Page 1


A Trip for four to hong kong

march 2013 • `120 VOL. 1 ISSUE 9


Summer From sunny shores to hilly hideouts, getaways for everybody

sum spe mer c issu ial e

Quebec Canada’s eastern wilderness

Sardhana Church of the warrior queen

oman history through architecture

Plus swiss farms | Singapore fling | Fun in florida

March 2013

N a t ion a l

G eog r a p h i c

summer special



• Fruit picking holidays •Child-friendly in Paris 74 ADVENTURE

Ziplining, ballooning, and other adventures at heritage sites

T r a velle r



Battling for battery life on your travels



• Mishaps on the road are easily avoided

• A winding trip through the Western Ghats


in d i a



Special picks to plan a summer getaway, from sunny shores to hilly hideouts



Hunting for a colonial bungalow among the skyscrapers of this ultramodern Asian metropolis


np f!or i W ri to A T r ng u fo g ko94 n ho PAGE

8 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | March 2013

The Mexican Pavilion at Disney’s Epcot Centre

elan fleisher/look die bildagentur der fotografen gmbh/alamy/indiapicture

merl m su ecia sp sue is



A guide to making the most of the Sunshine State’s many theme parks



Learning the simple life in the Swiss Alps, with straw beds and rowdy bovines




Quebec brings out the inner animal— plus a welcome crew of moose, belugas, and one hungry wolf



Poring over Oman’s history, one architectural marvel at a time





February 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 9

sonderegger christof/dinodiaphoto (cows), dinodiaphoto (woman), sanjay austa (mosque)

A church built by a warrior-queen, on a pilgrimage to Sardhana

a Trip for four

Win! To hong kong

march 2013 9

• `120



Indi Summer hideouts, shores to hilly From sunny everybody getaways for

summ spec er ial issue


Canada’s eastern wilderness

Sardhana the ChurCh of warrior queen


history through arChiteCture farms Plus swiss

| singaPore

a in florid fling | fun

On The Cover This photograph was taken in the eastern lagoon of Lakshadweep’s Kadmat Island at high tide by Sumer Verma, an award-winning underwater photographer, who is also an experienced dive and photography instructor. NatGeoTraveller.India

16 Editor’s Note | 179 Inspire

20 Tread Softly Eco-friendly whale watching in Sri Lanka

40 48 Hours Back to the future in Tokyo

166 From Delhi Small is beautiful in Kharapathar

42 Culture Fort Kochi’s cultural charisma

170 From Bengaluru Beaches and forts of Kasargod

Taste of Travel 46 Ubud’s market is a cultural hub 48 Food markets from across Europe 50 Delightful patisseries in Paris 52 Napoli’s favourite pizza haunts

INTERACTIVE 174 Photo Workshop Capturing character with Jim Richardson


54 The Connection Indian curry evolved in Durban

177 Photo Contest The best of reader’s photos

30 Take 5 Book stores with soul

56 National Park Ravines of the Chambal


34 Experience Exploring Gerald Durrell’s Corfu

62 Geo Tourism Ecotourism in a Naga village

36 Smart Traveller More for less in Moscow

64 DarkTourism The real “Great Escape”

22 Real Travel Coffee fuels conversations 24 Frontier Tales Can doing good be bad? 26 Unbound The merits of not planning

184 Dire Straits Assam’s shy pygmy hogs

GET GOING 156 Sport A golfing holiday in Srinagar 158 Record Journey Sailing through cyclone-force winds 160 Adventure Whale watching expeditions


10 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | March 2013

162 From Mumbai Past glories come alive in Champaner


Yadid Levy/Age Fotostock/Dinodia photo (church), leungchopan/shutterstock (MACARONs), ToÑo Labra/dinodia photo (Livraria Lello), Sumer Verma (cover)



Editor’s Note Niloufer Venkatraman

For children, summer signals vacations, long hours of playtime, and days spent exploring, day-dreaming, and getting one’s hands dirty.


n my head, summer isn’t a season. It’s another word for holiday. A word that triggers thoughts of eating mangoes and lychees, of ice apples (targola) and love apples (jaam), and journeys and cousins. It’s funny which childhood memories fade and which ones eventually stick with you. We were in Igatpuri one summer and my recollection of that time was of eating lots of mangoes. My cousin and I would take our share of post-lunch mangoes into the compound of the bungalow, where we ensured there wasn’t a drop of mango juice or pulp wasted. The skin would be scraped clean with our teeth, the seed sucked dry. Every day we secretly buried these seeds in a corner of the garden, and religiously watered the spot in the fervent hope that a tree would spring forth before the summer was up. We talked of how, once we had our own tree, we would eat mangoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if the adults wanted any, they would have to ask for our permission. Every evening we walked to the market where a parent would buy us goti-soda, precursor to today’s bottled drinks. Gotisoda came in the most interesting bottles, sealed with a glass marble. I don’t recall enjoying raspberry-red soda much, but my cousin and I shared one every summer day, because we loved the way the Parsi owner at the counter popped the marble to break the seal, before pouring the drink. I probably spent two weeks of two summers in Bangalore, but I recall them as some of my favourite breaks. I have fond memories of cycling around

We talked of how, once we had our own tree, we would eat mangoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

the city with my cousin Jayshree. We would roam from Malleswaram to Sankey Tank, Brigade Road, Commercial Street, M.G. Road, occasionally stopping at the bookstore Gangaram’s, though we rarely had money to spend. When I visited Bangalore a few years ago, there were other entities with the same street names, all completely unrecognisable and definitely impossible to cycle on. In my mind’s eye that Bangalore will always be a different place from the city that exists today. I have another summertime memory that’s a bit strange. I think I was seven, it was the summer holidays, and my family had house guests from overseas. Which meant that during their visit, us kids would give up our room. I don’t remember ever minding that, but this time I felt the reward was especially worth being displaced for. The visitors who were from the U.S. had brought sliced American cheese (the orange variety) and Silly Putty as gifts. This was the 1970s; I tasted sliced cheese for the first time. I was in heaven. And the Silly Putty, neither solid nor liquid, was a gooey, bouncy, sticky dough-like substance, a shade of dirty grey-pink. We spent hours with it. I loved it because it could be pressed on newspaper to lift the ink and even more so because it irritated the adults. When the guests left, the cheese ran out, and the Silly Putty disappeared in the way kids’ toys seem to vanish into thin air. I recall spending the rest of the summer dreaming of going to America­—the land where I would not have to ration my cheese slices and where my Silly Putty could be replaced with a new one. n

MARCH 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 17

carmen martinez banus/E+/Getty images

Memories of summer

VOICES Real Travel

Coffee, that great icebreaker


wami Devadas asks me how I’m enjoying my week at the yoga retreat—and I can’t help blurting out what’s bothering me, though I know it will make me seem whiny, foolish even. “It’s been perfect … well, almost perfect, except for one thing.” In fact, I’m having an excellent time. I’m on a white—no, pink!— sand beach in the Bahamas. The view from my ashram-basic room (futon on the floor, portrait of guru on the wall) is a soothing stripe of aquamarine. Twice each day I practice yoga for two hours. I feel terrific. Yet one essential thing is missing. It begins with the letter c. I take a deep yogic breath and spill all to the swami. “I understand why you don’t allow alcohol, tobacco, or meat at the ashram. But I wish you didn’t prohibit caffeinated beverages, specifically, uh, coffee.” “Ah. Coffee.” The swami smiles at me enigmatically and lets the word hang in the air. I twitch uncomfortably and try to think of a way to change the subject. In my daily life, coffee is something I can take or leave. I never drink it after 11 a.m. or I will be up past midnight. But travel is another story. There is something about being away from home that transforms coffee into a magic elixir. For starters, I have tried every jet lag remedy imaginable—

christopher daisann m celliott lane

melatonin, jumping jacks on arrival—and found no better time zone assist than the mighty C. (My method: Drink only water on the flight. Always land during daylight. Use coffee to keep yourself alert and moving until the local bedtime, then crash.) Coffee helps me over the bumps of travel—not just the time zone switches but airport layovers and all-night train rides. How wonderful to stagger groggily off an overnight sleeper coach in Madrid’s Atocha Station and immediately enjoy a steaming café con leche. If coffee were a mere physical stimulant, I doubt I would have made it such a travel fetish. For me, travelling without the possibility of drinking coffee is as nightmarish as travelling without the prospect of conversing with strangers. Could this be because the common enjoyment of coffee plays a big role in starting those conversations? I sit at a banquette table in a café on a tony avenue in Berlin. Every element of this situation—the upper-class vibe of the neighbourhood, the tendency of city people to keep to themselves, the natural reserve of Germans—conspires to inhibit spontaneous interactions. Then the coffee arrives, dark and deeply aromatic. Another cup of the rich brew is served to the young man next to me. The magic of coffee: Within two minutes he has set aside his iPhone and is giving me shopping tips and directions. When I make my mental list of my favourite places on the planet, I’m embarrassed at how many of them are in what I call the “coffee zone.” I don’t mean places that produce coffee. Indeed, one of

22 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | march 2013

Daisann McLane is Editor-at-Large with National Geographic Traveler (U.S.). She writes about experiences with cultures, food, and people as she travels around the globe.


Travel’s Secret Agent

the dismaying things I’ve discovered is that some of the least drinkable brews are served in places where coffee is grown, such as Colombia and Brazil. Rather, my coffee zones are places in which the drink is part of life’s rhythm. Hello, Italy! Can there be a more quintessential Italian experience than elbowing your way to the stand-up bar of a café and ordering a cappuccino? And hello, United States of America, which is a cup of watery Maxwell House brew at the counter in a roadside diner, with your waitress asking sweetly, “Can I warm that up for you, dear?” In Thailand, take-out iced coffee comes in a transparent plastic bag that swings from your wrist as you carry it. In coffee-obsessed Tokyo, the coffee attendant brews my cup with a timer and a set of expensive glass flasks and tubes on a special table. I feel as if I’m back in eighth-grade science lab. The rituals around coffee are almost as intricate as those surrounding that other famous caffeinated beverage, tea. In China, India, and Great Britain it’s the beverage of choice; there is nothing more restorative during a dank London day than afternoon tea. In Japan, tea ceremonies approach the sublime, especially when you drink the foamy matcha green brew on the grounds of an old Japanese temple. In Muslim Senegal, gunpowder-tea drinking bouts with my Senegalese friends soon had me flying higher than I would on whiskey. But tea, culturally rich as it is, isn’t the same as coffee. Tea relaxes, soothes, informs. It’s a drink of introspection and reflection, not of action. My eager traveller’s heart will always consider tea an also-ran. Tea, non-caffeinated herbal tea, is what they’re serving here in my Bahamas ashram—and I’m now expecting the swami to lecture me about its meditative benefits. Instead, he motions me into his office and shuts the door. Opening his top desk drawer, he reaches inside and pulls out five sachets of Nescafé. “Here, take these. Don’t tell anybody,” he says. Then he adds, shrugging, “I’m German,” as if that is sufficient explanation for his secret stash. Of course it is. I slip his contraband gift into my pocket and head back to my personal coffee zone, and my vacation—which now is perfect indeed. n

NAVIGATE Taste of Travel

The Heart of Ubud Ubud’s market holds many tasty lessons for life

Author and chef Janet De Neefe conducts a tour of the Ubud Market as part of her cooking class.


t 7 a.m., as we entered the food and produce market in the highland town of Ubud, Indonesia, we were greeted by a lady in a faded sarong, who had an air of comic elegance. She sold us dalumen, a slimy drink made with wheat grass juice, squiggles of pink rice dumplings, palm sugar, and roasted coconut milk. The drink was disgusting, but the seller, Ibu Jarni, was so charmingly persuasive that I downed the whole glass. Visiting the two-storeyed market topped my agenda, and my guide through the stalls was Janet De Neefe, the Australian author of Fragrant Rice. Her book is an essential read for anyone who wants to see, feel and understand Bali’s food, rituals, and way of life. “My enriching experience of this peaceful island paradise…has allowed me to see the world in a whole new light, where love and respect are the key principles,” she writes. Janet’s love affair with Bali began on a family holiday in 1974, when she was 15. On her second visit, a decade later, she met an Indonesian man named Ketut Suardana and eventually married him. They now own two of the town’s best restaurants (Indus

I figured out the market was not only a place to buy great snacks, but also a place for the ladies of Ubud to socialise and Casa Luna), a literary café called Bar Luna, and the Honeymoon Guesthouses and Bakery. Janet runs a cooking school that offers six different courses. I met Janet many years ago in one of her restaurants and there was an instant connection. One of the chapters of her book is called “The Vibrant Heart of Village Life: The Market”. After reading it, I felt like I knew all the vendors in Ubud Market and ever since then, I have wanted to visit the place with her. After that awkward experience with the dalumen, I was thankful that the next stall was filled with people hawking breakfast items. Old grandmas sat in a row selling bubur, a rice porridge made with soft boiled rice topped with steamed greens, coconut sauce, soya sprouts, and fish curry. Another lady was selling

bubur injin, a sweet, black rice pudding, simmered in coconut milk with banana and thick palm-sugar syrup. All the meals were carefully wrapped in waxy green banana leaves, to be eaten as you walked around the market or taken home for an early lunch. In a damp, dark corner was the young lad selling laklak, golden steamed chewy pancakes, cooked to order with a generous sprinkling of sugar and roasted coconut. Next was a stall selling gado-gado (a peanut dip) with steamed vegetables, followed by an array of stalls selling pink temple cakes known as roti khukus. Behind hissing barbecue counters, busy men twirled satay sticks over glowing coconut husks. These wonderful aromas mingled with those of Balinese coffee, and the sounds of people laughing, talking, and bargaining. The market, I realised, was not only a place for people to buy great snacks, but also where the ladies of Ubud socialise. We finally found ourselves at a set of crumbly cement steps leading to the lower level of the market. Here, we found creamy tempeh, cakes of fermented soya that lend the air a smell of freshly-brewed beer. Amidst the stench of rotting leaves, shrimp paste, and fermented tofu, flower sellers offered some olfactory relief with the sweet smells of white champak flowers (sonchapaa in Telegu), magnolia, orangeand red-tinted frangipani, and bamboo baskets full of pandan leaves. The perfumes and colours gave me a sense of calm. The market also had vendors selling fragrant spices and coffee, vegetable stalls selling beautiful white eggplants, knife sellers hawking handcrafted knives, fruit stalls where women lovingly and carefully peel rambutans for customers. Everywhere, young men and women, carrying brightly-coloured helmets, more as a fashion accessory rather than a necessity, were buying all sorts of provisions. Ubud market was not just a haven for eating and drinking. With all the bargaining, aromas, sounds, and colours, it was the closest I would get to Balinese village life and culture. n

MARCH 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 47

photo courtesy janet de neefe

By Ritu Dalmia


Shelf Indulgence The titles on display are only a part of the charm of these spine-tingling book stores By Neha Sumitran


ookstores are magical places, filled with stories that can transport you to other times. Some establishments, however, offer more than pageturners. Their long histories are inextricably entwined with the cultural lives of the cities in which they are located. Their patrons are the city’s most enthusiastic readers, and often its most celebrated writers. Their enthusiastic employees know how to make strangers feel at home in a foreign land. To walk into one of these stores is to discover their home city in a microcosm—and to walk out with the sense that you know a little more about your destination.


The Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht, Netherlands

If the walls of the Selexyz could talk, they’d whisper stories of Dominican friars, French military coups, and broken bicycle chains. For hundreds of years, the 13thcentury Gothic structure was a shrine run by an order of Christian monks, but was confiscated by Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1794. Since then, it has been a town archive, a warehouse for impounded bikes, and finally, since 2006, a bookstore so breathtaking, it leaves visitors speechless. The Selexyz retains the severe character of the old church. Its soaring ceilings, arched windows, and domed passages

30 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | march 2013

are untouched. Instead, the ingenious architects added three-storey bookshelves and sleek, black staircases that give visitors a chance to closely examine the fading frescoes on the ceilings. Housed in the altar is a chic café with a crucifix-shaped communal table on which nougat is served. Dominicanerkerkstraat; Open Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Thur 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun noon-5 p.m.;; +31-43-3210825.


Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France

George Whitman’s bookstore has been the epicentre of Paris’s Anglophone

ToÑo Labra/dinodia photo

The most captivating feature of Livraria Lello is the gorgeous red staircase, which is often called the “stairway to heaven”.

bohemian literary culture since it opened in 1951. Once frequented by beatniks like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, the musty, cluttered shop is by the owner’s admission “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”. Because, in addition to rare first editions (most signed by the authors), and numerous second-hand books, Shakespeare and Company has 13 beds wedged between shelves, and offers free boarding for any aspiring writers. It is now run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach, named after the woman who opened the original Shakespeare and Co. in 1919 in another location. A regular haunt of Ernest Hemingway, the first Beach’s store was forced to shut down during the Second World War. The Whitmans claim the beds’ occupants (over 40,000 they wager) include the likes of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. 37 Rue de la Bûcherie; Open Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat-Sun 11 a.m.-11 p.m.;; +33-1-43254093.

Raging Rowling fans will delight in the fact that the Livraria Lello (many claim) was the inspiration behind the Hogwarts school library. Its mystique also extends to those who have no interest in He Who Must Not Be Named. This prime Porto property is a study in art noveau architecture. Its plush, dark wood interiors, intricate stained-glass skylight, and Bordeaux-red staircase that many have deemed the “stairway to heaven”, have earned the century-old structure UNESCO World Heritage status. The bookshelves, embellished with pressed copper, are filled with antique books that owner Antero Braga has collected over the years. Rua das Carmelitas; Open Mon-Fri 9.30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat 9.30 a.m.-1 p.m; +351-222002037.


Cafebrería El Péndulo, Mexico City, Mexico

Cafebrería El Péndulo is a bookstore, library, café, and cultural venue all rolled in one. But that isn’t what keeps locals and travellers coming back. It’s the bookstore’s green gospel that draws the crowds. There are delicate green tendrils creeping about the children’s section, large leaves sprouting from behind the crime shelf, and on the ground level, tiers of potted plants that extend to the first floor, curling around the staircase and cosying up to the furniture. The greenery isn’t sculpted. The plants are free to grow in any

Shakespeare and Company (top) has grown from a clumsy bookstore into a Paris institution; The opulent, one-time cinema, El Ateneo (bottom) recieves over a million visitors every year.

direction they want, which means that the Cafebrería El Péndulo is always changing. Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco; Open Mon-Wed 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Thu-Fri 8 a.m.midnight, Sat-Sun 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; www.; +52-55-52804111.


El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

When the building that houses El Ateneo opened, on a sun-kissed day in May 1919, it was called the Teatro Gran Splendid. The stage enthralled Buenos Aires with fevered tango performances for over a decade, until it was converted into a cinema—the first in

Argentina to show films with sound. The 1,500-seat theatre is now among the most devotedly restored spaces in the world. The frescoed ceiling, stucco work, auditorium lighting, even the velvet, crimson stage curtains remain. Visitors can stroll through corridors of novellas, skim through poetry in one of the stage boxes, and have lunch at the wooden tables set up on the stage. Never mind that El Ateneo’s collection of English books isn’t large. Avenida Callao; Open Mon-Thur 10 a.m.7 pm, Fri-Sat 10 a.m.-midnight, Sun 9 a.m.10 p.m.;; +54-11-48134154. n

march 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 31

Carlos S. Pereyra/Dinodia photo (Shakespeare and Company), Yadid Levy/Dinodia photo (El Ateneo)


Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal


Brush with History Art sustains culture and a way of life in Fort Kochi By Deepika Sorabjee


utside the Raj-era Cochin Club where we were staying was a large maidan, the Parade Ground, surrounded by smart boutique hotels in refurbished historic houses. Beyond were the lanes of Fort Kochi, where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus have been mingling for centuries. Walking from church to market to museum, a way of life is waiting to be discovered, through art and architecture. At the western end of the Parade Ground, the St. Francis Church built in 1503 is the oldest bit of Fort Kochi. I went in early, before Sunday Mass started. Halfway down the aisle is the grave of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer who landed at Calicut, further up the coast, in 1498, opening a trade route that established the Portuguese as a political power in India. As the brass plaque notes, his remains were

shifted to Portugal after 14 years, leaving a stone slab over an empty grave. Behind the church, the Portuguese-style home with wooden doors that is believed to have been the home of Vasco da Gama has been turned into a homestay by Sheba and Santosh Thom. I had appams with honey and bananas in their café before browsing through the offerings in the adjoining Idiom Books, whose selection of new and second-hand books is one of the finest in Fort Kochi. Down the road, the Indo-Portuguese Museum is a small, well-maintained and smartly laid out institution with contributions from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The exhibitions include processional crosses as well as pictures of them being used on the streets of Fort Kochi in times past, chasubles (clothing of the clergy), monstrances (traditional vessels), and banners of various church

organisations. The 16th-century teak altarpiece from the Church of Good Hope in Vypeen towers above the other exhibitions, but Joseph, the guide, urged me to pose for a picture in front of “silver wings of a lost angel.” Not feeling very cherubic and tiring in the humid swelter, Oceanos, a few houses away beckoned for lunch with Christian offerings of a more mortal kind. The Syrian Christian banana leaf-steamed fish, based in a red paste, reminded me of a similar dish I had in Malacca, another former Portuguese colony, and banished all angelic thoughts. At the other end of the road, the Chinese fishing nets were being continuously photographed as they were lowered and raised for each round of tourists. The fresh catch was displayed in a row of shops on the promenade. The giant nets framed the silhouette of cranes

olaf kruger/image brok/dinodia photo

Though it is one of the oldest European churches in India, St. Francis Church is more famous as the place where Vasco da Gama was buried after his death in 1524. Fourteen years later, his remains were removed and taken to Lisbon.

42 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | MARCH 2013

in the new port terminal across the water, reminding visitors that Kochi remains an active trading post. The cultures of the various visitors and colonisers—the Portuguese, Dutch, English and Chinese— have intermingled to enrich Malayali traditions and make a trip to Fort Kochi seem like a journey back in time. With the opening of India’s first art biennale, the Kochi-Muziris Art Biennale, on 12/12/12, those cultural residues have been contemporised. Several of the exhibitions were held in old warehouses that still exuded the fragrance of spices, as artists used cinnamon, cloves and turmeric in installations. Aspinwall House, the main venue, was the former office of the J.P. Morgan Company, while Pepper House was a godown from which pepper was loaded onto ships. At Kashi Art Café and Gallery, on Burgher Street, art fills the anteroom gallery. Their famous cakes, pies, and coffee attract tourists who drift to the open-air seating at the back. After lingering here awhile, I caught a rickshaw and headed to Jew Town, to the 16th-century synagogue, built by people whose ancestors came to these shores two millennia ago. They settled in Kerala as traders to establish the now-thriving spice market, but today the Jewish population has all but died out. Well preserved, though largely unremarkable, (blue and white Cantonese floor tiles tell a story of travel, as does an old Belgian glass chandelier), the

synagogue is located on a lane lined with antique shops that attract dealers from around the country. Old colonial and indigenous furniture, lace from Quilon (“We send to Venice and Bruges,” said the proud shopkeeper as I bought an angel-embroidered handkerchief for my sweat-filmed brow), Christian art and artefacts, old Dutch and Chinese pottery can be bought here. A thriving craft market also manufactures new artefacts dressed up to look like antiques. Nearby, the Matancherry Palace— popularly known as the Dutch Palace—was originally built by the Portuguese and handed over to the Raja of Cochin. The Dutch made extensions to the palace, which is now a museum. One enters from a staircase of a rather unimpressive building, yet inside, it’s a transformative experience: the rooms have murals portraying scenes from the Ramayana. Well preserved and earthy coloured, they are abruptly followed by a display of Cochin’s history. Portraits of the erstwhile Rajas, all surprisingly similar, face their old palanquins. Along Bazaar Road from Matancherry Palace is the spice bazaar. The shops are filled with sachets and tins of chillies and sandalwood, green tea, and vanilla bean. After stocking up at Spice Palace where the young girl convinced us of the wonders of rubbing sandalwood on our faces, we headed to Gallery Open Eyed Dreams, a private art gallery in a converted warehouse on Bazaar Road. It showcases

contemporary art, with an outdoor spill for performances. On the way back to the old harbour, crisscrossing inner lanes, we passed Shantilal Sweets on Gujarati Street, a road on which artist Riyas Komu said, 22 communities live in peace. Shamir, the rickshaw driver confirmed, “They all speak Malayalam and there is no problem.” In a state with India’s highest literacy levels, art seems to flourish in a very tactile way. The craft of centuries is woven in lace and sculpted in wood, smelt in the air, and spoken in the many tongues that carry histories through the meandering charm of Fort Kochi. n

MARCH 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 43

Stuart Pearce /dinodia photo (man on cycle), exotica im/dinodia photo (sculpture), travelin kerala/alamy/indiapicture (dutch colonial grave), tom stoddart archive/hulton archive/getty images (spice shop)

Fort Kochi is dotted with cultural reminders of the past, and it is easy to see the co-mingling of Malayali culture (left) with influences from the many traders and colonists who came here; Visitors to the Folklore Museum (middle) can see representations of the three architectural schools of Kerala and cultural artefacts from across south India; The gravestone (right) of a Dutch nobleman at St. Francis Church is decorated with images such as skull and bones; Visitors are likely to smell the many spices available at the Spice Market (bottom) in Fort Kochi much before they see them.

Summer Special Family Time

Rich Pickings Plan a holiday around picking fruit on a farm. The kids will love it By Marisha Thakur and Zahra Amiruddin

68 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | march 2013

The road from Srinagar to Pahalgam is lined with apple orchards. Visitors can take a stroll and buy cases of fresh apples in the months of July to October.

yawar nazir/getty images


hen the sweltering summer seems unbearable, children and adults alike can spend balmy mornings in the countryside, on a farm picking delicious fruit. And if you miss the bounty of summer fruit, there are fruit-picking options all year round. From crushing grapes in Nashik, to strolling through citrus farms in Punjab, or picking strawberries in Meghalaya, there is much joy in connecting with the fruit we eat. Most orchards with accommodation allow visitors to pick fruit for free, and charge only for what’s consumed.


Chikoos gujarat and maharashtra

Plums punjab

In June, newspapers in Punjab carried an article that had Amritsar’s farmers in a tizzy. A new variation of the plum called the allu-bukhara Amritsari had been created by the Khalsa College of Agriculture. It was sweeter, more nutritious, and the seed didn’t cling to the flesh. This new breed, in addition to other varieties such as the Java and Japanese plum, can be picked in orchards around Amritsar. Season: June to July. Stay: Green Acres Haveli and Retreat (097819 83828; www.greenacreshaveli. com; doubles `2,500) in Amritsar has a large plum orchard as well as groves of papaya, banana, tangerine, guava, and pear. Plum-picking is allowed during season. Guests can also milk cows, pick eggs and take tractor rides through the village.

Grapes maharashtra

Maharashtra’s thriving vineyards account for 80 percent of India’s grape production. Drive by the farms of Sholapur, Beed, Latur, Satara, and Nashik, to see farmers carefully watering, tending to, and harvesting their grape crops. In fields owned by winemakers like Sula, York, and Zampa, visitors can stroll through lush vineyards, pick fruit, get a tour of the wine making process, and end the day with a wine-paired dinner. Most vineyards organise grape-picking tours at which kids can stomp fruit in large wooden tubs while their parents indulge in a more peaceful wine-tasting session. During the monsoon, tourists can also pick

guavas in Nashik. Season: January to mid-May. Stay: Nashik Wine Tour organises trips from

Pune and Mumbai to all three vineyards. The tours (`2,300 per person; 020-32403447; include transport, one night’s stay in Nashik city, breakfast, a visit to a vineyard, and wine tastings. Reservations can also be made with The Beyond–Sula Vineyard Resort (02532230141;; doubles from `5,000 including breakfast and wine-tasting) and York Winery (96577 28070; `1,500 per head for a tour of the vineyard and winetasting session; march 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 69

dinodia photo (chikoo and grapes), madlen/shutterstock (plums)

The agricultural belt on the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat is filled with blossoming sapodilla orchards. The farms in the Gholvad and Dahanu districts, many of which are run by Parsi families, distribute chikoos all over India. The orchards are easily accessible from Mumbai (about 130 km away) and are keen champions of agro-tourism. Season: December to March. Stay: In addition to fruit-picking, Tarpa and Save farms in Dahanu (02528-241130; www.savefarm. in; doubles `1,500 including breakfast, dinner and farm tour) educate visitors about organic composting techniques, bee-keeping, vermiculture, and harvesting methods used by local farmers. The farms provide clean, comfortable accommodation around the orchards. There is also a nursery where guests can purchase saplings.

Summer Special Family Time

Apples Himachal

Fruit Festivals The Konkan Fruit Fest (konkanfruitfest. com) in May every year transforms the Campal Heritage Precincts in Panjim into a giant fruit bowl. There are bazaars selling sweet mangosteen, citron, kokum, and jambul, fruit-themed fancy dress competitions, prizes for fruit carving, and fruit-eating contests. Local bands also perform at the venue every year, drawing thousands of tourists and farmers. The northeastern part of India is known for its pineapples, and the people of Manipur are especially proud of their produce. Their fondness for the prickly fruit will be on display at the Sixth Annual Manipur Pineapple festival in September. In addition to a bustling bazaar, the celebration includes a best pineapple contest, tastings, and cultural performances. The highlight of the festival is a beauty pageant and the crowning of Miss Pineapple Queen who wins `50,000 (Call Seilianmang Khongsai on 98629 50205 for exact dates).

Strawberries Meghalaya and Maharashtra

Around Valentine’s Day every year, the otherwise-drowsy village of Sohliya in Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district comes alive. On February 14, Sohliya hosts a strawberry festival. Hordes of tourists flock here to pick fresh berries, sample strawberry wine, ice cream, and cake, and to take home large bottles of the fruit preserved in jams and jellies. Sohliya also has numerous mulberry farms. In Mahableshwar, a popular hill station in Maharashtra, most hotels arrange strawberry-picking trips on local farms. Mapro (the brand makes jams sold in shops across the country) also has a strawberry festival from 27-31 March that

70 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | march 2013

showcases packaged products and bizarre innovations like strawberry-flecked bhel puri. Season: End-January to March in Meghalaya; December to February in Mahableshwar. Stay: Deepak Laloo allows fruit picking on his farm at Sohliya and provides accommodation in a three-bedroom guesthouse on the property (94361 00856; doubles `3,000 including breakfast). In Mahableshwar, The Dina Hotel (02168260246;; doubles `3,000) and Fredrick Hotel (02168-260240;; doubles `5,000 including all meals) are 10 minutes from Mapro Farms (02168-240112;

IP-Black/indiapicture (apples), Ilyashenko Oleksiy/shutterstock (pineapple), dinodia photo (strawberries)

Propped against a backdrop of the skyscraping Himalayan ranges, the apple orchards on the slopes of Kinnaur, Kotgarh, Rohru, and other towns around Shimla make for a picturesque getaway. Travellers can stroll around the fruit-laden boughs, take applepicking treks, and visit small factories that make apple jelly and jam. Season: June to September. Stay: Located 8,000 feet above sea level on the Tibet-Hindustan Road, The Apple Orchard Inn (01783-225225; krishrauniresort. in; doubles `2,200 ) in Krish-Rauni offers rooms with valley-views and breakfast picnics under the trees. The Banjara Orchard Retreat (94180 77180; www.banjaracamps. com; doubles from `4,500) in Thanedar offers overnight stays as well as tours of the apple circuit, which combine fruit-picking with treks, visits to monasteries, and trout fishing. Both offer clean, comfortable lodging close to the orchards.


Oranges Punjab

Mangoes Maharashtra

The king of fruits demands a trip to the Konkan in the blistering summer. Ratnagiri, where the country’s finest Alphonso mangoes are grown, is extremely popular (and often crowded). Palshet, one of the lesser-known villages, offers similar activities at a more leisurely pace. There are numerous government-run, NGO-aided, as well as privately-owned homestays and hotels that give visitors a chance to stroll through mango orchards. Culture Aangan, for instance, has a Rutotsav festival during season. The organisation, which aims to brings about rural development through tourism, organ

ises four-day package tours ( from `12,000 per head) that include three nights’ stay at a farm, all meals, mango-picking, trips to the local Fruit Research Station and cashew factory, and a mango-based cooking class. Season: May to July/August. Stay: A village-tourism initiative called the Majhya Mamacha Gaon project (98239 66181;; `400 per person for day visit; doubles from `1,200), offers day-long and special weekend packages for families to pick ripe mangoes of many varieties from their orchards at Boisar, in the Thane district. It can get a bit

noisy and crowded during the peak season. Ganesh Agro Tourism (94224 33676; www.; doubles `2,000 inclusive of all meals) between Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, allows visitors to pick mangoes for free (you pay per kg for the fruit you keep). O’nest Homestay (99708 41837;; doubles from `800), 40 km from Ratnagiri, has a mango orchard, two modest cottages, and two double rooms. Culture Aangan (98203 73254; www.cultureaangan. com; doubles `3,500 per night including meals) offers homestay experiences at Nandan Farms in Sindhudurg. n

march 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 71

dinodia photo (oranges), christopher and sally gable/dorling kindersley/getty images (mango tree), sam panthaky/afp/getty images (farmer)

Plucking tangerines on a nippy winter morning in Punjab is a wonderful experience. The leaves are moist with dew, the air smells of fresh orange zest and the field is soft with mud. Kinnows, mandarin, sweet oranges—they’re all ripe for the taking in winter. During the rest of the year, visitors can pick guavas, pears, jamuns and grapefruit. Season: End-October to February. Stay: Citrus County Farm Stays (98150 77880; www.; doubles `8,000 including all meals, fruit plucking, and village safari) in Hoshiarpur offers nine luxury tents pitched amid a 75-acre farm so parents and kids can experience the joy of living close to the land. The owners of Jyani Natural Farms (1638-233251;; `2,500 per day including meals) in Katehra village follow strictly organic practices. In addition to picking fruit on the Jyani’s 150-acre farm, visitors can learn to make kinnow squash from freshly-picked fruit.

Summer Special Road Trip

Having learnt his lesson the hard way, the author installed carriers for fuel jerrycans at the back of the bike for his next road trip to Ladakh.

Tarmac Troubles A guide to working around common road-trip woes Text & Photographs by Rishad Saam Mehta


ne of the joys of a driving holiday in India is the unpredictability. A road trip is a fabulous way to escape the humdrum routine of daily life. While adventures are fun and something most people look forward to, misadventures can ruin a holiday. Here’s an expert guide to sidestepping possible problems so your road trip doesn’t turn into a driving disaster. Ooops, a flat The sound of escaping air jars the sublime opening chords of Deep Purple’s “Soldier of Fortune”. The juddering steering wheel indicates a flat tyre. It is 4 a.m. and I’ve just driven past the Masinagudi elephant corridor on the lonely road from Mudumalai to Ooty. I pull out the spare and discover it has almost no air. I curse in frustration and

hear furious trumpeting in reply. Mountainous black shapes start crossing the road barely 10 feet from me; eyes and tusks gleam in the starlight. I hide inside the car until daybreak and hitch a ride to the nearest tyre repair shop in the morning. Prevention During the pre-road trip check of tyre pressure, oil and water levels, and fuel topoff, don’t forget to check the air pressure in the spare too. Make sure that the jack, spanner, and other tools are all in the boot. Carry a spare tube that can be put in the tyre should the puncture be irreparable. If you’re running tubeless tyres, carry a puncture repair kit and if you want to be extra careful, then a compact air compressor that can run off the car battery. There are a few variants on the market, from smaller units that plug into the car’s 12V lighter socket

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(within `1,000) to heavy-duty compressors that run off the car’s battery and get the job done faster (cost up to `16,000 depending on the brand). At places where the road is being repaired, avoid going on to the shoulder since there are invariably nails and other sharp objects there. If you encounter freshly-laid tar, drive across it quickly to avoid damage to the tyres from heat. If there’s traffic, wait on the side for a gap. And it all spewed forth My car was crawling at 10 kph up the road leading to the beautiful Jalori Pass in Himachal Pradesh—a route that I have rallied on, sliding around corners at high speeds. This time around my co-passenger has turned a shade of green and is trying desperately to keep his breakfast in. He’d

Doing the paperwork I’d been driving for seven hours from Manali and we were just a few kilometres from Chandigarh. A portly policeman noticed that my car is registered in Karnataka and whistles at me. I promptly put my fingers in my mouth and whistle back, give him a cheery wave, and carry on. He furiously whistles some more, his cheeks ballooning, eyes almost popping out, and vehemently indicates that I should pull over. He asks to see my licence and papers. Everything is in order but the PUC (pollution under control) certificate is missing. He levies a `1,000 fine.

The ill-timed sputter I’m in Nainital on my first ever motorcycle touring trip. The bike is low on fuel but some hasty mental calculations convince me

The person prone to motion sickness should sit in the front passenger seat and keep their eyes on the road. Avoid using the phone, reading a map, or taking pictures

that I have just enough to get to Kaladhungi, 35 km away. But as the sun sets, my bike sputters and dies. I’m still around 20 km from my destination, on a heavily-forested road running along the outskirts of Corbett National Park. As I push the bike, heavy with my voluminous saddlebags, a magnificent tigress steps on to the road 40 feet ahead of me, followed by two cubs. The three give me the once over and start ambling toward me. I drop the bike and frantically look for the nearest tree to scurry up when she stops and emits a low mournful call. It’s answered by another and an incredibly large tiger steps out of the jungle and joins her. They all stare at me for a bit and then nonchalantly walk back into the jungle. Prevention: As a thumb rule, start looking for fuel stations when the fuel gauge drops below half and always fill the tank full. Keep in mind that in remote areas pumps are few and far between and they often run out of their weekly quota of fuel. So that next pump that you’re banking on may just be dry. Remember to keep a generous margin of error when calculating the range of your car on a full tank. If you think you might run out before the next pump, carry additional fuel in a can. For this, it’s wise to always have a 20 litre can handy in the boot, so you can fill it up when in doubt. At small pumps in rural areas, the fuel might sometimes not be very clean and it’s best to add an amount of injector cleaning fluid when you fill up. n

It’s quite common to see elephants (top) and other animals crossing the roads that wind through Masinagudi (above). MARCH 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 79

itsmejust/shutterstock (road sign)

eaten a whopping dinner the previous night and a hearty breakfast before we left. Popping an anti-motion sickness tablet after he started feeling nauseous didn’t help. We had to pull over 18 times during that drive. Prevention Those who are prone to motion sickness should avoid alcohol the night before a trip. Breakfast should be light, a simple toast and boiled egg, and coffee or tea. Most motion sickness medicines are defensive measures—they prevent motion sickness but can’t stop it once it has set in—so have a pill before the curvy roads start. Motion sickness acupressure bands (available for `450) are also effective. If you can’t find them, try this trick. Press a small pebble to the pulse point of your wrist and tape it there with medical plaster. Do the same for the other wrist. If you do it right, it really works. The person prone to motion sickness should sit in the front passenger seat and keep their eyes on the road. Avoid using the phone, reading a map, or taking pictures. The driver also needs to be considerate and not slide around corners, accelerate rapidly to overtake, or brake suddenly. Smooth driving greatly reduces car sickness.

Prevention It is essential to carry all your documents, including an up-to-date PUC certificate. You can keep photocopies in the car, but carry originals as well in a safe place. As a precaution, scan documents and upload them to the cloud so that you can access them from anywhere, should you need to. Cops often do random checks on outstation cars, and it’s important to have everything in place. Do some research about the requirements in the states you will be driving through. For example, in Gujarat, it is mandatory to have a yellow vertical line on the right headlight. When you do pay a fine, make sure you take the receipt. If the car you’re driving is not registered in your name then carry a letter from the owner stating that you are using the car legally.


Summer Special Indian Summer

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Cover Story



Lakshadweep’s clear blue waters and coral life make it one of the best places in the country to snorkel. MARCH 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 83

Sumer Verma

When the weather in India turns hot, the strong scent of a break from daily life is in the air and it spells h-o-l-i-d-a-y. Schools go on long breaks, office-goers take time off, families spend time together, friends plot a trip. The languid heat yells “head to the hills” to some, for others it’s a time to plunge into the ocean or lie motionless by a lake. Summer is the perfect time to explore village homestays on Himalayan slopes or soak up the luxuries of colonialera bungalows, or even ski down a grassy slope. But summer is also the time to learn to surf, or enjoy the special charms of some national parks, as animals gather at watering holes. And, it’s in this blistering season that the mango orchards along the Konkan Coast are flush and fragrant with ripe fruit. Indian summers have something special in store for every kind of traveller, the lazy, the adventurous, the wide-eyed, and the solitude-seeker—from the lonely backpacker to the three-generational family. Here are some of National Geographic Traveller India’s picks to inspire you to plan your getaway

Summer Special Indian Summer


Action-packed vacations for the restless traveller Catch the waves

Surfing the Indian Coast


An artificial reef was constructed off the coast of Kovalam beach in 2011 to stabilise coastal erosion. As a welcome side effect, it has also made the waves great for surfing.; `1,000 per lesson). The original “Surfing Swamis” are a short distance away at the Ashram Surf Retreat (98806 59130;; `1,500 per lesson) in Mulki. Further north, Cocopelli Surf School in Gokarna has lessons and rentals

(81057 64969; www.cocopelli. org; `600 per lesson). Surfing on the east coast picks up in late May and June, with some massive waves in Puri, Orissa, India’s little-known surfing hotspot. Surfing Yogis train newbies and intermediates, and also organise the annual

India Surf Festival (94370 03284; www.surfingyogis. org; `2,000 per day including lessons, accommodation and food). About 30 km south of Chennai, Murthy, a surfer and fisherman, runs a surfing school at Covelong Point (98409 75916; `500 per lesson).

Hit the slopes

Grass Skiing in Manali


The grass-skiing slope in Manali is one of a kind in India. In 2012, three skiers represented the country at the Grass Skiing World Cup in Iran. 84 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | March 2013

ust because there’s no snow, doesn’t mean you can’t ski. It sounds bizarre, but skiing down a grassy slope is a professional sport. What’s even more surprising is that Himachal Pradesh has its own state-of-the-art 13-km grass skiing slope. The activity is identical to regular skiing, except the skis have wheels on the base. From June onwards, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports organises grass skiing courses in the Solang

Valley, 13 km up the road from

Manali, teaching students to roll down the slopes against the summery green backdrop of the Kullu Valley. The sport was developed in the 1960s to allow professional skiers to practice their skills during the warm months. It’s a great way for beginners to learn the basics before hitting the snowy slopes later in the year (01902-252341; www.adventurehimalaya. org; `3,150 for a 7-day course including course fee and lodging).

Tim Makins/Lonely Planet Images/Getty IMAGES (surf boards), Beyond Fotomedia GMBH/Alamy/Indiapicture (grass skiing)

he biggest waves in India tumble on to shores between March and June, making summer the best time to surf. Grab a board, some suntan lotion and run out into the ocean. The Andaman swell is at its best until early April and scores of tiny pockets across the islands have great waves. Finding them can be tricky if you don’t know where to look, so it’s a good idea to sign up with groups like Soul and Surf, which organises a nine-day surfing camp (94465 15323; www.; `1,00,000 for 9 days including lessons, lodging, food and transport from Port Blair). From April to June, beginners can choose from a number of surfing schools on the west coast. In Karnataka, the Shaka Surf Club at Kodibengre, near Manipal, has a dozen boards, daily surfing lessons, and India’s only female instructor (99867 42710;

Cover Story

There are plenty of adventure sports to try in Lakshadweep but jumping into the Arabian Sea is also fun.

Take a dive

Scale a mountain

Snorkelling by the Islands the luxurious M.V. Kavaratti (`20,000 per person; all inclusive), and certified scuba courses conducted by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors ( from `30,000 per person, including lessons, accommodation and meals; 5-8 days). A complete list of packages is available at (0484-2666789 for detailed enquiries). If the 14-hour boat journey to the Lakshwadeep islands seems too arduous or time-consuming, go snorkelling closer to the Indian mainland near Bogmalo Beach in south Goa, exploring

hidden caves and World War II relics. Goa Aquatics has certified courses (98226 85025; www.; from `14,000 for a basic 2-day course). There are also dives at Netrani, in Murudeshwar, Karnataka, against the backdrop of the gigantic Shiva statue. Dive Goa (93250 30110; www.divegoa. com; `4,500 per dive) and Dreamz Diving (93261 13466;; `4,500 per dive; minimum of 4 participants) organise dives in Netrani. The dive season for Lakshadweep, Goa and Netrani is from midOctober to mid-May.

Ride the winds

Kiteboarding in Mandwa


trong winds are the most obvious prerequisite for kiteboarding (also called kitesurfing), and those winds are just a short ferry ride away from Mumbai. With steady gusts between 10-15 knots, Mandwa beach is one of the best and most accessible places to learn kiteboarding. The adventure

sport combines elements of wakeboarding, windsurfing, and paragliding. It sounds intimidating, but with the right instruction, most newbies can learn the ropes in 6-10 hours. Kiteboarding India has a number of courses at Mandwa, to train beginners and intermediates. Experienced kiteboarders

can use the facilities for a fee. As a bonus, enrolling for the basic “Discovery” course earns you membership with the International Kiteboarding Organisation (98203 67412; www.kiteboardingindia. com; `16,500 for 6-hour course including lessons and equipment; 2-3 days).


ost visitors to Nainital are content to sit back and experience the serenity of the Kumaon, but it’s just as much fun to scramble up the mountains. The Nainital Mountaineering Club, an adventure group established in 1968, organises courses that involve a combination of rock climbing, bouldering, and rappelling. While the natural rocky landscape of Bara Pathar (3 km from Nainital) is enough of a playground, there’s also a well-designed artificial wall. The duration of courses ranges from three days for basic mountain climbing, to twenty days for search-and-rescue training (94129 05949; ntmcindia.; 7-day course `1,100 including lessons and equipment). Those interested in longer mountaineering courses can sign up for the 28day programme at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. Seats are limited, and fill up fast in the summer, so try to book as early as possible (01374-222123; www.nimindia. net; `5,000 for 28-day course).

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Dinodia photo


ot too long ago, Lakshadweep was chockfull of scuba diving and snorkelling operators spread across the islands. With the tourism board taking charge of water sports, underwater adventures in Lakshadweep are now restricted to the four main islands—Kavaratti, Kadmat, Kalpeni, and Minicoy. Lakshadweep Tourism makes up for the lack of private operators with a wide variety of packages. There are simple weekend breaks (`6,000 per person for two nights including lessons, accommodation, and meals), five-day cruises on

Rock Climbing in Nainital

Summer Special Indian Summer


Unlike gushing rivers and temperamental oceans, lakes remain calm through most seasons, making them ideal places for self reflection

Into the Blue

Forest Retreat

Pangong Tso in Ladakh


ver the high mountain pass of Changla, 150 km from Ladakh’s capital Leh, is one of the region’s most beautiful lakes. Pangong Tso is a high altitude saltwater lake that glistens a mesmerising blue. Accessible only in the summer, it is not easy to get to. It’s a five-hour drive from Leh and requires crossing a stream a few kilometres before the lake. This stream, locally referred to as Pagal Nala, is narrow in the morning but turns into a torrent by late afternoon. Anyone going to or from Pangong must complete their crossing before the stream’s waters reach chest level at about 3 p.m. During the day, Pangong Tso looks captivating and visitors can

Renuka Lake in Himachal Pradesh be seen gazing dreamily into its depths. At night, when the moon is out, it looks even more magnificent. Camping overnight on the banks of this lake is an unforgettable experience, but make sure you have acclimatised at a lower altitude. Several seasonal tented camps provide extremely comfortable accommodation and facilities, including flush toilets and showers. Camp Watermark (; doubles from `3,300) is bang on the lake while Pangong Retreat Camp (01982-257858;; doubles from `3,000) is a little further away. There are cheap homestays at the nearby settlement of Spangmik.

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aid to be shaped like a reclining woman, Renuka Lake in the Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh is considered the embodiment of Renukaji, the wife of Sage Jamagadni and the mother of Pashuram, one of the ten avatars of Shiva. Surrounded by thick forests, it is the largest lake in Himachal Pradesh and there’s plenty to discover during a stroll along its threekilometre circumference. At one end, is a temple dedicated to Renukaji, and close by, a tiny dock from where boats can be rented for rides around the lake. Once a year, in November, the area swells with crowds for the annual Renukaji fair. The rest of the time, it is a quiet

and peaceful break from the city. Hotel Renuka, run by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, has large, clean rooms with balconies that overlook the lake. Visitors can stake out a spot in the sun on the hotel’s lawns, just across a narrow road from the lake. The service can sometimes be rather slow (01702-267339; www.hptdc.; doubles from `1,100, since the lake holds religious significance for locals, the hotel does not serve alcohol or non-vegetarian food). In the thick deciduous forests that surround the lake, small animals like sambar, barking deer and spotted deer, jackals, civets, the occasional leopard, and lots of

Cover Story

In summer, Pangong Tso mirrors the deep blue skies above, before freezing over in the severe winters.

Green Gardens

birds can be spotted. The lake, which is fed by underwater springs, is full of colourful fish. The Devicos Plaza in Dadahu, just 2 km from the lake, offers better facilities and service. However, it’s located in the town, and doesn’t offer the excellent view and peace that the Hotel Renuka does (01702267231;; doubles from `1,800). About 10 km from Renuka Lake is the picturesquely-located Writers Hill with cottages named after books and décor to match. It is located atop a hill and surrounded by trees, with a beautiful view of the valley (98766 90619; www.writershill. com; doubles from `5,000, includes all meals).


estled in the Kamarajar Valley of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu is a 400-acre haven for birds and birdwatchers. The glimmering waters of the vast Kamarajar Lake attract over 150 bird species, including kingfishers, cranes, owls, and sunbirds. Many of them can be seen enjoying a dip in the water or hunting for fish. The lakeshore is lined with coconut trees, banana plantations, cardamom estates, and ecofriendly resorts that provide comfortable accommodation. Double Dutch Resort, located on the spurs of the Palani Hills, has a library and a farm with cows, rabbits, Guinea fowls, dogs and cats. Guests can stroll

through peanut gardens and palm groves, tuck into fresh bread and fruit preserves made in-house, or take leisurely treks with the Dutch couple that runs the resort. Five spacious rooms, a verandah, a colonialstyle statue garden and warm hospitality make for a pleasant stay (04543-294499; www.; doubles `2,600). Cardamom House is an eco-farm homestay managed by a retired British physician. Electricity is provided by solar energy, and all meals are cooked with ingredients from the village market or the farm. In addition to bird watching, staying at Cardamom House may allow glimpses of leopards that live in the hills behind the farm.

In the evenings, visitors can take a dip in the lake, or watch fishermen glide by in their coracles (0451-2556765; www.; doubles from `3,300 for a two-night stay). Lakeside Guesthouse, by contrast, offers sculpted greenery. Run by an English couple, it has four wellfurnished twin bedrooms, and five cosy cottages. For a sense of village life, guests can cycle or walk 4 km away to the nearest hamlet, to see sari weavers and potters practicing their craft. Upon request, Lakeside Guesthouse will arrange a round of golf at the Kodaikanal Club (0451-3202817; www.lakeside.; doubles `3,225 including breakfast).

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Aditi Das Patnaik/Flickr/Getty images

Kamarajar Lake in Tamil Nadu

Journeys Heritage

Several of Begum Samru’s relatives, including her French husband, Le Vaisseau, are buried in the rather decrepit but serene Sardhana cemetery on the edge of town.

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Uttar Pradesh

Critical Mass A church built by an 18th-century warrior-queen draws thousands of pilgrims each November

By Naresh Fernandes photos by ishan tankha March 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 149

Journeys Heritage


raised himself up and then, lifting his palms in front of his face, took a It was around 11 a.m. when Masih joined the queue to offer a picture of the painting with his cellphone. garland of marigolds at an altar in the church built in the 1820s by To the left of the altar towered an 18-foot monument containing the the flamboyant Begum Samru, whose life has inspired half-a-dozen remains of the woman who had once ruled the 625 sq km principality books, at least two film scripts, and a play. Named Farzana at birth in a of Sardhana. On top of the ornate pile of Carrara marble, created by an town not far from Meerut, she spent her teenage years as a nautch girl Italian sculptor named Adamo Tadolini, was a stern statue of Begum before leading armies into battle, rescuing the Mughal emperor from a Samru looking more like Sharmila Tagore than Kareena. Below the captor, converting to Christianity, and ruling over India’s only Roman statue were friezes depicting highlights from the Begum’s 83 years on Catholic principality. the planet: presenting a chalice to a bishop, presiding over a darbar, Though Masih, a clerk in a military school, didn’t know much more riding an elephant on the battlefield. than the broad details of Samru’s life, he was very familiar with the The monument was surrounded by six marble figures, some symroutine at the shrine. After all, he’d been making the annual Sardhana bolic, such as one of a woman with a club in her hand to represent the pilgrimage since he was a teenager, travelling to the town each year on Begum’s courage, others literal likenesses of her family and officials. the second weekend of November, to commemorate the inauguration To the Begum’s left, for instance, stood her mousof an altar dedicated to Mary. As a consequence, tachioed chief administrator, Diwan Rae Singh, he wasn’t especially impatient about stepping Viewed from the through the door of the church. back of the room, it whose great-great grandson would become a powerful minister himself—Jawaharlal Nehru. There were about 400 people in the line ahead was impossible to But Rehmat Masih of Amritsar didn’t pay much of him, and perhaps just as many more behind, tell whether the attention to the statuary. Now that he’d paid his all of them kept moving smoothly by young volfemale worshiprespects to the Mother, he was on his way to help unteers in blue vests. By the end of the weekend, pers were veiled out at a langar set up in the churchyard to feed the an estimated 2,50,000 pilgrims from across thousands of pilgrims who were still pouring in. northern India would have travelled to Sardhana Catholic nuns, The weekend was still young. to worship at Our Lady of Graces and enjoyed Punjabis who had the dusty fair spread through the town, filling its wrapped their ********** narrow lanes with tumbling wheels, samosa dupattas around stands, and 3D pictures of a blue-eyed Christ their heads or As I was setting out for Sardhana, I received an made in China. Muslims in burkhas email from Martin Bradatsch, expressing his inMany visitors believe that the shrine’s image ability to grant me an interview. However, I could, of Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms has miif I wished, meet with his family’s lawyer in Wiesbaden, Germany. I’d raculous powers so they brave long journeys to place their petitions found Bradatsch’s address on a website studded with an impressive at the altar and to show their gratitude for favours received. The discrest bearing an elephant and castle and an even more impressive proportionate number of infants in the churchyard that morning, for range of syntactical errors. “Since several generations, the descendinstance, seemed to suggest that their parents attributed the births to ants of the English-Indian prince Sumru, born as "Johann Walter" some sort of divine assistance. But Masih wasn’t hoping for anything Reinhard, tried to get payed off their rightfull inheritance of his estate quite so dramatic. He made the pilgrimage every year because the administered by the English government,” it said. “There were always shrine gave him a sense of strength. “This church that Begum Samru excuses by the English competend authority [to] not comply this obhas built fills my mind with peace,” he told me. ligation.” It took Masih about 25 minutes to get to the entrance of the church, Bradatsch is the head of the Neue Reinhard Erbengemeinschaft— an improbable Italianate building modelled on St Peter’s in Rome, set the New Reinhard community of heirs, who claim to be the rightful down amidst the sugarcane plantations and mango groves of western descendants of Begum Samru’s German-born master. Two centuries Uttar Pradesh. Filing past the image of Our Lady of Graces, Masih later, they believe they have a right to Sardhana’s fortunes (even if they performed a ritual followed by many others in the line: he bowed low, 150 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | March 2013

image state/indiapicture

o Bollywood director Tigmanshu Dhulia, she looked like either Kareena Kapoor or Rani Mukherjee, for those are the two actresses he’s reportedly approached to play her in his forthcoming film. To her enemies in the 18th century, she was a witch with the power to destroy rival armies simply by spreading out her tunic. But to 30-year-old Rehmat Masih, Begum Samru was a benevolent queen whose saintliness is so enduring, he and 150 members of his clan had piled into two Taurus trucks and rumbled down the road from Amritsar all night until they reached Sardhana, 22 km from Meerut, right in time for the festival at the church of Our Lady of Graces.

Uttar Pradesh This monument over the tomb of Begum Samru is the work of Italian sculptor Adamo Tadolini. It was completed in 1842 at the cost of `2.5 lakh. The courtier visible on her left was an ancestor of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Journeys Heritage

Begum Samru lived in this palace, completed in 1835, for only a year before she died. It is now the St Charles’ Inter College.

aren’t exactly sure where the treasures lie). “We have been trying for 20 years to receive our heritage from the British crown,” Bradatsch said in his email message. Walter Reinhardt, their putative ancestor, is thought to have come to India in 1754 as a soldier in the army of the French East India Company. Like many European military men in India at that time, he soon became a mercenary. Reinhardt raised a force staffed by Indian soldiers but headed by European officers. He had a fearsome record. He’d shot to notoriety after being hired by Mir Kasim, the Nawab of Bengal, to teach his troops European methods of warfare. In 1763, when the Nawab’s troops took on the forces of the British East India Company, Reinhardt was blamed for massacring 148 British residents captured in Patna. By then, he had already acquired the nickname Sombre, either for his brooding disposition or because he’d picked up a tan from spending a lot of time on sun-soaked Indian battlefields. Whatever its origins, his Indian troops had a problem getting their tongue around the word, so they simply called him Samru sahib. Samru was granted a jagir (feudal land) in Sardhana in 1773 after he helped the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam subdue a rebellion. Farzana had entered his household eight years earlier, perhaps as a slave. Though Reinhardt already had a wife, the beautiful teenaged dancer soon became the dominant force in his life. When the mercenary died in 1778, she came into her own as Begum Samru and went on to rule over Sardhana for six decades. In an attempt to understand the source of her mystique, I wrote to Michael Fisher, a professor of history at Oberlin College in Ohio and author of a gripping book about the Begum’s adopted son. Begum Samru, he explained, was among the diverse range of figures who rose to prominence as a result of the power vacuum created by the fragmen152 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | March 2013

tation of the Mughal empire in the 18th century. “For anyone thoughtful about Indian history, Begum Samru has to stand out as a fascinating figure,” he said. To begin with, at a time when women of her station rarely left the zenana, the Begum was famed for her physical courage. For instance, in 1787, when the Mughal emperor was held in captivity by a satrap, she rode to Delhi to rescue him. The grateful Shah Alam bestowed on her a special jagir near Delhi and the titles Farzand-i Aziza, Zeb al-Nissa Begum, Umdat al Arakin—Beloved Child, Ornament of her Sex, Support among the Pillars of State. She was also a wily strategist, performing a careful balancing act to satisfy the demands of both the declining Mughals and the advancing British. Her personal life was as colourful as her public exploits. “As an unmarried princess, she was subject to extensive gossip about her relationships with various of her courtiers,” Fisher said. After Reinhardt’s death, “she married one of them, a French mercenary officer, which led to the mutiny of her army and her new husband’s suicide”. Then, there was the baffling matter of her conversion to Catholicism. I buttonholed the Bishop Emeritus of Meerut, Reverend Patrick Nair, to share his thoughts about the Begum’s religious life. As a young man, Reverend Nair spent 13 years as a priest in the town and in 1963 wrote a pamphlet titled “Sardhana: Its Begum, Its Shrine, Its Basilica”. He has since updated it four times, most recently in 2009, adding new bits of information each time. Begum Samru, he said, was received into the Catholic church in 1781, three years after the death of her husband. The move did nothing to advance her interests with either the Muslim Mughals or the Protestant British, proof, said Reverend Nair, that she had become a Catholic out of deep personal conviction. At her baptism, she took the name Joanna as a tribute to another famous woman-

Uttar Pradesh

The annual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces draws over 2,50,000 pilgrims from across north India.

warrior, Joan of Arc. The Sardhana church, on which the Begum spent `4 lakh, is a reflection in stone of her wonderfully hybrid lifestyle. The shrine deploys both European and Mughal motifs, mirroring the Begum’s insistence on observing many Muslim customs even after her baptism, and the procedures of her court, which followed conventions drawn from two continents. Despite her extravagant displays of devotion to Rome, which included sending Pope Gregory XVI a donation of `2,50,000, the Begum confounded her Catholic advisors by refusing to halt her patronage to institutions run by people of other faiths: she made donations to temples and mosques in Sardhana and reconstructed the Anglican church in Meerut. She also made grants to secular causes. “Her memory still lives in the names of many places in Meerut”, such as the Begumpul bridge that she built, and the Begambagh area, which has come up over her former garden, said Reverend Nair. In addition, the Begum had prime properties in Delhi. One of her palaces stands right on Chandni Chowk, its proximity to the Red Fort an indication of the keen regard in which she was held by the Mughal court. Today, the Bhagirath Palace houses a branch of the State Bank of India. When I poked my head in one recent morning to inquire about Begum Samru, a helpful guard directed me to an employee on an upper floor, who, he assured me, would have all the information I needed. She turned out to be a Mrs. Sapru. The office was stuffed with Formaica-topped desks, and there was little to suggest its former splendour. The lane next to the palace contains north India’s largest market for electrical fittings. I was dazzled by the variety of light bulbs on display: from yellow strawberries and purple fish, to clusters of orange grapes and red lotuses. The prosperity Begum Samru ensured for her family didn’t last long

after her death in 1836. Michael Fisher said that the childless Begum spent the last 30 years of her reign trying to find a suitable heir. She eventually settled on David O. Dyce Sombre, the great-grandson of her master, Reinhardt Sombre. “Just before her death she transferred to him her vast wealth (various valuable landholdings plus `50 lakh in cash, today worth many times that amount),” Fisher said. “At her death, the British took over Sardhana, disbanded its army, and effectively exiled her last chosen heir.” In 1841, Dyce Sombre went on to become the first Indian to be elected to the British Parliament, but was soon declared a lunatic and denied control over most of his assets. Those holdings are what Martin Bradatsch and his 105 of his kinsfolk are striving to gain. They estimate that the Sardhana estate was worth 19 billion Deutschmarks in the 1950s and haven’t valued it afresh. The Neue Reinhard Erbengemeinschaft are trying to gather credible documents to prove their descent from Reinhardt Sombre and using the Internet to find new evidence to bolster their demands. Though they’ve been at it since 1992, they haven’t made much headway. Said Bradatsch, “As you can see, it is not that easy.” ********** On the first evening of the pilgrimage, all of Sardhana seemed to have turned into a dharamshala. Almost every square foot in every ancient structure had been colonised by blankets and sprawling bodies. Thousands of visitors had found shelter in the enormous shamianas that had been erected on the church grounds. Others prepared to bed down in the corridors and classrooms of St Charles’ Inter College, a colonnaded building completed in 1835 that had briefly been the Begum’s palace. She’d lived in it for only a year before she died. It has a March 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 153

Journeys Heritage

In the churchyard are statues of the Stations of the Cross, which depicts Christ’s journey to Calvary to be crucified.

sweeping, broad staircase and opulent bathrooms, inlaid with polished stones using the pietradura technique. Local tradition maintains that people suffering from goitre can be cured if they look at themselves in its cracked mirrors. Other destinations on the visitors’ itineraries included St John’s Seminary next door, which occupied the palace in which the Begum had lived for much of her life in Sardhana, and Lady Forester’s Hospital, built with money that the Begum had left in her will and named after Dyce Sombre’s wife. Once they’d secured a place to sleep, the visitors swarmed through the fair that occupied the town’s single street, treating themselves to channa bhatura and ice cream and haggling with vendors of plastic toys and kitchen implements. The mention of the Begum’s name was greeted with bafflement on the faces of most pilgrims. Few seemed to know that she had built the church they’d journeyed such distances to visit, nor did they seem interested in learning much more about her. As twilight fell, psychedelic light panels atop the church burst into life, spinning in eternal spirals of blue, white and red. A priest led the congregation in prayer and song late into the night. If you didn’t know you were in church, you’d have thought you were at a temple jagran. The next morning, even more pilgrims flooded in to attend the 10 a.m. mass, which was presided over by the Pro-Nuncio—the Pope’s ambassador to New Delhi. Thousands of heads bowed in prayer. Viewed from the back of the room, it was impossible to tell whether the female worshippers were veiled Catholic nuns, Punjabis who had wrapped their dupattas around their heads, or Muslims in burkhas. It wasn’t surprising. Sardhana has a long history of blurring identities. That was clear when I wandered around the dishevelled cemetery at the edge of town. It contained the remains of Begum Samru’s relatives and closest associates—Frenchmen, Italians, Englishmen, Indian Catholics, and even a Pole, buried in Muslim-style graves and mausoleums with Islamic domes crowned by Christian 154 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | March 2013

crosses. The masonry of many tombs had flecked away and several marble plaques had been stolen. But almost two centuries after Begum Samru’s death, her spirit still hovered over the town. n Naresh Fernandes is a journalist who lives in Bombay. He is a consulting editor at National Geographic Traveller India, and author of Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay's Jazz Age (Roli Books, 2011).

The vitals Orientation Sardhana is 22 km from Meerut and 15 km from the nearest railway station at Darula. Meerut is about 88 km northeast of Delhi.

Getting there Buses ply between Meerut and Sardhana every 30 minutes. There is also a bus from Darula station every hour. Buses between Delhi’s Inter State Bus Terminus and Meerut, 88 km away, are also very frequent.

Seasons The period between July and March is pleasant. It gets very hot after that.

Sardhana festival The Sardhana pilgrimage is held in the second weekend of November every year. See for details.

When the festival is not on There’s still plenty to see: the church, the Begum’s former palaces, and the cemetery.

Stay Sardhana has no decent hotel, though the church does have a rudimentary resthouse for pilgrims. In fact, even accommodation in Meerut can be quite basic, so it may be best to do this as a day trip from Delhi.

GET GOING Adventure

In Search of Moby Dick Enter the world of the great ocean giants with a multi-day whale watching expedition | By Scott Sanders


rom New England to New Zealand, day-long whale watching cruises offer rich experiences. If you’re left wanting more, sign up for a multi-day itinerary in the heart of whale territory. At their best, these trips can be “soul-rejuvenating and life-changing,” says Nancy Mertz of Sea Kayak Adventures. The best time to go varies by area.

BAJA, Mexico


AZORES, Portugal

Whale researchers flock to this area off British Columbia, home to the world’s only orca (killer whale) preserve. Near these sheltered waters, visitors kayak alongside pods of feeding orcas. Sea Kayak Adventures (www. offers six-day trips that maximise whale time; you’ll sleep in comfortable tents on the beach.

If returning to an island B&B after a day on North Atlantic waters in search of resident sperm whales has appeal, consider the sixto ten-day trips offered by Whale Watch Azores on catamarans with only 12 guests (

Whales of several species abound in the waters around this peninsula, but it is the friendly greys along the Pacific coast that offer a unique experience from late January through early March. They often come alongside whale-watching skiffs. Sea & Adventures offers several options in Magdalena Bay (

OVERBERG, South Africa

The five-day Whale Trail in the De Hoop

Nature Reserve (www.dehoopcollection. com) is a hut-to-hut hike (with portage services) covering 55 kilometres. There are plenty of opportunities for sighting Southern right whales that come close to shore. Cape Nature ( za) offers trips for groups of six or 12. For those with less time or stamina, a cliff path in the town of Hermanus offers similar, if more crowded, viewing options. INSIDE PASSAGE, Alaska

Plying these waters—home to humpbacks and orcas—aboard a small ship allows access to areas that larger cruises can’t navigate. Find a cabin through Alaska Charter Yachts ( The ships organise trips to an area where 100 to 200 humpbacks gather before their annual migration to Hawaii. n

MARCH 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 161

stephen simpson/workbook stock/getty images

Grey whales give birth to calves in the warm wates of Baja, Mexico.

Short break From Bengaluru

Unseen Sands



Hike up an 18th-century fort or visit an old, working lighthouse in Kasargod | By Natasha Sahgal

The sea fort of Bekal was built in the 17th century.


veryone I meet in the district tells me that Kasargod’s Bekal Fort is famous as the location where Mani Ratnam’s song “Tu Hi Re” was shot. The beaches, blue waters and coconut tree-lined roads around the region also served as the

backdrop for scenes from the recently released movie, David. While these film connections do give the otherwise sleepy sites a brief flash of fame, the area’s family-friendly, white sand beaches are better reasons to spend some time in the scenic location. Kasargod is the northernmost district of Kerala, sharing a border with Karnataka. To the north are the Kannadiga cities of Mangalore and Udupi, and to the south is the entire Kerala coastline. Though Malayalam is the administrative language of the district, everyone in the town (including my car driver) insists that Beary, Tulu, Kannada, Konkani, Marathi and Urdu are just as frequently heard in Kasargod. Those are a lot of languages for a small town. Kasargod is the sort of place where shops close for the afternoon, and it can be hard to find anything apart from a rice plate, or thali, for meals. The placid pace of life is part of its charm. There isn’t much to do in the town but its close proximity with many beaches, temples, forts, and hills makes Kasargod a good base, from which to explore this district.

EXPLORE Kasargod town centre) is spread over 40 acres and has a water tank, tunnels, an observatory, and well-manicured lawns. It’s so huge, it’s joyfully confusing trying to decide which of the many paths to take. As it turns out, most of them lead to the central tower, the top of which offers fascinating views of the towns of Kasargod and Kanhangad. It also has views of the golden sand and waves beating against the wall of the fort. Most visitors eventually park themselves at one of the exits to have a lunch picnic or just laze around. The walk from one end of the fort to another will probably take a couple of hours so be sure to wear a good pair of shoes. Keyhole-shaped windows offer pretty views of the ocean. The walk involves some slopes, steps, and even a cluster of rocks that adventurous visitors can clamber over. Others can walk around on the sand. Adjacent to the fort is a stretch of wellmaintained beach, half of which is occupied by slim, colourful fishing boats. The rest is open for swimming. There is a lifeguard on duty 170 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | march 2013

Dinodia photo

Bekal Fort The fort (10 km south of


Beaches There are plenty of small beaches to explore near Kasargod. The Kappil Beach (12 km), Pallikere Beach (17 km) and Bekal Fort Beach (16 km) are all clean stretches of shore a short distance from town. For those who fancy driving, Muzhappilangad (100 km) is said to be Asia’s longest drive-on beach, and offers a rare experience of driving on sand for 4 km. For a day trip, head to Kaup (90 km) and Malpe (110 km) near Udupi. Kaup has an impressive lighthouse and a few restaurants. It is especially peaceful during the evenings, when a few stalls selling freshly fried fish and peanuts are open for business. Note, the waves are dangerous and swimming is not recommended. Malpe, the neighbouring beach, is completely different. It usually has a lot of visitors, food stalls, and facilities offering water sports such as speed boats, parasailing, banana boats and jet skiing. A ferry (`60 for 30 minutes) tranports visitors from Malpe to St. Mary’s Island, which is known for its clusters of distinctive, pillar-like rock formations that rise out of the sea. A Temple and an Island A quick 12-km drive away, is the ninth-century Ananthapura Lake Temple, which locals claim is the only lake temple in India. Legend has it that there is only one crocodile in this lake and when it dies, a new one mysteriously appears.

Houseboats (top left) can be hired for overnight trips around the backwaters of Kasargod; The view from the top of the lighthouse (top right) in Kaup has crescent shaped beaches next to green forests; Ananthapura temple’s (above) idol is made with Ayurvedic herbs and coconut shells.


Inside a working lighthouse The lighthouse on Kaup beach is open for visitors between 4-6 p.m. It costs `10 to enter and only four to five visitors are allowed at a time. To reach the top, travellers must remove their footwear, promise to be silent inside and then, climb nearly a hundred steps, carved in rock. The walk up is best avoided by those afraid of heights, as the spiral stairs are steep and can make one dizzy. The view from the top of the glimmering ocean, sandy beach and

shoreline that extends as far as the cities of Mangalore and Udupi, is worth the trudge up. The lighthouse keeper acts as a guide and proudly points out to the new computerised mechanism that activates the flashing light.

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South India Picture/IndiaPicture (Houseboat), natasha sahgal (lighthouse, staircase), AJISH KB (Ananthapura Lake Temple)

during the day and, unusually, a beach park (entry `10) with clean showers and changing rooms. Horse-carriage rides, swings, as well as occasional magic, music, and dance shows keep children entertained while adults lounge on chairs on the shore. Restaurants here serve up Indian and Chinese dishes.

Birds like egrets (top left) are often found wading in paddy fields, looking for small frogs, insects and crustaceans; A dancer (top right) dressed in a peacock-inspired costume gets ready to perform in front of Bekal Fort; The green hills (bottom left) around Bekal are great for leisurely walks; The seaside fort of Bekal stands tall against waves (bottom right) that lash its walls. This guardian crocodile, named Babia, is believed to be vegetarian, and survives only on offerings of prasad made of rice and jaggery. The secluded island of Valiyaparamba (30 km south of Kasargod) is full of stony beaches and green backwaters. There are only a handful of tourist houseboats here so the water is still empty and peaceful. Many water taxis operate to ferry locals. Those who aren’t renting a houseboat could hail a water taxi for a ride along the river (`10-100 for the water taxis and `6,000 for a houseboat for one night). There is a bridge from the mainland to the island but the roads are small and rough

so renting a boat from Kasargod and cruising around the backwaters to the island (`250 per hour) is a better option.

There are buses from Kanhagad to Panathady, from where jeeps can be hired to get to Ranipuram (`350).

Hills and hikes The rainforest-filled hills of Kottancheri (30 km) are popular for short hikes in the Kottancheri Wildlife Sanctuary and have several picnic spots along the way. The Veeramala Hills in Cheruvathur (50 km) have the ruins of an 18th-century Dutch fort on the top of the hill. Ranipuram (65 km) is a hill station with a trekking trail up dense forests to grassy hills. The trails are wellmarked and a large section has steps too.

172 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | march 2013

STAY Budget Apsara Regency This centrally-located budget hotel, one kilometre from Kasargod railway station, has air-conditioned rooms, hot water, attached bathrooms, and a travel desk. Small and simple, it is best suited for the budget conscious (04994-230124; doubles `800).

FOTOSEARCH RM/Dinodia (Birds and, dancer), FOTOSEARCH RM/Dinodia (Birds and, dancer), Rajesh Vijayarajan Photography/Flickr/ Getty images (green hills), Olaf Krüger/imagebrok/Dinodia (fort)

Short break From Bengaluru


Hotel City Tower This is another basic hotel located right next to the bus stop, a short walk from Kasargod town centre. This is a simple, practical option for short stays and the staff is helpful (04994-230562; doubles `1,500).

Comfort Nirvana @Bekal A few steps from Bekal Fort, these cottages are just a 100 metre-walk from the beach. The secluded location works well for those who want a quiet holiday by the sea. Rooms are small but clean and food is local and fresh (; 0467227290; doubles `3,500). Geetanjali Heritage Ten years ago, this 65-year-old home was converted into a

homestay and it feels more like a a friend’s house than a hotel. The host family prepares traditional Malabar cuisine for their guests and organises day trips to Bekal Fort, nearby beaches, and can also arrange a visit to theyyam performances (www.gitanjaliheritage. com; 0467-2234159; doubles `3,000).

Luxury Neeleshwar Hermitage This resort has plush, spacious cottages and a stretch of empty beach in front of it. Rooms have modern amenities including an iPod docking station (; 0467-2287510; doubles `12,000 including breakfast and a yoga session).

The Lalit Resort and Spa, Bekal A resort and spa spread between the beaches and backwaters of Kasargod, this is only a short walk from Bekal Fort and beach. The backwaters flowing through the property are beautiful enough to keep visitors lazing inside the resort (0467-2237777; doubles from `10,000, includes meals). Vivanta by Taj, Bekal This is a luxurious getaway by the backwaters. The hotel lawns are lavish and end where the soft sand of Kappil beach begin. The hotel also organises visits to spice plantations, along with boating, kayaking, trekking and fishing trips (04676616612;; doubles from `10,000). n

THE GUIDE Orientation Kasargod is the northernmost district of Kerala and shares a boundary with Karnataka. It is around 380 km west of Bengaluru.

Getting there Air Mangalore is the closest airport (60 km) from Kasargod. There are daily flights from Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Chennai. Hire a taxi from the airport to Kasargod (`1,500). Rail Several trains from Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Bengaluru halt at Kasargod station. Road The NH17 (Mumbai- Kochi)

runs through Kasargod. Roads are generally in pretty good condition in and around town.

Season March to June is hot with afternoon temperatures often crossing 40°C. Reserve beach walks for early mornings and late evening during this time of year. June to August has heavy rains but the hills and fort are green. November to February brings in a cool breeze with an average temperature of 20°C for most of the day, save for a couple of hours around noon, which are hot and humid.

Ananthapura Lake Temple

Kasargod Beach Kappil Beach Bekal Fort Pallikere Beach

Valiyaparamba Beach TO bengaluru

march 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 173

Priyanka Varma (beach), urmimala nag (map)

Valiyaparamba beach with its soft sand and stretches of swaying coconut palms is a loner’s paradise.

Nat Geo Traveller India March 2013  

The Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller

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