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KERALA : KUMARAKOM BACKWATERS

KERALA : KUMARAKOM BACKWATERS

From Thekkady we left for Kumarakom to complete our Kerala experience, by enjoying the backwaters as well. We reached Kumarakom at around 1 pm after an exilarating journey, where, the first half was along the lovely tea gardens and the second half along the backwaters.

Kumarakom is a tourist village in Kerala in India. It is a cluster of small islands on theVembanad backwaters. It houses the popular Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. It is situated in the Kottayam district of Kerala. The landscape basically consists of a  cluster of island villages in and around the large “Vembanad Lake” backwater body. A large number of coconut trees line the horizon to add a unique touch to the landscape. Kumarakom has a Bird Sanctuary, where a significant number of bird species are known to make migratory visits. The Vembanad Lake, is home to many kinds of freshwater fishes.

We were booked in KTDC’s Waterscapes Resort which is within the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. The property has been developed so beautifully that it looked almost picture perfect. It has independent huts on stilts over a maze of waterways. It has the back waters on one side and is aligned with the shore of the Vembanad Lake on the other. We were put up in a hut called Pearl Spot right opposite the shore of the lake.

n the late afternoon we took a boat ride along the backwaters and were amazed to see the variety of quaint and picturesque scenes. We saw lovely bamboo houseboats with all modern amenities. They looked so picturesque that they took your breath away. Then we saw quaint clumps of shrubbery which had an odd mix of coconut trees, bamboos, mango trees and Jack fruit trees along with other deciduous ones. The locales looked like fairy land and imagery in the green waters of the canals was breath taking.

House Boats in backwaters

House Boats (above) are a good option to stay and explore the Kerala Backwaters

The ever changing landscape engrosses travelers

Next morning we went to the bird sanctuary at the break of dawn but could hardly see many birds as the trees of this region are really tall. When we climbed up the second watch tower we realized that tis was the roosting area and nursery of Egrets and Herons. We would have loved to linger but the watch tower was small and there were too many people there.

Kumarakom has a Bird Sanctuary which is visited by many a migratory birds. The resort itself had a wide range of birds such a egrets, cormorants, Herons, pigeons Kingfisher’s, Orioles and many more. You will also come across many birds during a boat ride in the back waters. Prashant got snaps of some lovely birds as well as the beauty of the heart of Kerala’s backwaters.

A Purple Heron at the sanctuary

Ducks in backwaters

A Night Heron at the bird sanctuary

The sanctuary has large number of bats. You can see them hanging on trees during a walk in the sanctuary.

A Stork Billed Kingfisher (above)  sighted during boat ride in back waters.

A Snake Bird (above) sighted in Kumarakom Backwaters

A Rose Ringed Parrot staring at us

A village astride the  backwaters.

The local people added a rustic flavor to the atmosphere.

A local in boat. Notice the motor. Such boats are used for day to day commutation in the backwaters

An old lady in a row boat

Locals fishing in backwaters

There are large number of hotels and resorts along the banks of the Vembanad Lake or the back waters

Kumarakom is a great place to just relax and enjoy the beauty of backwaters and coconut groves. We left for Cochin after breakfast to catch the flight back to Pune, already planning to make another trip to this God’s own country.

MUNNAR : A QUAINT LITTLE HILL STATION IN KERALA

MUNNAR : A QUAINT LITTLE HILL STATION IN KERALA

On second leg of our trip to kerala we drove off to Munnar a well known hill station in Kerala. It was a facinating drive, The flora and fauna of the surroundings changed rapidly. Unbelievably in a span of about 80 kms the deciduous forests of rubber and bamboo gave way to evergreens and then tea bush covered hills scattered with a silvery birch or the euclyptus to provide some shade.

The arrival at the salibrous climes of Munnar enerziged us so much that we could hardly wait to check in, to start exploring ( we stayed at Misty Mountain resort).

These surroundings took me back 40 years to the days when we used to explore the hills of coonoor, wellington and Ooty. The feel of the place was the same. A small bustling hill station with so much of beauty all around.

On the first evening we went to explore the town and the places close by. We went to a flower garden in Munnar which was beutifully landscaped with flower beds, water bodies, fountains and a few water sports. The walk through the garden, in the balmy weather, was like a tonic for the soul and senses. We felt the heat and fatigue of Thatekkad just melting away. Seeing the youg people enjoying the various facilities, with fun and frolic brought back lovely memories of our youth and the mesmerizing places we had visited.

We were heading for the sunset point when a sudden shower spoilt our plans so, we headed back to our hotel.

Early next morning we were off to see munnar in the Mattupatty direction. We stopped to get some lovely snaps at photopoint from were we proceeded to Mattupatty dam. Though we were not keen on boating we saw many revellers enjoying it. We stopped at the film shooting point, echopoint and Kundle Dam. The beauty of the lush, verdant foliage of the hills never fails to enliven my senses.

Echo point at Munnar

While returning we stopped at the flower garden maintained by the Flori culture depatment of Kerala. Munnar is famous for this garden. When we saw the garden from above we were quite sceptical as it was spread over a very small area, but, what a shock we got when we went inside! There were flowers of every color hue and shade. The variety of flowers and the love with which they had been tended left us amazed. We saw flowers ranging from roses, Daliahas, carnations, dog flowers, panzies, sunflowers and other rare ones like califorian poppies in vibrant hues and colors. Prashant went crazy snapping them. Have a look for youself below:-

After spending about two and a half hours in that small garden we decided to take a brake. In the evening we went to sunset point to catch the sunset, however once again the sun played truant and remained hidden behind the clouds.

Prashant has  keen and alert eyes for birds and managed to capture images of these verdant creatures at Munnar too.

Next morning we headed for Kumarakom. More about it in my next blog.

VISIT TO MURUD JANJIRA – KONKAN COAST

VISIT TO MURUD JANJIRA – KONKAN COAST

After having a good night’s rest at Kashid we woke up early next morning to reach Murud Janjira( about 28 km from Kashid) to go to catch the first ferry to the fort of Janjira.

As we approached the jetty at Murud we saw a long line of people already there to catch the ferry.The man who was running the ferry service said that he would only move after he got 35 passengers or Rs.800.when my hubby heard that he volunteered to pay the differences and off we were towards the fort about 2kms off the coast on a rocky island in the Arabian Sea.

As we approached the fort we were transferred from the ferry to a sail boat which took us to the Massive Entrance of the Fort.

The main gate faces the Rajapuri village and can can be only seen when one is quite close.At the gate there is an inscription in Persian and the coat of arms which were of a tiger like animal with an elephant in its mouth.

The fort seems in relatively good condition even though its outer walls are battered by sea waves since the last six centuries.It is made of a combination of lead , sand and ‘gud’.

We got off the sail boat and hired a local guide for the whole group.He was a lively young fellow who kept us entertained with stories and anecdotes of the past.This made the climbing of the 150 stairs to the second floor and ramparts of the fort more bearable-the poor knees groaning and creaking at the sudden exercise.

He told us the fort has 19 round bastions and is made in a crescent shape.It took 22 years to complete the fort on 22 acres of land.He told us the original fort was was asmall wooden structure built by a Koli chief in the late 15th century.Later an Abysinian origin Siddi regent of the Ahmed nagar king captured it.Then the Siddis became independent owing allegiance to Adil Shah and the Mughals.

The Marathas under Shivaji and later Sambhaji tried to conquer it but were unsuccessful.Sambhaji even tried to make a tunnel towards it and started building a fort on another rocky island closely but eventually had to leave it incomplete.

As we reached the second floor or the ramparts of the fort he showed us the main canon of the fort known as ‘Kalak Bangadi’ and weighs 22 tons. It was brought to the island in the form of ring and assembled there itself. Made of ‘Panch Dhaatu’ it was mobile in those days but still required 30-40 able men to move it. The entire fort had 145 cannons.

I was very impressed by the architecture because you could stand in the inner courtyards and still have a clear view of miles over the sea on any side. The arches towards the outer walls were very small and as you went towards the centre of the fort they became larger and larger. The guide rightly explained the logic behind it as we realized that from outside the fort you could not see the interiors at all, which made the fort almost invincible.

The topmost floor (the second floor) was used for military purposes and defense. The first floor was for living so, the houses, rooms and living quarters were all situated here. The lowermost level was used for storing arms and ammunition. With only one entry and a sheer drop of 40ft into the sea on all sides the fort was impenetrable.

There was a small escape route at the postern of the fort for escape towards the sea, but it was beautifully camouflaged.

A tunnel also ran under the sea from the fort to Rajapuri, for administrative purposes. It was 60ft under water and usable up to 1991 when the last of the Koli tribe stopped visiting the fort and settled in Rajapuri and adjoining villages. While shifting to the mainland they took the wooden frames, doors and windows with them.

Amazingly there was a sweet water well and pond at the centre of the fort on an island surrounded by sea water. This came as a lovely surprise as I had been wondering how they must have procured their drinking water.

I wanted to salute the brains behind the design and architecture of this totally unique fort. We were told that the surviving regent ROBY PHILIPS resides in New York. We saw his castle on the mainland on the way to Kashid from Murud. This is another pearl in architecture and still seems quite well maintained.

While capturing images of this castle the over enthusiastic spouse had a toss and landed up hurting his hands and knees-thanking God that his camera was safe.On the way back to Kashid we also saw a beautiful Siddhi Vinayak Temple,but did not linger as we needed some medical attention.

Murud also has a variety of good accommodation right from private shacks , cottages , MTDC rooms to ‘The Golden Swan Resort’ which is on the steeper side.

The main stay of local population seems to be tourism and fishing. Here are few snaps of the surroundings.

With that another adventure culminated and we are waiting to embark on the next one.

DANDELI : BIRDS OF GANESHGUDI

DANDELI : BIRDS OF GANESHGUDI

The long overdue trip to Dandeli (Wildlife Sanctury)  fructified in Mar 2015 when we combined it with our trip to Bijapur, Badami and Hampi. The drive from Hampi started with rocky and barren terrain to begin with, but slowly the surroundings changed to sugarcane and jowar fields all around.However when the ascent began to the hilly areas of Dandeli and the forest, the smell of the verdant foliage and the purity of the atmosphere reduced the stress of travelling and freshened the mind, enlivening the senses.The chirping of the birds, the huge variety of trees, the monkeys and the langoors brought back memories of far off jungles we had travelled to during service life.

Me being a nature lover who thrives in hills and jungles, felt my senses suddenly sharpening and a feeling of pure joy pervaded my entire being. As we approached our destination at the ‘Hornbill Resort’the chirping of the birds, the sounds of the jungle and the mystery of the sunset enveloped us.

The cottage were we stayed (above)

A tree house at Hornbill River Resort, Ganeshgudi

The resort was aesthetically constructed on the banks of the river Kali with tree houses, cottages and even tented accomodation merging into the serene surroundings.The people working at the resort were friendly and cooperative. My spouse was happy to meed another avid bird lover in Gopi, who is their birder and takes people around the jungle.

The two days at Dandeli passed in the blink of an eye,as there was so much to do.We shot birds (with the camera) and saw lots of Malabar Black Hornbills, Grey Hornbills,Green Parrots, Sunbirds, the Red Whiskered bulbul, The Brahmini Kite,various water birds, langoors, Giant Squirrels,The Flying Squirrel and many tiny birds I was unable to identify, as they were so tiny.

Malabar Pied Horn Bill

Malabar Grey Hornbill (above)

Brahminy Kite

Pompadour Green Pigeon (above)

We enjoyed the boating on the R.Kali and saw young revelers white water rafting over the rapids,rappeling and enjoying the river crossing, kayaking indulging in other water sports which I was too timid to try,Spousy of course was going crazy clicking the birds and the scenery.However, what I enjoyed most were the two nature walks we had, early morning, with Gopi pointing out various birds one doesn’t even notice.

People having fun in Kali River adjacent to Hornbill Resort

Before we knew it, it was time to depart even though our soul longed to linger there for some more time to soak the beauty of the pristine surrroundings and environment. We bid Adieu to Dandeli promising to be back,as soon as we could,for another stint.

Not having had our fill of Dandeli,we decided to revisit it again and were again there within ten days or so.

This time our preferred place of stay was ‘The Old Magazine House’- a known birder’s paradise.So off we were again!Ispent the entire journey looking forward to the jungle environs again.Lo and behold! the Lemurs seemed to have laid out a welcome for us. Just after we passed Ganesh Gudi, we saw a family of Lemurs sitting in the middle of the road. They were in a winsome, frolicky mood and hubby just couldn’t seem to take his finger off the trigger – of his camera. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the young ones who were wrestling playfully and playing catching cook.

The lemurs blocking our entry to Birds Paradise

Being watched and tracked!!

On reaching the resort we didn’t even get time to check-in properly or freshen up before the birding activity was in full swing. Spousy forgot all about me and the luggage,to appease his thirst for the enormous variety of birds.I was astonished to learn – from Juma,the resident birder- that birds bathe and clean themselves before retiring for the night.Thus the flurry fo activity near the watering spots.

Prashant setting up for the shoot

uddenly Juma pointed to a shrub and shouted ‘Trogan’ and we saw a small red breasted bird sitting majestically on a branch.This ( I was told) was the red breasted troganwhich is known as the “Tiger of Birds”-as spotting it is very rare. It seems,it is so elusive that people keep looking for it for months before they get a sighting.We really felt blessed as we had spotted it as soon as we had arrived. After a few minutes,I raised my eyes and saw the trogan sitting on a branch 5 mtres away posing for us – as if asking us to soak in its presence. Hubby dear went crazy trying to get it from different angles.

Malabar Trogan (above)

From then it was a birders delight as we saw the emerald winged dove, the trogan, the yellow oriolle, the shama,the jungle myna, the barbette, the giant squirrel, the basra and the bee eater. It was difficult to leave the spot,even as dusk approached and the light faded, as the birds kept coming and there were some ‘late latifs’ as well. The cameras could no longer catch them but, they were a visual treat.

Emerald Dove (above)

Common Flameback (above)

Red wishkerd Bulbul (above)

Yellow Browed Bulbul (above)

Malabar Starling (above)

Black capped/ Ruby throted  Bulbul (above)

Black Capped Babbler (above)

Veriditer Flycatcher (above)

As darknes descended I was amazed at the lack of mosquitoes, or any kind of insects.A hush enveloped the forest and it became eerily silent.

We had an early dinner and retired to our cottage as we were terribly tired after the long journey and then the excitement of seeing the wide array of birds.Spousy was elated as he had managed to click at least 20 different species of birds.The still and soundless environment cloaked us and we fell asleep instantly- looking forward to the next day.

Next morning after waking up at dawn, we were off to the Timber Depot to spot the Hornbills and the Woodpeckers. The Hornbills led us to a merry chase, flying off as soon as we were in range to click. However, spousy got some good shots of Woodpeckers, Lemurs and the lovely and vast surroundings. We returned to the resort after spending about 2 1/2 hrs. We enjoyed our breakfast and freshened up but, kept veering back to the birding spot,as if,pulled by invisible threads.

Timber Depot, Dandeli (above)

Malabar Grey Hornbill (above)

Malabar Giant Squirells (above)

White Bellied Woodpecker (above)

The noon brought a lull to the activity among the birds and we kind of lazed around soaking in the peace and solitude of the environment.

Suddenly, in the late afternoon we saw many vehicles approaching and around 50- 60 young professionals alighted.They were volunteers for the Tiger census being conducted by the Govt of Karnataka.They were on the penultimate day of their training (for survival in the jungle) so they had come there for another workshop.The minute they arrived it seemed as if the birds acknowledged their presence and put up a wondrous performance.They twittered and came down to the bathing spots in droves to hop and bathe. It seemed as if the were performing a graceful ballet,totally unmindful of the racket the youngsters were creating.The birders went totally trigger happy with their cameras.As for me- I just soaked in the atmosphere with the beautiful birds on one side and the youngsters with their exhuberance on the other.Ah! what one would give to be young again.

Oriental White Eye (above)

White Bellied Blue Flycatcher (above)

White Rumped Shama (above)

Racket Tailed Drongo (above)

Grey Headed Fulvetta (above)

Orange Headed Thrush (above)

Tickells Blue Flycatcher (above)

Black Naped Monarch (above)

Malabar Rock Thrush (above)

Little Spider Catcher (above)

Black Headed Babbler (above)

Malabar White Headed Starling

When there were no Birds, monkeys were around to keep you engaged.

As the light faded we moved off from there to visit sunset point. From here we captured some awesome sights of the setting sun in the backdrop of the hills with the golden rays reflected in the waters of the Supa reservoir.The sunset had a dramatic and theatrical beauty in it.

Sunset at Supa Reservoir, Ganeshgudi

Hubby dear was a little disappointed as he felt he had not been able to capture enough variety of birds and had already started planning his next visit.I flaked out as I was exhausted with the days activities, while he was downloading the photographs so that he had enough digital space for the next morning.

When I woke up next morning I found spousy missing- as expected.He had gone looking for more birds.

I set myself to packing and freshening up.At around 7.30am I also went down to the birding spot where I found five young birders allready with their huge cameras and lenses all camouflaged as if they were in war zone. However, they kept talking incessantly so no bird ventured near (in my mind I wondered why people say women talk too much).Here were a group of guys who couldn’t seem to keep quiet for a second.

Their nonstop chattering was just about getting on my nerves when I saw a family of giant squirrels frolicking on a tree close by.I got so engrossed in their antics – running up and down the trees , chasing each other and jumping fron branch to branch that I blanked the guys out.Let me describe the Malabar Giant Squirrel to you – it is as big as a large hare and rust brown in colour with a whitish chest and a long bushy tail. Can you imagine the beauty of it ?

Malabar Giant Squirrel (above)

I was so lost in their world that I didn’t here spousy till he called out to me. From the grin on his face I could make out that he had a successful morning. I didn’t have to wait for long because he was so full of a new birding spot he had found on a tree nearby- the flame of the forest. He captured gorgeous birds like the hanging parakeets,parrots,racquet tailed barbettes and .We hurried up and had a speedy breakfast because he wanted to spend some more time near that tree before we headed home.

Plum Headed Parakeet (above)

Flying off as we got nearer

Grey Headed Parakeet (above)

Malabar White Cheeked Barbet (above)

Eurasian Black Bird (above)

Chestnut Headed Bee Eater (above)

Vernal Hanging Parrot (above)

Eurasian Golden Oriole (above)

Spotted Dove (above)

Ashy Drongo (above)

Hill Myna(above)

However he made a tactical mistake by telling the five young birders about the spot. Before we could settle down and capture some more birds, these guys came roaring right up to to the tree in a diesal Innova trying to photogrph them from the car- little realising that all they had done was scared them away.We waited for some time but it was of no use so we packed the camera and started our drive back home.

The Rapids (above)

A view of Supa Dam Reservoir (above) 

About Dandeli Wildlife Sanctury

The sanctuary now covers an area of 834.16 square kilometres. This sanctuary is the second largest wildlife sanctuary of Karnataka.Along with its adjoining Anshi National Park, Dandeli is an abode to 40 tigers albeit very difficult to spot.

It’s not just tigers, the sanctuary is a natural home to leopards, black panthers, elephants, deer, beer, antelopes, reptiles and more than 300 bird-species as well.

The best time to enjoy the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is between March and October and the centre is open between 6am and 6pm.

There are so many attractions and opportunities on offer at Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary, whether you choose action and adventure with white water rafting or slow the pace down with peaceful birdwatching and wildlife photography. You’ll be spoilt for choice..!

During August and September, Malabar Pied Hornbills flock to the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in large numbers to feast on the fruit trees. They create quite a show – not to be missed..!

During August and September, Malabar Pied Hornbills flock to the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in large numbers to feast on the fruit trees.

Ganeshgudi, about 20 km from Dandlei is famous for birding and can truly be called a Birder’s Paradise.

How to Reach

Dandeli is

• 57 kms from Dharwad

• 75 kms from Hubli

• 110 kms from Belgaum

• 117 kms from Karwar

• 150 kms from Goa

• 481 kms away from Bangalore

Getting There:

By Air

Closest airport: Belgaum (110 kms) Hubli (75 kms)and Goa (150 kms).

 By Train

Closest rail head: Alnavar (32 kms) Londa (48 kms), Dharwad (57 kms), & Hubli (75 kms).

 By Road

Dandeli is well connected to Bangalore, Mumbai (Bombay),Pune,  Goa, Belgaum, Karwar and Dharwad, Hubli by road. Several buses ply to Dandeli everyday.

VISIT TO KASHID BEACH

VISIT TO KASHID BEACH

Another one of our ‘we must be on the road in an hour’ trips fructified and before it even registered we were on our way. This time the goal was two less known beaches of the Konkan – Kashid and Murud Jaljira.

As we cruised along the Pune – Mumbai Expressway up to Khapoli I was really worried, as we had moved out without reservations. With the Diwali vacations on I was doubtful if we would get any accommodation – at the drop of a hat. However ‘the spouse’, optimistic as usual, made light of my fears and kept consoling me that the worst case scenario would be that we would sleep in the car.

My God! I shivered even at the thought of it as (over time) I have grown quite fond of my creature comforts and refuse to rough it out, as they say.

From Khapoli we turned left towards a place known as Penn and from there to Alibaug. We didn’t linger at Alibaug for too long as we had been here before, plus I was on pins and needles about our accommodation .So we headed south to Kashid about 38 Kms ahead on the western coast.

The drive from Alibaug to Kashid was so beautiful and picturesque that one felt one could stay there forever. The coastal road meanders along the coastline and offers you glimpses of the sea at regular intervals with small private beaches, and stretches where you could see revelers enjoying the quiet, uncrowded and clean stretches of beach areas. Small cottages on both sides of the road gave it a surreal feel.

We both wished we could live in one of those shacks or cottages, but then reality crept in that – the grass is always greener on the other side.

Anyway, we reached Kashid and started our hunt for accommodation. Five stars were Choco bloc full, advertised cottages turned out to be ‘basic shacks’ as I started envisioning the actuality of sleeping in the car. God answered the SOS I had sent out and at our third attempt we came across “Kashid Beach Resort”- a three star. The suites and surroundings were neat and clean with an ‘old world’ feel about it. So, we checked in and were overwhelmed at their hospitality as they offered us a sumptuous lunch- though way past lunch time. After having a quick lunch and freshening up we headed out as we wanted to capture the setting sun.

On reaching the Kashid beach the better half got lost in his world of photography, as it was lovely to watch kids and adults enjoying the water sports on offer. The gamut of water sports available had me impressed as there were banana boats, water scooters, speed boats, beach scooties, buggies, to horse and camel riding.

The ‘photography freak’ spouse couldn’t seem to get enough of the wide palate of kaleidoscopic colors and activities going on around him. He moved from group to group catching myriad moods, sports and activities.

I suddenly spotted a large joint family on holiday enjoying a game of water polo on the beach waist deep in water. It was fascinating to see three generations reveling in the game with good natured ribbing on all sides. They took me back in time, to my own childhood, when my whole paternal family would go for vacations together – O! The lovely carefree days, the love and sharing which nuclear families today are bereft of. Suddenly, a splash of water pulled me out of my reverie to find the ‘Hubby’ missing. Panic set in for a second, till I spotted him some distance away capturing some other antics.

While he continued being ‘trigger happy’ with his camera, I chatted with the shack owners. From them I learnt the reason for the relatively cleaner and quieter beaches compared to Goa. One of them told me that the electricity supply was erratic plus they were not permitted to serve liquor in public so they only catered for a variety of colas, nariyal pani, tea, coffee and snacks like wada pao, pohe and maggi.

The setting sun played truant again as clouds covered its beauty among their layers leaving us bereft of the view we longed to capture “The sun setting in the horizon of the sea.” The lovely scene slowly darkened as we traced our steps back to the resort to rest and recoup for the next adventure.