PHOTO WORKSHOP WITH AMI VITALE
AUGUST 2012 • `120 VOL. 1 ISSUE 2
FAMILY TIME IN THE FOREST
THE ROAD TO OGYEN CHOLING
INDIA’S POPULAR FOOD STREETS
Quiet Places Spaces of serenity
SURFING IN KARNATAKA | 48 HOURS IN CAPE TOWN | DO YOU TAKE HOTEL AMENITIES HOME?
AUGUST 2012 2
VOL. 1 ISSUE 2
VOL. 1 ISSUE
penCh TImE IN
N A T I O N A L
G E O G R A P H I C
T R A V E L L E R
FAmIly THE FOREST
I N D I A
n BhUta ROAD TO OGyEN THE CHOlING
ity Spaces of seren
INDIA’S POPUlAR FOOD STREETS
KA | 48 HOURS
SURFING IN KARNATA
54 QUIET PLACES It’s easy to find a quiet space—if you look closely enough
LESSONS IN SILENCE
SMALL TOWNS, BIG ALLURE
Understanding the art of silence in New Zealand
Explore Provence’s culinary and cultural canvas
SERENE STROLLS AND FILTER COFFEE
THE TOWNS ITALY FORGOT
Veer off the tourist trail in Coorg for a little calm and history
Italy’s old towns reinvent themselves through a new genre of hotels
IN CAPE TOWN
| DO yOU TAKE
The cover photo was shot at one of the coral pinnacles near Pacific Harbour, Fiji by Andrey Narchuk, a well-known Russian photographer and passionate diver. He has won many underwater and wildlife photo awards, including the title of the best wildlife photographer in Russia.
10 Editor’s Note | 14 Inspire
26 Tread Softly Respecting wildlife territories
JUNGLE FEVER A family discovers the code of the jungle in Pench
90 THE ROAD TO OGYEN CHOLING Looking for the roots of Bhutan’s imperial history
28 Paper Trails Shipwrecked on an island
44 National Park Poachers turn guides at Periyar Tiger Reserve
30 Frontier Tales Should you travel to Antarctica?
47 Go Now The Netherlands bursts into bloom
32 The Insider Schools need to ease up on family travel restrictions
48 Experience A long, memorable journey 49 Taste of Travel Singapore’s new cafés
NAVIGATE 36 Take 5 Stroll down some of India’s best food streets 38 Smart Traveller Explore one of the world’s most expensive cities wisely
140 From Bengaluru A patch of paradise in Arasinamakki 144 From Kolkata Sounds of nature in Nameri
INTERACTIVE 148 Photo Workshop Telling stories through pictures 151 Photo Contest The best of reader’s photos
50 48 Hours Beyond the vineyards in Cape Town
52 Geo Tourism Sustainable tourism in the Spiti Valley
152 Dire Straits The gharial fights for survival
42 Travel Butler To take hotel amenities home or not
120 Adventure Surfing in Karnataka 124 Learning Holiday Thangka painting in Himachal 128 Sport The active side of Sri Lanka, host to the T20 World Cup
Sheep spend much of their lives grazing, and like peace and quiet to do so.
6 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | AUGUST JULY 20122012
XXXXXXXXXX (DESCRIPTION) BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES
SHORT BREAKS 132 From Mumbai Simple pleasures in Saputara
136 From Delhi Savour mountain air in Pangot
AUGUST 2012 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 7
ANDREY NARCHUK (COVER), UIG/GETTY IMAGES (CAPE TOWN), GAVIN GE (COFFEE), RATHIKA RAMASAMY (RED-BILLED BLUE MAGPIE), ANDREY NARCHUK (COVER)
ing storytell p with ami vitale
Editor-in-Chief NILOUFER VENKATRAMAN Deputy Editor NEHA DARA Associate Editor MIHIKA PAI Senior Features Writer NATASHA SAHGAL Features Writer AZEEM BANATWALLA
EDITOR’S NOTE Niloufer Venkatraman
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EARLE, J. MICHAEL FAY, BEVERLY JOUBERT, DERECK JOUBERT, LOUISE LEAKEY, MEAVE LEAKEY, JOHAN REINHARD, ENRIC SALA, PAUL SERENO, SPENCER WELLS Printed and published by Vijay Sampath on behalf of Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd. Printed at Manipal Technologies Ltd., (H.O.), Press Corner, Manipal - 576 104, Karnataka, India. Processed at Commercial Art Engravers Pvt. Ltd., 386, Vir Savarkar Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai-400 025. Disclaimer All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is strictly prohibited. We do our best to research and fact-check all articles but errors may creep in inadvertently. All prices, phone numbers and addresses are correct at the time of going to press but are subject to change. All opinions expressed by columnists and freelance writers are their own and not necessarily those of National Geographic Traveller India. We do not allow advertising to influence our editorial choices. All maps used in the magazine, including those of India, are for illustrative purposes only.
Once the battleground for British and Indian forces, The Residency in Lucknow is now a place of stillness and calm.
When the din drops away
verywhere I go in Mumbai, I see people trying to shut out the buzz of the city. From joggers with earphones, to yoga or meditation classes (we even have one in our office), many seem to be looking for a zone of quietude. There is much keeping us wired-in and connected—from emails to mobile apps, I’ve lost count of all the media I’m supposed to check, in case I’ve missed an important message. The need to cope with, or escape from all that is driving us seems widespread. And so this month, we’ve focussed on quiet places. Sometimes I take a holiday specifically to seek peace from clutter, at other times I’m not looking for it at all, but it finds me. Six years ago, I travelled to Italy for two weeks, with a dear friend. We visited Florence, Venice, Milan and other small towns, but whenever I think back, my enduring memory of this trip is of a seemingly insignificant morning. We were staying on a faro farm in Tuscany and awoke at 6 a.m. one day determined to see sheep being milked. However, the farmer had overslept, the shed was empty, and so we decided to stroll around the area. We spotted a flock of grazing sheep a short distance away, and decided to walk to them. Every time we got closer, the sheep moved further away, though they never seemed to be watching us. It wasn’t an illusion. After an hour of this, we realised they wanted their space. We also realised we were the only humans amidst the still-
The need to cope with, or escape from all that is driving us seems widespread
ness of rolling hills, and it made us feel relaxed and content with our own space. As it turned out, it was one of the quietest moments of our holiday, and the serenity of that moment has stayed with me. More recently, I was in Lucknow for a short visit to experience how the city celebrates Id. It was the day before the festival, and I had a whirlwind tour of the city ending up at that wonderful monument the Bara Imambara. Just beyond it, I crossed the Rumi Darwaza and found myself in the middle of a goat market. Both sides of the road were packed with bleating goats and the hustling and selling of a pre-Id roadside bazaar. On my way back, though I had not planned it, I stopped off at The Residency, thinking I must see the museum and the battlescarred brick and stone, before rushing back to the buzz of pre-Id preparations at the home of the Zaheer family with whom I was staying. Within ten minutes of walking the grounds of The Residency, I felt totally at peace. I sat down in one of the ruins, overlooking the greenery, amidst roofless buildings all around. I did not visit the museum, did not explore the acres of grounds, and confess that I did not ponder over what it must have been like when besieged in 1857. When it was time to leave, I did not want to; I had no idea where there the time had gone. It was one of the most tranquil spots I had visited in a long time. The calm I experienced was totally unexpected. I had not been seeking it out at all; I had not even recognised that I needed it. And I felt grateful. n
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Spitsbergen Island, Svalbard Archipelago
18 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | AUGUST 2012
The bottlenose dolphin has a three-inch-long nose, but strangely enough, it has almost no sense of smell. It is one of several species of dolphin that can be spotted in the Pacific Ocean surrounding Hawaii. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits humans from coming within 45 metres of dolphins in Hawaii, but tour operators have found interesting ways to legitimately sight dolphins in the wild. Submarine rides, glass-bottomed boats and snorkelling expeditions give visitors a chance to see dolphins in their natural habitat. The more curious dolphins occasionally invite themselves closer, although touching or feeding them is prohibited. Dreams of swimming with dolphins, even hugging, kissing, touching, and playing with the happy flappers can otherwise be fulfilled at the Sea Life Park in Waimanalo, O’ahu Island.
FLIP NICKLIN/MINDEN PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
DANITA DELIMONT/ GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES
It looks cute and furry, but the polar bear is the largest land carnivore in the world and can often be seen feasting on a seal near freezing Arctic shores. Weighing 600 kg and close to ten-feet long, it may seem a slow and bulky animal, but the average polar bear can walk 5,000 km in a year, and charge at over 30 kmph over short distances. Interestingly, under its thick, white coat of fur, the polar bear actually has black skin, which helps it soak in the scarce sunlight that filters through its habitat. Recent wildlife surveys estimate that only around 25,000 polar bears still remain in the Arctic Circle, of which around 500 roam across Svalbard, an icy archipelago in northern Norway. Cruises to Spitsbergen, the most populated island in Svalbard, are the safest way to get a glimpse of polar bears in the wild.
Waimanalo, O’ahu Island, Hawaii
Sabah, Borneo The DNA of orangutans is almost identical to that of humans, making the adorable brown-haired primates our closest replicas in the animal kingdom. The Bornean orangutan has three different sub-species, found in different parts of the island of Borneo. Orangutans spend a large part of their childhood learning their way around their forest, building a mental map in the process. Opposable thumbs on all four limbs enable them to use their feet as hands, which can make for some rather comical interactions. The Bornean orangutan is now an endangered species, but over 70 of them can still be spotted in the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah, the Malaysian state in northeastern Borneo.
Amboseli National Park, Rift Valley Province The Amboseli National Park in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province is considered one of the best spots on the continent to see African elephants in the wild. Elephants have a keen sense of smell and can detect sources of water from several kilometres away. While male elephants (bulls) tend to have a solitary, nomadic nature, females (cows) are family-oriented and care for their offspring. Amboseli National Park gets its name from “empusel”, a local term that translates to “salty dust,” as a result of the large amounts of volcanic ash deposits on the plains from Mount Kilimanjaro. Thousands of wildlife enthusiasts visit Amboseli every year to see African elephants as well as the rest of Africa’s ‘Big Five’–-black rhinoceros, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo.
FRANS LANTING/MINT IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES
GEORGE STEINMETZ/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
INSPIRE INSPIRE Xxxxxxx Kenya
AUGUST 2012 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 25
NAVIGATE Go Now
VOICES Paper Trails
STORIES OF SHIPWRECKS TURN INTO TALES OF IDYLLIC ISLAND HOLIDAYS
he first great shipwreck survivor in Western literature was Robinson Crusoe. In Daniel Defoe’s novel from 1719, the seafaring protagonist finds himself stranded on a deserted island where, with the entire contents of his ship at his disposal, he manages to live for a number of years. The island provides him with goats to domesticate, fruits to eat, and even a native servant for company. Robinson Crusoe was the book that all future island-dwellers would read. The island survival story would draw so much from Defoe’s novel that in 1731—only a little over a decade after Robinson Crusoe—the German writer Gisander named the genre the “robinsonade”. Within a century of Defoe’s book making its appearance, it had inspired a thicket of knowing references and in-jokes. Johann Wyss’s novel about a shipwrecked European clan paid tribute to Crusoe in its title: it was called the Swiss Family Robinson. The men who land on Jules Verne’s L’Île Mystérieuse in 1874, in turn, made a nod to Wyss’s novel, mentioning the Robinsons’ habit of giving parts of their island fanciful names. Robinsonades involve people stranded in deserted places. Many of them settle there for good. All of this sounds as if the shipwreck story were a constant struggle between man and nature but this is not always the case. Many robinsonades make desert islands sound like they are among the most benevolent places in the world. To be cut off from human society seems more beneficial than not. That’s evident from C.S Lewis’ Prince Caspian, in which four children are magically transported to an island where there appears to be no other sign of life. At first, the children have no idea where they are. Though they realise that they might starve to death, the thought is quickly dismissed. “It’s like being shipwrecked,” remarks Edmund, the younger boy. “In the books, they
aishwarya s ubramaniam
always find springs of clear, fresh water on the island. We’d better go and look for them.” The children were familiar enough with robinsonades to know that nature would provide. R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island (1858) saw three teenaged boys shipwrecked on an island in the South Pacific. Decades later in 1954, William Golding would write a much less compassionate island book, Lord of the Flies, as a counter to Ballantyne’s novel. The three boys work together in what Golding seemed to think was improbable camaraderie for a group of teenagers cut off from civilisation. Again, the island provides everything they could possibly need—food (coconuts, fruits, fish and wild pigs), fibre from which to make clothes, and candlenuts to provide light. Over and over, the boys compare their island home to paradise, and when danger comes, as it does in the form of sharks, pirates and cannibals, it is always from across the sea. Here human civilisation, rather than nature, is the greatest source of savagery. For many Western writers, steeped in Christianity, islands were unsullied Edens, symbols of man’s ownership over all of nature. That’s evident from both Swiss Family Robinson as well as The Coral Island. The Romans believed in the genius loci, a protective spirit that was associated with a particular place. The protagonists of Jules Verne’s L’Île Mystérieuse might well be forgiven for thinking that the island in question had such a spirit, and one that had their interests at heart. On the surface, Verne’s novel seems more realistic about the difficulties of nature—here there are no convenient caves, and edible wildlife does not fall so readily into the palms of our heroes’ hands. More than in most robinsonades, it centres the ingenuity of humans: his characters build a foundry and prepare blasting powder with the few resources at their disposal.
28 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | AUGUST 2012
refuge. The island has a convenient way of producing exactly what the plot needs at any particular time. When the family are in financial difficulties it produces lost treasure, when the children are hiding from kidnappers it has a hard-to-find cave. Blyton’s The Secret Island also has children fleeing the adult world for safety. The children escape an abusive aunt and uncle for an idyllic life on a hidden island. It isn’t that the islands in these novels are completely free from danger. Wyss’s family encounter a boa constrictor, and Verne’s island is eventually destroyed in a rather spectacular volcano eruption. And yet, judging by what books have taught me, I’d feel safer on a desert island than in many other places. n –Aishwarya Subramanian is a writer and editor. She lives in New Delhi.
Yet something seems to be protecting them, lighting fires to guide them home, killing dangerous animals and malevolent pirates, and even providing medicines and tobacco to those who need them. It’s almost disappointing when the reader learns that there is a human explanation for all of this. But then, perhaps the existence of a benevolent protector is just another instance of the island’s bounty. The first island many of my generation encountered in fiction was the one in Kirrin Bay, owned by George of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and first encountered in Five on a Treasure Island in 1942. Kirrin Island has been the site of at least one shipwreck that we know of, but for the Five it is a place of
NAVIGATE Smart Traveller Tsukiji Fish Market In a city where the diet is primarily made up of fish, there is, of course, an extremely active fish market. Tokyo has the world’s largest fish market and spending a few hours trying to find your way around this maze in the morning chaos is worth the early start. A tuna fish auction that takes place every morning (except Sunday) must not be missed. It begins at 5 a.m. and only the first 120 people are allowed to enter. Try and get there before 5.30 a.m. Note that Tokyo’s trains don’t start till 5 a.m. A sushi breakfast here is highly recommended (www.tsukiji-market. or.jp; open from 4-9 a.m.; entry free; sushi breakfast `2,800). Akihabara It is impossible to visit Japan and
Tokyo's skyline is colourfully illuminated by night.
YOU DON’T NEED DEEP POCKETS TO EXPLORE EXPENSIVE TOKYO By NATASHA SAHGAL
okyo has been called the world’s most expensive city in several surveys through the years, but this does not mean that being a tourist here will leave you penniless. There is enough to keep you wide-eyed and occupied in this city, even if you are on a tight budget. CULTURE
Tokyo Free Guide This is a group of around 150 volunteer guides that offers to help travellers understand Japanese culture. They are usually local students, housewives or workers who can speak in a language other than Japanese. They spend the day with tourists and take
them to famous landmarks, giving them an introduction to local food and sharing their cultural history as well (www.tokyofreeguide.com). Free Monuments Most temples and shrines have no entry charge Sensoji Temple has a famous market outside, Meiji Shrine is in a forest and Zozoji Temple has a garden dedicated to unborn children. Walk into the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and go up to the 45th floor for the best view of the city. The east garden of the Imperial Palace is open to tourists and guided tours are available to some outer parts of the palace,
38 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | AUGUST 2012
but spots have to be reserved online. The royal family makes a public appearance for visitors on the Emperor’s birthday on 23rd December and to celebrate the New Year on 2nd January (sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/order/ index_EN.html to make reservations to visit the palace).
MIGUEL MICHÁN/GETTY IMAGES (SKYLINE), PAUL DYMOND/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (SUMO WRESTLER)
More for Yen
Harajuku and Yoyogi Park Visit the Yoyogi Park near Harajuku station on any day of the week to relax and spend some quiet time in this bustling city. Head to the same place on a Sunday and prepare to be inundated by free music concerts, drummers and hordes of street performers. Japan’s obsession with anime takes human form here with cosplay (costume play) gatherings. Every corner of the street is filled with youngsters in elaborate anime costumes. It is easy to spend hours people-watching here (open every day 5 a.m.–5 p.m and till 8 p.m. from April to October; entry free). MUSEUMS
Ikebukuro Earthquake Museum
The city has several parks (top) that break the monotony of concrete structures; The tuna auction (bottom) is one of the highlights of a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market.
Unfortunately, earthquakes are common in Japan. The museum allows visitors to experience an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale and then teaches them safety measures (open Wed to Mon 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.; entry free).
culture. Then, move on to the importance and kinds of salt in the world. Cigars and cooking salts are available at the museum store (www.jti.co.jp/Culture/museum_e/ index.html; open Tue to Sun 10 a.m-6 p.m.; entry `75).
Tobacco and Salt Museum What do tobacco
Yebisu Beer Museum Trace the history
and salt have in common? A dedicated museum in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. This is an interesting display of the history of tobacco, which spread from South America to the rest of the world. Read about how tobacco has managed to permeate Japanese
of beer in Japan and learn about various brewing procedures. After so much talk of beer, it’s a good idea to head to the museum café to try out the different kinds available. Though this might sound like a museum for those who’ve crossed the legal drinking age,
there is even a screen that plays a beer fairy tale for kids (www.sapporoholdings.jp/ english/guide/yebisu/; open Tue to Sun 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; entry free, beer tasting `300). Ghibli Museum This is a museum designed to amuse children and adults. It is named after the popular animation film studio and designed by its founder Hayao Miyakazi. It is a maze filled with animated characters, rough film sketches, mock storyboards, and figurines aimed at transporting you in to the world of Ghibli. Watch Studio Ghibli’s famous movies like
AUGUST 2012 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 39
CHAD EHLERS/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (PARK), KAREN KASMAUSKI/SCIENCE FACTION/GETTY IMAGES (FISH MARKET)
ignore the glitzy electronic stores. They’re everywhere. Akihabara is the biggest electronic market in Tokyo and is fascinating to walk through, even for those who don’t plan to buy anything. Most technology here is more advanced than the goods released in the rest of the world, so expect some surprises. Walk around for a few hours to pamper your inner geek.
NAVIGATE Smart Traveller
NAVIGATE Taste of Travel
Second Cup BRAND-CONSCIOUS SINGAPORE IS WARMING UP TO A NEW KIND OF COFFEE SHOP By ABHIJIT DUTTA
The Sanja Festival (above) sees thousands of followers carrying mobile shrines to the Sensoji Temple for good fortune; Youngsters often dress in elaborate costumes (right) as part of costume play, or cosplay.
a light stomach. This is the only parasite
Sumo Museum This is a small museum situ-
ated right next to the National Sumo Stadium. It is difficult to gain entry to an actual match, but visitors can visit the museum to learn about the history of this Japanese sport and take a closer look at costumes, belts, photos and sculptures (www.sumo. or.jp/eng/museum/index.html; open Mon to Fri 10 a.m- 4.30 p.m.; entry free). n
Move out of your comfort zone and spend a night in these odd but affordable hotels Capsule Hotels An idea created in Japan, a capsule hotel consists of bunk bed-like rooms, stacked one on top of each other. They are just large enough for guests to crawl in and lie down and usually come fitted with a television, radio and alarm clock. Claustrophobic travellers should stay away. These hotels usually have a lot of rules, some don’t allow women and others don’t allow people with tattoos, so check before booking (`2,000–3,500). Love Hotels In a crowded city like Tokyo, it is very difficult for couples to find some personal space. Love Hotels is a concept created for couples who need
privacy. They allow couples to walk in discreetly, pay through automatic machines and leave after a few hours. Some of these hotels can get fancy and have fantasy-themed rooms, but most are at quite an affordable price and are regularly visited by budget travellers for the novel experience (`2,500 onwards). Manga Kissa Japanese manga (comics) are famous the world over. At a manga kissa (comic book café) customers get their private cabin with a computer, unlimited internet and lots of comic books (only in Japanese). This is a viable place to spend a night because they have comfort-
40 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | AUGUST 2012
able reclining chairs, shower rooms, blankets and unlimited free hot and cold drinks. Most
manga kissas have overnight packages that are cheaper than budget hostels (`1,200).
Capsule hotels are targeted at working men who want to avoid commuting on weekdays.
Singapore’s new indie coffee shops make sure your coffee break is relaxing.
café is the perfect place to get a taste of a city and a whiff of its ideas. So it isn’t surprising that most visitors to Singapore’s coffee shops come away with their stereotypes about the tiny nation reinforced. Until recently, the city’s cafés were squeaky clean, air-conditioned and seemingly devoid of any flair. Now, serving up a flavour of its new dreams, Singapore is witnessing an explosion of owner-run boutique cafés that throb with genuine indie spirit. To sip a cup at one of these establishments is to get a sense of the Singapore that lives and breathes outside the tourist bubbles of Clarke Quay, Sentosa and Orchard. The best place to begin your explorations is Tiong Bahru, Singapore’s oldest publichousing estate. This is a world of ancient buildings, shuttered shophouses and wet markets—a universe away from the newage condominiums, high-rise government housing complexes and air-conditioned supermarkets that characterise the rest of the city. Forty Hands, Orange Thimble and Social Haus each offer a mash-up of artisanal chic and contemporary quirk. The cof-
fee is uniformly good with signature twists: Forty Hands is popular for its fair trade, hand-crafted coffees, Orange Thimble offers art-lined brick walls for company, while Social Haus is also a bar. The opening of these cafés has rejuvenated Tiong Bahru, attracting several concept stores—including the lovely indie bookstore Books Actually—to start doing business here. For the real taste of Singapore, though, ditch the doppios for a cup of kopi sweetened with condensed milk at the legendary Tiong Bahru hawker centre. In Kampong Bugis, close to Kallang riverside park is Loysel’s Toy Café, located past a set of grungy, mildly industrial back lanes. The al fresco seats here look out on graffitied walls. The coffee, including the house-blend cappucino, is better tasting than at most places, and is sourced sustainably, often directly from farmers. Chase the Singapore River upstream to Robertson Quay to arrive at Kith’s, a café that feels like someone came out to picnic on the grassy patches along the river and forgot to go back. With its squat garden
tables and low canvas chairs, it’s the perfect spot for a lazy after-lunch cup. If you walk along the promenade, you can look up Smitten, a charming café with high whitewashed walls and a mean-looking roasting machine. Jimmy Monkey in Biopolis prides itself on its gadgetry, too, drawing tantalising brews straight from the mighty Slayer machine and, paradoxically, serving it up in bright blue coffee mugs that will force a smile out of you. Perhaps the most endearing of cafés is Papa Palheta, off Hooper Road, which, in its isolation and cosiness, embodies all that is great about a neighbourhood coffee place. As you settle in, you are likely to forget you are in a commercial establishment. Instead, this single-room operation feels like one is in a friend’s home for some afternoon R&R. The coffee brews at an arm’s distance, filling the room with heady aromas, and you are lulled into a companionable coffee haze. When you leave, don’t spoil it by asking for the bill. There isn’t one. But you are welcome to leave a little something behind if you enjoyed your time here. n
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GAVIN GE (LIGHT AND COFFEE AT ORANGE THIMBLE, FORTY HANDS), MECHIE CHOA YU (PANCAKES AND COFFEE GLASSES AT LOYSEL’S TOY CAFÉ), KIMBERLEY YEO AND LIM GUO XING (SEATING AND BLACK BOARD AT SOCIAL HAUS)
Meguro Parasitological Museum Enter on
museum in the world and has around 300 specimens of creepy crawlies. On display is a dolphin’s stomach infested with worms, a 30-foot-long tapeworm, infected testicles that need to be carried around in a wheelbarrow and some regular mosquitoes and cockroaches. Buy a preserved parasite in a keychain as a souvenir (www.kiseichu.org; open Tue to Sun 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; entry free).
TIPS/INDIAPICTURE (TEMPLE), ALEX SEGRE/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (GIRL), PAUL CHESLEY/STONE/GETTY IMAGES (CAPSULE HOTEL)
Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke before going to the museum. Tickets have to be bought in advance from any Lawson convenience store (www.ghibli-museum. jp/en/; open Wed to Mon 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; adults `750, children `75 – 300).
IN FOCUS ď€´Quiet Places
quiet places Even the busiest body secretly hopes for a quiet place, to be far away from the bustling anthill, the demands of life. Most of us secretly hope to travel to a place without mental clutter, where stillness replaces the noise of the city, where the tangible elements of nature become immediate reality. We can find quiet zones in different ways. For some, it is the absence of sound, the silencing of car horns and human voices. For others, it is to be found in the anonymity of the crowd that throngs a market place. Some climb mountains to reach faraway places without another soul. Others embrace the depths of the ocean, to find serenity there. From the recesses of a forest, to the deck of a sailboat, here are just a few stories of where people choose to go to find their moment of serenity. And finally, for those who cannot leave the city, we suggest places to travel to within
the four metros in order to find a spot of quietude.
Stingrays often bury themselves under the ocean floor to hide from predators; or to stalk their prey.
IN FOCUS Quiet Places
in the air
hile paragliding, I feel like I’ve been stripped bare from technology, from proximity to the earth, and from any outside support. There is no engine to help me fly, just a glider that I can control. For me there is no greater connect to the elements—when I am in the midst of one of them, using the wind to keep me flying. There are different sorts of glides, depending on the place. Bali is perfect to fly off a cliff and float above the sea effortlessly. In Himachal Pradesh you can go thermalling. This is an advanced technique where gliders ascend using columns of rising air—a method that birds use to gain height as well. In fact, while flying we look around for birds to follow them in to the thermals (since they know best) and then ride up the same ones. A few months ago I went to Bir in Himachal Pradesh to do a course in thermalling. I arrived at Bir a day earlier than the workshop and decided to do some gliding on my own. It was a day of perfect weather and I soared from one thermal to another, leading to a three-hour-long flight all the way to Dharamshala, 30 km away. I rose up to 4000 metres, the highest I had ever been. I was soaring by snowy Himalayan peaks and it was so calm and disconnected from real life that my mind was soon in a dream-like state. I have done longer distances after this, but this one flight was special because of the absence of anyone else. Usually there are other gliders along, and I will be connected to a radio at least. But this particular time I went without my radio set and was totally free from human sound—it was just me and the strong sound of the wind. Paragliding starts off with an adrenaline rush during take-off but once in the sky, it is complete calm and almost meditative. Whenever mid-life stressors kick in, I take to the skies. Paragliding gives my mind exactly the quiet state I need at that point. -Vistasp Kharas, interior designer and air junkie (as told to Natasha Sahgal)
Soaring above the Indian Ocean in Nusa Dua, Indonesia is thrilling and the views of white sands and clear waters are calming.
There are two ways a first-time paraglider can start soaring the skies; go for a tandem ride or do a paragliding course. Tandem rides usually last for ten minutes and no prior experience or training is needed. There are several spots around India where this is possible. The Bir-Billing stretch in Himachal Pradesh is one of the most scenic. Soaring above the Arabian Sea at Varkala Beach in Kerala is now gaining popularity. Take off is from the cliff on the main beach and landing on the beach. International pilots are usually around to take travelers on tandem rides (`1500). To be able to go on longer and solo flights, you must do an introductory course (P1) and then move on to more advanced courses. Kamshet in Maharashtra has
several paragliding schools that offer these courses. (Temple Pilots 99700 53359; Nirvana Adventures 022-2605 3724; Indus Paragliding 98690 83838; approximately `9,000 for 3-4 days which includes flying classes, stay and food). The best time to glide in India is the winter months of October to February. Gliding is not possible in the monsoon. This sport is extremely popular in Europe, especially in France. Many experienced gliders take off from Mont Blanc, the highest peak in western Europe; the French Alps provide a picturesque backdrop. Other notable spots among thousands worldwide are in Germany, Nepal, Turkey, Norway, South Africa, Indonesia and Australia.
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QUINN ROONEY/GETTY IMAGES
find a quiet zone in the skies
IN FOCUS Quiet Places
Cover Story Dhows are traditional sailboats that can be hired by visitors to sail around the Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique.
n engine on a sailboat is anathema. It has already served its purpose, once it has powered you away from the hustle and bustle of the port. You kill it the moment the sails are set, and the all-pervading racket is soon replaced by the silence of the sailboat's hull making way through the waters, swift as a shark and agile as a dolphin. It is not even an hour before the cacophony of sounds and lights of the shore are distant memory. The sounds of the city—car horns, cries of vendors, and the innumerable municipal decrees—fall away with each passing mile. You might still see the coast, but at that distance the boat is out of the reach of any of the entanglements of your normal life. You are left alone to listen to what the oceans have to offer, her sounds and her sights. It is time to put your phone on flight mode! The wind picks up into a steady gale and fills the boat with a nautical orchestra—waves crashing on the bow, the hull slamming on swells, wind whistling through the rig, the creaking and groaning of stressed wood, and surf breaking all around. It is a very different mix of sounds. The sort to which the mind of the solitary voyager can ascribe all sorts of meaning, music, and rhythm. Even when I’m on a long voyage alone, overcome with exhaustion and apprehension, the comforting music of the sailboat on the seas, brings calm to my mind. It is this and the solitude that is my reward for wetting my feet. —Lt. Cdr. Abhilash Tomy is a reconnaissance pilot who will attempt a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the globe later this year. He already has 27,000 miles of ocean sailing in his log.
There are two ways for aspiring sailors to learn the ropes in India—join a sailing club or enrol for sailing lessons. The Bombay Sailing Association offers membership that includes accommodation options, access to a large fleet of boats, and training programmes for beginners (022-22882788; www.bombaysailing.com; membership fee `3,00,000; training programmes for members during Oct-May; `1,500). Also in Mumbai, West Coast Marine offers sailing courses for enthusiasts of all skill levels (022-22856127; www. westcoastmarine.co.in; 10-day beginner course from `15,000). Further south, the Kerala Yachting Association, based in Panangad (Kochi) offers membership and training and also has youth programmes (ages 7 upwards) which have produced
two national sailing champions since 2010 (96339 14019; www.keralayachting.com; membership fee Rs 40,000; monthlong training programmes from Rs 5,000). The Royal Madras Yacht Club in Chennai invites newcomers to spend a day at the club, and get a feel for sailing before taking a plunge with membership. It organises races for members every Sunday morning (92821 07443; www.rmyc.in; membership fee `70,000; guest visit costs `350, Sunday only). A comprehensive list of sailing clubs and schools across the country can be found at www.yai.org.in and information on sailing events and races can be found at www.sailingtimesindia.com. Outside of India, Thailand, New Zealand, Greece and the Caribbean are fantastic options, though there are many other places for sailing.
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ANNIE GRIFFITHS/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
find a quiet zone at sea
JOURNEYS Family Time
IN THE FORESTS OF PENCH NATIONAL PARK, THREE GENERATIONS OF A FAMILY FIND JOY LIVING IN THE MOMENT BY MAMTA DALAL MANGALDAS
THEO ALLOFS/MINDEN PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
A litter of tiger cubs usually comprises two to four offspring. A tigress may have several litters, building a large family with siblings of different ages. She nurtures them all up to three years until they come of age and forge their own paths.
JOURNEYS Family Time
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life holiday in India and Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh wins for its easy access from Mumbai. All of us, from my seven-year-old niece to my 70-year-old father, are booked into Taj’s luxury lodge, which should provide some comfort, in case the jungle fails to impress them. It doesn’t start out well. On the journey to the park from Nagpur airport, horns blare, brakes screech and everyone is tossed around as the packed car muddles along the bumpy road to Pench. Three rattled hours later, we arrive at our destination in the southern reaches of the Satpura Hills. Here, we have to sync our body clocks with nature. We need to be in bed early enough to wake up at 4.30 each morning, before the sun, to make the most of our day in the jungle. It’s cold and dark when I wake up on the first morning. I resign myself to the futility of trying to wake up the teenagers before sunrise. Maybe they can just do the afternoon safaris, I think. Half an hour later, I watch amazed as Ayesha and Amaya, my teenaged girls, leap out of the warmth of their beds with neither moan nor whine. Within two days, all of us have slipped into a rhythm that feels natural. Bundled up in warm clothes, fortified with home-baked cookies, hot chocolate and strong coffee, we head to our open-air safari jeeps. Our naturalist reminds us to leave behind all electronic equipment at the lodge. The rules of the jungle safari are clear: cell phones and iPods are strictly not allowed in the national park. The girls roll their eyes, irked at the thought of being wrenched from their beloved cell phones but I’m thrilled at the idea of having the undivided attention of my children for several hours.
My trepidation melts into relief when I look back and see the girls excitedly pointing at a cobweb backlit by the sun, dewdrops strung on it like diamonds on a necklace. Amaya takes a photo and delighted by her new found skill, starts taking photographs of everything she can: monkeys mid-air between trees, birds in flight, a deer looking at us soulfully. In a short while, both the girls devise their own game of photographing each other and the forest. Giggles interrupt the clicking camera. Emboldened by their enthusiasm, I ask a dangerous question: “Not missing your cell phones?” I am thrilled by Ayesha’s reply: “Actually, it’s a relief. We have a really good excuse for not being constantly in touch.” By the second day in the park, my ears tune in to the different frequencies of jungle sounds, all beginning to feel like an extraordinary symphony: langurs informing their troop that they are well, the distinctive sounds of a thousand different birds and insects, the warning calls of a deer letting its herd know a predator is on the move. Our naturalist points out all of this while driving with one hand, and looking backwards and talking. As the kids ask eager questions, he explains that it was the invention of the flintlock rifle that rang the death knell for tigers in India as Indian princes, British army officers and civil servants took to the jungle with their new toys. The disastrous result was the reduction in the population of Bengal tigers in India which has plummeted from 40,000 before independence to about 1,700 today. We move along the jungle and I smell the dampness of the earth at daybreak. Occasionally an evanescent fragrance of an unseen flower wafts under my nose. Before
I can say anything, the jeep moves and the smell disappears forever. I want to bottle that fragrance but the only way to capture it is by experiencing it deeply right then. In the silence scattered among all the information we are receiving, I hear the morning dew dropping from the trees onto the lush undergrowth. The girls seem unusually quiet. They are busy craning their necks and looking at a jungle owlet that is meditating in the hollow of a tree. I discover that silence too has a sound. The chilly wind blows in our hair, bites our cheeks and makes our eyes water. I struggle with the rough wool blanket on my knees. I look behind, expecting a whine, but the girls are absolutely fine. For the first time in years, I begin to understand what it means to feel fully alive. I can taste the jungle in my mouth as the morning wears on and the dew dries up, no longer keeping the dust on the ground. At 9 a.m. we start our return drive, towards breakfast in an open grassland called Alikatta. The rest of the family also arrives in their jeep. A feast is conjured up on the bonnet of the jeep: fig and date bars, orange muffins, sandwiches, freshly-brewed tea and coffee. The kids excitedly discuss the animal sightings of the morning with their cousins; we saw a female nilgai, they did not. They saw a jackal, we did not. We all saw birds: the Malabar pied hornbill with its massive beak, the Indian roller with its turquoise flashing wings and the majestic crested serpent eagle. We all saw herds of spotted deer and troops of grey langurs and rhesus macaques. But, the tiger remains mysterious. “It’s only the first game drive,” we console ourselves. For the rest of the morning drive, we see more of the
I think I can hear the synaptic connections in their brains and see the flow of information from their short-term memories to their now fertile long-term memories
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ANISH ANDHERIA/SANCTUARY (GARDEN LIZARD), AMAYA MANGALDAS (COBWEB)
he forest looks different on every drive. The sun is high in the sky and the trees are bright green. After a quiet start, the forest seems to be coming alive again. Suddenly, the air is filled with langur cries. We sit up in our jeep and listen hard. Then, just as suddenly as they’d started, the yelps fade away. That means, unfortunately, that there aren’t any tigers in the vicinity. Sajith Ponnappa, our guide and naturalist, isn’t unduly perturbed. “Every day that I see or hear something new—whether it’s a leaf or a bird or an insect, I am happy,” he says. But I’m not. Our desire to set eyes on the king of the jungle had dragged us out of bed at the crack of dawn, and back again after lunch. As we’re still dealing with the disappointment of the tiger that wasn’t, the naturalist in the jeep in front of us beckons. There’s a leopard lying between two boulders. The foliage is dense, the camouflage almost perfect. The leopard’s spots blend with sunlight-dappled leaves. We stare at the leopard and it looks back at us. After a while, it stretches and yawns. It’s our second day in Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh and we’ve been privileged to partake of the first leopard sighting of the season. We later learn that leopards are more elusive than tigers. There are ten of us on this trip: my husband and kids, parents, and my brother’s family. As chief vacation planner for this gang, my task is always Herculean. Pleasing so many people across three generations is tough. This time, though, I have seized unilateral power, ignoring requests for soft beaches, exotic food, snow peaks, and, most definitely, shopping malls. It’s going to be a wild-
Left to right: Visitors experience the ups and downs of a jungle safari as they marvel at the most recent predator sighting; Male garden lizards become conspicuous with their brilliant colouration; Intricate spider webs look like bejewelled necklaces when they catch the morning dew.
JOURNEYS Family Time
Peacocks let out loud, high-pitched shrieks whenever they sense danger from a predator in the forest. They also prey on other creatures and are known to attack, kill, and eat snakes, including cobras.
JOURNEYS Family Time
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massive Mahua tree, by the poolside, on a machan by the stream. Most of the staff come from nearby villages and have been the beneficiaries of sustainable and responsible tourism policies. Each new day at Pench blends into the previous one. We are in the forest, drive after drive, for five hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, seeing more of the animals we’ve already seen. Eventually, our eyes glaze over the ubiquitous spotted deer and monkeys, but slowly, the forest begins to speak to us. I begin to notice the small stuff. There are iconic boulders that dot the landscape and I analyse how I might sketch them. The girls are chatting with our naturalist about different kinds of rocks and how they are formed. “I had no idea that my Environmental Management class on geologic formations would ever have any use!” marvels Amaya. My parents are amazed that an Indian forest can be so immaculate. “The jungle paths are smoother than the national highway we arrived on!” says my Dad. We settle into a nice pace—and my impossibly high expectations and anxieties about spotting a tiger are replaced by simple enjoyment of the jungle. On our game drives, we meet other travellers who have seen tigers. We seem to miss the sighting by a few metres or a few minutes. After several tense moments, the girls sit back. Our naturalist senses our disappointment and says, “The tiger shows himself when he is ready.” Strangely, my mind is not on the tiger any more. The forest has the power to make me feel small, but not in a bad way—I feel like I am part of the whole. I am awestruck and feel like I have new eyes for the perfection of nature. I come to the reali-
sation that the Earth is flawless and an interconnected and interdependent system—that I am part of. I feel like I have arrived at a moment in my life where I am not sure if I am in the jungle or the jungle is in me. My head is in a spin as we return to the lodge. We are leaving the next day for Mumbai, but there is time for one last game drive in the morning. I say we should take a break and sleep in, but the girls are adamant that they are going back to the park, even without the adults. I cannot believe they really want that one more drive—our sixth one—at the crack of dawn. I decide to go with them while my husband sleeps in. We feel like old hands now and drive along in complete silence. We hear the distressed calls of a sambar. We already know that the sambar is the biggest member of the deer family and that its repetitive calling is a sure sign that a predator is near. Our naturalist reverses the jeep and takes a small detour down another route. He drives a few metres and turns off the engine. “What, what?” the girls want to know. He points and puts his finger to his lips. We see her. A great, big tigress ambling towards us. She is bigger than any of us ever imagined. But that’s not all. We see a cub following her. No, four! We can hardly contain ourselves. There are five cubs of different ages. It’s a streak of tigers. We are not sure how to be excited quietly. The tigress and her cubs walk off the path into the undergrowth. We drive around to the other side of the road and are brilliantly lucky to see them again. We watch till they decide to move back into the forest. It is the day of Diwali, and I cannot remember a brighter and better-lit celebration.
We drive back to the lodge in silence. We have to figure out how to break the news of sighting six tigers to the rest of the family, who have seen none on their route. Ayesha and Amaya show great restraint and sensitivity, deciding to tell their young cousins we spotted only the tail of one tiger. The other kids are upset anyway; we promise to come back on safari and find more tigers on the next holiday. Soon it’s time for our hellish trip back to Nagpur. I’m not looking forward to it. The ten of us have spent many happy hours together in the past four days and the bond is hard to break. “We have to do this more often–it really was great fun!” says Ayesha. The jungles of Pench have mesmerized me and I just do not want to leave. Neither does the rest of the family. It must be the first time everyone feels the same way about a vacation. Back home, I come across Yossi Ghinsberg’s book Laws of the Jungle. It relates many big truths that I encountered in Pench. Ghinsberg’s First Law of the Jungle is, “If you want to be human, be a beast first.” I think he means that humans need to connect with their authentic selves so that they can live fully. I feel compelled to go back. I want to learn more from the jungle. I plan a trip on my own, exactly a month after we return. For a woman travelling alone, the Baghvan lodge is perfect. This time I write, I draw, I paint and dream. Not only am I in the jungle, the jungle is and has become a part of me. n
I can taste the jungle in my mouth as the morning wears on and the dew dries up no longer keeping the dust on the ground
Mamta Dalal Mangaldas lives in Mumbai. She is the author of a children’s book The Kidnapping of Amir Hazma (Harper Collins India) that came out in 2007. AUGUST 2012 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA 117
SAHIR ISMAIL (JACKAL), CHANDRABHAL SINGH/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STOCK (OWL)
same animals. As they fade into the background, we notice the dense jungles, open grasslands, watering holes and seasonal nullahs fed by rainwater. Because the monsoons ended late, the jungles continue to be luxuriant in October, says Ponnappa.This isn’t the best time to view wildlife. “The warm months of April and May when the jungles are dry and tigers come to watering holes to quench their thirst, is when tiger viewing is at its peak,” he explains. We hear snippets of information about animal behaviour, feeding and mating patterns of the predators, symbiotic relationships between deer and monkey. We try to identify the warning calls of the langur, the spotted deer, and the sambar. We see tiger tracks and smell the cloying odour of a decaying kill. It is an experiential lesson in botany and zoology. Ayesha and Amaya make the magical correlation between their textbooks and the jungle. I think I can hear the synaptic connections in their brains and see the flow of information from their short-term memories to their now-fertile long-term memories. They make eye contact with us. They ask questions, want to hear the answers, and are living in the moment. So are we. Evenings at the lodge are filled with bonhomie. Ayesha calls the long hours we spend with the rest of the family a “hugely extended, but peaceful version of our Sunday lunch.” Guests meet in the lounge before dinner, have a drink and discuss their day. Naturalists mingle and answer questions and share their tales. They are passionate about their work, which makes our wildlife experience magical. The staff organise dinner each night with great fanfare in different parts of the 13-acre property: under a
Left to right: Grey langurs, one of the two species of primates found in Pench, have a very harsh three note warning call; The golden jackal can survive on plants and fruits. It is the only species of jackal found outside Africa; The mottled wood owl is native to India and expertly camouflages itself against the bark of trees.
JOURNEYS Family Time
GET GOING Sport
Pench National Park, recently renamed Indira Priyadarshini National Park lies at the base of the Satpura Hills in southern Madhya Pradesh. Some parts of the reserve are in Maharashtra. Nagpur city is 90 km to the south.
Forest Rest House PENCH NATIONAL PARK
NH7 Pench Reservoir
Air Nagpur airport is 100 km away from Pench. Direct flights are available from Mumbai, Bengaluru, New Delhi and Kolkata. Rail Nagpur Junction is the nearest railhead, around 92 km away. Hotel pickups can be arranged for upwards of `2,000. Road Pench is approximately 1,150 km from Delhi and 950 km from Mumbai. Road quality varies widely through the year. Road trip recommended only to enthusiastic drivers.
Maps are for illustrative purposes only.
33 / 20°C
30 / 15°C
28 / 13°C
29 / 13°C
31 / 15°C
36 / 19°C
41 / 24°C
42 / 28°C
36 / 26°C
32 / 24°C
31 / 24°C
32 / 23°C
Winter offers the best experience at Pench in terms of weather. Days are pleasant, although evenings and early mornings are cold.
INSIDE VIEW The beloved character of the jungle boy Mowgli, originated in Pench National Park, although his creator Rudyard Kipling never actually visited the park himself. It is believed that a 19th century British official wrote in a journal sent to the Queen, about a “wolf-boy” he found in the jungle. Kipling read this journal, which inspired him to write The Jungle Book.
have no extra charge for children below six. However, Baghvan Lodge does not allow children under three at the lodge and kids under six
are not allowed on safaris, though babysitting services are offered. Enquire in advance before planning a trip.
Baaz Jungle Resort offers air conditioned rooms with basic necessities (0712-2544335; www. baazjungleresort.com; doubles from `2,700; includes breakfast; safari `3,000 per vehicle).
Pench Jungle Camp has rooms with modern amenities and a spa (07695-232817; www. wildlife-camp-india.com; doubles from `11,000; includes meals and one daily safari; children under six free).
Baghvan, the luxury jungle lodge has bungalows with five star amenities (07695-232829; www. tajsafaris.com; doubles from `24,000; includes breakfast; safaris cost `2,250 per head; elephant safaris sometimes available).
Mahua Vann provides guests with cottages that have large gazebos and open-air showers to bathe in the rain (07695290451; www.mahuaresorts.com; doubles `14,600, includes meals and two daily safaris; children under five free).
Tuli Tiger Corridor Pench, offers luxurious tents. A flowing river on the property draws wild animals into plain sight (0712-6653666; www.tulihotels.com; doubles from `22,500; includes meals and two daily safaris).
Kipling’s Court is an MPTDC resort with a great location and simple rooms (07695-232830/50; www. mptourism.com; doubles from `4,500; includes all meals and one safari).
BRING THE KIDS Besides the safaris, most hotels have play areas and activities to keep kids busy. Most lodges
Pench National Park is closed during the monsoon. Also closed on Wednesdays, Republic Day and Holi.
* Safaris are anywhere between three to five hours long.
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OMNA WINSTON (MAP)
BEYOND THE SAFARIS Pench Jungle Camp organises hot air balloon rides to spot tigers from the sky (`15,000 per head; only in Jan and Feb; enquire and book in advance). They also rent bicycles and quad bikes and organise horse rides. Explore the periphery of the park by renting a car or following trails on foot. Visit the nearby Pachdhar pottery village, or spend a quiet evening at Kohka Lake. Pench Jungle Camp and Mahua Vann offer spa facilities. Many resorts have libraries and swimming pools and/or indoor recreation centres with badminton, carrom, table tennis and billiards. Note that most activities organised by hotels are exclusive to guests.
Summers are swelteringly hot, but the probability of spotting tigers is higher than the rest of the year. This is also the chital rutting season, when stags shed their antlers to grow new ones.
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GET GOING ď€´Sport
GET WET Scuba diving and surfing are very popular in Sri Lanka. However, travellers along the west coast will find most facilities closed because the water sports season in this part of the country is from November to April. However, it is kitesurfing season from April to October on the northwest coast and Kitesurfing Lanka has lessons at Kalpatiya, around 160 km north of Colombo, and also provides accommodation (+94-7736-86235; www.kitesurfinglanka.com; doubles from `4,200; beginner lessons from `3,800). Water sports enthusiasts who want to get wet must make their way to Sri Lankaâ€™s northeast coast. Arugam Bay Surf Resort (+94-63-2248189; www. arugambay.lk; doubles from `1,500) provides beach accommodation at Arugam Bay and access to great surf spots. Scuba Sri Lanka organises dives at Trincomalee in addition to windsurfing and water skiing (+94-7777-28277; www.divesrilanka.com; `2,000 for a single tank dive; `1,000 for an hour of windsurfing).
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SHORT BREAK From Delhi
+ AYS D
Explore Pangot’s pine trails and forest drives | By SHIKHA TRIPATHI
P Meandering forest trails flanked by coniferous trees make for great walks in and around Pangot.
angot is a gem hidden in the shadow of its famous neighbour Nainital, 15 km away. There’s hardly a soul to be seen and the main street is as quiet as a chapel after Sunday mass. The residents are busy in their fields and travellers are rare. Although the town has always been a favourite with birders, it’s becoming increasingly popular with travellers annoyed by Nanital’s
burgeoning crowds. Despite this, it’s still far off the beaten track. That’s evident from the fact that it has only a few hotels and even fewer restaurants. In Pangot, you don’t have to look too hard to find a spot where you can be alone to converse with mountains or just lie back on the ground strewn with pine needles to listen to the birds sing. Perched high in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, the village urges visitors to leave behind their wristwatches and enjoy the simple life.
EXPLORE UNWIND Pangot is an ideal place to forget about the real world. With a book or iPod for company, visitors can pick a sunny slope and bask on rock faces like happy geckos. The hills are covered with thick forests of oak, pine, and rhododendron and have gorgeous views. In March and April, the rhododendron is in bloom and sets the forests ablaze with shades of scarlet. In some places, nature rolls out a red carpet as paths are littered with the bright flowers. On a clear day, you can see the mighty Trishul peak between the two mountains that overlook Pangot. To drink in more of the panorama, drive to the village of Vinayak close by, and further to Kunjkharak, where the road ends. One can also catch a brilliant sunrise at Himalaya Darshan, about 7 km before Pangot on the way up from Nainital. Try to get there early, as the view starts to get hazy around 9 a.m., though in winter, there’s crystal clear visibility till about noon. Even if the views don’t open up, the drives around Pangot are quite spectacular. The only sounds are those of birds twittering and tyres crunching dry leaves, and the only smells the pine-scented air and dewy ground.
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on the town’s only motorable road. Go past Raj’s restaurant, the little red post office that’s usually closed, and a house or two and you will see a small path meandering down to the valley. Along the path and down below are little dwellings that house 100-odd families. You may encounter some locals collecting firewood or fodder for their cattle. They’re always ready to chat. Another popular trail is one that starts diagonally opposite Raj’s, off the motorable path. This one leads down the valley to a stream that is a hotspot for birds. Look out for little jungle treasures such as shrunken cones that monkeys are fond of eating, wild flowers swaying in the breeze, fungus clinging to bark in striking patterns and beautiful cones. There are plenty of trails to take, and you could easily return from your holiday without bumping into another soul on one of these walks.
SPOT BIRDS The forests of Pangot are home to palm civets, yellow-throated martins, sambar and ghoral (mountain goat). Though you may see a barking deer or a leopard sprint across the road, large mammals are usually difficult to spot in this area. However, you are assured of seeing a variety of common and rare Himalayan birds.
UNIQUE LOCAL EXPERIENCE
Pleasing the Palate The food of Kumaon is something you won’t ever get at a restaurant, not even in Uttarakhand. The cuisine was defined by the climate and terrain, and suits the dietary requirements of people at this altitude. Black soy bean, for instance, is considered unpalatable in most regions but is a major part of the diet here because of its high protein content. To sample traditional Kumaoni cuisine, your best bet would be to go knocking on a locals’ door. The people of Pangot are hospitable and quite willing to share their dinner for a small fee. You could also ask your guesthouse to prepare favourites like Pahari mutton—smoky meat usually cooked over wood fire in ghee, whole spices. Another popular dish is the simplest of spicy potatoes with mustard-flavoured cucumber raita. You can also sample palak ka kappa, which is stewed spinach leaves flavoured with
mustard and coriander seeds, jholi, which is gram flour and yogurt curry tempered with mustard seeds, bhatt ki churkaani, which is black soy bean flavoured with ginger root and coriander, and mooli ka theccha, which is pounded horseradish, simmered with spices and mild chilly. For an entire Kumaoni lunch, pre-book a meal at Mountain Quail Lodge (`500 per head).
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SHIKHA TRIPATHI (PEACH TREES), TIM HILL/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (MUTTON CURRY)
and appreciate the splendour of Pangot is on foot. The area is filled with trails that lead into forests, which are a lattice of deodar (a variety of cedar), oak and rhododendron. The trees tower over giant ferns and gleaming moss. Begin with the track that starts behind Mountain Quail Lodge and winds up along the ridge before returning to join the main road. Another option is a village walk. Start
LIFEBOAT/DIGITAL VISION/GETTY IMAGES
WALKING TRAILS The best way to explore
Peach trees start to blossom soon after winter, dotting the orchards with shades of pink. The flowers usually arrive before the leaves.
SHORT BREAK From Delhi
The hilltop cottages at the Mountain Quail Lodge (above) are cosy and have a great view of the forest below; The locals at Pangot (right) are friendly and it’s easy to have a conversation if you speak Hindi, as the Kumaoni dialect is quite similar.
The Himalayan Griffon vulture (left) is a large scavenger that spits out half-digested food when threatened by a predator; The red-billed blue magpie (right) is found in hilly regions across Asia. Its purple-blue tail feathers can be up to 17 inches long.
STAY A few recently-built hotels in Pangot are perhaps the only structures that don’t blend in with the surroundings. Not staying in them is
one way to prevent Pangot from being overrun with unsightly construction. Opt for the ones that do justice to the location. The pick of the lot is Bhavna and Siddharta Anand’s homestay Mountain Quail Lodge, both for its enviable hilltop views and for the intimate experience it offers. They arrived here over 15 years ago to make Pangot their home, and have a set of “secret spots” that they share with interested guests (98370 77537; www.blazeatrailadventures.com; doubles `5,000 with all meals). Jungle Lore has independent cottages, and a large house called Kaafal House with six independent rooms. It has a cosy kitchen-cumdining hall with a deck outside amidst trees and birds (98117 04651; www.pangot.com; `5,000 for a cottage and `4,000 for the room, inclusive of all meals). The Nest Cottages are a good option for vegetarians, since they grow their own organic vegetables. They also have their own dairy, so fresh milk and milk products are always at hand. The accomodation is spread across different cottages; pick the one whose view has been least disrupted by recent construction (94111 50530; www.thenestcottages.com; doubles `3,500).
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EAT The only decent place to get a bite outside of your lodgings, and the most visible restaurant is Raj’s Restaurant, which doubles up as a general store. Most locals come here for their groceries and travellers tend to stop in for a bowl of noodles or a cup of tea. You can get snacks and they’ll cook you something more substantial if you ask. There is no other restaurant in the area, and you have to depend on your guesthouse for a sit-down meal or a packed lunch. Most guesthouses provide meals to walk-in guests as well, though it’s best to inform them in advance. Depending on the season, you can also buy fresh fruit such as peach, apricot, plum and the native fruit, kaafal, a maroon-coloured berry (`20 for a small cup) from stalls along the main road. The rhododendron flower is used to make a refreshing juice, which is both delicious and healthy. You can pick up a bottle (`75) from the Himjoli store in Nainital along with chutneys, pickles and jams, all made of local fruit, sold under the brand name "Kumaon". n
Pangot is a small village in the state of Uttarakhand, 15 km northwest of Nainital. It is in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas, at an altitude of 1980 m/6,500 ft, 290 km northeast of New Delhi.
Driving is the most convenient way to explore the area, because taxis are erratic and few and there is almost no public transport. Most locals either walk or use the shared taxis that ply between Nainital and Pangot (`30 a seat). But you have to wait until the taxi is full, often beyond capacity. A lot of trailheads for walks around Pangot lie within a radius of 10-20 km and having your own vehicle makes it easier to get to these.
Being a hill town, Pangot’s weather is pleasant for most of the year. The maximum temperature in summer (Mar-Jun) is 25°C and nights are cool at 8°C. Winter (Oct-Feb) can get cold, starting from a chilly pleasant of 10°C and dipping as low as -8°C. However, if you can brave the cold, Pangot has a surreal beauty at that time in its garb of snow. The monsoons (Jul-mid Sep) is the perfect time for a romantic and lazy holiday in the mist-laden mountains. Post
Getting there TASHI GHALE (HIMALAYAN GRIFFON VULTURE), RATHIKA RAMASAMY (RED-BILLED BLUE MAGPIE)
Over 150 species have been recorded in this area, from flocks of thrushes, minivets and wagtails to exotic Himalayan species such as the Himalayan griffon, Khalij pheasant, mountain-hawk eagle and the rare cheer pheasant. Sighting uncommon birds such as the lammergeier that soar at great heights may demand a strenuous walk up to ridges and hill tops. But you can come across species like the endearing black-headed jay, just lying in your hammock with bird feed by your side. Pangot is a great place both for beginners to get oriented with the world of birding, and for experienced birders. With a pair of binoculars and a bird book, you can spend hours on this delightful pursuit. Deepu at Mountain Quail Lodge offers guided walks (`400 for two hours)—he’s a local man of few words but immense birding knowledge.
Rail Kathgodam is the closest train station. From there, you can get a private or shared taxi to Nainital (shared `100 per person) and then take another taxi from the Mallital taxi stand to Pangot (shared, `30 per seat). The most convenient trains from Delhi are morning departures such as Anand Vihar Kathgodam AC Express (6 hours; `376`850) and the overnight Ranikhet Express (6.5 hours; `146- `860). Road Pangot is 290 km/7.5 hours from Delhi. Starting along NH 24, the stretch up to Moradabad is a four-lane highway that suddenly ends in 2 km of potholes. After this, the views along the road get better, as the construction dissolves into paddy fields. The really scenic stretch, where the road is flanked by beautiful forest and mountains on either side, begins at Kaladhungi near Corbett National Park. Another option is to take the less scenic road up via Kathgodam, which is smoother, though slightly longer.
Need to know Most amenities and facilities for travellers are available on the outskirts of Nainital. The nearest petrol pump (Indian Oil) is 12 km away, on the road from Pangot to Nainital, next to the Tourist Rest House at Sukhatal. A little further down the same road, there is an ICICI Bank ATM just after the Mallital taxi stand and a State Bank of India ATM opposite the erstwhile horse stables. For most general and medical supplies visitors will need to go to the prominent and bustling Bara Bazaar in Nainital.
PANGOT Mountain Quail Lodge
TO NAINITAL TO DELHI
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SHIKHA TRIPATHI (MOUNTAIN QUAIL LODGE AND WOMAN), URMIMALA NAG (MAP)