, Hampi (Karnataka)
Hampi, the glorious capital of the Vijayanagar Empire is home to many shrines and unusual sculptures, including two unique Ganesha idols. The 18-ft monolith Kadale Kalu Ganesha is the largest Ganesha statue in Karnataka. It dates back to 1440AD and a 24-pillared temple was built around the idol later. In 1565, invading troops of the Deccan Sultanate broke the stomach and trunk of the idol, suspecting that it contained hidden jewels. As a result, the split stomach bore a resemblance to the two halves of a gram seed, lending the name by which the statue is known today. Nearby is the Sasive Kalu Ganesha that gets its name from the likeness of the rounded toes to mustard seeds. This 9-ft high, richly carved Ganesha was built in 1516. Behind the image is an outline of a woman as if she is strapped to Ganesha’s back, symbolizing Parvati as the eternal protector of her son.

Idagunji, Honnavar taluka (Karnataka)
At the end of Dwapara yuga, Sage Valakhilya and other rishis were performing a yagna at Badrikashram for the removal of doshas (sins or malefic effects) in Kaliyug, but faced many hindrances. Sage Narada then instructed them to go to Kunjavana on the banks of the Sharavathi where the divine trinity had once prayed to vanquish the asuras. Later the trinity and Lord Ganesha visited the site to bless the sages and the elephant-headed god asked all the divinities to leave behind a portion of their goodness for the benefit of mankind, which were deposited in the sacred tanks Chakratirtha and Brahmatirtha. Since the sacred kunj (garden) was located on the left bank of the river (eda means left), the place was called Idagunji. The panchakhadya or special prasad of this temple is quite famous, as are the Ganesha masks made out of vetiver (khus).

Ganesh Tok, Gangtok (Sikkim)
In a land synonymous with Buddhism, a shrine to the elephant God is rare. Located 7km from town on the Gangtok-Nathula Road and perched at 6,500 ft on a hill near the TV tower, Sikkim’s Ganesh Tok temple is fascinating. Like the Hanuman Tok shrine but much smaller, Ganesh Tok offers a scenic view of Raj Bhavan, Gangtok town and Mount Khangchendzonga. Space inside the temple is so cramped that devotees have to creep in on all fours to have darshan of Lord Ganesha. 

Holiday on a Banana Leaf: Best Places to Stay in Tamil Nadu

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One of the most popular tourist circuits in the country, Tamil Nadu has witnessed the impact of several cultures across centuries. Besides the royal stamp of the Pallavas, Cholas and Pandyas whose bustling seaports lured colonial powers like the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, British and French, Tamil Nadu also bears the imprint of Roman and Armenian trade. Dotting the entire state are grand monuments, imperial forts, pristine beaches with soft sands, traditional temple towns, mist-covered hill stations and lush green paddy fields. The diversity of accommodation options would woo any traveller to overstay – from heritage hotels to boutique five star luxury, palatial mansions in Chettinad to French villas in Pondicherry, eco-friendly resorts on the Coromandel Coast to British clubs and bungalows in the hills… Here’s a selection of some amazing places to stay.

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Around Chennai: Vivanta by Taj Fisherman’s Cove
Though Chennai has its share of 5-star hotels, perhaps the best place to stay is far from the mob, 36 km south at Covelong. Fisherman’s Cove is a luxurious beachfront hotel near the serene Muttukadu backwaters off the East Coast Road. Built on the ramparts of an old 18th century Dutch fort and spread over 22 acres, the resort’s plush rooms, beachfront cottages and Scandinavian villas offer splendid views of the sea. Wade in 10,000 sq ft of crystal clear waters in the hotel’s Infinity pool with its luxurious plunge bar Sun Burst. Dine on exotic Seafood, Med and Continental fare at the three restaurants – Bay View, Upper Deck, Seagull while the signature Jiva Spa adds to the other sensual pleasures of the cove. It’s also a great base to visit nearby attractions like DakshinaChitra and Madras Crocodile Bank.

Covelong Beach, Kanchipuram District 603112
t 044 67413333
www.vivantabytaj.com
Tariff Rs.8,400-11,900

Also check out: Hilton, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Marriott, Trident, Radisson, GRT Grand and The Park aresome of the biggest names in 5-star hospitality, though Taj Connemara, Chennai’s only heritage hotel, is the top pick.

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Mamallapuram: Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay
The maritime capital of the Pallavas, Mamallapuram was known in antiquity as The Town of Seven Pagodas after the seven Shore Temples that once dotted its coast. Today, only one remains and the best way to see it is not from land, but from sea, like the ancient mariners did. Boat rides to the Shore Temple are the signature activity at Temple Bay, besides a range of water sports. Set in a 46-acre oasis along a spotless waterfront, the resort has a wide choice of stay options. Exclusive pool villas come with private plunge pools while elegant chalets, villas and bungalows face the bay, the garden or the meandering swimming pool, one of the largest in south Asia. Sumptuous platters, grills and pastas await you at The Wharf, the seaside specialty restaurant (rated among Asia’s best) and Water’s Edge café a 24×7 multi-cuisine restaurant. A fitness centre, a 9-hole putting course and an uber cool spa make it the perfect setting for pleasure-seekers.

57 Covelong Road, Kanchipuram Dist, Mamallapuram 603104
Ph 044 27443636
www.radissonblu.com  
Tariff Rs.6,250-11,250

Also check out: Indeco Mahabalipuram near Shore Temple, a hotel housed in a museum on an 1820’s British camping site or the psychedelic guesthouses and lodges with rooftop cafes on Ottavadai Street, a favourite backpackers hangout.

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Pondicherry: Maison Perumal
With wide rues (streets) named after French governors lined by tall villas washed in yellow and white, Pondicherry has an archetypal colonial air about it. Yet, most travellers tend to miss Pondy’s other charms. Located in a quiet part of the Tamil Quarter is Maison Perumal, an extraordinary double-storeyed Chettiar bungalow. In keeping to its theme of homely hospitality, the renovated rooms are left unnumbered and the restaurant is sans a name. The friendly staff smile and clarify, “When you visit a friend’s place, does the guestroom or kitchen have a number or name?” Mellow lights, a smattering of antiques and furniture, sepia photographs and posters add to the old world charm. Large urali (metal cauldrons) with fronds and ferns pretty up the two sunlit courtyards while a band of geometric coloured stained glass bordering the balcony livens the interiors. After delicious seafood platters and eclectic Franco Tamil cuisine, the soft inviting bed beckons…need one ask for more?  

58, Perumal Koil Street, Pondicherry 605001
Ph 0413 2227519, 9442127519
www.cghearth.com  
Tariff Rs.6,790

Also check out: Other heritage stays and boutique addresses like Calve, Hotel de l’Orient, Le Dupleix, Villa Helena, Hotel de Pondicherry, Gratitude offer the characteristic trappings of French colonial comfort.

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ECR (East Coast Road): The Dune Eco-village Resort & Spa
Imagine a sprawling 35-acre area sprinkled with villas and rooms hidden from public view, gourmet restaurants dishing out fusion food, an exotic designer spa offering wat-su (water shiatsu treatment) and 700m of seafront just for you. Sounds as implausible as the desert planet of Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune saga? Well, The Dune eco-hotel is as surreal as its literary inspiration. Bearing the creative stamp of architects Dimitri Klein and Neils Schonfelder, each room is radically different in design using recycled materials from local homes and palaces, besides a ship breaking yard! Dimitri confesses “It was a mistake that evolved into a hotel”! Organic linen, recycled wine bottles for water, CFL lamps, solar heating, cycles for guests and an in-house organic farm have ensured that the resort’s carbon footprint is 75% less than the industry standard. No surprise why it was voted as one of the 5 Best Ecological Hotels in the world (Geo), the Best Spa Destination (Harper Bazaar) and the Best Luxury Resort in 2011 (The Hindu-NDTV Lifestyle Award). Shop at Artyzan, a vocational academy cum design studio, for handmade local crafts.

Eco Beach Village, Pudhukuppam, Keelputhupet (via Pondy University) 605014
Ph 0413 2655751, 3244040, 9364455440
www.thedunehotel.com   
Tariff Rs.5,500-17,950

Also check out: Ocean Spray, Mango Hill and Ashok Resort off the ECR are great places to explore Auroville nearby

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Tranquebar: The Bungalow on the Beach
At dawn, in the erstwhile Danish outpost of Tranquebar, the old Dansborg Fort on the beach is cast into gold by the awakening sun; on the gilded sea, silhouettes of fishermen set sail for the days’ catch past the 12th Century Masilamani Nathar Temple. Such picture postcard images are what you wake up to at Neemrana’s heritage property, The Bungalow on the Beach, once the British Collector’s Office. Built on two levels with a runaround verandah offering views of the garden and the sea, the bungalow’s eight spacious rooms are named after Danish ships that docked at Tranquebar – Prince Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, Queen Anna Sophia, Countess Moltke, Christianus Septimus. Parquet flooring, period furniture and collectibles, blue and white china and a trellised garden by the pool imbue the place with old world allure. An INTACH walk around the quaint town takes you to a Danish cemetery, Zion Church, New Jerusalem Church and The Governor’s bungalow, all built in the 1700s. 

24 King Street, Tharangambadi 609313, District Nagapattinam
t 04364 288065, 289034-36, 9750816034
www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,000-6,000

Also check out: Neemrana also runs a B&B facility in the Danish-Tamil style Gate House and the vernacular Nayak House, a Tamil sea-facing home with 4 rooms, which includes a Tower Room (the loftiest in town), ideal for honeymooners.

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Madurai: Heritage Madurai
The graceful peacock origami towel painstakingly embellished with tiny flower petals in the room defines Heritage Madurai’s idea of hospitality – god is in the details. Plush rooms, a sagely 200-year old banyan tree and a 17-acre shaded enclave diffuse the reality of being in a hectic temple town. Conceptualized by Geoffrey Bawa around the original British Clubhouse, the architecture illustrates his design philosophy of ‘tropical modernism’ and creating spaces that seamlessly blend the outside with the inside. The resort’s 72 rooms include 35 villas with sundecks and private plunge pools. Antique lamps and lanterns have been cleverly transformed into modern light fittings. Dine at Banyan Tree restaurant overlooking its namesake as chefs rustle up traditional Tamil, multi-cuisine and Sri Lankan fare. Indulge in the wellness spa offering traditional Ayurvedic therapies and western aroma massages. Swim in the Olympic-sized pool styled after Madurai’s famous temple tank Theppakulam. After the customary visit to Madurai Meenakshi Temple and Tirumala Nayaka Palace, drop by at the Gandhi Museum.

Heritage Madurai, 11 Melakkal Main Road, Kochadai, Madurai 625 016
Ph 0452 2385455, 3244185
www.heritagemadurai.com
Tariff Rs.6,400-10,000

Also check out: GRT Regency inthe heart of town and Taj Gateway a colonial retreatperched atop Pasumalai hill on the outskirts

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Kumbakonam: Mantra Veppathur
A welcome drink of panakam (jaggery and ginger), a relaxing foot massage and a gong sounded to mark your arrival, get ready for a traditional holiday at Mantra Veppathur. Situated in a coconut grove between the Cauvery and Veezhacholan rivers, the eco-resort has agraharam-style cottages called Mantra Ilam or Paniyar Ilam, decorated with Kanjeevaram silks and Thaliyatti bommai (Tanjore dolls). Wake up to the call of peacocks, dine on sattvik (veg) cuisine at Annaprasanna, take a plunge in the Infinity swimming pool and get an Ayurvedic massage at the Punarjenma spa. Traditional games like daayam (dice), palaanguri (cowrie), parama padam (snakes and ladders) add an authentic rural touch. In the evening, sip freshly brewed Kumbakonam coffee at the Mantra Chai Kadai, enjoy pastoral life on bullock cart rides, visit silk-weaving units or witness cultural performances at Mantra Kalairangam, the open-air theatre. And of course, don’t miss the grand Chola temples at Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram.

No.1 Bagavathapuram Main Road Extn, 536/537A Sri Sailapathipuram Village, Veppathur 612 103, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District.
T 0435 2462261, 2460141
www.mantraveppathur.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000

Also check out: The riverside heritage property Paradise Resort and Indeco Swamimalai, an ethnic 1896 Tanjore village resort, India’s only winner of the Global Eco Tourism Award

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Chettinad: Chidambara Vilas
Chettinad’s latest heritage hotel is easily the final word in opulence. Earlier the mansion of TS Krishnappa Chettiar, Chidambara Vilas was built over a century ago at the cost of Rs.7 lakh! As you enter through the gate bearing the owner’s insignia, an ornately carved doorway makes you stop in your tracks. The profusion of carving, the pillars made of teak, rosewood and granite and the string of courtyards leave you in a whirl. Meticulously restored by the Sangam group, the resort’s 24 heritage rooms overlook a beautiful pool. The terrace offers a magnificent view of the region’s typical architectural landscape with endless rows of tiled roofs. The Bomma kottai (Hall of Dolls), renovated into a restaurant, serves authentic Chettinad fare on banana leaf. The only problem is, with so much pampering, you might not even stir out to see the Tirumayam Fort nearby.

TSK House, Ramachandrapuram, Kadiapatti, Pudukkottai Dist.
Ph 0433 3267070, 9843348531
www.chidambaravilas.com
Tariff Rs.12,000-15,000

Also check out: The other beautiful mansion hotels, Visalam, The Bangala, Chettinadu Mansion and Saratha Vilas, are located further south around Karaikudi and the heritage town of Kanadukathan

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Nilgiris: The Kurumba Village Resort
Cut away from the clamour of Ooty and Coonoor, Kurumba Village is located in a quiet forest patch between the 4th and 5th hairpin bends on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor road. Named after one of the five ancient tribes of the Nilgiris, its tribal-styled cottages in earthy tones, thatch-work roofs and Kurumba artefacts are a tribute to the ingenious forest dwellers. French windows offer an unhindered view of the Nilgiri hills while the balcony overlooks a British spice plantation of nutmeg, cloves, pepper and lofty trees of jackfruit and rosewood. Treetops, afire with the Flame of the Forest, attract sunbirds and flowerpeckers and one can spend hours watching the dance of wings. The large thatched dining area, where delicious meals are served, is an ideal perch above a murmuring brook. Go on a walking tour of the spice plantation, luxuriate in the stunning pool or hop on to the mountain railway for a leisurely ride up the hills.

Ooty Mettupalayam Road, Hill Grove Post, Kurumbadi 643102, The Nilgiris
Ph 0423 2103002-4, 2237222, 9443998886
www.kurumbavillageresort.com
Tariff Rs.8,500-13,000

Also check out: Heritage bungalows like Fernhills Palace, an organic cheese-making farmstay Acres Wild or the plush Destiny Farm, which also runs unique concept hotels like King’s Cliff and Sherlock

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Yercaud: Indeco Lake Forest Hotel
Half-hidden by tall trees dressed in pepper vines in a wooded corner near Yercaud Lake, this delightful resort was once the Eastlyne Farm Coffee Estate. Rosar Villa, the charming bungalow built in the 1800s overlooking the lobby and restaurant, is named after its former Portuguese owner Henrietta Charlotte Rosario, who resided here during the British days. Like all Indeco Hotels, the resort bears the signature of its chairman Steve Borgia – a front lobby that doubles up as a museum, adorned with carefully documented rare memorabilia.  A friendly chef and attentive staff make dining at the restaurant or in the sun-dappled courtyard, a pleasure. The Eastlyne Garden and Wood House suites give panoramic vistas of the Shevaroy Hills. Besides nature walks, Lake Forest is a great base to explore Yercaud’s main sights – the lake, Shevaroyan Temple, Botanical Garden and lookouts like Pagoda viewpoint, Lady’s Seat and Gent’s Seat.

Near Anna Park, Ondikadai Post, Yercaud 636 602, Salem District
Ph 04281 223217/8, 9444001438
www.yercaud.indecohotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,000-10,000

Also check out: GRT Nature Trails SkyRocca Yercaud, an extravagant resort contoured against the mountains and The Grange Resort, the first camping place of the British with facilities for off-road adventure.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November, 2011 issue of JetWings magazine.