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Monte Amiata, Tuscany


Monte Amiata is 1,738-foot-high dormant volcano in southwestern Tuscany that last erupted about 1,80,000 years ago. The lower slopes of the mountain are covered with beech and chestnut trees, and higher up are dense old-growth forests. Parco Faunistico del Monte Amiata, the 120-hectare national park is spectacular all year round. In spring and summer the air is perfumed with the scent of flowers, and the flaming reds and burnt oranges of leaves in autumn are exceptional. Visitors can hike 6 km/3 hours along Sentiero Natura path, on their own, or take guided walks. In winter the slopes are covered in a thick blanket of snow, perfect for skiing. Additionally, the region is dotted with old monasteries, abbeys and Romanesque churches. Sulphur rich hot springs like Bagni di San Filippo and Bagno Vignoni, at Monte Amiata’s base, are well-known wellness destinations.

INSPIRE Australia

Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

paul chesley

The beauty of the soft, white sand, blue water and coral life of the Whitsunday Islands make them one of Queensland’s big tourist draws. This group of 74 tropical islands is located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef off the north east coast of Australia. They are an ideal base for exploring the thousands of colourful coral and fish of the reef. Humpback, pilot and Migaloo white humpback whales can also be spotted here between June to September, when they come to give birth in the calm, protected waters around the islands, on their annual migration north. Scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, fishing, golf, wildlife and nature walks, are just some of the activities visitors can enjoy.


Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Pete Mcbride

The vast Canyonlands National Park was created in 1964 on lands inhabited by the Pueblo Indians for 10,000 years. The Green and Colorado rivers divide the park into various areas. The Islands in the Sky Mesa is a flat-topped mountain, 1,000 feet high, which offers scenic vistas. Maze District is the most remote, and famous as the hideout for 19th century outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the southeast corner of the park, Needles District is so called for its series of needle-shaped colourful Cedar Mesa Sandstone. At Horseshoe Canyon, Native American rock art that dates back from 2000 B.C. can be seen. Hiking trails and four-wheel-drive roads are the main ways to explore Canyonlands.

VOICES Book Shelf

Give wildlife right of way on roads running through forests


he water-laden mist filters through the thick canopy of the rainforest, enveloping the road and layering my battered 4X4 with a film of moisture. All of a sudden, the visibility goes down to zero. I’m in the Western Ghats; the monsoon rains have arrived. ts; the monsoon rains have arrived. The monsoon is my favourite season because it is the land’s most regenerative and vibrant moment. Baked by the relentless summer sun, the dry and barren ground springs to life with the first shower, triggering off the cycle of renewal and growth. Almost overnight a green sheet emerges all around. The Western Ghats are home to one of the oldest forests on earth and a diverse variety of species. They are a Ramsar site, one of 1,950 places across the world that are covered by an international treaty for the conservation of wetlands. Over 3oo rivers, small and large, flow out of this primordial ecosystem. Driving through the undulating terrain of the Nilgiri hills (southern part of the Western Ghats) during the monsoons is an uplifting experience. The road that cuts through the forests allows a glimpse of the wondrous landscape. There are stunning views at every turn and a great variety of plants and animals here. But I’ve noticed that not everyone respects and values that life. As the road has been widened and improved, both the traffic and the speed at which cars travel has increased. With that I sadly see a large number of snakes, frogs and monitor lizards that lie crushed on the road. Reptiles frequently cross the road, seeking prey or looking for a dry space to bask in the sun. Some instances of them getting hit are accidental, but not always. Animals often suffer because of a lack of concern and sometimes, especially in the case of snakes, a malicious attitude toward them.

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mike pandey

This was even more evident one day as I was driving in the Western ghats when I stopped to watch a small python trying to get across the road. We saw a car approaching and waved for it to slow down, pointing to th epython. The driver saw us and the snake but decided to continue driving, swerving his speeding car towards the python with deliberate callousness. Timely intervention saved the animal, but the cruel intention and the disregard for animal life shown by the giggling occupants of the sports car was shocking. This tale of neglect continues in other parts of the Western Ghats. According to experts, over 300,000 snakes and animals die on the Mumbai-Pune expressway every monsoon. This has seriously depleted the reptile population, particularly that of grass snakes. Dependent species have migrated away, causing a serious fracture in the food chain. Predators like the serpent eagle have become rare and in the absence of both these the numbers of rats and rodents have grown, causing crop damage and rodent infestations in many villages. Quite simply, our lack of concern and the consequent slaughter on the road can dangerously tilt the scale of life and come back to hurt us. Many new species are still being discovered in the rain forests of the Western Ghats every year. Only a vibrant and intact ecosystem can ensure their sustainability. The disappearance of any one species impacts the entire food chain, weakening the web of life and threatening our own existence. Like in the West, we need to build speed breakers at regular intervals where animal activity is high, to ensure no one drives too fast. Signboards saying “deer crossing” are common in the US, as are “kangaroo crossing” boards in Australia; we can bring about similar awareness for motorists in India. Most drivers do not deliberately intend to harm animals and accidents are

Childhood Landscape Books read as children transform the way we experience places


The driver saw us and the snake but decided to continue driving, swerving his speeding car towards the python with deliberate callousness to further accidents. The increased deaths of rhesus monkeys in road accidents on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway are clear evidence of this. On your next drive, keep in mind that a little more sensitivity on our part as travellers, can save thousands of animal lives. n –Mike is a wildlife filmaker and two-time winner of the Green Oscar award.


Snake Crossing

inadvertent. We should yield to wildlife when we’re in forested areas, where we are the interlopers; animals should have right of way. Be on the lookout for animals, not just to avoid accidents, but also because stopping to watch a python crawl across the road to safety can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At the other end of the spectrum there are many people who stop on highways to feed animals by the roadside. They mean well, and think they are taking care of the animals by feeding them, but these actions are more harmful than we realise. Not only is it unhealthy because it makes wild animals dependent on humans, it causes them to come onto the road more, leading

t some point during my childhood my family went on a holiday to Switzerland. My parents can no longer remember why they chose to travel to the Bernese Oberland that year. It seems unlikely that the entire trip was arranged around the whims of a seven- or eight-year-old child, but that is certainly how I remember it. The Oberland was the setting for most of the later books in Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series, and this alone was enough to recommend it to my childhood self. Most of my memories of that trip are decidedly book-based. I noticed that Lake Thun was the brilliant blue-green that the books had attributed to it; I was a little disappointed in the Jungfrau, the sight of which had always aroused the schoolgirl characters to the heights of spiritual contemplation. I had never heard of the Trummelbach falls, but they were impressive enough on their own–a couple of years later I would read The Chalet School Reunion and discover that Brent-Dyer had mentioned them after all. I only learnt quite recently that the author in question hadn’t been particularly well-acquainted with this region, getting most of her information about it second-hand. If I wanted a more authentic Chalet School experience I should consider going to Pertisau on the Achensee Lake in the Austrian Tyrol–a place Brent-Dyer knew well, and the site of the fictionalised Briesau of the earliest books in the series. Literature transforms places, and this is truer of children’s literature than of any other. Because we experience children’s books so intensely; we remember details that we would overlook as insignificant if reading as adults. (Perhaps the only thing we remember as intensely as a sense of place in children’s literature is all the food–Indians who write about growing up reading English children’s books invariably

aishwarya s ubramaniam

admit to childhood puzzlement over what kippers were, what ginger beer tasted like, and why anyone in her right mind would want to eat tongue. Most of us are rather disappointed when we find out.) I don’t plan to rush off to the Achensee on a second Brent-Dyer tour, but plenty of Chalet School fans have done just that. And an even greater number of tourists from across the world still flock to Canada’s Prince Edward Island every year to see where Anne (of Green Gables fame) is supposed to have lived. Call it a result of our sound colonial educations, though, that for most of us the literary geography we know best is that of Britain. In Joan Bodger’s How The Heather Looks, first published in 1965, the author and her American family travel across the British Isles seeking out the settings of their favourite children’s books. The title of Bodger’s book comes from an Emily Dickinson poem–“I never saw a moor,/ I never saw the sea; / Yet now I know how the heather looks, /And what a wave must be”. And it’s true that I knew the colour of the sea at Cornwall before ever I visited it, from Five Go Down to the Sea as well as Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone. I knew what a moor looked like, and that it could be beautiful in its bleakness, from The Secret Garden (Bodger claims that The Secret Garden taught her “what ‘wuthering’ meant long before [she] ever got around to reading Wuthering Heights”). I feel I know Alderley Edge in Cheshire, where I’ve never been, because Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath are both set there. I have been to Wales, but hardly know it; yet I know that Garner’s The Owl Service takes place near Aberystwyth, and Cooper’s The Grey King in Gwynedd. Places needn’t be explicitly named for us to ferret them out. In The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, Laura

Miller travels to some of the places that are said to have influenced C.S. Lewis’ fictional world. Bodger’s family even hunt out the site of Toad Hall, from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. At one point in her book, Bodger shows up outside Arthur Ransome’s house to confirm that the lake in the Swallows and Amazons books is Windermere, that the “North Pole” is Ambleside and so on. Ransome seems to disapprove of this line of questioning (though he does divulge to her the ‘real’ location of Wild Cat Island). Perhaps he’s right. It does a book no favours to be too literal in one’s reading of it. Beyond a point this urge to map things out is meaningless. The images that make up our countries of the mind are not neces-

Because we experience children’s books so intensely; we remember details that we would overlook as insignificant if reading as adults sarily geographically specific; bleak, lovely moors, and sunlit forests, and gorse bushes and blue-green lakes. To know how the heather looks might just be enough. n –Aishwarya is a writer and editor. She lives in New Delhi. JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3


VOICES Tread Softly

navigate HIGHLIGHTS | TRAVEL BUTLER Take a holiday with your pet ANDAMANS Recycling plastic waste on the island LONDON Exploring London doesn’t need to burn a hole in your pocket


TURKEY Visit the ancient history of Hasankeyf before time runs out


Hasankeyf 's rich history will soon be drowned in the waters of the Tigris once the Ilisu dam starts opera

Eye of the Tigris The grottos, mosques and ruins of ancient dynasties will soon be flooded by the waters of the Tigris.


asankeyf is not a conventional destination. Few travellers make the long journey out to this town, situated at the treeless edge of the Anatolian plateau in southeastern Turkey. But those who do reap a rich reward. They get to explore a large archaeological site brimming with traces left by a succession of dynasties over the centuries. Hasankeyf reached its pinnacle under the Ayyubid dynasty in the 13th century, when the descendants of Salahdin built mosques and made it a centre for Islamic learning. The ruins of the Ulu Mosque and a sprawling ancient cemetery surrounding it lie adjacent to a great palace. But the earliest mention of Hasankeyf was found on clay tablets dating back to 2000 B.C. during excavations in the town of Mari (now in Syria) by French archae2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

ologist Andre Parrot in the 1930s. In the fourth century B.C., the Romans built a strategic fortress overlooking the crossing ford of the Tigris river here. The Arabs, who took control of the town in the seventh century A.D., called the place Hasn Keyfa, or the rock fort. During this period, the Artuqid rulers built a stone and wooden arched bridge here that had a unique feature—the central wooden section could be removed in the case of an attack to prevent the bridge from being used. There was a sense of urgency to my visit. The town and its history spanning 10,000 years from Mariote, Hittites, Romans, Byzantine, Emevis, Abbasid, Hamadani, Marivani, Artuqid, Ayyubi and Ottoman civilizations will soon be lost. The cave churches, mosques, tombs and the ancient bazaars of this region will be submerged

under the rising waters of the Tigris when the Ilisu dam begins operations in 2013. I started my explorations by heading towards the citadel, perched on the limestone cliff, some 300 ft above the river. Hundreds of caves have been carved into the soft rock; some are the size of closets while others are multi-storied caverns. The walls are blackened with soot and there are clear signs that indicate they were once inhabited. It’s a steep climb to the citadel via a winding footpath, past empty caves and ruined buildings. The citadel was used as a dwelling place for centuries. The Artuqids also constructed the great palace north of the citadel. A rectangular watchtower stands on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Tigris valley for miles in each direction. I am brought back to the present by the


By Shozeb Haider

muezzin’s shrill call to prayer. It begins to get dark and I retrace my steps down the winding footpath, heading to the centre of all activity—the tea stall. Shaukat, in whose guesthouse I am staying, pulls up a for me stool next to him and plays his hand at a game of cards. There are few young men here. Most have left, fearing uncertainty. Among the few to have stayed back is Ihsan, who is sitting next to Shaukat. The 25-year-old owner of a restaurant keeps a Turkish to English dictionary in his pocket and makes me aware of the various conversations occurring in the room. “We don’t keep time in Hasankeyf,” he tells me in halting English. “Just follow daylight hours. Nothing happens after maghrib (the evening prayer)." The next morning a fog has enveloped the river. At the edge of the water sits the El-Rizk mosque, with an imposing minaret. Built in the 15th century, it is the only mosque to have survived intact over the years. Vegetal patterns, Kufic inscriptions and calligraphy in stone run around the circumference of the minaret. A set of two intertwined staircases, each hidden from the other, lead up the minaret. As I leave the complex, I notice two boys following me. One of them musters courage, runs up to me, and offers to be a guide. The shy one points to the huge empty stork

nest atop the minaret. The birds migrate to warmer climes at this time of the year and will return in the spring, I am told. Of the other mosques in town, the Suleyman mosque has been almost completely lost. Only the minaret remains. The Kucuk mosque is in a Kulliye, an all-in-one complex including a madrassa, hospital, kitchen and an inn. The Kizlar mosque forms a part of a mausoleum. The boys lead me across the new bridge, shared by two men on donkey back, herding a flock of sheep in the opposite direction. We walk past the village of Kesmekopru, heading towards a cylindrical monument, standing alone under the shadows of the limestone cliffs. Sunshine on the turquoise and dark blue glazed tiles lit up the calligraphic inscriptions on its body. The Zeynul Bey mausoleum is a rare example of a 15th century Central Asian turbe (tomb) in the Anatolian region. Hasankeyf was destroyed by invading Mongols towards the end of the 13th century. It was revived briefly by the Emirs of Diyarbakir, before losing its glory from the early 16th century under the Ottoman Empire. More recently, Hasankeyf and its inhabitants have survived 15 years of war between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists. This time, it seems different. “The gov-

ernment is building a new Hasankeyf and plans to move antiquities to a cultural park,” says Ihsan, pointing to a construction site visible at the foothills of the Raman Mountains in the distance. Shaukat flags down a dolmus (share taxi) for me. As I leave one of the oldest surviving inhabited settlements, I appreciate that it might be the last chance to witness a place where one can walk in and out of history with ease. I know that its end is near. n

THE vitals Location: Hasankeyf is 781 km southeast of Ankara, and 1,131 km southeast of Istanbul. Getting there: The closest airport from Hasankeyf is at the oil-producing town of Batman, 41 km/1 hour northwest. There are regular flights from Ankara and Istanbul to Batman, from where one can take the Batman-Midyat-Mardin minibuses that pass through Hasankeyf. By train, it takes nearly 38 hours to reach Batman from Istanbul. The Guney Express departs from Istanbul and passes through Ankara on its way to Batman. Stay: Hasankeyf Motel (0488-3812005) and Hasbahce Hasankeyf (0488-3812674) are the two accommodation options.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3

NAVIGATE Experience


Kicking Around the World

km from Bengaluru) is one of the country’s most majestic monolithic statues. The 60-foot-tall statue was carved from a single block of granite to depict Gomateswara (also known as Bahubali), the second son of the Jain Tirthankara, Rishabha. A staircase of 700 steps lead up to the monolith which is visible from almost 30 km away. It’s little surprise that Sravanbelgola is one of the country’s busiest centres of Jain pilgrimage.

Make football your excuse to travel By Azeem BanatwallA

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sense again and I felt alive. Twenty minutes later, I saw a group of locals playing a game nearby; suddenly I wasn’t so pleased. I looked at them longingly. Then I counted the players. Eleven. They appeared to be a player short. Perhaps I could join them? A mocking voice in my head recognized that it would actually involve talking to them. What if that last player was away for a few minutes? What if they thought me strange? I was like a twelve-year-old with a crush. But the urge to play made me walk towards them and wait near a goal-post until the keeper noticed me. “May I join you guys?” the words escaped. He consulted the rest of the group. They agreed. I was in. I spent an hour playing with them. By the end, I had 11 new friends, joking, swapping football stories, discussing last season’s FA Cup final. I left Hyde Park feeling like I’d been sky-diving. I returned the next day, and the next week, and every day until I went home. I played with a group of Nigerians, joined a local school team’s practice, and even picnicked with some Turks after

Hanuman Murti, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

At 108 feet, the Hanuman Murti is a giant of cement, watching imperiously over Shimla (around 350 km from Delhi). A brick-red beacon, the monkey god is unmistakable, standing atop Shimla’s highest peak, while real monkeys clamber across his shoulders. Built in November 2010 at a base altitude of 8,100 feet, the Hanuman Murti is visible from all over Shimla, adding a splash of red to the green and blue canvas.

4 The 60-feet-tall Gomateswara Statue in Karnataka is carved from a single block of granite.

Sacred Giants Statues that inspire awe By Azeem Banatwalla


any statues across India stand tall, but some stand out. Here are five of the country’s largest statues, fusing Indian culture with architecture to form fascinating places of worship.


Dying Buddha, Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh

According to Buddhist lore, Kushinagar (50 km from Gorakhpur) is the town where Buddha attained nirvana. A statue depict-

ing Buddha’s final moments was excavated here over a century ago, and now rests inside the Parinirvana Temple. Carved from sandstone and painted gold, the shimmering statue of Buddha reclining on his right side is close to 20 feet long. It is believed to be more than 1,500 years old.


Gomateswara Statue, Sravanbelagola, Karnataka

Over a millennium old, the statue of Gomateswara in Sravanbelgola (around 150

Padmasambhava, Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh

Some 4,000 feet above sea level, Padmasambhava sits amid misty hills overlooking Rewalsar Lake. The concrete statue of the Buddhist tantric is resplendent in black and gold, and measures up to 123 feet. It is believed he was persecuted for his beliefs and burned alive in the town of Rewalsar (120 km from Manali). According to legend, his spirit still resides in the lake’s tiny islands. Thousands of Tibetan pilgrims visit Rewalsar for the annual Tsechu festival, celebrating Padmasambhava’s birthday on the tenth day of the Tibetan calendar year (between January and February).


Statue of Shiva, Murudeshwar, Karnataka

The statue of Shiva in Murudeshwara (165 km from Mangalore) is set against the backdrop of the Arabian Sea, its silveryblue hues melding into the horizon. Gardens with relatively Lilliputian statues of cows and golden chariots surround the 123-foot concrete colossus. Constructed in 2006, it is now accompanied by the more recently built Raja Gopura Temple that scales close to 250 feet. n JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3

ATANU PAUL/national Geographic YSM


take a while to warm up to people. An awkward force-field emerges when I meet new faces. I’m not anti-social, but the thought of approaching strangers fills me with dread. At 15, I discovered that my sociability was strangely selective. I was visiting my sister in London for the summer. It was my first trip to a new country and my first time travelling alone. For two weeks I happily explored London solo, checking sites off my bucket-list. After a while, the excitement waned; I became inexplicably irritable. At that age, I usually spent every day of every week playing football near my home with a dozen players for company. Even when I didn’t, my football and the goalposts were companions enough. That’s what I missed in London. The solution seemed simple—buy a football. The next day, it was sunny afternoon when I made my way to Hyde Park, juggling a ball on the Tube. I found an empty patch, set up my goal posts with stones, and started my solo run-about. The world made


ritesh uttamchandani

Finding a game on the beach is an easy way to make friends in a new place.

an hour under the sun. Just like that, I had a portal to new companions who shared a patch of grass with me, and treated me as a friend. I took my learning back to Mumbai and tested it out at Juhu beach. It worked just fine. I slowly became a social footballing animal. Within a few months, I had played with pretty much every group of regulars on the beach, from the local fishing community, who played absurd (but fun) 20-a-side games, to a family spanning three generations that still plays every Sunday. Over the years I have kicked about with complete strangers in Pune, Goa and even Kuala Lumpur, and each time it’s given me the same welcome feeling. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, I used football as a way to make friends without actually playing the game. Hopping across pubs and fan-parks, I used my Dutch jersey and national flag as a ticket to conversation. Though I would leave home alone, two hours later, I’d find myself drinking over a game, once with a large family from Eindhoven, patiently taking relationship advice from the grandparents. The World Cup final was a bitter disappointment, with Spain beating the Netherlands, but I had Maarten, my fan-park friend to share my sorrow. I experienced international football in its simplest form, with a 5-a-side game on the beach with people from five different countries, and even talked my way into an underground “action soccer” tournament at a dingy warehouse in Durban. Along with my passport, football boots are usually at the top of my travel checklist, no matter where I go. I still hesitate to approach strangers for directions when I’m lost, but football is my ice-breaker. Millions like me across the globe find football a great excuse to travel, to explore different cultures and meet new people, because it’s just so effortless to fit in. People theorize about six degrees of separation, but you’ll realize that all separation is trivial when you can come together so easily with the beautiful game. Make football your excuse to travel this year. n

NAVIGATE Roam Free London exhibitions and events planned, along with a play area for children. A massive exhibition on Shakespeare will be on until November. (; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day.)

skeleton in the dinosaur gallery. Wildlife is the highlight from July to September with the ‘Animal Inside Out’ and ‘Wild Planet’ exhibitions. (; open 10 a.m.5:50 p.m.; closed for Christmas.) OUTDOORS

Imperial War Museum London’s Impe-

On Foot London’s sprawling Royal

Parks can be explored for free with professional guided tours (, while the Alternative London Tour ( treads the path less travelled. It is rewarding to chart a course anywhere in the city, be it a stroll around Leicester Square or around the London Charles Dickens knew—past Saffron Hill, London Bridge and Borough. The permutations are endless. Visit for free advice on routes.

Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood Walking into this museum

triggers a surge of nostalgia, with an assortment of children’s toys that date back to the 1600s. Special events include showcases ranging from puppet shows about Pinocchio to Charles Dickens’ childhood observations. This is a museum designed for the child and the inner-child in equal measure. Puppetry shows every Friday this August. (; open Mon to Thurs 10 a.m.-5.45 p.m. and till 10 p.m. on Friday.)

Diana Memorial Playground Kids can run wild at the lavish Diana Memorial Playground, with its sand-slides, story-telling areas, climbing frames, and a ginormous Peter Pan-inspired pirate ship as the centrepiece. Keep in mind that only children below 12 are allowed.

National History Museum A visit to

This would be a caption for this page te labore di utem volupta siment.

London on a Penny Free joys in the queen's city By Azeem Banatwalla


ssociated with royalty and the mighty pound, London hardly seems a place to visit on a budget. That said, it’s easy to soak in more than a fair share of the English capital without paying a penny.

6 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


British Museum From the Rosetta Stone to the Mosaic of Christ, the British Museum on Great Russell Street has over eight million artefacts of varying historical significance on display every day. In addition, there are always new

The NHM has life-size models of mammals ranging from elephants to a blue whale.

Robert Harding (BRITISH MUSEUM), alex segre/alamy/indiapicture (NHM)

the National History Museum on Cromwell Road is an interesting walk through the history of animals, nature and human evolution. Visitors can circle the massive blue whale exhibit, learn about volcanoes and peer up at the famous T-Rex

Cycles and Tours London’s Cycle Hire Scheme offers cheap, easy transportation across 400 cycle docking stations (web. in the city. Hiring a cycle is free for the first half hour and a pound for every hour beyond that. Enthusiasts willing to part with some change can pedal down to South London for free bicycle tours organized by the Pollard Hill Cyclists ( or embark upon the 27 km self-guided Thames Cultural Cycling Tour. Other route options are available at www. cycle-paths. Roller Skating Tourists are welcome to join London’s weekly skating groups and take in sights across the city with fellow skaters and cyclists on custom-designed bicycles blaring loud, funky music. It’s a great way to see the city and mingle with both tourists and locals in the bargain. Only competent skaters are advised to take part in the Friday Night Skate (, which starts at Wellington Arch at 8 p.m. Consider the Sunday Rollerstroll (2 p.m., Serpentine Road) or the Wednesday London Skate ( for a lazier, less taxing roll-around. Keep checking the

Cycles at 400 public docking stations across the city are free for the first half hour. Entertainment TV/Radio Show Recordings If you’ve

ever wondered what it’s like to be on the sets of BBC’s Top Gear, QI, or Minute to Win It, you can find out for yourself by being part of the audience at live studio recordings across London. Choose a show and register yourself at www. Tickets are home delivered and should be booked at least a month in advance.

Skaters are a blur at London's royal parks.

websites regularly to know of any changes in schedule and venue.

Live Music and Theatre The banks of the Thames make a great setting for live music performances, plays, and visual arts at London’s South Bank Center (; shut on Christmas Day). Stand-up Comedy Experience Brit-


Camden Town Colourful and quirkily fun,

Camden Town showcases London’s alternative culture, with free music and theatre events, comedy shows, and at times, even free hugs! Camden’s four markets (Camden Lock, Camden Stables, Camden Canal and Camden Stalls) cram together funky clothes, tattoos, furniture, and antiques and more. (Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.)

ain’s signature wit and dry humour at London’s comedy clubs, with a mix of amateur and professional comic nights all year round. Wednesday and Sunday nights are free at the Queen’s Head (Piccadilly Circus). Angel Comedy on Camden Walk allows patrons to walk in on Thursdays and Saturdays and have a laugh for no charge.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 7

kathy DeWitt/alamy/indiapicture (cycles), dburke/alamy/indiapicture (roller skater)

rial War Museum offers a healthy dose of airplanes, guns, tanks and audio diaries from the World Wars. There are almost always special documentaries and movies being screened, in addition to what is quite literally an arsenal of war exhibits. Weekly tank rides and demonstrations have been planned until mid-October. Check the website for dates. (; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

NAVIGATE Roam Free London

NAVIGATE Taste of Travel

Chick in a stick

Off beat Free Wine Yes, that’s

right. Free wine The Majestic Wine Warehouses across London host a variety of launches and wine-tasting events all year round, which are open to public and free! Keep track of upcoming wine events at www.majestic. and head on out to get a little tipsy.

A spicy, barbqued chicken highway treat

Old Bailey Trials Dating back to the 17th

with pricey goods from local artisans, Covent Garden is a fascinating place. Browse through the massive collection of shoes on Neal Street or sift through clothes at Floral Street. Take in the best of London’s street performers who put up impromptu dance performances, stand-up comedy, jazz music, and of course, a firm European favourite— posing as statues. Trafalgar Square Nelson’s Column looms imperiously over what is arguably London’s best known tourist spot. Trafalgar Square is buzzing with people all through the year. Protest rallies, choreographed parkour displays, live music events and free food givea-

ways are just some of the things visitors can expect to see, if not take part in. Portobello Market Romantics and fans of

Hugh Grant will feel a welcome sense of nostalgia at Portobello Market. Stalls and shops let visitors sift through unending antiques, second hand books, clothes, fruits and vegetables against the gorgeous backdrop of Notting Hill.

Make your own Pop Video The O2 Arena

in Greenwich hosts some of the biggest names in music and wanting to watch one of them for free is wishful. However, you could settle for starring in your own video while singing your favourite song inside O2’s dance booth. You’re emailed a free copy of your show-stopping performance, so everyone walks away happy.

Changing of the Guard It's a British tradition that never gets old. No matter how done-to-death it may be, watching the guards and their horses is still a great experience for kids on their first visit to the Buckingham Palace.

Insider Tip Harrod’s Food Hall If culinary heaven were to suddenly come into existence, Harrod’s Fooda Hall would easily make the shortlist. Along with upmarket restaurants and massive selections of divine (and exorbitantly priced) chocolates, cheeses, meats and breads. Look out for quirky artefacts like the world’s most expensive mince meat pie or the last wine glass that Princess Diana sipped from. Free promotional food items are available from time to time. Harrod’s has a strict dress code, so make sure you are suitably clad.

8 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

The O2 Arena hosts the world’s biggest pop stars when they come to London.


hen signboards on a country road running through Andhra Pradesh’s Maredumilli forest advertise 'bamboo chicken', you’ve got to stop. They’ve been put up by the Konda Reddys, indigenous residents of this forest, whose economy is built around bamboo. Bamboo is also used in their kitchens as a utensil to make their signature dish—a spicy, barbecued chicken with potential to become more popular

than the destination. Cubed chicken is marinated with some or all of the following: ginger, garlic, red chili powder, salt, lime juice (and some local spices), and stuffed into a foot-long section of bamboo. The tube’s ends are sealed with leaves and the bamboo is set over a wood-fired stove. As it cooks, the chicken is infused with juices from the bamboo stem; no oil or water is used. After around 40 minutes of sparks, crackles and an enticing aroma, the cooked

chicken is retrieved from the charred bamboo stem and served with roti or dosa. This tender chicken with a spicy twist is a real experience of local flavour, before you get back on the road. Order a whole free range (desi) chicken for `500, or a portion of a broiler chicken that serves two for `200. Location: Maredumilli is 420 km from Hyderabad, via Bhadra-chalam, and 250 km from Vijayawada, via Rajahmundry, past the temples of Rampachodavaram. n JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 9


Covent Garden A bustling, touristy market,

Richard nowitz / National geographic (trafalgar square), Image source/alamy/indiapicture (wine) ALAmy (o2 arena), edible images/alamy/indiapicture (mince meat pie)

Trafalgar Square is one of London’s oldest and most popular tourist spots.

The Konda Reddys of Andhra Pradesh build their houses with bamboo, sell it in the market, and even use it as a utensil to cook their signature 'bamboo chicken'.

century, Old Bailey is London’s oldest criminal court and has witnessed the trials of some of the country’s most notorious criminals. Today’s criminals may not be as fearsome as the Yorkshire Ripper, but visitors can still watch courtroom proceedings from the public gantry between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Lunch break 1 -2 p.m.)

NAVIGATE Travel Butler

The Four-Legged Traveller ndian pooches have never had it better. Many urban families have welcomed four-legged members into their fold, treating them to gourmet food, trips to the salon, pet sitters, massages and orthopaedic beds. And of course, they even want to take their pets along on family holidays, no matter how expensive it is. Helping families take their pets on vacation has turned into a whole business in itself. Among the pioneers of the pet travel sector is Anupama Vinayak, who founded an Internet travel portal called Pet Vacations in 2009. She now books over 1,000 pet vacations each year. Vinayak started the company because her labrador loves going on family holidays but there was never anyone to help make the arrangements. She said that while many hotels are extremely pet friendly, they don’t want to advertise the fact because many other guests don’t take kindly to the thought of having a dog in the room next door. To get around the discomfort of dealing with sniffy hotel neighbours, Pooja Sathe of Crazy K9 Campers organizes weekend getaways from Mumbai for pets and their owners. “Young couples in cities like Mumbai are choosing to become pet parents first before starting their own families and they all love the idea of getting away with their pets,” she explains.

Beast Practices Take your pet along the next time you plan a getaway. playing a duet with Jethro Tull’s 'Locomotive Breath'. There is something in a dog’s face that makes onlookers smile. Steinbeck called Charlie the great icebreaker. Wherever we stop, a clutch of children materialize to admire our furry friends. Sometimes, older strangers stop by to share some nostalgia about a pet they once had. Happiness is found along the way. Get Set, Go

Many dog lovers are guilty about vacationing while their pets languish at home. That’s why some forgo their holidays. This isn’t necessary at all. Most pets make good travel companions if their basic needs are attended to. Give them a stable, soft space to stretch out on, the right amount of water and food, and most pets are easy companions on the road. There is never a dull moment with dogs on board. Occasionally, the dog may reward your generosity with a stink so foul you’re forced to lower the windows, regardless of torrential rain or blazing heat outside. But the highs more than make up for the occasional lows. Still, it helps to remember that some dogs, like humans, suffer motion sickness or panic at the sound of a horn or a revving engine. Mild medication can keep nausea under check and, with some patience, even the most problematic of pets can learn to

10 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

travel well. That’s what my friend Eric discovered as he travelled through many African towns with his Persian tomcat Caramel. Caramel was the kind of cat that refused to engage with mice or men, gently purring in his cage when fed well. The feline’s evident satisfaction was so infectious that the hotel staff ignored their “no-pets” policy to let Caramel share his master’s room at no extra cost. Now that’s what makes a purr-fect journey. —Mini Pant Zachariah

The writer enjoying the outdoors with her Rotweilers Zeba, Cairo and Muga.



ick Stein’s telegenic Jack Russell, Chalky, braved surf and sand to keep his master company. John Steinbeck’s French poodle, Charley, was a worthy partner during the Nobel Prize-winning author’s journey across the US in 1960. Zeba, our five-year-old Rottweiler, does not have such a celebrity status bestowed upon her (yet) but she is no less a star companion to my husband and I on our many road odysseys. Fortunately for us, her offspring, Cairo and Muga, are blessed with Zeba's Marco Polo gene. So, when we hit the road in our trusted SUV, it is a happy fivesome and then some. The excitement starts much before the journey begins. As soon as we start to pack the car the previous night for an earlymorning departure, Zeba, the all-knowing veteran, communicates to her young ones in conspiratorial tones about the adventures ahead. Come daybreak and the dogs are made travel-worthy with a light meal and a good walk. The first ten minutes of the drive are marked by excited whining and barking and scrambling for the best-view spot at the back. It seems so futile because soon their ample frames are stretched out on the cushioned floor, their sonorous snores

But there’s more to this than just the pet owners wanting to spend quality time with their pups. Anu Sethi a canine behaviourist and trainer, says that many dogs can’t be allowed off-leash to run free unless they leave the city. “Given their urban lifestyles, these dogs have never run around in grass that’s taller than them or jumped into a cool lake on a hot summer afternoon,” says Sethi, the founder of an organization called Wet Nose and a Wag. “The first time they experience this it’s almost like a culture shock.” If the pet is well mannered and properly trained it’s a joy to travel together, she adds. Taking a road trip is probably the easiest, but airlines and trains are also trying to make it easier for you to take your pet along. We decided to call 75 randomly-picked hotels and resorts all over India to ask about their pet policy. To our surprise, just over half of those said they would be happy to welcome guests with pets. But its important to check with the hotel beforehand. While some had special arrangements to make pets comfortable, most were willing to offer basic amenities like food and water bowls, access to a good veterinarian and more. These hotels ran the gamut from the posh Four Seasons to programmes like Mahindra Homestays and family-run establishments in small towns.

Wide open fields are a treat for city dogs that don't get a chance to roll around in the grass or breathe fresh air.

HOLIDAY HELPERS Pet Vacations: This service has a list

of around 500 pet-friendly hotels and resorts around the country. Users can choose the city they plan to holiday in, and make reservations at pet-friendly hotels through the site. Special requests such as home-cooked food and dog walkers can be arranged here. (022-42955520; Furry Flyers: Furry Flyers India is a division of Pet Vacations that offers pet owners in India pet-relocation and travel services (by air and rail) both in the country and abroad. They have ports of entry into India at Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Furry Flyers will help with reservations, paperwork, quarantine and vaccinations, micro-chip implanting for tracking, and other logistical requirements. (022-42955520/1/2/3; www.furryflyers. com.) Crazy K9 Campers: For those still not convinced about the wisdom of taking their dogs to a destination of their choice, Mumbai-based Crazy K9 Campers plans weekend getaways for dog owners. Crazy K9 Campers takes groups of about 15 dogs and their owners to a pet-friendly resort. The weekend includes food, games, and a swimming pool for the animals. (98205 96903;; `4,000 for a weekend.) Wet Nose and a Wag: In addition to helping you teach your pet discipline, canine behaviourist and trainer Anu Sethi organizes day camps and weekends for pets and their owners. About 25 dogs take part in these jaunts to farmhouses and resorts around Mumbai. Along with games and activities, Sethi teaches owners skills such as massage therapy and the basics of pet grooming. (98213 13523; `2,500 onwards for the weekend.)

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 11

shutterstock (Dogs)


By Mihika Pai and Natasha Sahgal

NAVIGATE Travel Butler

peaceful retreat with gardens, private beaches and a few resident dogs for company. Dogs have freedom to run around the property or swim in the ocean. (04132655751;; doubles from `6,700.) Our Native village, Bengaluru: This eco resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru allows pets and has a lengthy pet policy on their website. They emphasize that visitors should only bring well-behaved dogs since this a retreat for holistic health. This is best for quiet dogs that will enjoy sitting around during a yoga class and massage sessions. (080-411 40909; www.ournativevillage. com; doubles from `5,500.) Fringe Ford, Wayanad: Fringe Ford is a coffee, pepper, and cardamom plantation that offers guests a chance to experience jungle life minus tourist hordes or cell-phone coverage. The hotel doesn’t provide special amenities for pets, but they are happy to help with basic requirements. (98800 86411;; `3,250 per head; includes all meals and guided walks.) Elephant Valley, Near Kodaikanal: Situated on an elephant migration route, this hotel has 20 villas, all of which welcome pets. (04132-655751; www.elephantvalleyhotel. com; doubles from `3,300.) Acres Wild, Coonoor: An organic cheese farm in the Nilgiri hills, Acres Wild has an excellent farmstay programme that welcomes dogs, if the owner brings along the pet's bedding and gear. There’s lots of activity to keep both pet and owner busy. There are dogs on the farm, so only bring along pets that are sociable and friendly. (94432 32621; www.acres-wild. com; cottages from `3,000.)

CHAIN hotels

These chains make space for your pet, but some charge a little for the trouble.

oldest heritage hotels and gives pets a taste of royal luxury. While there aren’t many open fields outside the hotel, which is situated in central Jaipur, the palace has its own gardens that pets can use. (0141-2607492;; doubles from `4,900.) Rishikesh Valley, Rishikesh: The property is far enough from Rishikesh’s crowded centre to give visitors a sense of quiet. Pets are allowed in almost all areas of the hotel. The hotel offers adventure and meditation packages, but it’s difficult to take pets along on the former. Other dogs live in the area so it would be prudent to travel here only if your dog is friendly and won't disturb the daily yoga and meditation sessions. (08650-384742;; doubles from `1,500.) The Lake Resort, Naukuchiatal: The resort is situated in the middle of pine and oak forest. It’s a dream come true for a cooped up city dog. While the establishment doesn’t provide special amenities for pets, it's willing to help out if it can. (98731 84174;; doubles from `4,000.) Emerald Trail, Nainital: Situated 9 km above Naukuchiatal, the Emerald Trail is a home away from home, even for pets. Owner Sumith Dutta is a dog owner himself. Dog food isn’t easily available in the hills so visitors must carry their own supplies. Or the staff at Emerald Trail is more than happy to prepare fresh meals and provide visitors with special doggy beds. Pets will love running free on the three acre property and breathing the fresh air. (98339 49954;; doubles from `2,500.) East

Landmark Hotel, Kolkata: While a congest-

ed city isn’t a perfect vacation spot for a pet, if you do have to visit Kolkata, the Landmark Hotel allows you to stay with an animal companion. Food and water can be arranged at extra cost. (033-23455434;; doubles from `5,500.) Old Bellevue Hotel, Darjeeling: The hotel doesn’t have a

restaurant on its premises but the views of the mountains are great and there are plenty of restaurants all around. Suites 12 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

Vivanta by Taj

Most of hotels of this chain allow one pet to stay in the guest's room at no extra cost. Vivanta has a comprehensive pet policy that highlights the amenities it offers pets as well as the owners’ responsibilities while the pet is on hotel property. The hotel will help with pet food, provide comfortable bedding and the staff is always at hand to provide information like a vet’s number, or the nearest dog-friendly park for a walk. (011-66261000;; doubles from `6,500; the hotel takes a non-refundable fee of `3,000 per pet for the length of the stay.)

in the heritage wing have attached gardens and are perfect for a pet to romp around in. (0354-2254178;; doubles from `3,500.) Hidden Forest Retreat, Gangtok: The owners at this quiet resort are a little wary of (though not opposed to) animals on the property for fear of upsetting other guests. If they do agree, guests can be assured of a great experience for their pets. (03592205197;; doubles from `2,000.)

Four Seasons, Mumbai

For business or leisure travel to Mumbai, the Four Seasons is a rare luxury hotel that welcomes pets. Pets will enjoy a welcome kit that includes food, cushions, and a litter box for cats. Specific rooms have been allocated for guests with pets. (02224818000;; doubles from `12,000.) Indeco Group of Hotels

This group's properties at Thanjavur, Mahabalipuram and Yercaud are pet friendly. In fact, there are special rooms designed so that pets do not inconvenience other guests. Dogs, cats and birds are welcome. Meals, toys and dog walkers can be provided on request. (08754-419618; www.indecohotels. com; doubles from `4,000; `1,500 per night for the pet.) n


Alcove Beach Resort, Goa: Pets are welcome

at this beach-facing resort. The owners will help with food arrangements and the only condition is that pets cannot use the swimming pool. (0832-2274491;; doubles from `1,500.) Marbella Guesthose, Goa: This guesthouse is a 15 minute drive from the beach, in a greener part of Goa. Pets can play with the six resident dogs or run around the oneacre farm. The owners are passionate dog lovers and are happy to make pets comfortable on their holiday. (0832-6483368;; doubles from `6,000.) Tapola River Camp, Tapola: The Tapola River camp is a camp ground near Mahabaleshwar. Dogs are welcome to stay in the tents and accompany owners on treks and boat rides. (94233 35293;; doubles from `2,000.) Prakruti Farm, Karjat: An 80-km drive from Mumbai, Prakruti Farm has cottages and tents where dogs are welcome too. The stay includes all meals which you can share with your pet. Pets can accompany owners for the Rajmachi trek. (02148-226857; www.; doubles from `6,000; includes all meals.)

As a sign of respect to the hotel's property and other guests, do carry along your own bedding if your pet is used to sleeping on the bed.

Hotel Pet Etiquette • Take your own sheets and pillow covers, especially if your pet sleeps on the bed. • Make reservations and check on the hotels pet policy well in advance. Call the hotel a day before travel and remind them about any special requirements that your pet may have. • Do not take your pet to the restaurant. • Tag your pet with your name and phone number; either on the collar or with an

electronic chip. • Do not leave your pet unattended in the room. • Make sure that your dog does not bark at night; it will make other pets less welcome the next time. • Leave the do not disturb sign on the door whenever the pet is in the room unattended, so that housekeeping staff do not enter.


This is usually the most enjoyable form of travel for dogs. Pets will feel a lot more comfortable with their owners by their side and most dogs enjoy windy car rides. Take ample breaks to stretch their legs and keep water handy. Air Travel

Air travel is an option while travelling with your pet, but owners are strongly advised to exercise caution and talk to their veterinarian before embarking on the journey. For domestic travel in India, three airlines allow for pets to travel onboard: Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Air India.

• The pet must be placed in an IATA-approved crate while travelling. Crates aren’t available on hire and can cost between `6,000 and `25,000, depending on size. • Ensure the pet has enough water in containers that are approved by the IATA. • Make sure that the crate is correctly tagged with your pet’s full name and address in case of emergency or if it gets lost. A ‘this side up’ sticker is also very important. • Once on board, your pet will be placed in the cargo hold area. • Pets are allowed in the passenger area only on Air India flights on the captain’s discretion. However, the pet and the carrier must be small enough to fit under your seat.

• Make sure to remind the airline crew that there is a pet onboard so that the captain can regularize the temperature (between 18-24 degrees Celsius) and air pressure in the cargo hold. • If you cannot speak to the captain yourself, do ask for a verbal or written confirmation of this. Train Travel

Trains allow you to travel with your pet if you book yourself a first class A/C coupe. But be sure that you book the entire coupe. If not, the pet will be placed in the guard’s compartment, which is not the most ideal situation. The guard’s compartment can get very hot and unhygienic. All trains do not even have a first class A/C coupe, so pick a train that meets your requirement.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 13

gettyimages (hotel), shutterstock (bag)


Dune eco village, pondicherry: This is a


Naila Bagh, Jaipur: This is one of Jaipur’s


Here’s a list of interesting pet-friendly hotels where you can take the entire family—kids, grandparents and furry four-legged creatures—and find something to amuse them all. Pets stay free.


A stroll through the peaceful pols and hidden sights of the walled city of Ahmedabad By Natasha Sahgal


midst malls and industrial sprawl, on the banks of the Sabarmati River, sits a maze of roads and communities from another era. Ahmedabad has long spilled far beyond the walled city founded in the 15th century by Sultan Ahmed Shah. But in the older section, you can witness the city’s history and traditions coming alive in its pols, close-knit neighbourhoods consisting of small streets with houses on both sides. Most pols have only one entry gate, guarded by a watchtower. Neighbouring pols are connected through

secret passages known only to its residents; these were once used to escape attacks. Begin your journey at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Kalupur, which comes alive at 6 a.m. as devotees walk in with garlands and pooja thalis and exit to buy vegetables and fruit at the stalls lining the temple’s grand entrance. This colourful temple, built in 1822, is the country’s first Swaminarayan temple. Exit the gate and turn left into a tiny lane that houses a statue of the Gujarati poet Dalpatram. The statue sits on the porch of a replica of Dalpatram’s original home, which was at the same spot. Walk

south through Lambeshwarni pol and get transported into a world where time seems to move much slower. Women do their washing outside their homes. Others sit on swings, chatting as they cut vegetables. Don’t miss the tall wooden bird feeders or chabutras that stand in each pol. These raised covered platforms are large enough for someone to step in and put bird feed into the bowls that hang around them. The centre usually shelters a handful of nests as well. Around 120 of these bird feeders were built to replace the trees that were cut down to build the city of Ahmedabad. Every

Around 120 bird feeders were built to replace trees that were cut down to build the city of Ahmedabad. Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur

Kavi Dalpatram Chowk Lambeshwar Ni Pol

Kuvavala Khancha

The clothes of the deity of the Swaminarayan Mandir in Kalupur are changed seven times a day and never repeated. 8 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


Chaumukhiji Ni Pol

Kala Ramji Mandir, Haja Patel Ni Pol

Sambhavnath Ni Khadki

Gandhi Road

Manek Chowk Jumma Masjid

Relief Road

Pillared sidewalks surround three sides of the Jumma Masjid in Ahmedabad.

zeb, when temples were being demolished. For visitors who cannot climb down the steep steps, a mirror in the backyard offers a reflected image of the deity. Exit the temple, walk right towards Gandhi Road, and go under Fernandez Bridge to reach an ol, or market area. Around 11 a.m. each day, a second-hand book market comes up under the bridge with thousands of old college books sold on carts. Just beyond the book stalls are rows of shops that sell temple accessories. After that you’ll find yourself in Manek Chowk, one of the country’s biggest jewellery markets. Hundreds of gold and diamond shops crowd these lanes. At night, after the jewellers pull down their shutters, food carts fill the streets. It is open till 1 a.m. and the variety of the food found here is quite amusing. You will find chocolate pizzas, pineapple sandwiches and whiskey flavoured soda pop. End the walk in the serene Jumma Masjid, a yellow sandstone shrine with 256 pillars. Built in 1423, this is considered the first mosque in India that allowed women to enter and pray. A separate section with a carved stone curtain lets women see without being seen. It is interesting to note the influence of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim architecture at the entrance. It’s an appropriate spot to conclude a stroll through the old city: it houses the tomb of the city’s founder, Ahmed Shah. n

Most of the structures in the pols are over 500 years old. Guided Walks

Cruta Foundation and Municipal Corporation of Ahmedabad organize a heritage walk from the Swaminarayan Temple at 8 a.m. daily (09824032866; `30 for Indians; `50 for foreigners).House of MG rents an audio-guided walk to do at your own pace. (079 25506946; `200)

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 9


Behind the Wall

morning, residents of the pol climb up and fill the bowls with grain. Continue walking south to cross Relief Road, one of the main roads that cut across the city. It was built after the first road of the city, Gandhi Road (originally called Richie Road) got too crowded. A parallel street was constructed to provide relief from the heavy traffic—hence the name. Navigate through the narrow streets where the balconies of homes across the road nearly touch each other, past the 400-year-old Kala Ramji Mandir, Haja Patel ni pol, and Kuvavala Khancha, a street corner where the houses have British, Spanish, Italian and Indian architecture, and through to Chaumukhjini pol. You will find yourself leaving the Hindu-dominated quarters and entering the Jain section. Sambhavnath ni khadki is a Jain temple with an unassuming entrance and small deity. It takes an informed worshipper to find the tiny entrance to the steps that lead to the plush temple in the basement. Here, the rooms are spacious and made of marble. This hidden place of worship is said to have been constructed during the rule of Aurang-

NAVIGATE Fringe Visit

India's Most Haunted

Jamali Kamali, Mehrauli, New Delhi

The Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb are a part of the Mehrauli Archaeological Complex. Jamali and Kamali were Sufi saints who preached here and were buried in the tomb when they died, around 1528. The tomb and mosque are now said to be home to Jinns, but not the benevolent, wish-granting sort. Some visitors say they have heard the inexplicable sound of animals growling, others report being chased (and even slapped), and some claim that they have had recurring nightmares after their visits. Location: Mehrauli is in South Delhi. (Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry free.)

Troubled pasts make for intriguing visits today By Mihika Pai

Kuldhara, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Bhangarh, Alwar, Rajasthan

The Paliwal Brahmins who inhabited Kuldhara and 83 villages around it are said to have vanished overnight in 1825. There are several explanations for the disappearance, the most popular one being that an evil king molested little girls, drawing a curse on the area. The residents fled, leaving behind their belongings. A visit to the village is an insight into life in the early 1800s. There are ruined homes, carts, utensils and beds. Balls bounce of their own accord, stones whiz through mid-air and mysterious voices are heard. The IPS has recorded sudden dips in temperature and unexplained fluctuations in the electromagnetic field, evidence of an otherworldly presence, they say. It is also said that no one has been able to build any new structure here since 1825; unless they want it to go up in flames. Location: Kuldhara is on the western outskirts of Jaisalmer. (Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry `10.)

Bhangarh was built in 1573 by Raja Bhagwant Das as the residence for his second son Madhoo Singh. The structure is said to have been abandoned in 1783 following a severe drought. The area is dotted with banyan trees and ruins of temples, havelis and peasant homes. The Shiva, Gopinath, Mangla Devi and Keshava Rai temples are the best preserved ruins here. Local legends offer two alternative explanations for the town’s ruin. One story involves an arrogant king and an offended sadhu while the other is a tale of obsession involving a tantric and a beautiful princess. Whichever version visitors choose to believe, they unanimously agree that the ‘no entry after dark’ sign put up by the Archaeological Survey of India is justified by the unsettling presence of an otherworldly force, bizarre sounds and accompanying anxiety. Location: Bhangarh is 80 km north-east of Jaipur. (Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry free.)

Abandoned Army Cantonment, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh

The Meerut Army Cantonment was the site of the Mangal Pandey uprising in 1857. The British cracked down on Indian revolutionaries and crushed any signs of rebellion. Over 150 soldiers were killed here. This is where history leaves off and legend begins. It is believed that the spirits of the soldiers killed here still wander the abandoned cantonment, although their activities are less regimented nowadays. Visitors have reported seeing headless apparitions, spooky shadows, hearing mysterious sounds of dripping water and sensing a supernatural presence. Gaurav Tiwari of the IPS spent a night here and found that the presence does things like running around in circles and making animal-like sounds. Location: Meerut is 70 km north-east of Delhi. (Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry free.)

Kuldhara (above) and Bhangarh in Rajasthan are a great example of th state's very rich and colourful history . 16 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

Kartik Jasti (old man)

Golkonda Fort, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Textbooks have plenty to say about this imposing 13th century structure and how it shaped the history of South India. A visit to this ancient city is a history lesson in itself. It has seen the accession and descent of various dynasties and was the original home of the famous Koh-i-noor diamond. But the history books don’t talk about the spirits of thieves that are said to live in the trees, the baffling shadows seen gliding around, and the sounds of people crying out in pain. The spirit of Taramati, a courtesan turned queen, is often spotted here. Visitors aren’t allowed to linger after dark. But since it’s a popular film location, movie crews are often here past the deadline and see much more than they'd like. Location: About 13 km from Hyderabad city centre (Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry `30).

The Savoy, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand

Built in Mussoorie in 1902, The Savoy was amongst the grandest hotels of its time and its guestbook read like a social register. But in 1910, a guest named Lady Garnet Orme was found dead in her room. Strychnine had been slipped into her medicine bottle. Agatha Christie found this to be the perfect setting for a mystery story and based her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, on Lady Orme’s death. The perpetrator was never found and the ghost of Lady Orme is said to still roam the halls of the hotel. Guests have reported hearing flushes going off, seeing the floating silhouette of a lady, and doors opening mysteriously. The IPS has recorded the sound of a woman whispering and singing softly. Perfect for guests who need a lullaby at bedtime. Location: The Savoy is in Mussoorie. (0135-2632010.) n JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 17

shashwat nagpal (jamali kamali), arup dutta (golkonda fort), gettyimages (army), nick kenrik (The savoy)


f their fabled histories aren’t attractive enough to inspire a visit to these places, perhaps their spooky sagas will. Though the Indian Paranormal Society (IPS) has confirmed that these spots are scary enough to send a shiver down your spine even if there's not enough evidence to prove that they are actually haunted.

NAVIGATE National Park

Monsoon Forest Explore leopard country in the rains By Bahar dutt

to Nagarhole since the first instances came to light in 2002. While these activities have been controlled, today the more serious threat is from high speed traffic that runs through the National Park, endangering the lives of many wild animals. This state highway (SH33) lies on the southern side of Nagarhole and falls within a crucial corridor between Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks. Recognizing this threat, the Karnataka High Court ordered the closure of night traffic on this highway. However, the pressure to open the highway is still on and this order has been challenged. Three individuals have been instrumental in Nagarhole’s conservation. John Wakefield was responsible for setting up Karnataka’s first eco-tourism project in 1984. The Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, now known as Kabini River Lodge, has been sensitive to the needs of the forest dwellers and over 90 per cent of its employees are locals. Dr. Ullas Karanth pioneered the scientific camera traps that are now used by the Government of India to count tigers and large mammals, instead of the old pugmark method. K.M. Chinappa has been the range forest officer of Nagarhole National Park for over two decades. In 1993, he started the Nagarhole Wildlife Conservation Education Project

that reaches out to students and youth in the area, and the public, through slide talks and field trips. Activities

The jungle safari is a must and, guided by a naturalist, visitors are likely to see many birds, insects, reptiles. There’s also a fair chance of spotting some of charismatic large mammals like the tiger, Indian bison or gaur and Asian elephants. The boat ride and safari in the Kabini Lake is another way to view the edges of the forest and over 250 species of birds, including large congregations of water fowl. This is probably the best way to explore and enjoy the beauty of the Kabini waters. This boat safari can also be done on a coracle. A ride in this round native boat is more fun than the regular boat ride. There are some short excursions around the forest too. Around a 20 km drive from Nagarhole, at the border of Nagarhole and Wayanad wildlife sanctuary, are the Iruppu falls. After an hour long drive on slightly rough roads, the falls are an easy 20 minute hike (700 metres) through the forests of the Brahmagiri range. Also, 20 km south of Nagarhole is the Thirunelli temple in Mananthavady.

Family friendly

There are quite a few animals to spot during the safari so children will not get bored. Hiring a private jeep allows you to go at your own pace since the public bus can get noisy and hurried. costs & timing

Entry is free for Indians, `200 for foreigners. Private cars can go on a safari ( `550) but a local guide must be taken along ( `200). Most resorts near the park include a jeep jungle safari in their tariff or will arrange it for day visitors ( `1000 onwards). The coracle ride, organized by Kabini Jungle lodge, costs `250 per person. The safari conducted by the forest department costs `95 per person. Park open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Safari timings 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. n insider tip

Most resorts have licenses to conduct safaris in their private jeeps, but do confirm this before booking. Resorts that do not have a safari license, take visitors to the state government-run Jungle Lodge for a shared safari on their usually-crowded canter.

look out for Sloth Bear: This nocturnal, insectivorous bear looks big and clumsy but climbs trees swiftly and runs faster than humans. They are noisy while eating and interacting with each other; their calls make them easy to spot in the wild. Tigers, leopards and wild dogs are the primary predators in Nagarhole. It has one of the highest ratios of tigers to other predators in India.


s a wildlife journalist, I spend a lot of time in the forest. I dread it when the rains start since a lot of wildlife reserves across the country become inaccessible and shut down for four months. This is why Nagarhole in Karnataka is special. The park remains open through the year. In fact, it is exquisite in the monsoons. It pours hard and the breezy rain hits you gently while driving in the open canters run by Karnataka State Government—this is truly a monsoon forest. Nagarhole, also known as the Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, is special for another reason. The 600 sq km of deciduous forests is prime leopard country. I saw my first leopard in the wild here. In fact, I saw two of them, a mother and son resting peacefully on the branch of a tree, soaking in the last rays of the sun after a monsoon

shower during our afternoon safari. They were nuzzling against one another, seemingly unaware of our presence a few metres away as trigger happy photographers went ballistic on their high-powered cameras. Situated between the Mysore plateau in Karnataka and the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu, this tiger reserve gets its name from the Kannada words Naga, meaning snake, and Hole, which means stream. The road to Nagarhole is a bit bumpy during the last stretch, but it is a pleasant three hour drive from Mysore, a town that always reminds me of writer R. K. Laxman and his famous Malgudi Days. As soon as you are out of the city, giant banyan trees (now a rarity on our highways) greet you on either side of the road, and finally give way to rolling green agricultural fields. With a slight drizzle pelting down, the entire countryside looks washed anew; I roll down the windows and

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take in the smell of wet earth. The lake, which is actually the backwaters of the Kabini Dam, is the defining characteristic of Nagarhole. The water takes on different hues through the year. In winter, you can see a number of migratory birds, resting on dried tree branches in the midst of the lake, outlining the trees like white bulbs at a marriage ceremony. In summer, the lake dries up and the receding waters leave behind a trail of muddy grass, where you can see herds of elephants and packs of wild dogs. Avid naturalists and regular tourists will definitely bring back unforgettable memories of sipping hot bitter filter coffee while watching a fiery sunset against a grey monsoon sky. Conservation

The smuggling of sandalwood and poaching of elephants for ivory have been threats

Gaur: This massive bovine weighs up to 1,500 kg and is the largest species of wild cattle. It is currently in the IUCN Red List and is close to becoming endangered. Gaurs are usually found in herds but adult males might be solitary. Leopard: The leopard is a nocturnal big cat and is more visible than the tiger in Nagarhole. It is usually spotted resting on tree branches during the day.

Sloth bear


Little Cormorant: These small cormorants build their nests near water bodies and are found in plenty near the Kabini lake. They birds are fish eaters and are often seen making shallow dives in the water and then sitting on nearby branches, drying their wings. Mugger crocodile: The mugger is one of three crocodile species found in India. It is also known as the marsh crocodile because of its preference for shallow marshy areas. Fish and small mammals are preferred food sources but they are capable of bringing down large mammals as well.

Little Cormorant

Mugger Crocodile

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NAVIGATE National Park

NAVIGATE Geo Tourism social media and gathered `60,000. “Not enough for our plant, but enough to give us a push to try harder,” says Jiwa. Eventually, the Finnish government agreed to fund the rest of the project. In 2010, a plastic recycling centre was built in Port Blair. GreenLife Society started to distribute large recycling bags to hotels and resorts across all the islands, asking them to segregate their plastic waste and send it to the recycling plant. Since then, hundreds of truckloads of plastic from resorts around the Andaman Islands have been brought to the plant. The centre receives an average of ten tons of plastic each month. Here, it is compressed so that it can be easily shipped to recycling plants 2,000 km away in Chennai. The Andaman & Nicobar administration has agreed to pay for this for the next two years. Awareness about the need to recycle plastic has been growing. In January, some resorts on Havelock island teamed up with the forest department, residents and tourists to hold a garbage collection drive. Five tons of garbage was retrieved. The forest department hopes that this kind of drive involving locals and tourists can be a regular feature, encouraging tourists to take responsibility for the garbage they generate. n

The forest department hopes to conduct regular plastic collection drives (top) on the beaches; Plastic waste affects a lot of wildlife (right) including turtles, cows, dogs and fishes.

Island Clean Up There are a healthy number of elephants and bisons in Nagarhole, most often seen near the river banks.

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands start to recycle their plastic waste


Getting there

Air The closest airports are Mangalore (200 km/5 hours; car hire `3,500) and Bengaluru (220 km/5 hours; car hire `4,000) Rail The park is 80 km/2 hours from Mysore station. Taxis charge `2,000. Road There are daily public buses from Mysore to Kutta (10 km from park entrance). From Kutta, cars and jeeps can be hired to the hotels at park's border (`250) or directly for a safari (`1,500). Seasons

The park is open throughout the year. June to September is rainy with green landscapes. October to January is pleasant. February to May has the best wildlife sighting.

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Comfort Waterwoods has eight rooms, is quiet, and away from crowds. The young own-


ers, Arjun Kapoor and Rohan Mishra are passionate about wildlife and responsible tourism (99459 21303; www. waterwoods. in; doubles `8,000; includes meals). Kabini River Lodge is an efficiently-run reort and is recommended for bigger groups and families. They organize the coracle rides on the Kabini river accompanied by a naturalist who can point out interests birds and fauna. (08025-5979442;; doubles `12,000; includes all meals, one safari, coracle ride, camera entry charges and taxes). Luxury The Kings Sanctuary is a luxurious resort with pool and gym. The property has a lot of mango and guava trees and activities like badminton, cycling, and cricket (08025354590;; doubles `10,500; includes meals). The Bison is a luxury camp with tents and machaans on the banks of Kabini lake. There are campfires every night and an observation desk to spot elephants and small mammals. (98861 00375;; doubles 10,500; includes meals).


fter a rough personal year in 2000, Jodhpur resident Hasmukh Jiwa headed to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to de-stress with a beach holiday. While exploring Cuthbert Bay, a turtle conservation site on Middle Andaman Island, he saw two green turtles with their heads smashed. He rushed to the forest department authorities to find out how this probable human cruelty had occurred in a protected area. He was promptly told that with six staff members it was impossible to monitor such a large area. Jiwa decided that he needed to take some action. At that time, he was working with the Swiss company GreenLife CSR which is a carbon offsetting firm. They also run an NGO called GreenLife Society that works on conservation issues around the world. Jiwa moved to Port Blair, where he set up the GreenLife Society office in 2002. Since then, the NGO has been working towards protection of sea turtles and conducting research on the decline of the dugong, a rare

water mammal found around the islands. In 2007, the workers of the Greenlife Society found they had another problem; nobody on the islands was taking responsibility for the waste plastic mounting there. Research showed that ships and planes from the mainland were bringing in nearly 80 tons of plastic every week. Once in, the plastic never left. There was no collection or recycling unit and plastic was accumulating on roads and beaches or being burnt. A plastic recycling plant was crucial. But with the ongoing economic recession and no access to funds, it seemed impossible. The Andaman & Nicobar Administration could not help either. The struggle for funds lasted nearly two years. “There were some angels who helped us along the way,” says Jiwa. One of then was Briton Ben Heinkel. On a holiday on the islands in 2009, Heinkel was mesmerized by their beauty, but saddened by the lack of waste management. He returned to the UK and decided to crowd source funds for a new plastic recycling plant. He used

Responsible tourism

Jiwa and Heinkel were tourists who took the extra step to give back to the islands they visited. You can be a responsible tourist by: • Taking back all plastic you bring in or buy. You can compact the plastic and pack it in your luggage. • Fill reusable bottles with safe, purified water from hotels instead of buying bottled water. • Picking up plastic waste you see strewn on beaches and deposit it in GreenLife Society recycling bags found at most hotels and restaurants.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 21



Budget There are several guesthouses and homestays in the towns close to Nagarhole (Kutta, Hunsur, Virajpet). While these will not give you an immersive forest experience, as they are a short drive away, they are a convenient and less expensive. Tamara Homestay has two cottages that are basic with old world charm. Rooms have attached bathrooms with hot water and a separate dining area and balcony. Surrounded by coffee plantations, these cottages are a 6 km drive from Nagarhole (08274-244331;; doubles `2,500; includes breakfast and dinner). Chilligeri Estate is a small guesthouse in Kutta, 6 km from the bus stand. Rooms are small but the place is a convenient base for day visits to Nagarhole (12 km) and Iruppu falls (4 km) (08274-244265; doubles `2,000; includes all meals).



Nagarhole lies on the border of Karnataka and Kerala. Mysore and Bengaluru lie to the east and Mangalore to its northwest. It is part of the cluster of national parks that include the Bandipur, Mudumalai and Wayanad wildlife sanctuaries.

in focus

The Himalaya

HIGHLIGHTS | The 7 Ages The Himalaya have something for everyone BARA BANGHAL The view justify the effort for this trekker PHOTO ESSAY The beauty of the Himalaya captured on film


RANIKHET How an author found a home in the mountains

IN FOCUS The Himalayas

Photo Essay

Range of


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vaibhav mehta

The hamlet of Komic in Himachal Pradesh has a population of about 100 people. It also houses a monastery, which is known to be one of the highest altitude monasteries in India. The village is a two hour trek from Kaza and is cut off from all other villages during the bitter winters.


Let the Himalaya cast their spell on you

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IN FOCUS The Himalayas

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per-andre hoffmann

steve winter

The critically-endangered snow leopard (above) is the only big cat that cannot roar. It lives a solitary life and is known to be extremely elusive; Trekkers are not permitted to climb to the peak of the Machhapuchhare mountain (right) in Nepal since it is considered sacred.

Photo Essay

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IN FOCUS The Himalayas

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The Jamia Masjid in old Srinagar is the city’s biggest mosque and can accommodate 30,000 people.

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steve mccurry

Photo Essay

IN FOCUS The Himalayas

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The week-long Hampta Pass (left) trek in Himachal Pradesh is popular with first time trekkers since it has easy access from Manali and offers a variety of experiences like pine valleys, glacial valleys and alpine lakes without being too strenuous; A vegetable vendor sells a lotus flower (right) during the early morning floating vegetable market at the Dal Lake, Kashmir.

ami vithale

bart claeys

Photo Essay

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IN FOCUS The Himalayas

anne petitfils (phugtal monastery), gitanjali gurung/ national geographic (naga woman), steve mccurry (dharamshala man), vishal sabherwal (north-eastern man and woman)

Photo Essay

The Phugtal monastery (left) in Zanskar, Ladakh is home to about 70 monks. There is deep hole in one of the caves where the water level never seems to drop and the water is believed to have curative powers; People from different regions of the Himalayas, (clockwise from left) Nagaland; Dharamshala; Kalasha valley, North Pakistan; Ladakh.

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The yak (left) is an important working animal in Tibet. This photo is taken in Namtso, Tibet, where yaks are domesticated for their milk, meat and dung that is usually the only available fuel at this high altitude; Gelling, a village at the border of Arunachal Pradesh and China, is connected to the remote town of Pemakod by this suspension bridge (right). The river that flows beneath is the Siang River that originates in Tibet and merges into the Brahmaputra in India.

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felix torkar/national geographic (yak), ritesh uttamchandani (bridge)

IN FOCUS The Himalayas

IN FOCUS The Himalayas


Some people have the mountains in them while some have the sea. The ocean exerts an inexorable pull over seapeople wherever they are – in a brightlit, inland city or the dead centre of a desert – and when they feel the tug there is no choice but somehow to reach it and stand at its immense, earth-dissolving edge, straightaway calmed. Hill-people, even if they are born in flatlands, cannot be parted for long from the mountains.

Mountain on the

An inexplicable, defining personal moment in the Kumaon Himalaya turns a holiday destination into home. By Anuradha Roy

One of Ranikhet's mountain vistas that inspired the author to get her own cottage ( facing page) in the hills. 2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

the ground is too flat, the air too dense, the trees too broad-leaved for beauty. The colour of the light is all wrong, the sounds nothing but noise. –From The Folded Earth, by Anuradha Roy


or three days it had rained as if the sky had turned into a giant shower. It was my third trip to Ranikhet and yet again I was leaving without a glimpse of the high peaks. It didn’t matter. The sound of rain on a tin roof, the dry spells when the hills were honey-coloured in the newlywashed air: who needs more? Then someone said, “Look.” “Look higher.” I looked higher, to where the sun or moon should have been. And there—inexplicably—they were, replacing flat old sky. They were blue and white on a cotton-puff of clouds, as in postcards. But no postcard peaks look like that. These floated. Five times bigger than the hills at their feet, yet ethereal. A rooster crowed just then. It should have been the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth. Leeches clung to us as we ran down a muddy slope through the trees blocking our view. We noticed the blood on our jeans only later. We needed a vantage point and there was such a hurry. The clouds might wipe everything away again. At the tip of the slope stood a derelict cottage. We found a place to stand against its crumbling walls and stared at the shapes before us, the jagged, massive ice pyramids whose names we still didn’t know. They blazed in the light of the new sun. We had to stand tip-toe because the place was a soggy mess of plastic bags, warped shoes, dented tins and bottles. The cottage had

broken windows blinded with sheets of newspaper browned with age. Inside, the floor was a mound of dank mud. Rotted sacking hung from a ruined false ceiling. Beams of wood sagged from it. And in one corner, stood a dog. Its eyes shone in its sooty face. Its peaked ears were the colour of copper. Its fringed tail waved slowly side to side, like a banner. Only a few things in life can be pinned to particular moments. This was one: we knew immediately, my husband and I, that we would live there, in that cottage, on that hill. The year we began resurrecting the cottage, we were also struggling to establish our own tiny publishing house. Alongside masons and the water board, there were authors and books to be dealt with. Ranikhet had no Internet service then, nor cellphones. WiFi was the stuff of fantasy, mainly ours. Through the next year, we would take our laptop to the phone-booth to hook on to our dial-up connection in Delhi. A crowd would stare over our shoulders as we typed, murmuring to each other about the miracle of letters squeezing themselves through a phone line onto a TV screen. Days passed, weeks. The carpenter absconded because his fruit trees were being ravaged by monkeys. We waited. Then he turned up, smiling all over his face, holding out a bag of wine-red plums exploding with juice. The power failed because a tree had fallen on a wire. “What use is bijli in the daytime when there’s sunlight?” the electricity people asked. We waited. The plumber vanished to his village to tend to his JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3



Anywhere else is exile. Anywhere else,

IN FOCUS The Himalayas

The grass grows wildly in Ranikhet, but the people are laidback. Anything they can't get at the local bazaar, they learn to live without.

ailing buffalo. When back, he sat and smoked because the taps he was to fit still hadn’t come from Haldwani. How could they? The road was blocked by landslides. We waited, and I planted lily bulbs and rose cuttings into our patch of landfill. In my mind’s eye it was already a flowery meadow straight from The Sound of Music. An old woman observing me battling the rubbish-clogged earth said, “Everything happens in its own time. Flowers bloom in their own time.” She laughed fit to burst as her goats munched bushes nearby. There’s a certain bend on the road to Ranikhet where the air changes to champagne. We draw such deep breaths here that if we were balloons, we would inflate to the tips of our toes and fingers. Soon a line of small shops appears, roses tumbling over their roofs. There’s laughter and chatting on the street. Life in the mountains is not easy but good humour is a widely-transmitted virus. People smile a lot and idle as if they have nothing but time. Busyness does seem an affectation here. Things happen, after all, in their own time. In this season, everyone is excited about the first gourd-sized hill cucumbers at the vegetable shop. In another season the sensation will be the radishes. There’s nothing more exotic you can buy in the bigger bazaar either, which is about a mile long. Anything you need is available within this mile—or you have to do without it. It makes life straightforward and also convivial. Shops buzz with amiable conversation about the general lack of things, from water in our taps to electricity to sup4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

plies of batteries and coffee. Ranikhet is the base for several trekking companies, American, Norwegian and Indian, that take people to the Pindari glacier area. Other travellers go looking for different kinds of summits: they go on pilgrimages to the many sacred places in the mountains, including Badrinath and Jageswar. Our own travelling here is lazier. We travel for the rhododendron in springtime or the changing colours of autumn. Or we drive to towns like Kausani and Binsar, to look at the snows from a different angle. It’s been twelve years. Yesterday I was woken at 3 a.m. by a light on my face. The full moon, neon-bright. I lay awake, irritable, thinking yet again that we needed thicker curtains. Then I drifted back to the time when, driving home, we had to stop to let a leopard cross the road. Its pale fur and pale eyes gleamed in the headlights. It paused and gave us a long look, telling us whose land this really was. Then it loped off into the darkness. Putting aside thoughts of curtains I shivered at a window, looking at the moon-sharpened shadows outside. Out there in the deep forest were foxes, leopards, deer, living their secret lives. The hoot of an owl echoed in the silence. Huddled in bed, my dog gave a low growl. I can’t remember when I went back to sleep, but at dawn the thrush was pouring out its melodies as if it had a concert coming up. The tips of the peaks had turned rosy in the new sunlight. The trees were red and pink with springtime flowers. And three of my lilies had bloomed, having taken their own time. n


There’s a certain bend on the road to Ranikhet where the air changes to champagne. We draw such deep breaths here that if we were balloons, we would inflate to the tips of our toes and fingers.

IN FOCUS The Himalayas

Himachal Pradesh

step by step to

Bara Banghal Heading up the mountains in Kangra takes strength of both body and mind.

A striking red flag and a small cairn mark the very top of Thamsar Pass. The path to Bara Banghal lies behind and a tricky descent precedes the way home. 2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


By neha dara Photographs by sukhwant basra and rishabH dara

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IN FOCUS The Himalayas

Himachal Pradesh


limbing a mountain is hard work. Climbing a mountain only to go down the other side, leap across a stream and then start climbing again seems a special sort of sadism. Until, that is, you turn around the next bend to drink in a mountainside dotted black and beige by sheep or a valley full of yellow and blue flowers. I’m on an 11-day Himalayan trek in the Kangra district. The goat paths we’re walking on reveal striking new scenes every few minutes. I see wide, soft meadows rolling as far as the eye can see. I sit by a dull green glacier lake amidst black rock and white ice at Thamsar pass. Still and cold, it perfectly reflects the peak above it. I taste the tiny blue berries that drape a mountainside—they’re minty—and walk through fields of wild spinach. I have silent conversations with furry gaddi (shepherd) dogs, with their immense poise and voluble eyes. These moments make me understand why I have to work hard to be here: I have to earn the right to enjoy such beauty. They justify each drop of sweat, the pain under my right knee, the blister on my left foot. A cup of tea—handed to me by the cook the moment I trudge into the campsite—never tasted so good. Never was thirst quenched as satisfyingly, as by the water filled near the top of the pass. I can smell the grass. Even when we sweat, we don’t stink; the air, the water, the food is just so clean. And I sleep so well, restored and ready to start walking again when I wake up each morning.

Until I went on that trek, I had no idea if I would be able to walk on ice, find a foothold on a landslide, ford a cold stream, or leap across giant rocks. Finding second wind

They say that the first step is the hardest one. That’s silly. The first step is easy, as is the last. It’s all the ones in between that are hard work. It’s tough to remember that when working out in an air-conditioned gym, counting the seconds till your 20 minutes on the crosstrainer are up. But the thought had been drilled in my head from the moment I decided to go on the Bara Banghal trek; so when I’d start huffing five minutes into my run on the treadmill, I would still keep going. Bara Banghal is a tiny village in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, tucked between two passes in the Dhauladhar range. Kalihani, the first pass, is 4,600 metres high and like a gateway through which one must enter to reach the village. The second pass, called Thamsar, is higher (4,800 m) but far easier to climb because a gradual snow-covered slope leads up its north side. Guarded by these two sentinels is this isolated village on the banks of the Ravi, inhabited by shepherds who eke a living tending to their flock and growing the vegetables and grain they need. They are still a largely nomadic tribe. The men live away from home for six months each year as they travel with their flocks in search of the best meadows. Bara Banghal is a curious mix of the old and new. The extent of modernization depends on what can go up on muleback. They have a satellite phone, but not enough medicines nor a medical professional to administer them. I was an officegoer with a shoddy fitness regime and weighed ten kg more than I ought to. But I wanted to do this trek. I had four months to be ready, physically and mentally, and I was convinced it was possible. The getting fit plan was simple. The focus was on stamina. I needed to have enough energy to keep going. I would be trekking with my brother and my fiancé, and the last thing I wanted was to give the two boys a chance to call me a whiner. I went to the gym four times a week. The routine was unchanging: 4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

20 minutes on the treadmill, jogging for as much of it as I could; 20 minutes on the crosstrainer, which worked my arms and legs together; and 30 minutes in the pool. I avoided the weighing scale. This was not about losing weight; this was about finding my second wind. The theory is that even when you feel you’re exhausted, you have the capacity to do more. The trick is to continue past the exhaustion until you enter the zone beyond, where you can keep going on and on. As the days wore on, and I pictured a mountain pass in my head as I ran on the treadmill, I had found myself running longer, swimming faster, and finishing my 20 minutes on the crosstrainer without breaking a sweat. My legs became stronger and my lungs more used to the demands made on them. My belt sat a notch tighter.

us, on whom our safety and well-being depended. Dorje, the veteran of many treks, understands the many and sudden mood changes of the mountains. Tenzing, our shy, good-looking cook, and goofy Tashi, constantly kept us amused. Besides the six of us, the only other people we encountered were the occasional shepherds. We’d stop to ask about the way ahead. Their weather-beaten faces made them look old and wise. Spending months alone in the mountains with just a flock of sheep for company takes a toll. They’d be glad to exchange a few words. Often, they asked us for medication for a cold, fever, pain or body ache. Then wished us well on our way. In the head

The mountains are moody and a sunny morning can quickly turn cold and misty. It’s practical to dress in layers so you can quickly add or shed as the weather demands.

to sleep without brushing my teeth. It was oddly liberating. For the first two days, we packed sandwiches for lunch, which we ate at the flattest spot we could find along the way. Then the bread ran out. The eggs lasted another four days. One day, for breakfast, the cook gave us tuna-stuffed paranthas. (I never want to see a can of tuna again.) At Bara Banghal, we got locally-grown rajma and potatoes. Those french fries tasted better than anything the labs at McCain could spin out. The rajma was as organic as organic gets, grown in soil that had never seen pesticides. One of the village women took a liking to me and gave me a dozen apples from a tree in her yard. They were small and very sweet. I ate like a cow, gulping down a small bar of chocolate every day. With the number of calories I was burning, I could do that without a second thought.

A large part of the trek was spent in the head, as we walked in a single file, conserving our breath at high altitude. Imprinting images in the mind that the camera could not do justice to. Thinking about the path ahead, the smell of the red flowers, how the smoked lamb meat bought from the gaddis will taste, or how far the campsite is. I observed the small things like the moss on the side of a tree, an odd mushroom, the way the grass gave way to blackish sand as we climbed higher, and the streaks of colour in the grey rock. The day we reached Kalihani pass was one of revelations. I crossed a 4,600-metre-high glacier-covered pass on foot. The ground was a sheet of hard, treacherous ice but I learned to walk on it confidently, trying to imitate Dorje’s dancer-like grace. I felt triumphant; every cliché about being on top of the world ringing true. The next day was different. As we came down the pass, the ice gave way to moraine, the giant black rocks left in the wake of a retreating glacier. Each leap on the massive rocks sent a jolt up my knees and poked the soles of my feet. Several little landslides had wiped out sections of the trail and even the campsite at Dal Marhi we were to stop at. There was no choice but to continue walking. The last half kilometre, we walked by the light of our head lamps as the mountains turned dark and scary. When we finally reached a suitable campsite and I released the vice grip in which my head held my body, the tears just poured out. They were tears of relief and of satisfaction that I had been able to hold my own. I had discovered new potential within myself. Until I went on that trek, I had no idea if I would be able to walk on ice, find a foothold on a landslide, ford a cold stream, or leap across giant rocks. Could I focus my strength and put one foot ahead of the other till the end? I did. And somewhere, in that process, I stopped thinking about each step, and started looking around and enjoying the experience. n

Camaraderie At the beginning

Our trek began in Manali. There was a lot of unseasonal rain and our guide had heard a report that a flash flood had washed away a crucial bridge across Kalihani Nala. Till the last minute, there was some confusion about whether we’d be able to go. We decided to take the chance. In all likelihood, the gaddis would rebuild the wooden bridge in the seven days it would take us to reach it. Since this was my first time on anything longer than a day hike, my fiancé had made special arrangements. There was a guide and a cook, mules to carry our bags, and even a toilet tent, should I need it. Since the horses moved faster than we did, the kitchen tent would be set up at the campsite when we reached. After tea and biscuits, we’d scout for the best spots for our tents and set them up. There was usually a stream close by, but after the first day, the water was just too cold to attempt washing up or rinsing clothes. The closest thing to a bath I had in those 11 days was a wipe down with a damp hand towel. On the coldest days, I did what I could with wet wipes. One night, I even went

Stuck together, the three of us laughed, fought and helped one another. We borrowed socks, called each other names, and gave encouragement when one of us lagged behind. When heavy rain forced us to stay a night longer at our very first camp at Lama Dugh in a meadow surrounded by fir trees, we played cards and made jokes about all the horrible things that were going to happen to us. When altitude sickness struck at the base of Kalihani, we went on silent walks together, climbing a little higher and then returning to camp to ease the headache. I got to know the man I intended to marry a little better: his love and respect for the mountains, his impatience with stupidity, his high threshold for pain and the fact that he almost never complained. I learnt that though we fought a lot, we were good at making up quickly. At an ancient Shiv temple along the way, near Dal Marhi, we stopped to pray for a good life together. We talked about coming back ten years later and how different we’d be then. We also got to know the men who accompanied and supported

A steaming hot cup of tea awaiting you at the campsite is a luxury. JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5

IN FOCUS The Himalayas

Himachal Pradesh Kalihani Pass is the gateway to Bara Banghal. Walking on the glacier is challenging but also fun once you get the hang of it. The effort is worthwhile for the exhilarating feeling of being at the top.

the guide Route: Manali–Bara Banghal–Bir Duration: 11 days Season: September–October Grade: Moderate to strenuous; prior trekking experience preferable Maximum Altitude: 4,800 m/16,750 ft

with potatoes and apples. We visited the village’s Shiv temple to say a prayer; the mountains made me feel grateful.

I Manali–Lama Dugh (3,017 m/9,898 ft) Manali quickly fell behind as we climbed through the forest, and phone signal become intermittent. The path led through a field of shoulder-high sweet-smelling flowers, ending at the Lama Dugh meadow surrounded by maple, oak and spruce trees. It started pouring heavily in the evening and through the night. Dorje decided the next stretch would be too dangerous in the rain, so we camped here a second night. II Lama Dugh–Riyali Thach (3,400 m/11,154 ft) The climb got steep, and the paths more narrow. Glad Dorje insisted we wait for the rain to ease; even with just a drizzle this section was tricky. Great views of the upper Kullu valley from the top of the ridge. Also the last place where we could make a call home before being phoneless for over a week. The second half of the day’s trek was through rolling meadows. III Riyali Thach–Base of Kalihani Pass (4,010 m/13,156 ft) Day started with a pleasant walk through meadows, only to descend steeply down to a stream, across it and then up again. We encountered the first patch of permanent ice, which was a good chance for me to learn how to walk on it. There was a lot of climbing to do until camp at the base of Kalihani Pass, where I spent the evening contemplating the steep climb awaiting us the next day. Looked the other way, literally, for a great view of the valley. IV Kalihani base camp–Devi ki Marhi (3,850 m/12.631 ft) via Kalihani Pass (4,725 m/15,501 ft) We knew we were high up because all the green was gone. The ground was hard and rocky, and the air finally seemed really thin. The climb up to the Pass was tough, but oddly satisfying. At the pass we got a 360 degree view of the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar ranges. A steep descent on the other side of the glacier, a lot of leaping over moraine, and four glacial lakes later, we reached the campsite.

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The young lambs travel with the shepherd on his mule, tucked into a slot in front of the saddle, where they are safe and warm.

VIII Bara Bhangal–Madh (3,830 m/12,565 ft) The climb towards Thamsar Pass began, with the trail winding up through meadow and patches of pine, deodar and birch forests. We crossed Thamsar Nala twice, once over a bridge, the second time through the cold, fast water. The campsite at Marh was near the base of the glacier. Saw the Milky Way for the first time that night, like a silver path through the sky.

V Devi Ki Marhi–Dal Marhi (3,900 m/12,795 ft) We crossed Kalihani Nala and spent the morning leaping over more rock and moraine. The knees lodged a strong complaint. The day turned out tougher than expected because unseasonal rain had caused landslides that washed out sections of the trail. There was a steep climb before the Dal Marhi campsite. It was covered by a landslide when we went, so we had to look for an alternate spot in the area.

IX Madh–Plachak (2,721 m/8,927 ft) via Thamsar Pass (4,800 m/16,750 ft) It was a tough start to the day, climbing moraine and scree. The rocks by the glacier lake that feeds Thamsar Nala made for a great resting point. There was fresh snow at Thamsar and the climb was gradual compared to Kalihani. We tossed around a few snowballs. There’s was a little cairn on top with an idol, trinkets and a red flag that broke the white and grey of the terrain. Said a prayer of thanks for a clear day. On the other side of the pass, there was a steep, long descent till the campsite.

VI Dal Marhi–Bara Banghal (2,882 m/9,455 ft) We walked along the side of the hill, overlooking the Ravi river. There were depressing signs of deforestation. A long descent led to Bara Banghal village; we’d caught a rainy day, which meant cold winds on the exposed path and a trail like a mud slide. But there were some lovely stretches through pine and birch forests before the descent began. The first glimpse of Bara Banghal was exhilarating.

X Plachak–Rajgundha (2,440 m/8,005 ft) The trail descends across a series of permanent ice bridges. After lunch, we knew we were getting near the end of the trek because the path became easy. It was like the trekking equivalent of a highway, passing through pine forests and many mountain streams. The campsite is just after the small village of Rajgundha where we bought and wolfed down wafers like they were the greatest delicacy. Phone signal returned.

VII Bara Banghal Spent the day exploring the village. Considering how little they have, the village people are very generous. Dorje used the satellite phone to call Manali and let the organizer know we’re safe. The lady in the neighbouring house invited me home for tea. Later, she sent her granddaughter to our campsite

XI Rajgundha–Billing (2,310 m/7,578 ft) This was another easy day of walking through pine forests over a wide track. We were almost sad to see the prayer flags and paragliders at Billing that indicated the end of the trek. A waiting car took us to Bir, from where we caught a bus to Dharamshala.

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IN FOCUS The Himalayas

Himachal Pradesh plan it

Once you overcome the initial hesitation, walking across narrow bridges or skipping on stones to cross a stream is a lot of fun. Anything to avoid getting into the cold water!

Costs: Vary depending on size of group

and degree of comfort desired. All costs given below are for a group of six doing the trek over 12 days with horses, guide and a cook. Top Rock Adventures

Jean Luc Jubert, better known as Titli, runs a tight outfit, advises the tourism authorities on setting norms for adventure activities, and assists in search and rescue operations. (98167 92444; www.; `32,400 per head). Mountain Voyages

Vijay Bodh, who’s part of this company, organized our trek. Except for an excess of tuna, we had a fabulous trip. (94180 59192;; `28,500 per head). White Magic Adventure

This Delhi-based organization is a little more expensive, but will provide you a lot more small comforts during the trek. (011-41076073;; `39,021 per person). Himalayan Adventurers

Girls from the village of Bara Banghal enjoy apples plucked from a tree in their yard.

Run by Roop Chand Negi, who is also president of the Himachal Pradesh Winter Games Association, this is one of the older outfits in Manali. (98160 23004;; `42,000 per head). Mainak Travels.

Suneel is a Kullu boy who has been trekking in the Himalayas since he was 15. Now he runs his own adventure travel outfit. (98160 75309;; `25,000 per head.)

Get geared up

The gaddis (shepherds) live a nomadic life for half the year, travelling with their flock in search of pasture (left). Edible mushroom growing on the side of a tree became dinner (right). 8 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

Good gear is important to enjoying your trekking experience. Look for boots that are waterproof, have ankle support and wear them in on short hikes. Invest in a 3-in-1 jacket that has a waterproof (water repellent is not good enough) and breathable exterior with pit vents. Ditto for pants. Borrow or buy down sleeping bags that are good up to -10°C. Don’t forget your walking stick, in fact, carry a spare. Carry camera and spare batteries on your person while walking and stick them in the bottom of your sleeping bag at night, or the batteries will drain.

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journeys HIGHLIGHTS | PROVENCE Discover Provence through its palatable flavours DIU Explore the coastal town’s Portuguese connection SOUTH INDIA Prayer halls aside, explore the rich history of Thanjavur’s temples


CONCEPT HOTELS The towns that Italy forgot make a comeback

Journeys Culture

Symbols of prestige By Samhita Arni

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The Chola temples, built over a 100 years ago, are much more than places of worship In January each year, devotees travel across South India visiting temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Traditionally, women wear red saris.

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DK Bhaskar (women)


y great-grandmother was married at the age of 12. On the night of her wedding, Thanjavur’s most famous devadasi came to dance. "She was a little on the large side," my great aunt tells me, "but she was so graceful." The next day, the devadasi sent over a tray of sweets—after dancing the whole night, she had delivered a healthy baby boy. The tale seems too fabulous to believe. Yet my great-aunt speaks of the incredible discipline and training of the devadasis. Sometimes described as courtesans, devadasis were also hereditary temple servants. They were dedicated to the service of the temple deity, trained in dance and music, and would perform in temples. At the Brihadeshwara temple in Thanjavur, for instance, devadasis would trapeze repeatedly around an iron rod suspended horizontally beneath the gopuram (temple’s tower). These acrobatic feats were performed to fulfil vows that either the devadasis or their patrons had taken. A misstep meant a fall and horrible injury or even death. Large crowds would gather to watch this spectacle with bated breath. When I visit the Brihadeshwara temple, there are no crowds. Perhaps it's the time of day, but legends of bad luck have hung over the temple ever since Indira Gandhi and then Tamil Nadu chief minister, MGR visited the temple in 1984. Months later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated, while MGR suffered a kidney failure that eventually lead to his death three years later. Since then, VVIPs avoid the temple. The lack of crowds is a blessing—there are no long queues, none of the pushing and shoving that sometimes makes visits to temples so arduous. The temple is stunning—the intricately carved gopuram, made of golden-brown stone, is breathtaking against a clear blue sky, and the graceful, curvaceous Chola sculptures transport visitors to another time. Guides point to a carving on the outer wall of the temple, and a knot of tourists throng the spot, clicking pictures. It's the carving of a man with a hat. Speculations run rife, but the consensus seems to be that it is the image of a European traveller or trader, sculpted over a thousand years ago, when Raja Raja Chola I built this temple in 1025 A.D. An inscription on the temple wall lists far-flung Chola conquests— naming places in Malaysia, Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands. The endowment and construction of temples like these by the Cholas was a major landmark in the development of South Indian spiritual traditions of Bhakti. But the spectacular acrobatic activities of devadasis, and the fact that temple carvings record oddities and idiosyncrasies like European travellers, suggest another function of the temple—imperial prestige. Not far from Thanjavur, is another, smaller temple constructed by some of the artisans who worked on the Brihadeshwara temple, during the reign of Rajendra Chola, who shifted his capital to Gangaikondacholapuram from Thanjavur. The tongue-twister name means ‘the city of the Chola who conquered the Ganga’, and commemorates the king’s northern conquests and an expedition to the northern river. It is said that Rajendra Chola brought thousands of litres of Ganga water here, to fill the five-kilometre-long temple tank. A sense of what the Chola period was like can be found in the verses of the Tamil Ramayana, or Iravataram (also called Kambaramayana) which was composed by the poet Kamban. Said to be the son of a temple drummer, Kamban was born in Therazhundur, a village outside Thanjavur. The Cholas honoured him with the title kavichakravarty—emperor of poets. The Iravatram begins with a description of a prosperous, gleaming country where gems are found in dust-heaps, and little girls playing in the sand discover pearls. Ships

Journeys Culture

Spirituality and sensuality were not perceived as irreconcilable, and both were celebrated in temples and in literature. from distant lands arrived here, bearing exotic goods. The women were beautiful, chaste and “the only small things in this kingdom were the waists of irrepressible maidens”. But today, little is left of the glory of Gangaikondacholapuram. There's just a temple amidst paddy fields. Gazing at the slight trickle of the river and the paddy fields, it’s hard to imagine the glamour of the Chola metropolis. An old man from the Archaeological Survey of India guides me around the temple. He saves the most intriguing bit for last, taking me up a rickety ladder and many series of stairs to a spot inside the gopuram. It's a windowless, dark space covered by bat droppings—a stark contrast to the manic, writhing frenzy of the carvings on the exterior. The next day I am at another Chola-era temple, the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, which is much more alive. A young priest, his hair pinned to a bun on the side, performs an arti in front of a curtain, as devotees offer prayers. He then pulls the curtain back to reveal the deity to whom we have prayed and I witness the rahasyam (represental). There is nothing there. Chidambaram is one of the few temples where Shiva and Vishnu are worshipped in the same place. The rahasyam (representation of the element of space) I witness, symbolically tells me that the ultimate deity (or reality) transcends all distinction, pervades the universe and is formless (nirguna brahman). Chidambaram differs remarkably from Gangaikondacholapuram and Thanjavur. It's a busy, active temple with sprightly, smart priests. I talk to one young priest, who is self-assured, savvy and has an email address. Crowds surround each mantap (altar). Inside the enormous temple are several platforms, shrines and intricately-carved pillars. Chidambaram is traditionally managed and administered by com-

munity of priests, known as the Deekshithars. There's a wonderful story that the scholar AK Ramanujan relates: The poet Kambhan, after composing his version of the Ramayana, needs to gain approval of all the 3,000 Deekshithars at Chidambharam. He runs from pillar to post trying desperately to speak to all the priests, until he is advised to attend the funeral of the chief Deekshithar’s son, who has just died from snakebite. All 3,000 priests are expected to assemble for the last rites. As the boy’s corpse lies on the pyre, Kambhan approaches the priests, who are taken aback by his effrontery. Undaunted, Kambhan proceeds to recite from his poem—starting from the verse where Lakshman, struck by the naga-astra (powerful mythical weapon, in the form of a snake), falls unconscious. Hanuman is dispatched to procure the Sanjeevani herb and returns with the whole mountain, and Lakshman is brought back to life. As Kambhan recites these verses, a cobra appears, slithers over to the body of the dead boy, and sucks out the poison from the snakebite. The boy comes back to life. The astounded priests give Kambhan's poem their approval. But they instruct him to also obtain the approval of the Jain community, and to recite it to a devadasi, for she is a critical, educated audience, a storyteller, wellversed in literature. It strikes me later, that the detail of the man with his hat, and the anecdote above, reveal that the Cholas were a society that was pluralistic and cosmopolitan. They revered devadasis not just for their dancing and talent, but also as literary critics and storytellers in their own right. As the eroticism and focus on love in the Iravataram and the sensuality of Chola sculptures suggest, spirituality and sensuality were not perceived as irreconcilable, and both were celebrated in temples and in literature. n


Tamil Nadu, about 330 km south of the capital Chennai. Getting there Tiruchchirappalli, 65 km west of Than-

Guides at the Thanjavur Temple relate an interesting fact about the main gopuram of the temple—it supposedly never casts a shadow on the temple grounds at any time of the day; The Chidambaram Temple ( facing page), is one of the few temples where Shiva isn't represented as a traditional lingam. Instead He takes the form of Nataraja, the lord of Bharatnatyam.

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javur, is the closest airport. There is a railway station in Thanjavur which is well connected to Tiruchchirappalli and Chennai, with frequent buses also available. Bangalore is around 400 km north-west. Chidambaram is 120 km north-east of Thanjavur, and 225 km south of Chennai. Buses are available from Thanjavur and most major cities in Tamil Nadu. Temple Timings Brihadeshwara (Thanjavur):

6 a.m.-noon and 4-9 p.m. Gangaikondacholapuram (Thanjavur):

6 a.m.-noon and 4-9 p.m. Nataraja (Chidambaram):

6 a.m.-noon and 4-10 p.m.

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bruce dale (thanjavur), stock connection blue/alamy/indiapicture (chidambar am)

Location Thanjavur is near the east coast of

Journeys Provence

Small Towns,

Big Allure Mango salad leads the author to explore the quaint villages and towns of southern France.

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To preserve the huge array of fruits that grow all over Provence, locals have been sugar coating the fruits since the Middle Ages. Even today, candied fruit is a traditional Provencal delicacy; Some of the world's most famous artists including Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse and Renoir found inspiration in Provence's picture perfect settings (facing page).

Digital Vision

Catherine karnow

By Sarayu Srivatsa

Journeys Provence


rolling down, thick and fast. I wrapped my coat tightly around me. Some months later I was visiting my daughter and son in London. Some 20 minutes later Wendy drove up in a rather battered Peugeot. The weather was glorious that week: blue skies warmed by the sun, She had forgotten where she had parked. Her newly reddened hair and not a damp cloud in sight. I did what I like to do most: shop for was wet and darker. We drove off into the grey curtain of rain, deafengroceries in the Lebanese and Sri Lankan shops on Church Street, and ing and intense. cook for my children. Wendy started to talk about Saignon (pronounced say-nyoh). The One afternoon Wendy found me on Skype. “What’s up?” she asked village was perched high up on an outcrop of the Luberon Mountains, ending with a smiling emoticon. I was making a mango salad, I replied. she said; it overlooked the valley of Apt. She spoke of the Notre-Dame In Mumbai, in the mango season I often made mango salad. I choose de Pitié church, an important desthree or four varieties of ripe mantination for pilgrims in the early goes, peel and chop them, squeeze Middle Ages. It also had a very all the juice from their seeds, add nice cemetery. I liked cemeteries slivers of onions, chopped green so made a mental note of it. The chillies, coriander and mint, and village of just over a thousand is a then finish off with salt, pepper, major source of mineral water, and lime juice, roasted cumin and sesthere are many fountains that never ame seeds, and a dash of honey. I run dry. use a special honey available in orThen she told me about the rock ganic stores in Mumbai. Its sweetthat towered 30 metres above the ness is mellow. It takes no more village. It was used as an ancient than 15 minutes to make mango observatory and perhaps a signal salad; it tastes good, always. station to defend the city of Apt be“We have mangoes,” Wendy low from invasions. “The view from messaged back. “You should make here is terrific,” she said, “and on a your salad here. The weather here clear afternoon, you can see Mont is gorgeous. So pack your summer Ventoux, the giant of Provence, and clothes and come.” also the Alps. Believe me, Saignon I surprised myself by saying yes. is heaven on earth.” When we London changed its temperareached Saignon the sky was grey ment the morning I was leaving with a dusting of black. It was cold it: it was cold, windy and raining Le Rocher or The Rock is the first thing visitors notice when visiting Saignon. On a clear day, the vantage point offers views of and wet. hard. I was compelled to wear a We stayed at La Maison des Arts light sweater, a warm coat on top Mount Ventoux and even the Alps. et Lettres, a four-storey building that belonged to Marcia Mitchell. of it and boots. I carried an umbrella, clearly excess baggage for sunWendy had rented a suite in it for the year and Marcia took me to swept Provence. Two hours later, in Paris, I shed my coat and sweater: mine on the second floor. It had a charming hall with dining table and it was unbelievably hot, dry. I found Wendy at the taxi rank outside small kitchen, and an immaculate bedroom decorated in white. On where she said she would be. I almost didn’t recognize her; her hair the bed was a large brown greyhound called Beau. The bathroom was had turned a crimson red. “It’s from a bottle and not because of the cosy and warm. I noticed that the heater was on. “It has never been so glorious sun,” she laughed. We took a ride to Paris’s Gare de Lyon stacold around this time,” said Marcia. “It has been raining all day. There tion and had lunch at a wayside bistro. My niçoise salad tasted like a have been flash floods in some of the villages here. It is the worst floodmouthful of summer. And the pasta, served with fresh tomato sauce, ing since 1827.” Then she smiled. “I have never had mango salad,” she buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil was not very French but delicious. said. “And I love Indian curry.” I promised to make her some. Wendy insisted I order île flottante, (floating island) a classic French We decided to go out to dinner in an hour. Wendy had told me about cold dessert I had never tasted. It was very light meringue floating on the lovely French restaurant La Petite Cave run by Andrew Goldsby, a sea of custard sauce. Then we got the TGV train to Avignon where an Englishman trained with Raymond Blanc. “It’s a bit posh and rathWendy had parked her car. er expensive,” she said. However, later as Wendy was too tired to go, I The sky was scribbled with lightning when we reached Avignon. stepped out in the rain, and walked down a back alley. I found a small Wendy left me at the porch to get her car; and I heard the rumble of Japanese restaurant. It would have to do; I was hungry. My first meal approaching thunder. The wind gathered force and then the rain came 4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

ayush ahuja (saignon)

f you die and go to heaven you will be in Saignon, my friend Wendy wrote to me. She had moved from Chicago to Paris and more recently to the south of France. I was curious. But I needed more than curiosity to incite me to travel there.

SHAUL SHWARZ/Getty images

Farmers harvest a field of lavender in Sault Plateau in the south of France. The gentle scent of lavender permeates the countryside at harvest time.

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IAIn bagwell

Goat cheese is typical to Provence and is served with fresh fruit and even honey at times. (Facing page, clockwise from top) Provence is home to France's best known markets including L'Isle sur la Sorgue, Marche aux fleurs and the Marche Provencal; Fresh rocquette leaves garnish a French-style pizza; Dried herb blends are the perfect souvenir to bring back home; Provence has a few famous red wine variations and is also known for Banon cheese.

Sundrenched gardens/alamy (basket of organic produce), michael hanson (pizza), joe kirchherr/getty images (Red wine, soft cheese and grapes), Alamy (provence herbs)

Journeys Provence

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Journeys Provence in Provence and I was eating Japanese food. That night as I lay down to sleep, I could smell the distinct fragrance of lavender wafting in the breeze. I woke up with the sun in my eyes. Looking out of the window I could see the terracotta roof tiles of houses, and the valley beyond caressed by the sun. I inhaled the morning scent deep into my lungs, fresh and fragrant: a bouquet of fruits, flowers and something else— bread. I dressed hurriedly and followed the aroma, walking past a stone fountain, along a cobbled pathway winding along mud-coloured stone houses, past colourful doors and windows: red, blue, purple decked with flowers of unimaginable hues. I stopped at Café Au Lait and ordered a warm croissant and hot chocolate. After a short visit to the cemetery, I climbed up to the top of the rock. I could see a quiltwork of olive groves, lavender fields, and fruit orchards in the valley below and far beyond the dark silhouette of Mont Ventoux. Often, for the sheer lack of it, I have felt the need to overstate beauty. But now I had no reason to exaggerate it at all. Wendy was waiting for me at the Maison. “Let’s drive to Arles for lunch,” she said. I wanted a taste of true French food. All I knew about Arles was its connection to Vincent Van Gogh; he had produced more than 300 paintings there. I had a mousepad with a facsimile of the painting of his room in Arles. Wendy ducked back through the door. She returned shortly with a couple of plastic bags. When I asked what they were for, she said “You’ll see.” We trundled down the hill and drove past Apt. Wendy stopped the car alongside a vast orchard. On the trees, plump cherries gleamed like jewels. With bags in hand Wendy stopped at the nearest cherry tree; its branches hung low, laden with fruit. “Pluck the really red ones,” she called out. In minutes we had two bags full. Soon we were in Arles. After a quick walk around the Asylum Gardens immortalized by Van Gogh’s painting, the Roman amphitheatre, and the riverfront we wandered into the main square. It had a very festive air and was crowded with people, mostly Dutch, and most of them wearing brilliant orange capes. “It’s the World Cup finals and Netherlands is playing Spain,” Wendy told me. It was also a day when there was a paella festival of sorts going on with the Spanish rice specialty being served at restaurants and kiosks all over the town. We had seafood paella, loaded with shrimp, squid, and scallops, the rice flavoured with saffron and a stock made of shrimp shells. We drank an entire bottle of Côtes du Rhônes wine with it. We spent the rest of the day exploring an area of the Camargue: a vast stretch of salty plains, brine lakes, rice fields, lagoons and marshes–land of the famous white Camargue horses, black bulls and pink flamingos. From a roadside shop I bought fleur de sel, olive oil and lavender soap. The next day we drove to the charming Provençal village of Eygalieries, on the Alpilles and stopped at the Alchemist Garden. The garden utilizes symbols, shapes and colours to evoke the magic of alchemy, Wendy explained. The prelude to the garden was a maze of dense hedging in the shape of the letters of the first word in the Bible: Berechit. It feeds into a botanical garden of magical herbs and trees segregated by tall poles hung with dazzling white cloth. Beyond this

lies the alchemist’s garden that unfolds in three parts: black, white and red signifying the three stages of life from adulthood to the spiritual state of being. The garden was not as huge as it seemed at first. It took me a little over half an hour to get to the end, to the fountain in the star-shaped pond. The evening light on the spray of water rendered it in hues of bronze and alchemical gold. It was dusk when we drove up the Luberon hills into Bonnieux, a historic village known for its manmade cedar forest. Wendy stopped the car alongside Brasserie Les Terrasses. “Let’s have dinner here,” she said, “they serve amazing pizzas.” I ordered the Le Luberon pizza, drizzled with olive oil and topped with olives, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and a pile of roquette leaves. Clearly very French. Back in Saignon, Marcia invited us to her apartment for dessert wine. Her kitchen had a humungous table that could seat 20. “I have invited some people over for dinner tomorrow,” Marcia said to me. “Do you think you can make mango salad and Indian curry?” “Certainly,” I said. “How many people have you called?” I asked. “Nineteen,” Marcia replied. I gulped the wine. It was Sauternes. It was good. I planned the menu around a lot of salads: white fish in coconut gravy, shrimp in tomato, burnt garlic and red chilli curry, steamed rice, mango salad, strawberry and mint salad, a cucumber, sliced onion and dill salad with red orange dressing, baby potatoes and petit pois (peas) with whole coriander and cumin, beetroot and shallots with curry leaves, and a yogurt and pomegranate raita with a sprinkling of crushed pistachio. For dessert, a vermicelli and milk pudding served with a coulis of the cherries we had plucked. Early next morning Marcia drove us to Apt, where luckily I got most of the ingredients. I toiled until evening preparing the feast. I had never cooked for so many people. The guests had arrived by the time I showered and changed. They were seated at Marcia’s dining table when I walked in. She introduced me to them. To my horror there were four chefs, and one of them was Andrew Goldsby from the posh La Petite Cave. Marcia informed me that Andrew was a Michélin decorated chef. He looked eager and hungry. My stomach churned. “It was heavenly,” Wendy said as she picked the last slice of mango from the dish and popped it into her mouth. I needn’t have worried; the serving dishes were almost all empty by the end of dinner. Then Andrew came toward me with a hint of a smile about the lips. He invited me to dine at his restaurant the next day. Then he asked for the recipe for mango salad. “I would like to serve it in my restaurant,” he said. Marcia, Wendy and I dined at La Petit Cave the next evening. The restaurant is in a 12th century cellar, its décor very French, pure and immaculate. It has a set menu that is changed each week. We started with crayfish mousse, and many courses later ended with a heavenly dessert that exploded with the flavours of raspberry, banana and passion fruit. The next evening I dined on avocado mouse, braised lamb with rolled eggplant and stuffed pepper, and a divine chocolate dessert, soft and liquid in the centre. On another day I had the most amazing tarte meringuée au citron (lemon meringue tart) in Roussillon village; I felt as if I was biting into a cloud. My thirst for French food was not gratified even by day four; I wanted more and was glad I had seven more days in glorious Saignon.

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A collection of jars and bottles (left, above) decorate the window sill of a typical home in the area; Camarague, (left, below), an ancient breed of horses that are significantly smaller than their full-sized modern cousins are indigenous to and named after Camarague.

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ayush ahuja (window with glass bottles), konrad wothe/minden pictures (horses)


I inhaled the morning scent deep into my lungs, fresh and fragrant: a bouquet of fruits, flowers and something else— bread. I got ready hurriedly and then followed the aroma of warm bread...

Journeys Provence

Journeys Xxxxxxx Grillon

The GUIDE Bollene



P R OV E N C E Côte d’Azur

Saignon lies in the Vaucluse district, in the south-eastern corner of France’s ProvenceAlpes-Côte d’Azur region. The nearest city is Avignon 56 km west of Saignon; the nearest big city is Marseille 62 km to the south. Paris lies about 635 km north of Saignon.



Mont Ventoux

Nice Toulon



Getting there: The closest airport to Saignon is in Avignon. From Paris, however, it’s easiest to take the TGV train to Avignon (from `7,000). From Avignon either take a taxi or rent a car to drive to Saignon (56 km). Car rentals are available at Avignon TGV station. Or book online from or (mid-size four passenger car costs about `2,000/day). Basic Auberge du Presbytere is a family-run hotel, near La Place de la Fontaine. Each of its 12 rooms has its own unique design. (+33- 970446-456;;; doubles from `3,200, breakfast not included). Closed mid-Jan to mid-Feb.



Velleron Rousillon

Apt Saignon Bonnieux

Cereste Cereste



Mouries Pertus


Comfort Les Maison des Arts et Lettres lets out double rooms with attached baths and kitchenettes. The owners also run painting and cooking classes (contact Marcia Mitchell;; doubles from `5,000, rate applicable when staying for a week or more, breakfast not included).

LuXury La Bastide du Jas is an 18th-century farmhouse and offers guests a rustic chapel at the top of a hill, with two double-bedrooms, a fireplace and fully-fitted kitchen. (+33490-048-359;;; `1,62,000/week for the entire chapel; meals not included).

*There are dozens of affordable bed & breakfasts to choose from in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Most offer discounts to visitors staying for a week or more.













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18/ 6° C


Insider Tip

Arts, craft and food form a large part of Provence’s culture, as showcased by the festivals that take place through the year. •The Avignon Theater Festival takes place for three weeks every July. • Arles (100 km from Saignon) hosts yearly photography and music festivals in July. • A truffle and wine festival takes place on the first Sunday of February in Carpentras (37 km from Saignon). • Easter weekend at Bonnieux (17 km from Saignon) witnesses a large pottery exhibition. • An annual strawberry festival is held on May 8 at Velleron (42 km from Saignon). • Apt hosts an International Jazz Festival at the end of May until mid-June, every year. • Carnivals and workshops for everything from painting to circus tricks are held in summer.

In Provence they say: A day without wine is a day without sunshine. September, when the grapes are harvested is a festive time especially in wine-producing areas. Vaucluse department (district) produces three vintages: Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Ventoux and Côtes du Luberon. Many wineries and cellars are open to the public for wine-tasting. The region also has five wine museums: Vintners’ Museum in Rasteau, The Wine Sensorial trail at the cooperative wine cellar in Cairanne, Père Anselme Wine Museum in Châteauneufdu-Pape, House of Truffles and Wine in Menerbes, and the Vineyard and Wine Museum at Chateau Turcan in Ansouis.

Kid Friendly? June-September is a great time to visit with kids. There are dozens of museums, particularly in Avignon and Arles (

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La Maison des Arts et Letrres (above) is a medieval building that retains some original architecture. Facing page, clockwise from top: The cafe is situated in Arles and is the actual setting that inspired Van Googh to paint 'The Cafe Terrace'; In the eye of modernization, towns and villages in Vaucluse have retained their charm; Brown shuttered windows and cobble-stoned roads are found in the region.

jim richardson (cafe van gogh), keenpress (trees), indiapicture (cobble-stoned roads)

January and February are considered off-season, with several hotels and restaurants closed for the winter. The tourist season picks up again mid-March.

illustration: Omna Winston, ayush ahuja (la maison des arts et lettres)

Saignon and the surrounding Provençal region have a Mediterranean climate, with pleasant summers and scattered rainfall throughout the year. Most tourists visit during summer, when there are festivals between June and September.

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Journeys India

mondo il picolo

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By Roma Tearne


The search for echoes of a lost childhood home leads to the discovery of the familiar in unexpected places

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Journeys India


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ing to discover, in other lands, this lost and lovely place of the past. Surely in India I will find it at last. The first time I became aware of this quest to recreate the place where I was born was when I discovered a small fishing village called Carbis Bay on the Atlantic coast, in Britain. It was summer time, the sea was calmly blue, the breeze gentle, and the view of golden sands that was so like that other bay I had lived by for the first ten years of my life. No matter that it was a colder sea or that the voices were not those of familiar people. No matter too, that now I was older. “Look!” I cried, “there are the rocks that I once knew!” Long ago, I had carved my name on just such rocks: Roma, Colombo, Ceylon, The World, The Universe. Looking across Carbis Bay I saw at last how landscape and memory become entwined. Some years later, during a series of trips to the Mediterranean I began to access other, long forgotten memories. Out they came, released no doubt by the sight of bougainvillea flush against sun baked walls and the flat, white, light of a southern day. And again, in the bright, bustling cities of Palermo, Istanbul, even Cairo, I would sometimes catch, like a strain of unidentifiable music, the sense of that mysteriously elusive place. And now, here in India, I am so close to home, so nearly there. As the train moves on I can think of nothing else. Years of writing about Sri Lanka while living on the Atlantic-buffeted British Isles have given my past a mythical status. A paradise that was lost. Ten years was long enough for a Prospero-like spell to be cast over me. The old cries for home remain as strong as ever. But, I tell myself, looking back is a dangerous thing. Does not all mythology warn against it? To look back is to risk entering the underworld of dead time. There is a danger in wanting a substitute home. The train slows at a level cross-

ing then grinds to a halt. The dawn is brighter, no longer hesitant. The street fires flicker like the fireflies of Ruskin’s Italy, “fine-broken starlight through the purple leaves”. I see myself, many, many years before, walking hand-in-hand with my father through the tropical city, stepping past other fires still flickering in my memory. Exactly where we were going I cannot remember but my father’s voice is strong and clear. “They are only street people,” he tells me. “They have nothing. Just bits of wood to keep out the chilly morning air.” My search for that voice and all it represents has been a lifelong one. In India, I hope, I shall get a little closer to the epicentre of that distant experience. The train gathers speed once more; my eyes are gritty with tiredness. I cannot keep my camera steady long enough for the exposure I need. So I shall have to look instead. And remember. The sky lightens and lightens but a delicate milky mist continues to float over the ground. It shrouds the laurel and the ‘boom’ trees, knee deep in mile after mile of impossibly yellow mustard fields. We pass one road sign and then another, too swiftly to be recognized. There is building with red lettering. A blackly-etched bullock, thin shouldered and mournful, a blanketed figure on a bicycle. Then to my surprise we pass through scenery that might have stepped straight out of a watercolour painting. Softened and remote in this refracted light and utterly beautiful. I see a group of sari-ed women disappearing gracefully into the distance. There are bundles of firewood finely balanced on their heads. Their preoccupations and their lives, all closed to me. Their day of cultivating the land has begun early, in the same way that it does in every rural community around the world. Then suddenly amongst the varied greens of the field I notice smudges of fluttering

...Long ago, I had carved my name on just such rocks: Roma, Colombo, Ceylon, The World, The Universe. Looking across Carbis Bay I saw at last how landscape and memory become entwined. crimson, kingfisher blues and yellow. Small huts with woven roofs that look like witches’ hats appear and disappear again and again as our train scurries on. There are trees, painted with strips of acid green and red, cow dung fires, untended and unwatched. I long to be nearer, to catch a clearer glimpse of face and voice. What are these mysterious lives flashing past me? The light is stronger now, eggshell transparent, and shadowless. Even the dusty windows of the train cannot hide its strength. Soon, I know, it will fall relentlessly on the workers in the fields sending them back to their darkened huts. A battered truck trundles down a rutted lane followed by two dogs. A flock of white birds rise all together and flutter high out of frame. There is something unexplained in this landscape that puzzles me. But what this is I cannot as yet tell. For the casual visitor of course India remains eternally colourful and exotic. Cattle in the street. Holy trees charmingly smeared in yellow powder. Magical realism embedded in every freshly picked mango, the scent of all Asia on their silky skins. For the everyday visitor dirt and poverty lie in wait wherever they look, as clutching their anti-bacteria wipes and bottles of water they moves gingerly from place to place. And also amongst the chaos JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5


It snakes hesitantly across the dust-scarred suburbs and I notice that everywhere, between concrete and half-finished buildings, along rubbish-strewn wasteland and roadside ditches, there are small fires burning. Remnants of a passing Delhi night, providing a lingering warmth to those ghostly figures that crouch around. Like shadow puppets fromanother era. The train is beginning to gather speed and, through the tired waterless leaves of a mango tree, I catch a glimpse of a man stretched out on a makeshift bed. He wears only a loincloth. Beside him, another flickering bonfire is dying. Somewhere in my head a memory is triggered, for it is 40 years since I last witnessed such an eastern sunrise. I have travelled more than 6,000 kilometres to promote a book I wrote about a place not all that far from here. It is further south; three flying hours away, in a country so deeply engraved in my childhood memories that I am able to describe it with eyes closed. I am referring to a coastal suburb of Colombo, in Sri Lanka, beyond the southernmost tip of India. A looking glass island ringed by coral. Once, long ago, it was my home, but because of the political nature of my novels it is unwise and dangerous for me to return. I am not a good traveller at the best of times; not for me the seamless journeying from one country to another. Both my homesickness and the brutality of my young uprooting from Sri Lanka have made me uneasy, so that I prefer what is familiar. And even though my work forces me to travel I am reluctant for change. Yet here I am in India now, and as the dawn rises, so too does my awareness of the true motives behind this trip. I realise that I am here to find another, different location that reminds me of my childhood. A place to compensate for all I lost. I am searching, like a lover, for a familiar image, hunting for it as I have done all my life. Endlessly hop-

 Mount Lavinia used to be the Governor's Residence and is now a hotel (top); simpler times for the author and her father (left); the river Po ( facing page) hides behind unharvested mustard in Bassa Padana, Italy.

courtesy ROMA TEARNE

awn breaks over Delhi. A moment before we had been in complete darkness but now layer upon layer of rosefaint colour embalms this city’s skyline. Our train draws away from the platform of New Delhi railway station, leaving the frenetic pulse of activity behind.

Journeys India

Photographs collected by the auther from a small souvenir shop, in varying stages of decay, form a scrapbook of townsfolk from across India.

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...the sepia images of families picnicking, strolling through a park or taking part in a wedding ceremony are small cameos of a way of Indian life fading slowly into their own past. the uncut rape harvest casts yellow shadows across the tender poplar trees. Startled I blink. Why Italy? For me, Italy has always been a place without complications, by which I mean I have no ambiguous memories tied up with it. I have simply been happy there having lived off and on in various parts of the country, a foreigner in a foreign land. Nothing more or less than that. But as the train travels north and I gaze with delight on the bright fields of Delhi, I see, perhaps for the first time, something that has eluded me for so many years. I see that connections exist in the most unlikely places, and ‘il piccolo mondo’ as the Italians call it, is in fact just that, a small world. That everything is connected to everything else. Long before the phrase ‘global village’ was thought of, long before the Internet, before the century of migration there have been connections of landscape with landscape, myth with myth. Beyond man-made boundaries, a world all inter-connected, one place with another. And seeing this, all at once I realize that only by leaving and returning, only through this restless searching, have I come to such an understanding. And I thought also, how strange it should be that the idea of ‘il piccolo mondo’ should be brought to me through Italy. The place that offers contentment precisely because it isn’t home. Roma Tearne is a Sri Lankan born novelist. Her fifth novel The Road To Urbino was published in spring by Little Brown.

Photo by Raphael Kadushin

of the slum dogs is the guilt created by the withdrawing tide of the Empire. However I have noticed that more recently the prevalent view is that, beneath the glossy world of international travel, it is possible to make ‘real’ discoveries of one’s own. There is the hope that in the blandness of globalized uniformity, there remains something more substantial waiting to be found. Often I have found such gems hidden in the flea markets and bazaars in dusty corners of the cities I visit. In Delhi, before boarding the train I found one such treasure; an undiscovered world in a small shop selling, amongst their souvenirs, a clutch of fading old photographs. The shopkeeper was a little puzzled. The photographs, he said, were not so popular. He hardly sells any to the tourists who prefer to buy the leather puppets, kites, and other knick-knacks. But the curling sepia images of families picnicking, strolling through a park or taking part in a wedding ceremony are small cameos of a way of Indian life fading slowly into their own past. Found photographs, more than anything else, capture the spirit of a place. Thinking of these new-found treasures in my bag, staring out of the train window, I wonder about those endless memories I have been chasing. Can such a place exist any longer, in the East, beneath the economic glitter balls, the global lifestyles and the boutique hotels? What task is this I have set myself? It’s been 40 years and the world has moved on. The past,as we have so been famously told, is a foreign country. Instead of trying to excavate it, I should simply enjoy the holiday, I decide, like any other tourist with no presumptions, aims, and agendas. And then as I stare at the shimmering fields of mustard, the mist clears and the landscape of winding, dusty roads and small wayside shrines and willows sunk in flowers appear different. Unexpectedly I am reminded of Italy, Bassa Padana and the countryside around Cremona, in the valley of the river Po. In late spring, perhaps, when

get going HIGHLIGHTS | ADVENTURE Singapore dishes out the thrills for anyone who seeks them GRAND PRIX Visit the only night race on the F1 calendar in Singapore


ANDRETTA Pottery in the mountains

Marina Bay is a street circuit in the heart of Singapore's business district. This is the first night race on the F1 calendar and a special lighting system was designed for the purpose.

Tasting speed in Singapore An F1 rookie discovers the thrill of racing | By Mihika Pai


he first roar of the race cars makes my heart rate double. It almost elicits an adrenaline rush. It’s practice day at the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix and I’m slipping headlong into the excitement. With cars moving at such high speed, they take only a few seconds to whiz past our seats in the Bay Grandstand. But the atmosphere is so electric that it almost doesn't matter. The crowd is in a great mood. Everyone is friendly. Unspoken rules are in place: no pushing or shoving and definitely no obstructing another person’s view. People from all over the world have made the trip to catch the street-circuit race and I can hear British, American, Dutch, German and Japanese accents all around. I can’t help but be impressed as I watch the only night race on the F1 calendar. Before deciding to travel to Singapore for the three-day Grand Prix, I’d heard about the great smell of burning rubber and that the ear-shattering din from these deceptively small race cars was actually a sweet 2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

sound. I was told that some F1 fans try to get as close to the underside of Singapore’s Esplanade Bridge as possible, just to hear the sounds magnified by reverberation and echo. But I was still a bit of a sceptic. Could watching noisy cars go round a track really be fun? The F1 party starts as soon as we board our flight from Mumbai. Many of our fellow passengers were heading to the same event; some even wore their team t-shirts. When we arrived, we found a city in carnival mode. Posters, display cars, team merchandise and festivity are on every corner. Our last-minute decision means the coveted Pit Grandstand seats are sold out. Still our seats in the Bay Grandstand turn out to be great value. They overlook the waterfront with the Marina Bay Sands in the background and the Singapore Flyer to one side. F1 action is on full throttle in other parts of the city as well.

Although Orchard Road isn’t anywhere close to the track, it is the heart of the race weekend. Large display screens on buildings show snatches of the action and there are scores of stalls selling F1 souvenirs. If lucky, you could run into a favourite driver promoting the race at the massive Ion Mall. After the qualifying race on day two, we visit Clarke Quay. Situated at the edge of the track, it’s close enough to smell burning rubber and feel the excitement while dining out. Those who don’t want to watch all three sessions live, can choose to have a meal at one of the open-air restaurants along the river, and watch the huge screens as the racetrack nearby provides a real-life soundtrack. It is also the best place for post-race action. Unexpectedly, we see Mika Hakkinen, the ex-McLaren driver. The crowd is maddening, but the experience thrilling. Even discotheques and cinema halls show the race on their screens. There are more upmarket restaurants and bars on Dempsey Hill or at Chjimes, where visitors discuss the race over wine. On the day of the finals, the crowds and the energy were at an all-time high. We settled into our seats and watched eagerly as the iconic five lights illuminated one by one and then went off to signal the start. The cars came through with a deafening roar, braking hard and banging wheels at tight corners, but made it through the opening laps unscathed. Around lap 25, two cars collided and the safety car was called out until the debris is cleared; an incident that created more excitement than anything else that evening had! Luckily there were no injuries, but both drivers had to retire for the night. Lewis Hamilton was a clear favourite and he didn’t disappoint. The next morning, the city was hard at work dismantling the racing paraphernalia. Walking along the same stretches, where just a few hours ago, Hamilton drove his way to victory, and seeing the burnt tire tracks was thrilling. By the end, I was an F1 convert. I loved everything about the race; the speed, the technique, the driving skills—even the deafening howl of the engines. n


GET GOING Active Holiday

GET GOING Active Holiday

Singapore Grand Prix 2012 A quick lap around Marina Bay By Azeem Banatwalla

Warm-up W h en : The 2012 Singapore Grand Prix will take place on September 21-23, with practice sessions on Friday, the qualifying on Saturday and the final race on Sunday. G etting t h e r e : Getting to the track is a piece of cake since the Marina Bay Street Circuit is within the city and Singapore’s public transport is excellent. Ticket booklets come with instructions for bus and metro routes for specific zones and links to online route planners. Signboards are abundant and clear, and it’s nearly impossible to get lost.

There are more than 15 ticket packages to choose from, depending on budgets and levels of enthusiasm. Purists who prefer to sit in the pit grand-stands and be closest to the drivers opt for the Pit Grandstand package (`52,800; 3-day pass; access to all zones). Others forgo the T i c k et s :

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grandstands in exchange for the freedom to roam across all four zones and soak in the atmosphere with the Premier Walkabout pass (`18,500; 3-day pass; access to all zones). Tickets are priced differently for each grandstand, with varying zonal access. Fans claim that turns two, three and five offer the best views of overtaking action. All packages and prices are available at www. G e a r : While it may not seem apparent on television, Formula One engines are deafening at close quarters, so it’s a good idea to pick up earplugs (around `100) from vendors across the circuit. Enthusiasts can rent handheld ‘FanVision’ devices that allow access to live action, different camera angles, statistics and replays. These are available at kiosks across the venue at around `4,000 for the weekend (can be booked in advance from

Flying Lap

The circuit complex is divided into four zones, each with its own draw. Zone 1 is the most exclusive, encompassing the entire pit area, and is the closest that visitors can come to the cars, teams and drivers. The main grandstands, as well as the hospitality suites are all here, and the grandstands at turns two and three are a good vantage point to watch the mayhem as the cars come through during the opening laps. Zones 2 and 3 offer less impressive views of the race, but are great advertisements for Singapore’s urban architecture. Grandstands are set against the backdrop of the

Marina Bay Sands hotel, which is linked to the track by the twisty and oh-so-futuristic Helix walkway that looks stunning when lit up at night. In Zone 2, the Singapore Flyer, a giant, slow-moving Ferris wheel gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the entire track as well as Singapore’s Central Business District skyline. The experience is grand, albeit short-lived, and visitors should be prepared to wait in long queues to go up while the race is in progress. With a massive stage, grandstands and tons of food and beverage vendors, Zone 4 is the busiest part of the circuit, especially when race events aren’t in progress. Over the years, the massive stage has seen performances by Linkin Park, Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas. American funk-rock band Maroon 5 and pop sensation Katy Perry are the headlining acts for 2012, with local artists forming the supporting cast. In addition to the five grandstands, Zone 4 has walkabout areas adjacent to the track. Each zone has its share of food stalls, merchandise shops, exhibitions, and entertainment hubs, and it’s easy for visitors to walk from one zone to the other, provided they have tickets with access.

Many of Singapore’s A-list hotels overlook the Marina Bay circuit, with rooms that are coveted and expensive in equal measure. Some justify the premium, arguing that a room with a great view is equivalent to a


Everything comes to a standstill during the Grand Prix, including the Supreme Court.

There are plenty of watering holes where visitors can get a drink and catch the race, not just on television, but in real life as well. Rooftop bars are Singapore’s in-thing at the moment. Lantern (Fullerton Bay Hotel), Level 33 (Marina Bay Financial Center) and Ku Dé Ta (Marina Bay Sands) offer great rooftop ambience along with a sweeping

Graphic: Omna Winston


he first night race on the F1 calendar, Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit has a distinctly different feel from most Formula One venues. It’s louder, for one thing, with the roar of V10 engines bouncing off buildings and sidewalks of the business district that are used to little more than rush-hour honking. Under the blinding lights, the echoes of engines and screeching tyres reverberate across the streets, mixing with music and air-horns and the smell of burning rubber, to turn Marina Bay into a massive three-day party zone.


grandstand ticket. The Pan Pacific Singapore (+65 6336 8111;; doubles from `53,000) is bang in the centre of the circuit, while the Marina Bay Sands (+65 6688 8868;www.marinabaysands. com; doubles from `86,000) offers a view over the track's waterfront section. Hotels within the circuit offer race weekend packages with a few freebies thrown in. Check online a couple of months in advance. Travellers who prefer a break from the track may seek shelter at the offbeat, almost

whimsical rooms at Wanderlust (+65 6396 3322;; doubles from `12,000) on Dickson Road, or the Urbanmeets-Oriental styles of Porcelain Hotel (+65 6645 3131;; doubles from `9,500) on Mosque Road. More frugal comforts can be found at the Fragrance Emerald (+65 6842 3888;; doubles from `3,200) at Geylang, or Hotel 81 (+65 6336 8181;; doubles from `5,500) at Bencoolen. n

Linkin Park was the headlining act at the 2011 Grand Prix (above); The Marina Bay Sands overlooks the circuit's waterfront section (left). need for speed

Speed junkies who aren’t satisfied with just watching the drivers can get their own adrenaline pumping behind the wheel of a Ferrari F430 Spider or Lamborghini Gallardo from Ultimate Drive (+65 6688 7997; at Marina Bay. A high-speed performance drive on Singapore’s streets costs around `8,000 for 15 minutes and `20,000 for an hour. A drive along the Marina Bay Street Circuit is usually part of the experience, but off-limits for the race weekend. Aspiring racers on a budget can go karting at the Kartright Speedway (+65 6265 3303; www.kartright. com), a track at Upper Jurong. A ten-minute run costs around `1,600, at a top speed of 55 kph.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5

WENNY118/FLICKR (SUPREME COURT), jerrickasinas/Flickr (LINKIN PARK), martin archer/Flickr (MARINA bay sands)

view of the Marina Bay Circuit. For food and beverage at a lower altitude, consider Overeasy and Prelude on Fullerton Road, or the Japanese stylings of Five Izakaya Bar at the Hitachi Tower.

GET GOING Adventure

GET GOING Adventure includes equipment; minimum height–3’6”; surfers below 18 years of age must have a guardian present.) Wakeboarding Wakeboarding is about balance, strength, and most importantly, not letting go of the tow. WakeTime at the Marina Country Club has a fleet of boats, equipment and instructors to teach firsttimers as well as aid more experienced wakeboarders in honing their skills. (www.; Marina County Club; `5,000 for an hour; ages 18 and above.)


The GMAX Reverse Bungee is one of the scarier ways to take in Singapore's skyline.

Metropolitan Adventures A thrill seeker’s guide to Singapore| By Azeem Banatwalla Adventure isn’t a term usually associated with Singapore, a city known better for malls and innovative architecture. However, Singapore believes that what it lacks, it can simply build. Adventure sports can be found at the unlikeliest places in the city. The facilities may be artificial, but the thrills are quite real. Wind Skydiving Anyone skydiving over Singapore would most likely land on an oddlyshaped building. The next best thing is recreating the feeling, as the Singapore iFly does. The iFly is a massive cylindrical chamber that simulates zero-gravity free-fall, and all that feels good about skydiving, except the bit that involves jumping out of a plane. (; Siloso Beachfront, Sentosa Island; 10 a.m. -10 p.m.; `3,600 for two dives, book on the website 2-3 days in advance; ages 18 and above.) 2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

Clarke Quay, with its high end pubs and clubs, is where the cool kids hang out, and the massive G-MAX mechanical bungee structures try hard to fit in. In contrast to the sophisticated diners looking on, riders on the G-MAX Reverse Bungee are usually screaming their lungs out as they’re launched 60 m upwards at speeds close to 200 kph. The Xtreme Swing takes things a step further, catapulting riders 100 m over the Singapore River. Dessert, anyone? (; Clarke Quay, 2 p.m.-2 a.m.; `2,400 for reverse bungee and swing combo; ages 12 and above.) Bu n g e e

Surfing A beach is usually essential for surfing, but Sentosa Wave House begs to differ. The surf is always up at the Flowrider, a pool that manufactures waves suitable for novice surfers. Those ready for the big time can step up to the FlowBarrel, capable of generating 10-foot-high barrel waves. (; Sentosa Island; 10.30 a.m.-10.30 p.m.; from `1,600 per hour,

Underwater Hockey Of all the places

hockey was originally meant to be played,

The best part about wiping out at Sentosa Wave House is that there's no salty water.

six feet underwater probably wasn’t on the list. But that doesn’t deter the members of Singapore’s underwater hockey club, who submerge themselves twice a week with a puck and ‘hockey sticks’ that look like oversized soup spoons. It’s a taxing underwater work-out and newcomers are welcome to join. The best part? It’s free. (Queenstown Swimming Complex, Tues and Fri; 7-9 p.m.; equipment provided at venue; no age restriction.) Earth

Going Downhill

It’s hard to put into words what a luge really is. Is it a go-kart without wheels? Is it a skateboard to sit on? Whatever the answer, the Skyline Luge at Sentosa is fun for all ages. The winding downhill tracks can be taken cautiously or at full tilt, and children who don’t meet the 130 cm height limit can ride pillion with their parents. At the bottom, a cable car takes visitors on a slower, more scenic ride back to the top (Sentosa Island; 10 a.m.-9.30 p.m.; `500 for adults, `250 for kids; ages three and above).

Skating Singapore’s Xtreme Skate Park is a government-aided project to feed the enthusiasm of trick-skaters and cyclists. The park is divided into three sections (street course, combo bowl and vertical bowl), with international standard ramps and pipes, open to enthusiasts of any skill level. (East Coast Parkway; 7.30 a.m.-10 p.m.; entry is free; no age restriction; skaters must bring their own gear.) Climbing Why climb a mountain when you can scale a mall? Set up by medal-winners at the Asian X-games, BorderX at the Orchard Central mall is a 30-metre high via ferrata wall built to promote climbing as an adventure sport in Singapore. The wall has paths of various difficulty levels built

into it and extends to the ceiling of the eight-storey mall, so it’s probably a good idea to avoid looking down. (www.borderx.; Orchard Central Mall; 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; `1,500 for a 90-minute session; ages eight and above.) Mountain Biking Singapore’s National Parks Board invites cycling enthusiasts to rough it out at the Ketam Mountain Bike Park on Pulau Ubin island, with a mix of trails for both casual cyclists and aspiring stuntmen. The park, spanning over 45 hectares, is designed to international competition standards, with five trails of varying intensity. Cycles can be rented from Ubin town for upwards of `100 per hour. (Pulau Ubin Island; 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; free entry; no age restriction.) n

The iFly is the safest way to experience freefall. JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3


Trapeze Childhood dreams of being in the circus can be fulfilled (to some extent) by the Flying Trapeze at Sentosa Island. Soar through the air, make co-ordinated transitions, and try a few tricks in the process. There’s a safety net in case they don’t come off as expected. Parents are encouraged to involve children above the age of four. (Siloso Fort, Sentosa Island; 2.30-7 p.m.; `400 per swing; ages four and above.)


Underwater hockey (above) is more about fitness than skill; Daredevil stunts are encouraged at the Xtreme Skate Park (below).

Cable Skiing Cable skiing is like wakeboarding, except the tow-boat is replaced by an overhead cable to pull riders along. SKI360, set in the East Coast Lagoon, is Singapore’s first cable-ski park, offering state-of-the-art equipment, steep ramps for daredevil stunts and a massive adrenaline rush. (; East Coast Parkway; 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; `1,800 for an hour; ages seven and above.)

short break HIGHLIGHTS | Bengaluru Culture at every corner in Mananthavady Chennai Experience the slow life at Tranquebar DELHI Pachmarhi offers a glimpse of England in the very middle of India


Mumbai Maharashtra’s Kaas Plateau blooms come June

Short break From Bengaluru



Find old-world charm in a corner of Wayanad | By Aliyeh Rizvi

T Devotees can perform birth, death, after life and soul cleansing rituals at the Thirunelli Temple.

he forest is omnipresent, whichever way you choose to approach Mananthavady, in Kerala’s Wayanad district. Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary with its teak trees, giant bamboo, swamps and tall grass lies to the east, and merges into the Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary. To the

north lies Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary with Nagarhole (Rajiv Gandhi National Park) just beyond. The south and west of the district too are covered in forested hills. While slick resorts are tucked in the forests or near its sky blue lakes, Mananthavady is a small town with a bustling market. Travellers can hope to catch a glimpse of peaceful ‘Vayal Nadu’ (the land of paddy fields, the old name for Wayanad), as they head into the soft Mananthavady sunset, filtering through the slim areca, coconut and squat banana plantations. The town’s people are friendly, generous with information, and likely to invite visitors into their homes for tea when they stop to ask for directions. Surrounded though it is by wilderness, Mananthavady’s draw is cultural. The town between the ancient Thirunelli Temple to the north, its architecture beautifully set off by the misty blue Brahmagiri Hills, and the Edakkal Caves to the south, bearing inscriptions dating back to 8,000 BC. But that's not the only cultural experience to relish in these parts; the local food too is immensely satisfying. Even before arriving in Mananthavady, visitors from Bengaluru can stop en route at Gonikoppal for a meal of batter fried pazham pori (banana fritters) and sukiyam (dumplings stuffed with a sweet golden gram paste), served with milky Coorg coffee. Or while in town make a recommended break at the India Coffee House for a feast of chicken, fish curry, rice, kalan (buttermilk gravy), kadle (chickpea) curry and banana flower poriyal (stir fry).

The drive to Mananthavady is through forested hills on all sides.

Unique Experience

Hospitality of Strangers

Immerse Wash away sins According to local legend, the Thirunelli Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu was built in the Brahmagiri Hills by Lord Brahma himself. The temple is located 31 km from Mananthavady, on a detour leading north from Kattikulam. Stone relics that were discovered here in 1947 have been dated to about 1500-100 BC. A walk past an ancient stone aqueduct near the temple, installed by a Nayanar queen, leads to the purple lotus blossoms that grow in the Panchatheertha tank (named because it is believed that five rivers met at this point). Vishnu’s five symbols—the Shankha-Chakra2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

Aliyeh rizvi

Divine pursuits

Eighty-seven-year-old P.P. Krishnan Iyer skips nimbly through a tour of his neat Tamil home with its open courtyard, red oxide floor, low-ceiling rooms, steep stairways and dark wooden beams. He lives in Paingatteri Agraharam, a quaint settlement of about 35 houses built in the traditional Tamilian row house style, about 7 km from Mananthavady. While curious neighbours gawked at us strangers, mama (uncle) invited us in for a look around and chat. Maami (aunt) then made us piping hot black coffee while mama related stories of his ancestors, the Tamil Brahmin Iyers from Thanja-

Gada-Padma-Pada (conch, discus, mace, lotus, bow)—are carved into a rock here. A quick dip in the Papanasini, a pretty forest pool fed by a rivulet, is said to absolve one of all sins. The immersion of ashes and ancestral rites (pitrakarman) that most devotees come to the temple for are also performed here. Visitors may get a chance to savour a special payasam that is made with jaggery and rare bamboo rice, which is harvested once in six years. It is sold by a vendor near the temple at `50 for a bowl. (Temple open 5.30 a.m.-12.30 p.m. and 5.30.-8.30 p.m.) Visit the mother goddess The long evening shadows are soon chased away by the nilavilakku (traditional metal lamps) at the Valliyoorkavu Temple, 5 km outside Mananthavady. The temple gets its name from the word ‘valli’, meaning a creeper. Its ‘kavu’, or sacred grove, has an Ashoka tree that is special to the locals, who believe Sita once sat under it. The region is rich in Ramayana lore that surfaces regularly. The presiding deity is Bhagavathy, the mother goddess, who is worshipped in three different forms through the day. At dawn she is the Jala Durga, at noon she is Bhadrakali, and in the evening she is Vana Durga, who shimmers with an intense energy in the light of the oil lamps. The temple’s namboodri, or chief priest, believes the goddess has existed in her form here as a smooth stone since the Dwapar Yuga (the third of four yugas described in Hindu scriptures). A 15-day festival is celebrated at the temple in February-March every year, during the month of Meenum (according to the Malayalam calendar). The temple is also frequented by several of Kerala’s indigenous tribes—the Paniyars, Kurumas, Adiyars, Kurichyars, Ooralis and Kattunaikars. (Open 5.30 a.m.-12.30 p.m. and 5.30-8.30 p.m.) See the mosque without minarets About 23 km from Mananthavady, via Kakody, is the Korome Mosque, built 250 years ago by Athillan Pappan, a Mapilla Muslim who built it and other structures in the area in the traditional Kerala architectural style of a Nair tharavad (family home). Instead of minarets, it has a wooden roof and interiors that are intricately carved and painted. (Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Women are not allowed inside the mosque.)

Peep into the past

vur who migrated to Wayanad over 250 years ago to serve as cooks for the royal family of Kottayam.

First impressions Hidden in the forest, the Edakkal caves located high up on the Ambukuthimala hill (about 100 m), exude a quiet energy, evoking a powerful sense of connection with the past. The caves are near Ambavayal village, 17 km south from Mananthavady. According to local lore, they were created by arrows shot by Luv and Kush, the two sons of Rama. Another JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3

Aliyeh rizvi

Culture Quest


Short break From Bengaluru


It is believed that five rivers used to meet where the Panchatheertha tank (left) now stands; The Ganga and Saraswati join at the Papansini (above) stream. Devotees perform soul cleansing rituals here.

STAY Budget Four Seasons Homestay Mary and Johnson offer a choice of rooms. The first floor room is expansive and built in the tradition style, with an open balcony that offers a sweeping view. Three people can stay comfortably in the family room downstairs. (04936-203654;; thefourseasonswayanad@; doubles `1,500-2,000). The Bamboo Village Guests get to tap rubber,

TRIP PLANNER 6 In and around

Heritage: Pazhassi Raja Memorial (in town) Culture: Paingatteri Agraharam (5 km via Thonichal); Korome Mosque (23 km via Kakody) Spiritual: Valliyoorkavu Bhagvathy Temple (7 km)


Spiritual: Thirunelli Temple (31 km) Nature: Kuruva Island for birdwatching (17 km) Trekking: Pakshipathalam (36 km)

East/South (each is a half day trip)

Nature: Pookote Lake (50 km); Karappuzha Dam (17 km) Trekking: Chembra Peak (42 km via Meppady); Kanthanpara Falls (57km) Culture: Edakkal Caves (45 km via Ambalavayal)

4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

plant paddy and share socio-religious aspects of village life as part of the homestay programme run by Uravu and Kabini, two local organisations. The Uravu store sells fine bamboo products, vanilla beans, herbs, and spices. A portion of the income goes towards the village development fund. (04936-206842;; doubles `2,000 onwards including food).

The mundu (left) is pulled up during work and loosed to cover the legs during formal events; Bananas flowers (above) are known to have blood purifying properties.

THE GUIDE Location

Comfort Agraharam Cottages Conveniently located close to the Thirunelli Temple, it has a forestfacing restaurant serving local cuisine made with produce from their garden. (96050 05020; www.;; doubles `3,500-7000). Pepper Green Resorts Centrally-located in Kattikulam village in Mananthavady, this is a convenient place to explore Wayanad from. (96450 76760;;; doubles from `3,000 to `5,000 with breakfast). Olives Homestay This home stay is located 1.5 km outside Kalpetta town. (94473 58118; www.;; doubles from `3,000 with breakfast for two and dinner on weekdays).

Luxury Vythri Resorts Tree houses and distinctly set apart cottages are the highlight of this luxurious getaway, which is 15 km from Kalpetta. (04936256800;; vythiri@lezeldor. com; doubles from `8,500 with all meals, yoga and one-hour guided group trek). n

Mananthavady is a town in Kerala’s Wayanad district, around 100 km northeast of Kozhikode. It is a forested area, with Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary to the north and Muthunga Wildlife Sanctuary to the east.

Getting there Mananthavady is 280 km/6 hours from Bengaluru. It is 120 km from Mysore and is also accessible from Kochi, Kozhikode, Mangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai. Car There are three routes from Bengaluru to Mananthavady. The recommended route is Bengaluru-Bidadi-Ramanagaram-Channapatna-Maddur-Mandya-Srirangapatna-MysoreNanjangud-Gundlupet-Sulthan BatheryKalpetta. Start early from Bengaluru/Mysore as all three routes go through national parks that are closed from 6 p.m.-6 a.m. Bus There are no direct buses from Bengaluru to Mananthavady, but you can take an overnight bus to Kalpetta (`350-500). From Kalpetta, there are frequent local buses to Mananthavady. Rail Take a train to Thalassery, 80 km/90

minutes from Mananthavady. There are frequent government and private buses, tickets start at ` 100. Taxis travel the distance for charges starting at ` 1,500. Air Closest airports are Kannur International Airport at Mattanur (70 km) or Kozhikode Airport (136 km). Take a local bus (` 200) or rent a taxi (approximately `7 per kilometre).

To coorg

Getting around The best way to enjoy the area is to drive there and have a car handy to explore. Local bus services are available, and you can hire a vehicle to explore specific places (about `1,500 for 8 hours/200 km). Having a Malayali-speaking guide will help you make the most of your trip.

minimum of 10°C in winter to a maximum of 35°C in summer. It is most pleasant between October and March. During the monsoon, July to September, it is humid but beautifully green. Summers are hot, between 28-35°C, but with cool breeze in the mornings and evenings. Most of the local temple and folk dance festivals occur between January and March.

To mysore Thirunelli Temple To mangalore Pazhassi Raja Memorial


To Bengaluru

Muthunga Wildlife Sanctuary


Eddakal Caves Pookote lake

Kanthanpara Falls

Seasons Mananthavady has good weather throughout the year, ranging from a

To ooty To calicut

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5

Aliyeh rizvi, urmimala nag (MAP)

under the Pazhassi Kutheeram, a memorial in Mananthavady that marks the place where he died of a fatal bullet wound. The museum showcases artefacts, coins, information about Wayanad’s history, and letters from British officers complaining about him. (Open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m.)

Aliyeh rizvi (WATER LILY), MALLUGAL/FLICKR (Papassini stream)

story claims that Rama killed the demoness Surpanakha here. Clearly visible pictorial inscriptions in the caves are said to date to 8000 to 6000 B.C. However, in 2009, historians found a ‘man with a jar cup’ symbol that indicate links with Indus Valley Civilisation. (Entry `30; Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.). Homage to a hero Mananthavady houses an interesting memorial and museum dedicated to the heroic Pazhassi Raja, also called Kerala Simham or the Lion of Kerala, a king from North Malabar who belonged to the Kottayam dynasty. He spent his life fighting the Mysore army lead by Tipu Sultan from 1773 to 1790 and then the British until his death in 1805. The shadowy forests of Wayanad offered the perfect cover for his guerrilla warfare techniques; he would dissolve into the mist only to reappear and launch a stealth attack. This warrior king, who once freely roamed the forests with his tribal Kurichiyar followers, now rests

Short break From Chennai



For the armchair traveller Log on to the Tamil Nadu tourism website for a 360-degree virtual tour of Tranquebar. This interactive feature replicates the experience of walking through the streets of the former Danish colony. It is rich in details and allows the viewer to stop and explore sights like the Dansborg Fort, the New Jerusalem Church, the Masilamani Nathar temple, and even saunter at the rocky beach. Users can click and choose the direction they want to walk in, enter buildings and enlarge curious objects along the way. A virtual tour cannot compete with an actual visit to Tranquebar, but this comes pretty close. (

A former Danish colony on the Tamil Nadu coast | By Kalpana Sunder

2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


he town gate of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi/Trankebar), with the royal Danish insignia inscribed, is like a portal that admits visitors to a different era. From the midst of rural Tamil Nadu, travellers are suddenly transported into a historical oddity—a former Danish colony that was once a prosperous trading post. Called Tharaganmbadi (the place of the singing waves) before it was renamed by the Danes four centuries ago, this town was a trading port. Tranquebar is 15 km south of the ancient Chola town of Pumpuhar and a six-hour drive from Chennai. The old name, which is still in use, is evocative and lyrical, painting a picture of lives played around

the vagaries of the waves. The thatched cottages and swaying palms of the fishing village complement that image, while the salty tang of the ocean and the cries of sea gulls mingling with strains of Tamil music complete it. The village’s Danish connection began in 1618 when a Danish admiral, Ove Giedde, landed on the coast and fell in love with its tranquillity. The Danish acquired trading rights from the Maharaja of Tanjore and built a fort here to strengthen their slice of the pepper trade. They lived in Tranquebar until 1842, when they could no longer afford to maintain overseas colonies, and sold it to the British East India Company. It is said that one of India’s first printing


presses was set up here in the early 1,700s by the German Lutheran missionary Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg—who mastered Tamil and translated the Bible. His golden statue, with the Bible in hand, today looms large at the corner of King and Queen Streets. In 2004, the tsunami claimed the lives of a tenth of Tranquebar’s population and destroyed many homes. Many local fisher folk now live in government-built mass housing at the edge of the village. Efforts are on to restore the vil-

Fort Dansborg houses a museum that contains Danish manuscripts, terracotta objects, figurines, and even part of a whale skeleton.

the distance, is just one option. A twilight stroll on the boulder-strewn beach is relaxing as are moments of quiet rumination spent sitting upon the ramparts of the fort. Most visitors come to Tranquebar to enjoy its tranquil and under-theradar quality–watching the sun set as fishermen head home with the day’s catch or looking out for migratory birds. Many hotels organize boat trips to the Uppanar River (10 mins from Fort beach) to have picnic lunch at a small, uninhabited island.

Soul curry For the spiritually inclined,

virtualtour/tharangambadi and www.

lage’s mixed Indian and European architecture, through organisations like INTACH and the Danish Bestseller Foundation.


there are several well-known places of worship within a radius of 50 km. Chidambaram (45 km/90 minutes) is home to temples of the dancing god Nataraja, while the 11th century temple at Thirukkadaiyur (30 km/1 hour) is where Lord Shiva is said to have annihilated Yama, the God of death, to save Markandeya and bestow immortality on him. In Velankanni (38 km/1 hour), a Christian town known as the Lourdes of the East, is the renowned shrine of our Lady of Good Health. The dargah of Saint Hazrat Meeran in the seaside town of Nagore (25 km/40 minutes) is an important pilgrimage site for Muslims. The water in the holy tank here is supposed to have curative powers.

laze For the laidback traveller, Tranquebar

Walk about History buffs can take a walk-

is heaven. Curling up on an old armchair with a book, watching the breakers bounce off the craggy rocks and the colourful fishing boats in

ing tour though the town (INTACH has a walking map which the hotel can supply). Begin at the town gate or the landporten (as it is called

Ziegenbalg (left) was the first to translate the New Testament into tamil; The Zion church (right) is believed to be one of India's first Protestant churches. JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3


Place of the 2 Singing Waves


Short break From Chennai in Danish) which is the first sight that catches the traveller’s eye upon reaching Tranquebar. It has the royal Danish insignia with the year 1792 (when the old damaged gate was demolished and replaced by a new one) inscribed on it. Lining both sides of King Street, there are colonial era buildings, carriage porches and stucco walls, a fort and majestic churches. Rehling’s House, a colonnaded house at the western end of the street, used to be the Danish Governor’s residence. Next to it is Van Theylingen house, which is home to a small maritime museum. Further south on King Street is the dilapidated Zion Church, which was one of the first protestant churches of India, built with both Indian and colonial architectural features. Opposite it is the New Jerusalem Church that was built when the German missionaries arrived in 1718. It houses the grave of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg. At the eastern end of this street is the mustardcoloured Fort Dansborg that was recently renovated. It faces a beach manned by food vendors and ice cream stalls. This was the residence of the governor and other officials, and also a prison and warehouse, built in the Scandinavian military style with stonewalls and mounted cannons. The museum inside (Open Sat-Thurs; 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) has quirky exhibits that range from whale skeletons to fossils, ancient coins, palm leaf manuscripts and old treaties between the Danish and the Indian king Maravarman Kulasekara Pandian. Opposite the fort, across King Street, is the

Tanquebar Bungalow on the Beach, once the summer residence of the British Collector, now a restored boutique hotel with high ceilings and vintage furniture. On the beachfront at the southern end of the village is the ancient Masillamani Nathar temple built in 1305. Ravaged by the battering sea, it was already fighting a losing battle, when the 2004 tsunami damaged it further. Finish the walk at the barren Danish cemetery with its whitewashed graves on Kavalamettu Street (parallel to King Street).

Culture vulture Visit the new Tranque-

rooms and dormitaory accommodation; it is also under Neemrana management (04364-289034; doubles ` 600; dorm for ` 150).

bar Cultural Resource Centre in a renovated Tamil house at the end of Goldsmith Street. The Centre has been started by Upasana Design Studio, a socially-responsible design and garment manufacture in Auroville, with the intention of reviving the culture and crafts of the village. Through training and marketing, the local population is being encouraged to revive their skills with palm-leaf, bamboo, coconut shell and terracotta and turn them into livelihoods. Sip coffee at the small cafe and peruse the souvenirs.

EAT Food options are limited. The Bungalow on the Beach has continental food and some Chettinad dishes on a fixed menu (`450 per head). For some simple south Indian food, head to Karthik Mess near the bus stand (93607 68763). The Cultural Resource Centre Cafe serves honey crepes, lemon cakes and iced tea. (Goldsmith Street, opposite Nayak House; 04364-289160; n


A monument in memory of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau, the first Protestant missionaries to India.

There are upmarket as well as budget options, offered by the Neemrana Hotels group. Bungalow on the Beach A colonial bungalow with a breathtaking view of the ocean. Rooms are named after Danish ships which docked in this town (97508 16034; www.neemranahotels. com; doubles `4,000). Gate House This is a lovely bungalow just inside the entrance to the old town with a Danish facade and Tamil interiors (04364-289034; www.; doubles `3,000). Nayak House This restored Tamil home on Goldsmith Street has four simple rooms arranged around a central courtyard. (04364-289035;; doubles `1,000). Hotel Tamil Nadu This is a budget hotel with

Chettinad chicken (left) has a thick gravy that is slow cooked with coconut and cashew nuts; The town gate (right) welcomes visitors with a Danish emblem.

THE GUIDE Tranquebar(Tharagambadi )is a town on the Coromandel (east) coast,280 km south of Chennai and 128 km east of Trichy, in Tamil Nadu state.

Bungalow by the Beach is a beachfront colonial bungalow that is now a hotel. 4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


Getting there Air Fly to Trichy from Chennai hire a taxi (128 km/4 hours). Road Tranquebar is 280 km/6 hours from Chennai. Take the East Coast Road (ECR) to Puducherry and then follow NH45A via Chidambaram and Sirkazhi. Rail The nearest station is Nagapattinam (35 km/45 minutes) away. Take the overnight Nagore Express from Chennai EgmoreStation arriving in Nagapattinam at 8 am (around ` 500 for 3rd A/C). Take a taxi or bus to Tranquebar.

Getting around The best way to get around town is to walk or hire a bicycle. Having a car, of

course, gives the flexibility to make day trips to the nearby religious centres and towns.

Season Tranquebar is a warm coastal town where the minimum temperature ranges between 21-26°c and the maximum between 29-36°c. The weather is most pleasant from August to March. Though it can get hot in summer (April-July), sea breezes make it bearable. During October and November heavy rain, and sometimes cyclones as well, can be expected.



Need to know • The beach is crowded on Fridays when the fort is closed and people from neighbouring villages visit it. • Be careful while swimming. There are only few recommended pockets—the rest of the beach is unsafe for swimming.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5

Short break From Delhi


Centre point



Clockwise from top left: An elephant enjoys a bath at Satpura National Park; Christ Church is a relic of colonial architecture in Pachmarhi; The prehistoric rock shelters of Bhimbetka were discovered just 50 years ago; Planting a trishul at the Chauragarh Temple is said to make wishes come true.

2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


ueen of the Satpuras, as Pachmarhi is sometimes known, wears its laurels with a regal grace. The only hill station in Madhya Pradesh, this erstwhile capital of the Gond kingdom of Bhawut Singh, once served as a sanatorium for the British army in India. Homesick Brits attempted to recreate the landscape of their rainy isle in the middle of India, building churches, sporting clubs and a golf course. Few can fail to be stirred by Pachmarhi’s prehistoric rock art, deep gorges and sparkling pools. While the main town has several officers’ cottagesturned-hotels that offer the opportunity to savour the town’s Raj legacy, the surrounding dense forests entice trekkers and the poets alike with the sweet scent of mahua flowers. This area was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2009.

IMMERSE Travel back in time The Pandava Caves (1 km/10 min walk from Jai Stambh, a landmark in Pachmarhi town) are said to have once sheltered the heroes of the Mahabharata. Other caves nearby, such as at Dhuandhar (1 km/10 min walk from Jai Stambh), have prehistoric etchings on their walls. A two-hour drive northwest is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhimbetka (148 km from Pachmarhi). According to legend, the mighty Bhima is believed to have once sat here in repose, giving the caves their name. The 243 rock shelters provide insight into the Stone Ages and are frequented by connoisseurs of rock art. Some venture further off to Bhoranwali and Lakhajuar (2 hour walk from Bhimbekta) to glimpse some of the oldest cave paintings


The Pandavas are said to have spent 13 years of exile in these caves in Panchmarhi.

in India, amid uninhabited jungles (for guides, contact ASI Bhopal 0755-2558250). Lord Shiva is said to dwell amid the linga-like stalagmites in the Jata Shankar Cave (2km/15 min drive from Pachmarhi), and devotees take purifying dips in the sacred Jambu Dweep. South of the cave is Handi Khoh, where the cosmic transformer’s battle with a fire-breathing demon created a deep ravine. One of the country’s largest shivalingas can be found in a curiously unfinished temple amid endless pastures at Bhojpur (167 km from Pachmarhi). The caretaker is full of stories about why the 11th century king Bhoj prematurely abandoned his colossal tribute. An architectural blueprint for the structure is engraved near the doorway. Pachmarhi has two pretty, colonial-era churches. Christ Church (north of Jai Stambh), built in 1875, has exquisite portrayals of Christ’s Last Journey in stained glass while the Catholic


Most visitors to Pachmarhi must gradually accustom themselves to the dual names that the village's mixed history compels each of its sites to carry (Saunder’s Pool is now Sunder Kund, while Fuller’s Khud is Sangam Vihar). Visitors from England, however, may find the original references–Picadilly Crag, Monte Rosa, Bishop’s Squeeze, Crump’s Crag, Mount Morris, Dorothy Deep et al–more than a tad familiar, maybe even amusing. Some of the new names, Apsara Vihar, for instance, once known as Fairy Pool, named after bathing memsahibs mistaken for fairies, still flummox old-timers.

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INDIAPICTURE (Elephant), XXXXXXX/GHUMAKKAR (Christ Church), RAVEESH VYAS (Bhimbetka Rock Shelter), INDIAPICTURE (Chauragargh Temple), BNILESH (Panchali Kund Waterfall)

Pachmarhi offers a glimpse of England in the very middle of India |By Anupriya Roy

Short break From Delhi


The Dhuandhar waterfall (left) gets its name from the smoky cascade formed at the base; Stuffed tigers at the Bison Lodge Museum (above) look surprisingly lifelike.

hiking and adventure sports, Pachmarhi has got it all covered. At the Satpura National Park, there are gaur, blackbuck, chinkara and a good variety of birds to be seen and heard at Satpura National Park (Madhai Entrance is 100 km from Pachmarhi; 94247 92105; park closed July 1-Oct 15; open sunrise to sunset; gypsy safaris from `1,500; guides from `200, elephant safari `600 per head per hour). Bison Lodge, the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests, is the oldest house in Pachmarhi and has a museum of flora and fauna (Open 8 a.m. to noon & 4-7 p.m. TuesSun Apr-Oct; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. & 3-7 p.m. Tues-Sun, Nov-Mar). A favourite hikers’ destination is the muchvenerated Chauragarh Temple, situated atop 1,380 steps from Mahadeo Cave at the base (12 km from Pachmarhi); locals say that planting a trishul results in wishes being fulfilled. Visitors can enjoy a splash at Apsara Vihar or Fairy Pool (1km/10 min walk from Jai Stambh), and Rajat Prapat or Big Fall (10 min away up a boulder-strewn path) which streams down in a silver cascade. The profusion of waterfalls around Pachmarhi—Bee Falls, Duchess Falls, Irene Pool, Fuller’s Khud and Saunder’s Pool among others–makes it ideal for a saunter in the rain. Swim wear can be rented at Bee Falls (a 5 min walk from Christ Church). Pachmarhi Lake offers boating facilities that soothe frayed 4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

STAY For a high-end experience of Pachmarhi, WelcomHeritage’s Golf View combines stone fireplaces and period furniture with modern amenities (07578-252115;; doubles `6,000-9,500).

Bed & breakfasts Several private cottages of British sahibs have been converted into B&Bs by the MPSTDC and offer affordable colonial charm. These include Club View (near Christ Church; 07578-252801; doubles `1,290); Satpura Retreat, built by Rev Livesay, a Catholic priest (2 km from the market area; 07578-252097; doubles `3,590-4,690, includes all meals); and Rock-End Manor, built with spacious rooms to accommodate the Governor’s entourage in 1905 (near army golf course; 07578-252079; doubles `4,990). Discounts are available between Apr-July and


Dec-Jan but many resorts hike tariffs during Diwali, Dussehra, Christmas and New Year.

Wildlife specials Bird lovers looking for the rousing calls of the Malabar whistling thrush or pied hornbill might consider the environmentally-conscious and cosily-furnished Forsyth Lodge located in Satpura National Park (93026 25334; www.; doubles `24,000 includes all meals and game drives). Bharat Scouts and Guides run adventure camps that are popular with student groups (4 km from town; 07578252350;

EAT Most restaurants in Pachmarhi's market area, serve western Indian vegetarian fare, though Hotel Khalsa’s non-vegetarian Punjabi thali (07578-252991) is particularly popular, as is its air-conditioned comfort. Rock-end Manor also offers a memorable dinners (meal for two: `700) in the open, with fireflies for company (except in monsoons). Hotel Saket (07578-252165) serves Kolkata Chinese, Gujarati thalis and crisp south Indian dosas with courteous smiles. Kolkata Food Centre in the main market and chai and snack stalls lining the path to Bee Falls also draw a loyal clientele. Pachmarhi’s nimbu paani is a customary welcome drink to refresh trekkers on the hike up to Chauragarh, while the locally-produced honey is a recommended organic souvenir. n


Need to know

Pachmarhi is a hill-station in Madhya Pradesh, around 210 km southeast of Bhopal. It’s located in a valley in the Satpura mountain range, at an altitude of around 3,500 feet.

• BSNL is the only mobile network service

Getting there Air The nearest airport to Pachmarhi is Bhopal (210 km from Pachmarhi). Train Though one can take the popular Shatabdi Express between Nizamuddin Railway Station, New Delhi and Bhopal, and take a cab (`4,000) to Pachmarhi, a better alternative is to get to Pipariya (55 km from Pachmarhi), on the Itarsi-Jabalpur rail line—it is connected to Delhi by the daily NDLS-Jabalpur Express (14 hour journey). Buses and taxis are available round the clock just outside Pipariya station, as are SUVs (Scorpios and Tata Sumos; `1,000 upwards), for hire. Road 874 km/13 hours from Delhi and 890 km/17 hours from Mumbai, if you want to drive. Bus services to Pachmarhi are available from Bhopal, Nagpur, Jabalpur, and Pipariya, run by government and private operators.

Getting around For travelling within and outside Pachmarhi, all hotels and taxi stands rent out vehicles. Bicycles can also be hired, though these are only allowed up to a parking point in some sites, even if vehicles are permitted further on.

provider in Pachmarhi, though PCOs are dotted across town. • The Pachamarhi Cantonment Board runs an outdoor dispensary close to the main bus stand, which supplies free medicines. While there are adequate facilities to tend to minor illnesses, emergencies require a visit to the government hospital in Pachmarhi or Pipariya. • The MPSTDC (kiosks in Pachmarhi near Jai Stambh and the main bus stand; 07578252100; Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Mon-Sat) offers several affordable local tour packages for Pachmarhi and surrounding sites, which run from Bhopal. However, in case you plan to make the journey from Bhopal by road in the rainy season, note that road conditions tend to cause traffic jams around Budhni.

itineraries, as they are more likely to around the monsoons. You may also consider coinciding your visit with the annual Pachmarhi Utsav, a six-day festival held in the last week of the year, ushering in the next. Besides exhibitions, craft fairs and evening performances by artistes from around the globe, the Utsav features stalls sponsored by the Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation and many food stalls selling papad, pickles and sauces. Shivratri Mela draws large crowds to Mahadeo and Jata Shankar Caves during February-March; the festival promises to satisfy shutterbugs with unique photo-ops.

Seasons Between October and June, you can savour Pachmarhi’s cool hillair, with intermittent rains, though these seldom disrupt travel

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ASHISH A (Parasailing), BNILESH (Rajendra Giri Sunset Point), URMIMALA NAG (MAP)

Head outdoors From wildlife spotting to

city-nerves without soaking them. Those looking for adventure can organise treks, biking trips and parasailing sessions (99776 11470; Take in glorious sunsets at Priyadarshini, at Forsyth Point, where Captain James Forsyth of the Bengal Lancers chanced upon Pachmarhi’s pristine splendour in 1857, and at Dhoopgarh (10 km west of Pachmarhi), the highest point in the Satpuras. Tamiya (78 km from Pachmarhi) is not on most tourist itineraries, but comes with spectacular vistas.


Church of Annunciation (within the Cantonment) gracefully blends French and Irish architecture.

Participate in adventure sports like parasailing (above); trekking and mountain biking; Rajendra Giri (right) is one of Pachmarhi's many sunset points.

Short break From Mumbai

Kaas Plateau

Monsoon 2 Flower Fiesta


Kaas plateau changes its hues every fortnight | By NATASHA SAHGAL

Lunch is served at noon to visitors at the Sajjangad fort (left) every day; The Malabar crested lark (right) is commonly found nesting on the ground of the plateau. like sundews and bladderworts. A visit between late-June and September guarantees an awe-inspiring view of millions of colourful petals. But to see even half the variety of flowers that bloom here, one would have to make a trip every ten days during the four flowering months. A new species flowers every fortnight or so, with the plateau literally changing colour each time. It starts with white ground orchids in mid-June, goes to the yellow of sonaki and mithia flowers, turns purple with Sita’s tears in August, then red, and so on all the way to the end of the monsoon.

FLOWERS TO GO Once at the plateau, wander through leisurely and look out for these interesting flowers. Sita’s tears/Sitechia asawe Don’t be fooled by this pretty purple flower with a pitiful name. Sita’s tears (Utricularia purpurascens) are carnivores. Their stems and roots have pores that trap protozoa swimming in the wet soil, suck them into their stomachs and slowly digest them. They flower in August. Lantern flower/Kandilpushpa This odd-looking flower has five petals that are fused at the tips, forming a little cage. Tiny hair trap flies that are attracted to the smell inside their bulb. The more

the fly struggles to escape, the lower it is pulled. The surprise here is that these flowers are not insectivorous; this is just a hostage drama to ensure pollination. Once pollen is stuck on the fly, the hair withers and the insect can escape. They flower throughout the season but are hard to spot. Cobra lily/Saapkanda This flower mimics a cobra, complete with a hood and bifid tongue. The saapkanda is male when born and turns female as it grows. In fact, these flowers are capable of changing their sex several times during their life; depending on nutrition available and genetics. They flower in June-July.


2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


s the monsoon sets in every year, Maharashtra’s Kaas plateau comes alive with millions of wild flowers blooming. With waterfalls everywhere and the hillsides bursting with green, this is one of Maharashtra’s most scenic monsoon getaways. According to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), this 1,850 hectare plateau is home to more than 1,500 plants, including 33 endangered varieties. The array of colours is reason enough to visit the area. Most visitors are astounded by the scenery on their first visit to Kaas, and many continue to be overawed even after a fourth trip. While driving in, you start with glimpses of crystal clear lakes among velvet green hills. Turn a

corner and there are hillocks covered with wild flowers; turn again, and a canopy of trees with moss covered branches. The mist may roll in as you drive down the meandering roads, and then, there it is suddenly— the expanse of rock with carpets of wild flowers. Many call this Kaas Valley, after the better known Himachali destination Valley of Flowers, but this is a mesa, a plateau atop a hill. Kaas plateau has a unique topography. It is made of extremely porous laterite rock (jambha) and a thin layer of soil. It does not retain water around the year and can only sustain plant life after heavy rain. Since the thin soil doesn’t provide enough nutrition to all the flowering plants, several of them are insectivores or carnivores

full of interesting stopovers and great views. Yuwateshwar This Shiva temple at the beginning of the Kaas road (6 km/20 minutes from Satara) offers a view of Satara city and the Kanher dam on the river Venna. Shivpeteshwar Petri (15 km/30 minutes from Satara), a small village on the Satara-Kaas road, has a temple inside a large cave. The Urmodi river is also visible from here. Ghatai East of the plateau, a small road (heading south, just before the flowers begin) leads to Ghatai village (20 km/40 minutes from Satara). Notice the thin forest cover leading to this village that changes dramatically to thick forest. This is a sacred grove (devrai), around the colourful Ghatai temple, that the villagers worship and do not interfere with. As a result the forest here is dense and evergreen. Birds like the Asian paradise flycatcher and crested serpent eagle can be easily spotted here.

Satara resident, Dr. Sandeep Shrotri is a laparoscopic surgeon, who has written a mini field guide on Kaas, entitled Kaas Plateau of Flowers that can be purchased at the BNHS in Mumbai. “The plateau was an extremely well-kept secret. It was only in 2003 that we noticed tourists coming just to see the flowers. Digital photography was getting popular and more people were seeing photographs on the Internet. The number of tourists grew rapidly and last year there were over three lakh visitors to the plateau. If tourism is not managed, this could be a complete disaster for the flowers,” he says. He suggests some visitor etiquette to preserve the place: never drive offroad on the plateau as you could destroy thousands of rare plants and flowers;

never pluck or plant any flower; don’t leave any trash behind, even if it is organic waste. He also recommends visitors carry a magnifying glass to appreciate the tiny flowers better.

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 3


The Kaas plateau is enveloped with flowers for four months each year and is barren and dry for the remaining time.


ON THE WAY The drive from Satara to Kaas is

Short break From Mumbai

Kaas Plateau courteous staff. (02162-233667;; doubles `3,200.)

SEMI-LUXURY Brightlands Resort, Mahabaleshwar is located on the outskirts of the hill station. The resort has a spa, swimming pool and gym. (02168-260700;; doubles from `8,000.) Citrus Hotels, Mahabaleshwar is near the town's market, rooms are spacious and facilities include a swimming pool and spa and a kid’s play area. (1800 3001 4001; www.; doubles from `7,000.)


Clockwise from top left: Around six types of lantern flowers are native to Kaas; Sita's tears are easily visible as soon as the rain subsides; The hairy smithia is locally known as kawla.

AROUND SATARA Temples and forts are but a short distance from the city. Sajjangad fort The ruins of Sajjangad fort (earlier called Parali fort; 15 km/30 minutes from Satara) enclose a complex that houses the samadhi of saint Ramdas Swami. There are several temples, a prayer hall and living quarters for devotees (free). Walk to the cliff for a panoramic view of the Sahyadris and the Urmodi river. Past the temples, follow the signs to see the ruins of the fort. A tiring climb of 250 steps leads to the fort, but there are refreshing masala taak (buttermilk) and kokum sharbat (juice) stalls on the way. The temple serves prasad at noon each day; a filling lunch of rice, vegetables, dal and dessert. Stalls at the fort entrance serve pithle bhakri, thick jowar roti served with spicy besan (gram flour) gravy and raw onion, for `30. Chalkewadi Chalkewadi village (30 km/45 4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012


at this temple, over the last 100 years. Shivsagar lake The village of Bamnoli (30 km/45 minutes from Satara) is popular for boat rides on Shivsagar lake, formed by the Koyna Dam. There are various boating options that include an hour-long ride on the lake, a trip to Vasota fort, or to Tapola, which is a good lunch stop (`500 for a boat that seats 6; `200 per addditional hour).

STAY Satara is the closest city. The hill station of Mahabaleshwar is about 70 km/2 hours away, so it is also possible to stay there and drive to Kaas plateau for the day.

Budget Aakar International, Satara is a two-minute walk from Satara’s bus depot. There is no restaurant but it is surrounded by shops and restaurants. Rooms are basic and the staff friendly. (02162-236081; doubles `1,500.) Radhika Palace, Satara has an uninviting exterior but the interiors are clean. Bathroom fixtures are ancient, but work. The restaurant serves a good vegetarian Gujarati thali. (02162- 33133;; doubles `1,400.)

Nivant Hill Resort, Satara is on the Satara-Kaas road, a 15-minute drive from the flowering plateau. It sits at the edge of a cliff, so all the rooms have a view of the valley. A 6 km from the city but

is self-sufficient and very quiet. (02162-282679;; doubles `2,000.) Maharaja Regency, Satara is Satara’s most comfortable hotel, but quite basic by big city standards. It is centrally located, has wi-fi and

THE GUIDE Location Kaas is 22 km/40 minutes from Satara, a city in western Maharashtra, in the district of Satara. Satara city is 120 km from Pune and 256 km from Mumbai.

Getting there Road NH4 connects Mumbai (250 km/ 5 1/2 hours) to Satara; the roads are smooth throughout the journey. From Satara drive 22 km along the road leading to Bamnoli, Kaas is along the way. Rail Several trains connect Mumbai and Pune to Satara (about 7 hours).

Getting around To Kaas from Satara The most convenient way to Kaas is to drive. or You can also hire a car from Satara for the day (`1,200 for 250 km/8 hours). Local state transport buses

from Satara to Bamnoli stop at the plateau too. However, bus timings change frequently so confirm them at Satara depot to avoid being stranded. To Mahabaleshwar from Kaas The plateau next to Kaas is Mahabaleshwar. Technically, it is 20 km away but the connecting road is a mud track and only recommended for a fourwheel drive, or an 8 hour trek. Other cars will have to drive to Kaas through Satara on the Medha-Satara road.

Season Visit between June and September to see the flowers. During the rest of the year, the plateau is brown and barren. June and July see heavy rains; the flower carpet is young and fresh but views are misty. August and September usually deliver clearer skies and flowers in full bloom.




Kaas Valley of Flowers

SATARA Pateshwar


KoYNA RESERVOIR Chalkwadi NH 4 Highway R. Koyna

JULY 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5


Kaas lake To the south of the plateau is Kaas lake, which supplied potable water to all of Satara and forms a pretty backdrop to the flowers.

minutes from Satara) is located on a windswept plateau where thousands of windmills have been installed by power companies like Enercon, Suzlon and Vestas. These windmills are massive and their sheer number makes for an interesting sight. Cars can drive right up to the windmills, making it a fun science lesson for kids. The Thosegar falls, located right before the windmill plateau are the highest waterfalls in the district. Pateshwar Pateshwar is an old Shiva temple complex located atop a hill (12 km/30 minutes southeast of Satara). The route goes through Degaon village, which is the last place to stock up on refreshments (the only cola available in Degaon is called Zen CheerUp, and tastes salty). A further 4 km drive takes visitors partly up the hill followed by an easy climb on foot (about 30 minutes). A Ganesh statue marks the start of the climb and a pond at the top, used by the priest and his family, its end. There are two main temples and several small caves with Hanuman idols, Nandi statues and shivalingams of various sizes said to number almost 10,000. Giri, the temple priest, is hard of hearing, but enjoys meeting visitors. “Sometimes there are no visitors for days, and sometimes there are 50 in one day” he says in Marathi. He explains that three generations of his family have lived and served


Clockwise from top: The plateau looks like a patchwork carpet of flowers of various colours; The Thosegar falls are 250 m high; The courtyard of one of the temples at Pateshwar is guarded by a Nandi statue.

When in Satara, try some kandi pedhas. Pyramids of these round, milky sweets can be found all over the city. Try them at Latkar Sweets in Powai naka (`320 for a kilo). Vadapav is the staple local snack and everyone in Satara has their favourite stall to source it. The market outside Satara bus stand is lined with over ten vadapav carts, each selling these freshly fried balls of mashed, spiced potato, served in soft bread, and topped with spicy, garlic chutney (`7). Manali Hotel (a restaurant actually) in the market yard, near the bus stop, does a good Maharashtrian thali which comprises sukka mutton or chicken, tambda rassa (red gravy), pandhra rassa (white gravy), dahi kanda (onions with curd) and bhakri (thick chapati) for `120. n –Inputs by Sreeya Sen

dire straits Dire Straits

Chambal’s Shy Crocodile


t’s hard to believe that the gharial with its 15-foot long body, menacing bulbous snout and protruding sharp teeth, is actually a shy animal. Or that it prefers to stay away from big mammals. It is a fish eater and cannot kill or eat bigger animals. It is one of the longest crocodiles in the world, but unlike most, a gharial will not chase people down the river bank—unless it feels extremely threatened. Gharials get their name from the round growth on the snout, also known as the ghada (pot), which is found only on mature 2 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JULY 2012

male adults. This feature makes it the only crocodile in the world with an easy identifiable difference between male and female. The estimated population of the endangered crocodile in India is 1,500, but only 200 of these are breeding adults. Colin Stevenson, who heads the Gharial Conservation Alliance recommends keeping a distance while spotting these reptiles in the wild. “They are shy and may feel too threatened to nest in places frequented by humans,” he says. Gharials lay their eggs on high sand banks to keep them safe from

the flooding river. Rampant sand mining, fishing, and the construction of dams have brought it close to extinction. In the wild The largest population of the gharial is at National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh (70 km/2 hours from Agra). The crocodile can be spotted during a walk or on a boat ride on the Chambal (Chambal Safari Lodge; 99970 66002; `2,500 for boat trip during Oct-Mar; doubles `4,500). Small populations of gharials are also found at Jim Corbett National Park and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. n

vijay bedi

This reptile needs more than a clean river to survive | By Natasha Sahgal

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