After grabbing a simple lunch of roti and mushroom curry at the hotel’s restaurant, we set out for the expedition which we all were eagerly waiting for. We packed a small bag with a change of clothes, toiletries, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and locked the rest of the luggage away in the hotel’s store room. We (a family of three), a couple from France and two ladies who were friends (one from Mexico and one from Columbia) were all huddled into a jeep for the oncoming desert safari. We all started chatting and exchanged pleasantries and got to know each other a little. After half-hour drive in the jeep, we reached Kuldhara – the haunted village.
The legend around Kuldhara is that the then King wanted to marry a girl from this village against her wishes. Villagers knew that the King would torture the villagers if the girl refuses to marry the King. So, in solidarity, the villagers abandoned the entire village overnight and ran away. And they also left a curse behind that the village will not be inhabited ever. So, we see abandoned houses, wells, temples and ruins all around. This is a photographer’s haven as you get to capture beautiful photos wherever you point your camera. After exploring the village and clicking photos to our heart’s content, we set out in the jeep again to Jaisalmer Natural Lake.
This is a natural water body which is the life line for many flora and fauna around. We spotted a few birds perched on the banks trying to catch their prey. To see a natural water body so close to the desert area and brimming with water was puzzling.
Next on the list was the Camel Ride – which every person who visits Rajasthan has on their Must-Do list. We got off the jeep and braced ourselves for what was coming next. Another layer of sunscreen, caps, and a bottle of chilled water each, we hopped on to our respective camels. My son and I shared a camel and he was named Michael Jackson. All camels were gentle and didn’t seem to mind all the ruckus we were creating while hopping on to them. Camels are made to sit on the ground and we hop on to their back. Once we settle down as best as we can, the camels are made to stand up – and this part is scary. Camels get on their hind legs first, so you get jolted forwards and almost fall off the back and then it gets on its fore legs and you get thrown backwards. One needs to hold on tight to ensure you are still on the camel’s back.
Off we went on the long, quiet stroll with all camels walking in a line.With not a single soul around, the 3 hour stroll was meditative and retrospective. We all were in our respective private space, deep in our thoughts, enjoying the silence and stillness around. The camel “leaders” would break into a local folk song at times to break the monotony. After the leisurely stroll, we reached our destination, just in time to catch the sunset. We tourists went off to find our dune to sit and enjoy the sunset while the staff got to work. They served us with delicous bajji-bondas and fryums and hot piping tea for snacks. As the sun finally set, it was pitch dark with no source of light around.
We had a sumptuous wood-stove cooked meal of roti, subji, rice and dal. With nothing else to do and dinner out of the way, we laid out the cots and mattresses and lied down enjoying the stars above. Never in my life have I seen the night sky come alive like this. The sky was full of stars wherever you see – no light pollution to spoil the beauty. My son and I tried in vain to identify the constellations and planets, but we weren’t expecting to see so many stars in the sky, that we won’t be able to spot the most common ones. As the evening turned into night, the temperature dropped and we were thankful for the thick quilts available. The staff broke into an impromptu performance and entertained us with their folk songs. With the breeze playing music in our ears and the stars lighting up the sky and keeping us company, we had the sweetest sleep of our lifetime.
Dawn was even more beautiful than the dusk. Night had brought dew with it and everything was covered with dew. Sand, our bed, quilts, hair – everything was damp to the touch. We were served a mug of steaming hot tea, porridge, cookies, oats and assorted fruits. After a heavy breakfast, we set out on the camel again. After an hour of camel ride, we reached a small village of about 15-20 houses. Kids were running around helter skelter, the local men hardly glanced at us (guess tourists are a norm here) and women peered at us through their veils. We made a stop at one house, happened to be a relative of the camel herder, where we were served hot tea again. After our customary hellos and byes, we set out on the camel for our next stop – lunch under a tree, out in the desert.
We found a nice, big tree which would give us ample shade and set camp under it. The two men started their cooking while we guests took a short nap. There were cows and goats around, grazing idly and birds chirping and we ate a hot, piping meal of cauliflower curry with roti. We took a post-meal nap, longer one this time, and it was time to bid goodbye to the sand dunes. We also bid goodbye to our foreigner friends and longed for any sign of civilization which had water and a restroom.
We reached the desert camp which was blistering hot with no sign of breeze. A quick shower and after changing into clean clothes, we sipped chilled water and soda – our feeble attempt at handling the heat.
Evening was reserved for entertainment. A group of musicians enthralled us with beautiful rendition of popular Rajasthani folk songs, ghazals and Bollywood songs and ably supported by a Rajasthani dancer who could pivot non-stop and still land on her foot without losing her balance. We also had a good spread for dinner – local delicacies like gatte ki subzi, kaachre ki sabzi and halwa. After enjoying the feast for all senses – eyes, ears and tongue, we retired to our tent for the night.
Hari Om Silver Jewelry Shop
Maasa Miniature Art Shop
We had booked our entire Jaisalmer trip with Real Desert Man Safari guys. He promised to take care of end to end, including pick up and drop from station, a place to stay and freshen up in Jaisalmer and of course the jeep and camel safari to Khuri desert and the stay at Khuri. I am absolutely impressed with the professionalism of these guys. Once you confirm and pay the advance, they follow up with you on your arrival and departure time and plan the entire itinerary.
As expected, just as our train pulled into the tiny, quiet station and we came out of the gate, we see two guys from Real Desert Man Safari (RDMS) ready to welcome us. We hopped on to their jeep and took a 5-minute drive to their lodging facility, which is very close to Jaisalmer Fort. The room itself was clean and tidy – a bed, a TV, a neat bathroom with a bathtub and a rooftop restaurant from where you get an awesome view of the Fort. We freshened up, ordered the local poha for breakfast which was served piping hot. With our bodies refueled, we started towards the Jaisalmer Fort.
One could trek up the road and reach the Fort entrance or catch a rickshaw which will drop you after the three ‘pols’ i.e. gates and he charges just Rs.10 per head. We took the latter option since we had to walk quite a bit in the Fort. We decided to hire a guide instead of using an audio guide and this turned to be a wise decision. Our guide charged us Rs.150 (their range is 200-300, but since we were one of the early bird customers, he agreed for 150). Our guide was very knowledgeable and explained all the finer details. He would go on about the popular Bollywood movies shot here, which while not impressing us, did attract attention from the neighboring tourist crowd.
While Jodhpur’s Mehrengargh Fort was a beauty of red sandstone, Jaisalmer is full of yellow sandstone. This resembles sand so much that one expects the rock to crumble on touch. You get to see Raja Mahal (King’s Palace), Rani Mahal (Queen’s Mahal) i Jaisalmer Fort and you can observe the striking difference in architecture – while King’s palace is open and airy, Queen’s Palace is closed with ‘jharokhas’ so that Queens can see the outside world but the outsiders can’t get a glimpse of the Queens. You also see many weaponry, King’s attires, cradles used by Princes and Princesses and you also get a panoramic view of the Sam Dunes, Khuri Desert and the Paksitan border, which is “50 kms away from here”. Since Jaisalmer has always faced water problem, its kings invested in rain water harvesting in those times. Rain was collected in underground tanks and used economically and reused many times.
This Fort is unlike others wherein there are people who still live inside the Fort. Many artists and the local folks live here – with permission of the then King of Jaisalmer. You can visit the Hindu temples (Chamundi, Lakhsminath) and Jain temples within the fort. There are many shops in the fort which sell various things – jooti, clothes, home décor items, paintings, jewelry and so on. I was forewarned not to buy anything here since they charge much more than what they actually cost. But there were two things that I definitely wanted to visit and buy, if possible.
First is the Hari Om Silver Jewelry Shop where two brothers do intricate carving on silver and make rings, earrings and pendants. This art was taught to them by their father and the brothers are keeping the art alive. They won the National Award for their work. The make silver rings with Jaisalmer monuments, wonders of the world, religious idols and symbols etc. They even carve names/figures on a grain of rice. You need to see this to believe it. While the rings were beautiful and my heart was set on one of the Jaisalmer monument one, I decided not to buy it since I could not afford it. It takes 20-30 days to make a ring for these artists, so it is totally worth the price they quote – just that I couldn’t afford it.
Another must-visit place for me was Maasa Miniature Art shop owned by Kamal Vyas. He is such a down to earth and friendly artist – totally in love with the art he creates and it shows in his various paintings. His specialty is miniature painting where he paints intricate pieces on as small as a space as 2×2 cms paper. He showed us a picture of 4×4 cm of a tree in which he painted 2880 leaves – he kept a count of the leaves he painted everyday (it took him 30 days). You need a magnifying glass to see the details! He has many normal sized paintings as well and I ended up buying one. A beautiful peacock with its feathers showing every small strand of hair.
There are many shops and eateries around. Don’t miss the refreshing Masala Buttermilk (masala chaach) available near the Dussehra Court for just 10 Rs a glass. Another must-try is the delicious ginger tea which is also near Dussehra Court.
Paragliding at Jodhpur
Omelette Shop at Clock Tower
Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park
You think of paragliding and places where you can do this activity and I bet Jodhpur will not figure in that list. I was surprised to see paragliding being offered at Jodhpur and being very popular too. After reading SkyVenture’s reviews, this was a must-do on our list, especially since this was an activity which even our 8-year old kid could do.
In this activity, you glide with the “pilot”. The glide is tied to a jeep which helps you go upto a height of 1200-1800 feet. Once you are high above and you stabilize, the pilot will detach the rope tied to the jeep and you free float in the air. The pilot can steer the glide, fly around and then bring it back to the ground safe and sound. This activity is heavily dependent on the wind, so Samarth, our pilot, suggested that we start as early as possible. The place where this activity is held is an hour away from Jodhpur, so you need to get an early start. A taxi picked us up from Clock Tower and we had a nice, long ride (and the roads were clean, wide and so beautiful) and we reached the place by 7.30 or so.
The activity itself was awesome – this is the best I could get to being a bird and this was amaaaazing. The view of Jodhpur and the lakes from up above was breathtaking. The wind blowing in your face, the soft morning sunlight and the lovely view beneath you – this was an unforgettable experience.
An hour ride in the taxi and we were back to the Clock Tower, where we wanted to taste the oh-so-popular omelette. Rajasthan being a pro-vegetarian state, any mention of egg or meat will be met with raised eyebrows, so it took us a while to figure out where this Omelette Shop is. After a long wait for the owner to open the shop (it opens at 10:00 AM, which is quite late for breakfast), we finally got to eat the much awaited omelette and it was meh. The shop was filthy – I saw a rat scooting around the shop and the cook didn’t seem to mind- and the cook had no sense of hygiene. And the omelette itself was nothing to write home about. The typical egg, onion, tomato with toasted bread – I don’t understand why the public on Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor is raving about it. After this disappointing tryst with the Omelette Man, we headed towards Jaswant Thada, the marble beauty.
Jaswant Thada is a cenotaph built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Sing II. This is a white beauty, made of marble and featuring intricate carvings and is hence called as the Taj Mahal of Marwar. This has a nice, green lawn in the front where you could sit under a tree and savor the monument’s beauty. You might spot artists sitting outside singing Rajasthani folk songs.
One needs to remove footwear at the entrance before entering the cenotaph. One can spot photos of the previous rulers of Rajasthan and a special place for King Jaswant Singh where you can pay your respect. After witnessing the intricately carved sandstone in the Mehrengarh Fort, the marble beauty was somewhat diminished for me. Post the visit, I would recommend tourists to visit Jaswant Thada if you have no other options.
Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park is much more than just a rock park. This is a desert microcosm where you get to see the various rocks you find in Rajasthan and the flora and fauna too. The park has these rocks on display right at the entrance and you get to see a lot of variety.
The park has many trails to follow which will give you a different experience of the flora and fauna. The guide at the ticket booth will advise you to take the trail depending on the time of day and your interest. We took the yellow trail, this being a shorter and shadier trail and ideal during the hot day.
Off we went on the trek with the route map in hand. I had downloaded the Plant Guide (PDF) available on their official website and this came in handy to identify the various flora there. I wish we had more time to explore the entire park and probably do all the trails. It is amazing to such variety of plants in what is supposed to b a ‘desert park’.
After grabbing lunch on the way, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up and pack up to catch the overnight train. Jaisalmer was waiting for us.
The day started very early for us as we had to catch an early morning flight from Bangalore to Jodhpur. It is a shame there is no direct flight, but thank heavens Air India has convenient connecting flights and they serve hot breakfast on both flights. After a short stop over at Mumbai, we reached Jodhpur by noon.
Jodhpur airport is small and quiet and we were out in no time. As expected, we had cab and auto drivers flocking us to take a ride with them. Our helpful host at Suraj Haveli had warned us about this and instructed us to take an auto since cars won’t reach the small alleys. After some haggling, our auto set off towards the Haveli. Auto stops at a couple of steps away and you need to walk the last few meters to reach the doors of Suraj Haveli. If you have lot of stuff to carry, give a call to the hosts and one of them will happily come to the chowk/square where you get off and escort you to the hotel.
Suraj Haveli is technically a home stay as the host’s family live on the ground floor. The above two floors have rooms and the topmost floor is turned into an open restaurant. The hosts were very courteous and we checked into our room to be mesmerized by the beauty of the entire structure and our room. Our room was newly renovated to have sandstone walls and the bed entirely made of sandstone. After a quick freshen-up, we headed to the restaurant to grab our first Rajasthani meal.
The open, rooftop restaurant is some place to be. This place has nice, cool breeze blowing even when it is sweltering hot outside and offers such an awesome, majestic view of the Mehrangarh fort. This is arguably the best view one can get of the fort. You get up to the restaurant and are dumbstruck by the magnificence of the fort and you just want to take it all in.
After a quick bite of the typical Rajasthani meal with paneer subji, gatte ki subji and a sweet, we headed out to visit the Mehrengarh fort. We were duly warned by the host that it will be hot and to carry hats and sunglasses and water.
Geared with the necessary sun protection, we took an auto to take us up the hill and to the Mehrengarh fort entrance. You have an option to either hire a guide or rely on audio guides. Audio guide is a small black box which can play recorded audio based on the number you input. You will see a board with the audio guide number all over the fort and when you come to one, just press the number on the board and the audio will explain what you are looking at or surrounded by. I recall English, Hindi, French, German being the language options, may be there were more. The lady issuing the audio guide very kindly gave us an extra pair of headphones so that we could share one audio guide. You need to submit your original ID proof which will be returned to you once you return the audio guide. So keep the receipt of the audio guide safe. Audio guide includes many anecdotes and also an interview with the current living queen.
The ideal flow would be to take the elevator up (one way elevator ticket has to be paid for extra at the time you purchase the entrance ticket), but unfortunately for us, the elevator was not working when we went. So, it was a long, arduous climb for us in the hot sun. We saw a couple of artists sitting at the fort entrance, belting out folk music which was a treat to listen to. And they are more than happy to oblige for a selfie with them if you pay them.
The fort itself is a thing of beauty. Majestic and commanding, it hides many things inside – beautiful, ornate halls, a vast courtyard with a marble throne, small “museums” for kings’ weaponry, queen’s palanquins, royal attire and what not. Some of the places are kept so dark (intentionally, I think) which made it so hard to capture the beauty on camera. I especially liked the place dedicated to textile – different techniques of weaving, embroidery and dyeing displayed and explained in detail.
Another thing to remember was the intricately carved and colored knives and swords. The weapons themselves commanded so much respect, I wonder how it would be when a royal king wields one.
There is a cafe near the entrance of the fort and many cold water dispensers inside the fort. We carried a bottle with us and refilled it many times during our 4-hour visit. The whole fort is so well maintained (including the rest rooms), except for the swift nests overhead. You will see this group of nests almost every where if you look up. They are all bunched together and look so disgusting. Be careful where you stop or sit down as it is quite likely a bird will take a dump right above you. Ask my camera!
There is a temple inside the fort which we skipped for lack of time. There is also a shop inside the fort, right near the exit. Most of the things were expensive, but it is good for window shopping. Right after you get out of the last door, you will see shops lined on both sides of the street. They sell jootis, bangles, wood blocks, fabric, carpets and what not. My sincere advice is not to buy from here.
Mehrengarh Fort (and most of the tourist places in Jodhpur) close at 5 PM, so we had to rush out even though we were not satisfied. If I visit Mehrengarh Fort again, I will give this an entire day because there is so much to see. Since there were no other touristy places open, we decided to visit an open-all-time place: Toorji ka Jhalra.
This is a step well near the Clock Tower, which is the heart of the city. Step well is an oft visited spot by the local boys and you will see a bunch of them taking a dip in it. The water itself was very dirty, but the steps on all four sides of the well and their structure was a good photography spot. This is not a must-visit place, but since this is open beyond 5 PM, one could visit it for lack of other options.
We then headed to Clock Tower, where the town comes alive. This place is buzzing with sellers and buyers with bangles being the most sought after commodity. You will see clothes, jewelry, vegetables and chaat being sold here. This is where you will find the famous Omelette guy and Shahi Samosa shop. We gorged on pani puri, phaphda chat and Agra petha. We saw shops selling Makhaniya lassi which we gave a miss.
After a long, tiring day, we went back to our hotel and called it a day. After a sumptuous roti-subji meal, we retired to bed early as we had an early start next day – paragliding early in the morning on the outskirts which promised us a magnificent view of Jodhpur.
Rajasthan, and specifically Jaisalmer, has been on my must-visit list since forever now. The golden sand dunes beckon to me as if I belong to this place. My husband jokes that I was a Rajasthani in my previous life and hence my affinity to this place. The time to finally visit this place came around and we visited this lovely state in last week of September, coinciding with my son’s school holidays.
We had 9-10 days for the entire trip, so after much editing, deleting and modifying, this is the itinerary we finalized.
We had already covered Udaipur, that was not their on our list. We wanted to visit Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer for sure. I personally wanted to visit Pushkar and Ajmer. We somehow managed to squeeze all this together and still have a reasonably leisurely itinerary.
Places to visit
Land in Jodhpur by noon. Freshen up, lunch and visit Mehrengarh Fort, Jaswant Thada
Paragliding with Skyventures. Visit Jodha Rao Desert Rock Park
Overnight train to Jaisalmer
Visit Jaisalmer Fort. Camel Safari, visit Kuldhara and Lake on the way.
Overnight stay in the desert
Camel Safari to visit nearby village. Lunch out in the desert. Check-in at camp. Cultural program in the evening
Back to Jaisalmer city. Visit Gadisar Lake
Overnight train to Jaipur
Visit City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar
1-day taxi to Ajmer Dargah, Pushkar Lake. Attend evening lake arati and back to Jaipur
Block Printing Workshop
Visit Amber Fort, Jal Mahal. Shopping
Flight back to Bangalore
After booking the flight and train tickets and the hotel rooms, off we went to the Regal Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is a feast for all your senses. The golden sand hues, the beautiful forts with their rich cultural roots and architecture, the colorful fabric and art around, the beautiful ladies (though their faces are covered most of the time), turban clad men with pretty earrings – the list goes on what you can feast on with your eyes. Rajasthan is beautiful wherever you look.
Rajasthan’s folk music is well known and admired. It is as if there are musical roots in the soil of Rajasthan and every one who is born here is a natural singer. Be it the planned cultural program at the desert camp or our camel rider who would burst into folk songs any time and anywhere or the numerous artists sitting outside the forts who sing for petty money – you will hear the melodious folk music any where.
If you relish vegetarian food, Rajasthan is the place to be. Their ghee laden sweets, the variety of besan based subzis, the specical vegetables like ker-sangri, their mouth watering namkeens and of course the samosas and kachoris – you will have a feast and still ask for more. Your heart may not thank you for it, but your tongue definitely will.
Some of the must do activities in Singapore, in my opinion:
1. Cable Car
If you are visiting Sentosa (I would be very surprised if you are not), then definitely take the cable car route. Get off at Harbor Front and pay for the cable car ride. The fare includes to and fro trip and entry to Sentosa, which is a great deal. Board the cable car at Harbor Front and get down at Sentosa. On your return trip, go all the way: Sentosa to Harbor Front to Mount Faber and back to Harbor Front. Take your train back home from Harbor Front. This is a wonderful experience. The view you get is much better than that from Singapore Flyer, not to mention much cheaper.
2. Feed the Bird at Jurong Bird Park
Not sure how many tourists are aware of this attraction. At Lory’s Loft attraction, one can get upclose with the birds by feeding them. You pay S$2 for a bowl of bird food and the minute you have the bowl in your hand, birds flock around you to eat. They sit on your arms, palms and even head. It is a Kodak moment, no doubt, but much more than that. To actually see a bird from up close and to touch it is magical.
3. Walk down Double Helix Bridge
The walk down this bridge connecting Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands is breathtaking. You witness some of the best views on this bridge. Flyer, Merlion Park, Theatres on the Bay, Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands. This walk is for photographers and leisure walkers alike.
4. Travel by bus and train
I mean it. To experience the pulse of the city, you need to ditch the taxi and use the bus and train. You need to buy a card first and preload it with some cash. When you enter the bus (front is always the entrance), flash your card in front of the reader and when you get off, flash it again. The fare automatically gets deducted and the screen will show you the balance left. Same goes with train. Use the card to get on to any station and when you get off (changing lines, using LRT), swipe again to get the fare deducted. Out of the many things I did here, traveling by train was one of my favorites.
5. Visit Daiso
No need to say Singapore is a shopper’s heaven. I am not into shopping much, but I visited Daiso on my uncle’s insistence. This is a store where all items are S$2. You will find such ingenious, innovative items here which are a result of Japanese innovation. Egg cutter, toothpaste winder, pill remover, oil filter, rice strainer – the list goes on. They even have cheap yarn here (that is for the knitters reading the blog). Visit this place even if you don’t plan to buy anything, but I will bet my day’s salary, you will walk out with lots of things in your cart.
If you start planning your itinerary for your Singapore trip, you will realize you will run out of days before running out of places to visit. This country has so many options which is hard to choose from. We traveled with our three year old who loves anything aquatic, so our main focus was on that. Also, since we had a kid with us, activities like Night Safari, 4D show were not on the list. Based on our experience, these are the must see places in Singapore, in my humble opinion:
1. Sentosa Island and particularly Under Water World
Everybody who visits Singapore visits this place. This place has on display an amazing variety of aquatic animals. The Dolphin and Seal Show is a big hit with kids and adults alike. Other attractions at Sentosa include the 4D show, Universal Studios and beaches.
2. Jurong Bird Park
Another must see on all tourists’ list. You get to see and interact with all kinds of birds here. They have a Bird Show and Feed the Penguins show which attracts a lot of tourists. Do not miss the Feed the Birds at Lory’s Loft. Another great place for kids.
3. Double Helix Bridge and Marina Bay Sands
The newly opened Double Helix Bridge is an architectural wonder. This can be clubbed with Marina Bay Sands which houses the brand new laser show – Wonderful Life. Do not miss the Singapore Flyer during your walk on the bridge. This is a photographer’s delight.
4. Changi Airport
No, I am not joking. If you cannot put aside a day for this, then plan to reach the airport well in advance on your return trip. Spend a few hours roaming around and see how sophisticated and passenger friendly airports can be. Not to mention the playgrounds and art corners built to keep kids engaged.
Apart from these places, I do not categorize anything else as must see. Singapore Flyer is hyped-up and expensive. You get a better view from the cable cars to Sentosa. Singapore Zoo was not on our plan since we have a better zoo in the neighborhood. Little India, China Town, Mustafa Bazaar are all okay if you want to see a bit of heritage and get some shopping done.
I spent the last ten days in Singapore and I cannot express how wonderful the experience was. We all had a blast and are yet to come out of the holiday mood.
What I loved about Singapore:
1. The well planned city with its amazing infrastructure. One can easily rely on public transport alone and can roam the entire country without having to ask anybody for help. Clear signboards, helpful travel brochures available at the airport itself, maps and route information at every bus station and train station.
2. The city is clean: dust free, pollution free and the roads are so well maintained and clean. Not a single speed breaker, can you beat that India? Traffic signals at every junction, vehicles actually give right of way to pedestrians and everybody follows the rules (can you beat that Indians?).
3. The amazing people. They would hardly look at you or even acknowledge your presence, but if you ask them for help, they will go out of their way to help you. They are courteous and hospitable.
4. The various options for sight seeing and food is another plus point. No matter what kind of a tourist you are: adventure or leisure or shopping or entertainment, Singapore has everything.
5. Tourism is a big deal here. You can see so many instances of the country pushing tourism as mush as possible. And why not? Singapore is a country worth visiting.
The only thing I did not like about Singapore is the weather. It is hot and humid (much better than Bombay though) and it rains when you least expect it to. This is a minor complaint since all public transports and malls are air conditioned and you need to spend very little amount of time outside these, so it’s okay.
Since it is not fair to cram my 10 days trip in a single post, I will be doing a day-by-day tour update. Keep yourself signed in.
Distance from Bangalore: Around 280 kms Route: Bangalore – Mysore – Gundalupet – Sultan Bethary – Panamaram – Punchawayal – Enteveedu Best Season to Travel: I suggest winter because it will be very hot during summer. Ideal For: Families, especially with little ones.
If you ignore our last, horribly disappointing vacation to Yelagiri, our first true family vacation happened last week. Deciding the place did not take much time because we had our criteria all defined: Not more than 6-7 hours drive, place should be kids-friendly, not too cold and preferably a home-stay. Our previous experience with a home stay at Sakleshpur was pleasant and we wanted to do that again since we now had a 2-year old with us. A quick search on the internet brought up Enteveedu, which was recommended by many people on many travel sites. The website is impressive too (I always judge someone from the website, which I really should not!) A quick call to Seeta Aunty, the owner cum manager cum facilitator of the home-stay, relieved me of my anxiety about how my kid will find this place. She told me in her sweet voice, ‘Treat this like your own house. Your kid will get all the comfort of his own house. Don’t worry!’
We started on Jan 26, Wednesday morning at around 5:30. We wanted an early start for two reasons: avoid the traffic and cover as much of the journey as possible when the tyke is asleep (my son + confined places = big disaster and one cranky, whiny kid). This plan worked well because we were out of the city before the dawn broke and were in Mysore at the right time for breakfast. A quick bite at Kamat Madhuvan on the outskirts of Mysore and off we headed again. The little one enjoyed the journey (proving me wrong) and kept pointing out things on the street. The journey through the forest area – Bandipur, Muthanga was disappointing – we hoped to spot animals, deer at the least, but no such luck. We reached Sultan Bethary by 12ish and then we had to go slow because we didn’t know the road. From Sultan Bethary, we took a right on Benachi Road (there is a signboard which is easy to spot) towards Nadavayal and drove straight ahead until we reached Panamaram and Punchavayal. There are a few forks on the way and we had to stop and ask people to make sure we took the right side of the fork. People are very co-operative and give clear directions. Enteveedu is around 20 kms from Sultan Bethary. We reached Enteveedu, our home for next couple of days, by 1 and were totally smitten by what we saw. The house is in the middle of a huge estate – cofeee, paddy, coconut and palm trees. There is a huge front yard which is open for kids to run and jump around. A hammock, a traditional ‘mancha’, a small swing chair for kids – all things to indicate that you are here to relax.
We were shown to our room which had a huge bed and a huger bathroom. A small balcony overlooking the front yard and the estate beneath and with a lovely view of the road and the sunset. I am very picky about bathrooms and was totally impressed with Enteveedu when I saw the spotlessly clean white tiles and WCs. Also, this was the first home stay which supplied toothpaste too along with soaps and towels. I usually carry my own toothpaste, but just saying and pointing out how such minor things were thought about.
We were really hungry and were looking forward to meet the hostess and experience true Kerala cuisine. We were disappointed to know that Seeta Aunty was not in town and will come back only after 3 days. It was a huge let down for us because the main reason why we chose Enteveedu because of Seeta Aunty and now if the lady herself was not here, we were not sure how comfortable our stay would be. I must say, we were taken well care of in the able hands of Mr. Raj and Preeda, even in the absence of Seeta Aunty. Preeda was our hostess, cook, caretaker, playmate for my son – all bundled into one. She would plop herself in front of us with her lovely smile and try to communicate with us using her little knowledge of English. She and her mother take care of cooking here and they are excellent cooks. We had such variety of food over the 4 days of our stay that we came back yearning for more. Over the course of our stay, we tasted Idiyappam, puttu, puruti and some whose names I don’t know. Kerala banana was a hit with my family – I wish I could buy some here.
Our first meal at Enteveedu was rice, dal, curry, papad and fish. Steaming, hot rice with the spicy fish was just what we needed. My son who loves fish, loved it even more here. After a sumptuous meal, we had a long nap and were woken up by the lovely aroma of coffee. The evening was well spent by doing nothing – relaxing on the hammock, playing football with the kiddo and generally goofing around. The trip had a great start!
We went to Kuruva Island, which is like an hour’s drive away from Enteveedu. Our host, Mr. Raj had arranged for a guide for us and we set at around 11. It’s a nice, little island surrounded by Kabini river. You drive till one point and then get into a boat to be ferried across to the island. You got to walk quite a bit to reach that point where you can actually wet your feet. This walk is long, but not strenuous and since there are trees all around, you can walk peacefully in the shade.
You get to play in the cool, fresh water to your heart’s fill and then you get back on the same boat. The walk back is not as enjoyable because you are tired and hungry! My kiddo just loved this place – he played in the water for as long as we were there and still couldn’t get enough.
The place is pristine and untouched, but thanks to tourists, is getting its share of dumped plastic bottles and paper. If you plan to visit this place, make sure you are here before noon because it gets really crowded after that. When we were leaving, we could see groups of people pouring in and were thankful that we were leaving when all these people were arriving. We headed back home for lunch and had a long nap (which is a recurring activity until the last day). A hot cup of coffee in the evening and some playing and goofing around and the day came to an end.
We decided to hire a guide-cum-driver so that my husband can enjoy the journey instead of treading through hairpin bends. So, Mr. Vivek was our assigned guide for the day. I had read about Uravu, a handicrafts place, from another blog and was very adamant about visiting it. Vivek was only too glad to oblige and off we went to Uravu. It’s around 30 minutes drive and the store opens quite early, unlike other tourist places, so you can combine this with another tourist spot. Uravu is this little magical place where you see all beautiful hand-crafted things made of bamboo.
This place was so rich that it requires another post for itself, so go read that if you are interested in handicrafts. We bought a couple of things – a beautiful fruit bowl, a serving tray and a musical instrument which makes the sweet sound of falling rainwater. I wouldn’t call them reasonably priced, but as I handknit sweaters and know the time and effort that goes into it, I don’t mind paying a bit higher for hand made items. This is my way of supporting the local sellers.
Our next stop was Soochipara Waterfalls. This is a major tourist attraction and is quite crowded. This too involves a 2 km walk, but unlike Kuruva Island, this is quite strenuous. You need to walk uphill and downhill, climb the stairs up and down and once you reach the venue, you need to tread through slippery rocks to reach the falls. We found a nice, little spot where the water level was low so that the kiddo could get his share of play. The walk back was horrible – we were all tired and famished and we could hardly walk, forget climbing up, but we had to do it.
On the way, there is a shop which sells food stuff and we had a glass of buttermilk there and it was the best I have ever had. It was spicy with lot of ginger and green chillies – so if you have a weak stomach, this is not for you. It was yummy buttermilk for us and lemon juice for the brat – and all were happy. I saw these jars with wild gooseberry (amla) and mango pieces. On enquiring, I came to know that even these are used to quench thirst. I bought a couple of amla and they were yum! They are marinated in a brine solution with green chillies – gives the amlas a different taste. I bought some to bring back home.
You will find many shops here selling bamboo stuff, so if you didn’t happen to go to Uruva, this is the place to shop. The rest of the day was pretty much the same – eat, sleep, drink, make merry.
Seeta Aunty was back from her trip and when I met her, I realized why everybody is all praises for her. She is the warmest hostess I have ever had. She is always smiling and thinking about the convenience of guests. When you meet her, you realize she doesn’t do this for money. She is passionate about what she does. Her children have grown up and moved away and she started this homestay to kill her boredom. She uses the money she makes from this to educate a group of orphans and she thanked the guests for making that happen. You have to meet this lady to know what I mean – she is very inspiring. There is this lady in a remote place in south India who is trying to make a difference in the society in her own little way and if we could make that happen by visiting her homestay and enjoying the experience, then why not?
We were very sure of one thing – no walking today. We didn’t want to visit any place which involved too much of walking, so Banasurasagar Dam was the place we headed to. There is a lot of walking involved there, but you have an option of hiring a jeep for the ferry at an extra cost. We reached the dam quite late around 11, so it was quite hot already, so we took the easy way out and hired a jeep.
We took a ride in the motor boat, with life jackets and all, and it was fun! Cold water beneath you and the scorching sun above, beautiful greenery around – great time to get lost in your own thoughts – except, I had a restless brat on my lap.
There is a children’s park nearby where we obviously stopped for a while. Swings galore – but all were taken up by school children on a field trip. The place was so crowded, we decided to make an early exit.
I wanted to buy a swing chair (my little one’s demand) and could not find it at Uravu. Vivek volunteered to take me to another store in Sultan Bethary to buy a few more things, so off we went after our evening tea. It took us around an hour to reach the store – The Spices Store. It is right on the main road and easy to spot. It had everything in stock – innovative wooden baskets – which can be folded back like a spring, beautiful bamboo items, spoons made of coconut shells and wood and terracotta items.
I burnt a hole in my husband’s wallet and picked up a few things again. The owner gave me a generous discount since I bought so many things. After a great shopping spree, we had tea at a roadside stall – and I will never forget that experience. The tea was the best I have ever had – and every time I have tasted something at the small, roadside stall, I have been impressed with the taste and quality of items. You can never find such taste in a 5-star hotel, but that’s my opinion.
We started early and took the same route back to Bangalore. Breakfast was again at Kamat Madhuvan, Mysore and with a couple of stops enroute, we reached home safe and sound and with a lot of lovely memories of Wayanad.
Tips, suggestions, advice and what not:
1. If you are planning to stay at Enteveedu, call Seeta Aunty beforehand and make an advance payment. If you are not too fond of food cooked in coconut oil, do let her know so that she can make arrangements. 2. If you plan to visit Kuruva Island or Soochipara Waterfalls, plan to be there before 10 so that you can avoid the tourist crowd that pours in later in the day. 3. If you need a guide or a guide-cum-driver, inform Seeta Aunty in advance. I strongly suggest you hire a guide because routes can be quite confusing here. Hiring a driver is even better because you don’t get tired driving and you will reach your destination faster because the driver is well familiar with the twists and turns of the road. 4. This is a trekker’s paradise. There are places like Chembra Peak which is supposedly great for trekking, but owing to the presence of a 2-year old, we did not try that. 5. It gets hot during the day but utterly cold at night, so carry clothes for both the weather conditions. 5. Must see: Kuruva Island and Uravu (that’s my opinion) 6. Must try: Spicy buttermilk and the marinated amla at Soochipara Waterfalls. Tea at any roadside stall. The pink drinking water, boiled with herbs – available anywhere in Kerala. 7. Must buy: Bamboo handmade items at Uravu
I don’t even remember when I traveled last. When an opportunity presented itself and we got everything prepared for the upcoming vacation trip to Yelagiri, I was all excited. I really got my hopes up and was dreaming of green scenic visuals and cool breeze blowing over my face. But Yelagiri was anything but that. I don’t even know where to start about why Yelagiri was such a big disappointement.
1. Let me state a fact. Yelagiri is not a hill station. In case you missed reading it, let me say it again – it is NOT a hill station. Agreed it is at an elevation, but it has got nothing to call itself a hill station. It is not cooler, in fact it is hotter than Bangalore.
2. It is not scenic. It is not even green. I mean Bangalore, with all its gardens, is much greener than Yelagiri. It is like going to some rural place south of Bangalore, staying in a furnace for a day and coming back.
3. Let me add to the previous point. Visiting Yelagiri is like going going to some rural place south of Bangalore, staying in a furnace for a day and coming back AND paying a huge price for it. Whoever labeled Yelagiri as Poor Man’s Ooty has never visited this place. Poor man? If a poor man can afford to pay 1500 per day for a shabby room and 150 for breakfast and 200 for lunch, I would really like to meet this man please.
4. Now the resort. I don’t know why they call their place as a resort! It’s like a school made over to suit the needs of a resort. The rooms ‘look’ clean at the first look, but there are spiders and cobwebs behind the curtains and the doors. Bathroom was clean, thank God, but the room had a stale air and feel. They have different tariffs and we were staying in a ‘cottage’ – two bedrooms with an attached bathroom each and a living room. A TV in each room. An air cooler in one room, a fan in the second bedroom and two fans in the living area. Gives a pretty good picture, right? Did I mention that there is no power from 9 to 12 during the day? And when the power went off in the middle of the night, I freaked out. Imagine pitch darkness, a baby sleeping next to you who can wake up screaming any minute and your pounding heart – not a good picture, after all, eh?
5. There were no towels, no soap. There was no drinking water in the room. How about that?
6. Lunch was exorbitantly expensive. Chapati, curry, rice, rasam, sambhar, chicken curry for 200 bucks a plate. No dessert, no salad, no soup! They had a ‘special’ meal for dinner which had noodles, Kerala paratha and their special dish – peanut masala!
7. I don’t even have any words for breakfast. Idly, dosa, omelette, pongal, puri – I agree that’s a lot for breakfast, but who can eat all these, right? At 150 bucks a plate, this was the most expensive breakfast I have ever had. And it was not even tasty! And there was no coffee or tea after breakfast. Why? Because it was over. Ha!
8. I happened to ask for some milk for my toddler. While a litre of milk costs 20 bucks, the owner of the resort, Mrs. Sally charged me 15 bucks for 120 ml of milk. Was that special goat’s milk, Ms. Sally?
9. There is a lake in the town which has boating facility. We didn’t get a chance to see this because you see, we cut short our trip and returned the very next day.
10. We did visit the Nature Park and witnessed the musical fountain. Loud music, conked out controls, horrible song selection – screaming baby in my arms – NOT happening.
11. It would be very wrong if I end this post with just the negative points. Sally did went out of her way to get the bottles sterilized. She did not charge me for this. How sweet.
12. When I pointed out that the noodles and parathas are not suitable for my kid, she got chapatis made for my kid. I really appreciate her gesture, but that does not justify her ridiculously expensive rooms and meals.
13. The drive from Bangalore to Yelagiri is heavenly. Nationaly highways, toll roads, smooth hairpin bends for the last 14 kms or so – the drive was the best part of the journey.
Even after reading my post, if you still want to visit Yelagiri, here are the details:
Bangalore to Yelagiri Distance: Around 170 kms. Route: Bangalore – Krishnagiri – Vaniyambadi – Yelagiri
There are enough signboards on the way. Just follow them.
Places to stay:
I stayed at Le Auroville Resortand don’t recommend it at all. Some other places you can check: Peter’s Park – This seems to be the best choice. They were booked when I called them. Zeenath Taj Garden – This seems like a good place too. Sterling Resorts – They have one in Yercaud which is good. If that is anything to go by, this one should be good too.
I believe there is a TTDC hotel there. You might want to check.