Monday, February 13, 2012

BLR – COORG – BLR. All in a day's work.

I love holidaying. It’s probably an inherited gene from my Mum who eternally has wanderlust. This leads us to pick up on any opportunity to HOLIDAY. Which is why, you’ll understand the reason I planned a 1 day trip with my friends to Coorg – The Scotland of South India. A.K.A. the massive coffee land with delicious pork curry.

A colleague of mine was to be married in Coorg on the 28th of January. And after months of detailed and focussed planning, it was agreed that we’d drive down the 300 odd kilometres to get there. A lovely lad even booked us beautiful rooms in a hilltop bed-and-breakfast. Needless to say, like all plans, this one too got canned. From 6 wanderers we were reduced to 3 enthusiastic girls.

So off we went at 10am hoping to get to our destination by two. Oh and yes, we now had an extra seat. The third musketeer was a no show! But it worked out well for my rather large picnic basket. It now blissfully sat within easy of my eternally food finding hands., waiting to get away from the city. And from a swanky car driven by an equally swanky boy, we found ourselves at the Mysore Road Bus Station. Ah well at least it was an air-conditioned bus!

It’s hard really to say the journey was splendid. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t horrific either. We had a couple of stops for food and other necessities (yes, apparently drinking Coconut water on the highway and halting to pick up random non-ticketed people has become a necessity) and eventually made our winding way to Mercara – Coorg at 4pm.

My travel mate and I know had this daunting task ahead of us. 1. Find a vehicle to get to the “home stay”. 2. Find “home stay” 3. Find a way to speak in the local people in order to a. Find a vehicle to get to the “home stay” and b. Find “home stay”. And now that it is clear that we have no idea what to do and how to do, let us go about figuring out this task!

After much persuasion using some semblance of sign language and frantic waving of arms, we got into an auto rickshaw and pretty decent one at that. So off we went in the general direction of “Balakrishna Niwas” – the afore mentioned ‘homestay’. Thanks to my memory (It’s as good as that of a half dead goldfish) I managed to direct my travelmate and the auto driver up the completely wrong hill. Luckily, the gentleman we ran into gave us accurate directions to the place with of course, a brief history lesson on how he knows Mr. Babu Sommaiah. They were class mates you see!

On reaching hill number 2, we realised that we had a mountain to climb. No seriously. The vehicle couldn’t climb the gradient and as I realised later, neither could my co-traveller! But somehow (she clawed and crawled up) got up the hill and to the quaint Balakrishna Niwas.

It was truly a lovely sight. The place even had its own personal hill. Yea that’s right! Some more climbing!

We were given an attic room with glass windows instead of walls. With the sun setting over the horizon, the view was perfect. It was absolutely worth the trek up to get to watch the golden and orange hues lazily withdraw into darkness across coffee plantations. And some tea with piping hot pakoras made it that much better.

True to its website ‘Balakrishna Niwas’ was indeed the “perfect setting to rest your body and still the mind”. We walked up the hill and spent the rest of the even gazing at the undulating hills and fields as they faded into oblivion until the moon came out. As gorgeous as the place seemed in daylight, it was perhaps more so at night. For the first time in many months I actually saw shooting stars. Ah...absolute bliss.

The night was made even better by the spectacular dinner! Although it did come onto the table only at 10 at night! Since we were two young, innocent, famished, tired (and lazy) girls, we decided against wandering into town for dinner. So we took up the owner Mr.Babu on his offer to have tradition Coorgi food. And my my...what a treat it was. The chef and staff we all from Orissa which was lovely as my co-traveller was from there too. So after a brief exchange of “oh you’re from there” and “ooh I’ve been there too”, we got on with the fabulous dinner of Pandi curry (pork curry), chicken masala, akki roti (rice roti), sautéed potatoes, ladies finger, rice, dal, and pumpkin curry. Mmmm perfect!

We went for a stroll around the plantation and then made our weary way back to beds. And you can’t stay awake even if you tried. What with the trek up, the meal and the serene surroundings. Nature will herself sing you a lullaby. And then gently wake you up too!

We woke up to the dazzling sun streaming in from the glass panel and that is when I realised that this was really a relaxation haven. The hospitable staff lived up to their expectations and gave us a spectacular breakfast of idilis, sambar, aloo parathas and fresh juice. It really was unfortunate that we had to leave immediately after the wedding. I was just about getting used to the pampering!

The wedding was a lovely event and it goes without saying that it was great fun. What more can one expect when there’s free flowing alcohol, unlimited supplies of good food and great company! And of course, a newly married happy couple!

We just managed to get away from the wedding in time to pack, change and rush to the bus station to catch out bus home. It had hardly been 24 hours since we even got there and we were ready to get back home. But as they say, girls will be girls. So we found exactly 7 minutes to do some shopping before we got on the bus back to Bangalore.

Despite the hectic nature of the trip and the long detours that our bus took, one things was certain...COORG...we’ll be back!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nepal – The Ultimate Adrenalin Rush

If you enjoy the thrill of jumping off a mountain bridge into a gorge, or like the adrenalin rush of floating (hardly!) down the mighty Himalayan rivers or perhaps even fancy a shot at climbing Mount Everest then Nepal is THE place to go.

Flying into the country itself is a bit of an adventure, as the towering snow-clad mountains provide the perfect obstacle course for the pilots. If your heart is still intact on landing then perhaps you are fit enough to carry on with you holiday!

Kathmandu is a delightful city with the perfect blend of old and modern. You really can fit in somewhere. But for those with an eye for adventure and excitement head straight to Thamel.

The heart of adventure and the life of the city, Thamel has the ability to convert a fraidy cat into a brave, daring eagle!

The atmosphere there will make you want to climb mountains and walk with the Yeti. The streets are filled with tourists and locals bustling about either shopping for antiques, pirated DVDs or investing in mountaineering gear. But most will just be soaking in the vibrancy in the air. And don’t panic if you suddenly find yourself singing out loud or skipping along the street. Just follow the music and let it lead the way. Most likely it will take you straight to the Rum Doodle Bar and Restaurant.

Aside from bumping into people who have possibly just climbed Mount Everest, the food and music at this place is outstanding. You’ll find autographed footprints (yes, of that mysterious Yeti, of course!) all over the walls with success message from mountaineers, following the tradition that began with the autograph of Sir Edmund Hilary himself. You can join the ranks with your own ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ message too.

When or rather if you manage to get out of Rum Doodle, you may want to dive into the tourist offices to finalise your other adventure trips, primarily because you do need permission to go both rafting and trekking. If you’re going trekking (congratulations on being so fit), it is advisable that you go about the whole exercise officially because there are taxes and fees to be paid for climbing. Yes, you do the hard work and pay for it!

Besides obviously mountaineering, most people make a bee-line to Nepal for white water rafting, and make no mistake, it is absolutely worth the courage and partial insanity to navigate rivers like the Kali Gandaki, the Karnali or the Bhote Kosi - all of which are further up in the mountains. In addition to the sheer thrill of riding the rapids and rough white waters, the scenery is so breath-taking, you really must try to keep your eyes open despite the looming rapids. If you are daring enough, you could also go kayaking down these rivers and hope that you navigate correctly to rejoin your party for lunch!

While you are on a rafting trip, you could also throw in some canyoning. If you like to climb, walk, swim, jump and rappel, then you are sure to enjoy this. It involves rappelling down deep gorges, sliding down water falls when there is no other path and swimming across rivers while following the path the canyon has set. It’s best you use waterproof bags for cameras and other electronics because when there is no rock or sand beaches, the only way to go forward is to swim.

In and around Pokhara, a lovely lake town just a 20-minute flight from Kathmandu, you’ll find several mountain biking tracks as well as hiking paths. Pokhara is also the starting point for most mountain climbers. It is also close to Sarangkot, another mountain village which over looks the Himalays and has Pokhara for its front yard. The walk up to Sarangkot to see the sunrise is tiring yet highly fulfilling when you see the vista. Also, once you’re up there, you might as well put those adventure boots back on and treat yourself to some paragliding so you can have a birds eye view of the Annapurna Mountain Range and the glistening Phewa Lake.

Now if you have really toughened up and gathered your beastly courage and are raring to go on, I strongly recommend you make your way to Bhote Kosi. Located on the Kathmandu-Lhasa highway, this area is the ultimate paradise for thrill seekers. It’s got the white water river for possibly the best rafting experience as well as a host of other extreme sports. The exact place you want to head to is The Last Resort. No really it is, because beyond it lies the mighty China!

Only a three hour drive away from the capital city, The Last Resort is a dream come true for the venturesome. They offer a variety of extreme, adventure sports including, bungee jumping, Canyon Swing, Canyoning and high ropes.

It is located on an exotic mountain ridge, with the Bhote Kosi River beneath and can only be reached by crossing a simple suspension bridge at a height of 160m. Remember this bridge though, because this is the one you’ll soon be diving off when you go bungee jumping.

Considered to be one of the most spectacular jumps globally, due to its location and free fall, the bungee jump gives you the ultimate adrenalin rush. But if you don’t think you can stomach the thought of plummeting towards a gorging river, - head first at that - then maybe you could opt for the canyon swing where in you are harnessed around the waist and jump feet first off the bridge and then are swung 240meters between the canyons. Of course, both the bungee and the swing have their thrill but swing is in all likelihood the lesser evil. And if you hesitated at the top then don’t pretend you made a lovely swallow dive because you have been captured on camera! You’ll even get a tee-shirt that says you bravely took the plunge along with the DVD of the graceful (or not) jump.

No need to sign up for climbing because you automatically, get your share of climbing. To make your way back to the resort you have to trudge up the mountain face and skip over little rivulets which in itself is a baby adventure! Be sure to get gather you wits about you, along with your breath and senses and focus after the jumps before you begin you ascent. If you fail to do so you might end up in the river without a harness or raft!

I recommend staying over at the resort in one of their luxurious safari tents and perhaps wind down with a drink in their dip pool while enjoying the live music in the background.

After all of this, if you still have some nerve and courage left over then sit back and enjoy a mountain flight which takes you within touching distance of the Himalayan range (don’t expect to be hugging Mount Everest though). After all, you deserve some glory after your adventure trip. At least you can tell the world you went all the way up to the peak of the highest mountain in the world – in an airplane!