Tag Archives: Tamil Nadu

The Covelong Surf-Music-Yoga Festival 2018

If you are looking at a weekend with fun and frolic, you should think about planning a trip near Chennai to the Covelong Surf Music and Yoga festival, happening in August 2018 ( 17,18 and 19 are the dates)

I had a great time last year, by covering the festival on my own as a documentary. I was assisted by a couple of friends to cover the festival

Here are the 4 parts of the documentary that I had made. Do let me know what you think of the documentary and the festival itself

Trailer

Part-1

Part-2

Part-3

Part-4

Images from the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga Festival
Images from the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga Festival
Images from the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga Festival
Images from the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga Festival

 

 

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Part 4

This is the fourth in series of my trip to Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay in Mahabalipuram. I challenged a North Indian friend, who said there’s nothing to do near Chennai in the summers. I told him I could transform his life through experiences on a Saturday and Sunday. Lets dive in to the series! If you have landed directly here, Read Part 3Part 2Part-1 and Part-0 for context!

Here’s the video story


If you want to read up stuff, here goes the blog post below

In Search of the Surfs in Mahabalipuram!

Tej walked out to the beach, eager to get himself acquainted with Surfing. He upped his swag with his dark glasses and shorts, intently feeling the wind as he made his way. Balaji, our guide from the resort, explained to Tej about certain precautions to take care. Tej could communicate well with Balaji, since they bonded well when we started with cycling.

Surfing in Mahabalipuram
Surfing in Mahabalipuram

Tej was asked to lie on the surf board with the head focussed towards the sea and in line with the surf board.  After the wave has been caught, the surfer has to use his hands, keeping it close to his chest, to pop up the body and suddenly stand on the surf board and maintain that position until the wave knocks him over (Beginners will keep getting knocked off)

Basic Surfing Lessons in Mahabalipuram
Basic Surfing Lessons in Mahabalipuram

Surfboard tied/strapped to the leg, Tej made his way into the sea. Watch the video to know more on how it went!

Lunch by the Beach with Chef Mike

Post all of the water activities, we were invited for lunch by Chef Mike, who asked us if we were okay to learn a bit of cooking. We thought this may be fun, so we went ahead and agreed. I donned the Apron and the hat, and saw how Chef Mike went about his business grilling vegetables, and marinating sea food (which was appetising to Tej). It was fun trying to observe a part of the food being cooked on the beach, by the view of the sea in their new revamped Wharf 2.0 restaurant.

Cooking with Chef Mike in Mahabalipuram
Cooking with Chef Mike in Mahabalipuram

In the initial few minutes most of my attention went to the disturbing effect the wind had on the apron, which made it fly, and I as using my hands to quell it down, just like Marilyn Monroe did to her skirt. Comical

My conversation with Chef Mike was on how different are the reactions from the customers when it comes to ordering, since a Menu card can only bring out so much, as opposed to the rich wealth of magic that a chef can customise for guests.  He said that a lot of foreigners coming to India usually go by the ‘Catch of the day’ while Indians usually go for predictable food options like breads/roti. ‘Catch of the day’ usually is a Prawn plus mashed potatoes and Indian flavours like lemon garlic. The chef was very welcoming and showed us his kitchen and sat down with us as we faced the sea, talking about cooking and travelling.

Tej and I sat and gorged on some Paneer Tikkas and a couple of mocktails. One of the mocktails had more ice than drink in it, but the other one was compensating enough. After enough paneer and liquids had filled the stomach, it was time to head out a bit in the evening to go out into the city.

Sculpting in Mahabalipuram

We went to Mahabalipuram town to and explore Mahabalipuram’s sculpting scene by meeting Murugan, who was a sculptor who studied in the little town. Murugan was originally from Bhavani (near Erode in Tamil Nadu).  He told us that business demand for sculpting work was down in the last 2 years.  He manages to eke time out for commercial work as well as creative work. As we sit and talk, I notice various heads of famous yesteryear people. There’s a head of MGR (Kollywood actor and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu) and a head of M.G. Gandhi (India’s iconic freedom leader). I also figure out that Murugan’s body of work includes an impressive stint as one of the sculptors for the Adiyogi statue in Coimbatore, which was inaugurated by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in his Isha Yoga complex.

If you have read this far, there’s more in the video to know and sensorily feel the described experience.

To experience the same like we did, do sign up for the Summer Chillers program, and experience life’s finer moments packed into a weekend that could otherwise be spent waking up late ordering on Zomato, and getting stuck on a traffic jam. Is the choice not clear?

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Part 3

This is the third in series of my trip to Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay in Mahabalipuram. I challenged a North Indian friend, who said there’s nothing to do near Chennai in the summers. I told him I could transform his life through experiences on a Saturday and Sunday. Lets dive in to the series! If you have landed directly here, Read Part 2Part-1 and Part-0 for context!

Here’s the video story

SCUBA Tales

Did you know that SCUBA was an acronym for Self-Contained-Underwater-Breathing-Apparatus? I had learnt this while taking my first diving lesson way back in Bangaram Island in Lakshadweep in 2009. I retained absolutely nothing from that dive as I would find out

 

SCUBA Basics at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay-Mahabalipuram
SCUBA Basics at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay-Mahabalipuram
Breathing Routine Change

To get into the water, I first had to wear the SCUBA Pro skin jacket. It needs someone to zip you from behind, and it feels quite tight. Black dress on a summer day in Chennai is not the recipe for relaxation at all, but I was to step in to the pool in just a few minutes. Rishabh from Temple Adventures was there to teach me the basics of SCUBA Diving. I had to put on an oxygen cylinder on my back, and a mask that had some space for my nose, and a little attachment that went in my mouth, having to tightly bite it. I now had to breathe in through the mouth and exhale out through my nose. It took a while to even set this in motion. It was even tougher trying to balance my legs as there are fins that are on your legs. That made me look extremely clumsy as i tried to balance myself, with an oxygen cylinder on my back. But with a little bit of patience, all is indeed well!

Lessons Underwater

My first lessons were around communicating the signs properly in water, now made famous as part of common folklore since Bollywood addressed this in 2011 with the feature film ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’

SCUBA Signs under water
SCUBA Signs under water

The next lessons were around clearing water that gets fogged up in the mask surrounding the nose, when water finds its way inside. The other basic lesson was around moving your hands in a way that you reach out for an extension that connects to your mouth, through which you breathe. This extension is connected to the Oxygen cylinder. You need to keep it an angle, else the air/oxygen gets released and wasted.

Deep Blue

Though it was bewitching inside, I could not quite breathe easily or swim easily. That’s when I asked the instructor if someone could dive without the cylinder. He spoke about free diving, and said that he could hold his breath for about 4 minutes inside the water.

Swimming in the pool
Swimming in the pool

I also learnt in my conversation with the instructor that Koh Tao is probably not the best place to go for SCUBA Open water dive courses, as there has been such a huge influx of tourists, that you are more likely to see humans than fishes there! i briefly thought about doing an Open water dive course, during my trip to Thailand last year around the Full Moon Party, but chose to rest after exploring town and Songkaran in Ko Tao

Summer Chillers

If you want to experience the same, as i did, do pick this package called the Summer Chillers, and learn a new way of life under water at Radisson Blur Resort Temple Bay, near Chennai.

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Part 2

This is the second in series of my trip to Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay in Mahabalipuram. I challenged a North Indian friend, who said there’s nothing to do near Chennai in the summers. I told him I could transform his life through experiences on a Saturday and Sunday. Lets dive in to the series! If you have landed directly here, Read Part-1 and Part-0 for context!

Getting to Breakfast

Soon after we finished cycling, we went over and had our breakfast at the Water’s edge cafe. It was a good spread, but we were late and needed to finish it before they close. One thing we observed was that due to the searing heat, seats near the glass area were less air-conditioned than the ones inoculated from the heat. The summer is usually un-relenting for a body that is not used to such heat, and we had to find a cozy corner where the effect of the sun, does not eat into the air-conditioning.  I had a couple of fruit juices along with Idli/Dosa and bread for my breakfast.

All Terrain Vehicle Ride

I had told Tej about the ATV ride at the beach, and we wanted to go and try it out. Both of us were excited about speeding in the sand, and turning at angle, throwing mud in the air. Some primal things as a kid, stay in our memory and pop up while outdoors like our wish lists.

Tej kicking up a dust storm with the ATV Ride
Tej kicking up a dust storm with the ATV Ride
Things to be Aware
  • These ATV machines need a strong grip to get used to. That may take about 5 minutes as the hands bonds with the controls. My ATV seemed to be inclined to curve right as opposed to go straight.
  • Tej was a little stronger than me, and he loved the ride on the sand. He went quite fast on the sand, and won the competition to ride better! But hey, never forget to have fun!
Tej driving the ATV at Mahabalipuram
Tej driving the ATV at Mahabalipuram
  • Secondly, the real fear is when you drive fast, what if you lose control and get into the sea. If the ATV gets into the sea, it will be a problem, as such devices/cars are not supposed to be in salt water, while they can otherwise be driven on wet sand.
The Ride

Do watch and check how our ATV Ride went!

 

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Episode 1

This is the first in series of my trip to Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay in Mahabalipuram. I challenged a North Indian friend, who said there’s nothing to do near Chennai in the summers. I told him I could transform his life through experiences on a Saturday and Sunday. Lets dive in to the series!

Reaching Temple Bay

I really did not expect Tej to take a flight and come here, but he did. I  took him from the airport right to Mahabalipuram, through the scenic East Coast road, after pondering a bit over driving on Old Mahabalipuram Road, getting lost around Medavakkam and Sholinghanallur. We finally veered off the junction at Mahabalipuram, and I found the resort, standing tall like a colossus. It was easier to discover it a few years back, since it was the only quality resort back then, but now quite a few other hotels have sprung up on the East Coast Road, but none of the hotels have as much space and tranquility as Temple Bay. I know this since, I have been to most of the hotels on the ECR stretch, during Alumni meets organised by my B-School

Garlanded and Well Rested

We entered Mahabalipuram soon enough and were garlanded by the staff, and were taken on a tour of the facilities, before we were shown our room. The garlands were made of a beautifully ornate collection of sea shells.

Looks like the hotel was also hosting a North India wedding, as the hotel seemed full, and also the ‘Buggy Rides’ were available only a few minutes later, since guests were being ferried in large numbers.

Sea Side Vibes

The hotel being next to the sea, had a steady stream of fresh breeze coming and were nature cooled by all the spread of greenery all around. Our room was closer to the pool side restaurant, so we had a bit of walking to do to get to the sea.  We briefly went to the sea side, and found a bunch of people playing cricket. After sitting for a while, we went back to the cycling and activities point for our first activity, as part of the Summer Chillers program that we had signed up for, was cycling from the resort to the Shore temple

Beach side cricket! CSK Anyone?
Beach side cricket! CSK Anyone?

 

We decided to skip breakfast, and do the ride first and then come back for the breakfast. That way we enjoy what we eat and can really relax in after some body activity!

Tej and I prepare to cycle to the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram
Tej and I prepare to cycle to the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Cycling seemed like a connect with child hood, and there was enough breeze for it not to feel like it was tiring. We crossed the beautiful round-about within the resort, and soon arrived at the gates of the resort, before we were stopped by the security.

Cycling from Temple Bay to Shore Temple
Cycling from Temple Bay to Shore Temple

We told them that we were guests and this was part of the program, and then they let us ride out of the resort. It impressed me that they took the security of guests as very important, checking everyone who came in or went out.  I will leave you with the sensory experience of what I have told so far on video, so that you can visually join us on our trip, or decide to copy the same things for your own trip!

Get your own trip!

Ask for the Summer Chillers program, to do the same things like we did. What more did we do? Do watch the rest of the series

 

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Trailer

A few weeks before, a friend of mine from Delhi, had reached out to me, and was asking about some place he could travel from Delhi over a weekend. His whole point was to travel out on a Friday and return to work on a Monday and be amazed in those 2 days.

Learning SCUBA basics in the Pool!
Learning SCUBA basics in the Pool!

Delhi’tes have the mountains above them, but don’t really have a beach. I knew if I could customise a nice beach experience with some activities, he’d probably go back feeling excited.

The beautiful Eastern Coast near Chennai
The beautiful Eastern Coast near Chennai

I told him to not worry so much, and told him I will keep him in air-conditioned comfort by the beach, and in a largely sylvan environment of greenery. My aim was to give him a bunch of experiences that only a sea town could provide and over just a weekend. So I met him on a Friday night at the Chennai airport and drove him down in my car to go show him that “Summers can be fun around Chennai’s coastline”

Cycling from Temple Bay to Shore Temple
Cycling from Temple Bay to Shore Temple

Presenting our next travel series titled ” You Know What We did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales”, where I take my Delhi friend Tej to a series of activities where we rough up on the sand in an ATV, defy gravity in a Zorb, attain zen state over Shirodhara, Do some diving under water, Try sea side surfing in the morning, cycle our way to the shore temple and enjoy some sea side mocktails, learning how to fry veggies and fishes! All of this in a 48 hour weekend at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay (as part of their Summer Chillers program)! I am sure when Tej landed in Delhi, he must have landed a little heavier thanks to the memories he gathered from the weekend!

Tej tries out the ATV ride at Mahabs
Tej tries out the ATV ride at Mahabs
Tej and I prepare to cycle to the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram
Tej and I prepare to cycle to the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram
Tej and I enjoying an evening of mocktails and food by 'The Wharf'
Tej and I enjoying an evening of mocktails and food by ‘The Wharf’

Here’s the trailer! The main series premieres from May 16th  in a 5 episode all month long on Katchutravels! Let me know how you found it!

Peaceful Life on a Farm in Tamil Nadu

I had been last week to a farm house [Vaksana Farms] in Tindivanam (A place in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu) to catch up on a few things. I loved the way the house was in the middle of nowhere. The house was designed very well, including enough green cover around to keep the heat out.

The washbasins were made of curved boulders instead of bone china, and the tables were out made of rock. The house had a shade of functional Flintstone like life and modernity nicely blended

Natural Boulder Washbasin
Natural Boulder Washbasin [Image Courtesy-Kiruba.com]
Along with me were Gurpeet Tikku, Kiruba  [owns Vaksana Farms] and another family that had come there. Srinidhi Hande, was on a trip to Sparsa Resort and Sathanur dam, came visiting on Sunday evening.

 

Here’s presenting my weekend there in 60 seconds

Life on a Farm in Tamil Nadu Vaksana Farms
Life on a Farm in Tamil Nadu Vaksana Farms
Little Flowers falling on the Flintstones like table
Little Flowers falling on the Flintstones like table
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms
Discussing on Instagram
Discussing on Instagram
Lunch Time at the Farm
Lunch Time at the Farm
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms

 

Staring at the evening sun for a selfie!
Staring at the evening sun for a selfie! With Kiruba’s dad, Retla and Srinidhi Hande with his spouse.
The farmers dancing to the tune of "Make Hay while the sun shines"
The farmers dancing to the tune of “Make Hay while the sun shines”
The art of Chilling-Sri Sri Kartik
The art of Chilling-Sri Sri Kartik

 

In The Land of Kurumba Tribes-Part 5-The Trek through Singara Estate

Once I had reached TeaNest, I loved the view from there. My guide Srini had promised me about a great trek down the valley.I have documented my trek down as a video. You can watch it below. It had a few highlights

  1. Get to the Top of a waterfall and see the railway track from above.

    Nilgiri Mountain Railway Track as seen from Bakkasura Mountain in Coonoor-Tamil Nadu
    Nilgiri Mountain Railway Track as seen from Bakkasura Mountain in Coonoor-Tamil Nadu
Going to the top of a waterfall-Bakkasura Mountain
Going to the top of a waterfall-Bakkasura Mountain
  • Serenade through tea estates and find a shorter route home
The Beautiful Life begins here! Singara Tea Estate
The Beautiful Life begins here! Singara Tea Estate
  • Pause at a point, where you can see Sim’s rock from a distance
Clouds over Coonoor
Clouds over Coonoor
  • Walk down to a scenic government school, from which opens a beautiful valley view
Goverment School in Singara Estate-Tamil Nadu
Goverment School in Singara Estate-Tamil Nadu
Goverment School in Singara Estate- Coonoor
Goverment School in Singara Estate- Coonoor

 

  • Pause at the ‘Hill Grove’ Railway station. Drink tea and start the trek back down to the Hotel
Hillgrove Railway Station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Hillgrove Railway Station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway
 Some other photos from the trek below!
The Bakkasura Hills are coloured by the Clouds
The Bakkasura Hills are coloured by the Clouds

Cost of Staying

The resort is priced above 12,000 INR onwards on its rooms, and it differs depending on the room type. Browse through their website to book directly

Best Time to Go

There is no best time for a place steeped in the hills, but if you can just before the Europeans come here for their winter season (Dec-February), the resort is flush with the freshness of the onset of the North East Monsoon(Oct-Nov) and the Pre monsoon showers (June-September)

Getting There

From Chennai– You could take the train 12671 to Mettupalayam via Coimbatore and then take a taxi from there to the resort. If you are flying down, take a taxi from the Peelamedu airport in Coimbatore.

From Bangalore-The best way is to drive, through Mysore and Gudalur into Ooty, Coonor and then Kurumbadi, but if you dont prefer the hills, you can drive through Salem, Erode, Avinashi keeping the ghat roads to a minimum of 14 kilometres. For those flying or taking a train, you need to come to Coimbatore to then take a taxi.

From anywhere else in India-Fly in to Coimbatore and take a taxi/train to Mettupalayam

To get to Kurumba Village, its best you travel on your own in your vehicle. Whether you travel on your own or take a taxi for your rides, it should be another 6000-7000 Rs on your driving costs at the minimum.

If ever you wish to be adventurous, the way to do that is to take the train at Mettupalayam and get down at HillGrove, and trek down into the Kurunji flower areas, cross a little waterfall hoping you dont slip, and you will find yourself in 20 minutes at the resort. I dropped my S7 Edge into the waterfall, but thankfully my phone can remain in water undisturbed.

The resort has only BSNL signals, so if you have anything else, it makes sense to call the resort from Mettupalayam/Coonor for directions, as there is no easy signboard to spot on your left, where you need to make a V shaped turn down the valley. If you are not sure how to drive down or drive up a hill, it helps if you can drive in 1st gear or get a driver who is at ease with driving in the hilly regions.

In The Land of Kurumba Tribes-Part 4-Reaching Tea Nest and Singara Estate

This post talks about a guided trek from Coonoor’s Singara Estate all the way down to Kurumba Village resort, going through the monsoon clouds, tea estates and little government buildings popping out of nowhere. The previous post talked about exploring the Toy Train ride to Ooty from the land of the Kurumbadis. If you’ve just arrived here, we’ve so far talked about how we arrived at Kurumba Village and spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village. 

In the evening, I managed to speak to the hotel manager ‘Jyotish’ about the possibility of a guided trek, who helped me arrange a trek with their resident guide. This needed to be planned as I had to arrive at Tea-Nest, a sister property of Kurumba Village which was about 20 kilometres away. I had to drive with one of the hotel staff early next morning till Tea-Nest, and then requested the staff to drive the car back to Kurumba Village. I would trek and come back to Kurumba village in a few hours.

So I woke up in the morning, and drove to Coonoor, where we would pick up our guide Srini (who spoke in a Malayali accent, but was actually from Mysore, who’s parents were settled in Coonoor).  The drive out on the mud-road is slightly challenging on the ascent, when you need to be on 1st gear, but otherwise its a straightforward drive to get to the main road.

Faith on a slateboard at Coonoor
Faith on a slateboard at Coonoor

We waited at a few points on the drive, to pause and take note of the beauty of the mountains. The sky was pregant with rain clouds, and the sun was threatening to find its away by showcasing an orangish gaze. The rain won the battle, and I had to get back in the car to focus on reaching Coonoor, so as to pick up our guide-Sreeni.

Beautiful view of mountains en-route Coonoor
Beautiful view of mountains en-route Coonoor

We reached Coonoor town by about 6:30 am, and were waiting for Sreeni- the guide from Nature Resorts. Sreeni arrived at 6:45 am, as he was walking and coming from his home, which was 5 km’s away. Sreeni is an active walker, who prefers walking from Coonoor to Mettupalayam, as its quicker to travel that way than get caught in the traffic jams that happen on weekends when travellers come in droves to Ooty.

Misty Morning in Coonoor
Misty Morning in Coonoor

We saw a beautiful ‘Thamburusi’ flower, which was having a beautiful contrast with the light mist, the green leaves and the dark clouds. The water-droplets on the flower, were like the fountain of youth dangling on them visually.

Flowers in bloom, amidst the morning mist
Flowers in bloom, amidst the morning mist

I had a cup of tea, and then started to walk on the trek. Stay tuned to Part-5 coming up soon.

Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek
Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek

Do have a look at the video where I reach Teanest, from the hotel. The videos always have a little extra than what I write.

 

 

 

In the Land of the Kurumbadi Tribes-Part 2

This post talks about how we spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village.  The previous post talks about how we arrived at Kurumba Village .

Night Walking in the Forest

As the evening paves way to the night and the winter chill sets in, I walk across the stone path from the dining place to my room. I can hear sounds of bats and crickets, and I find that the stone path zig zags a bit and goes down a considerable distance. I leave it for the day to explore, as it seems a little scary at night, and there’s a light drizzle that’s just picking up. I decide to come back post the rains, and discover that the path down basically goes to a beautiful tree house. There is a ‘buggy service’ for transporting guests to different parts of the resort, and I am far away from a resort staff at 9 in the night, and my phone is in the room, so I just walk back quietly. I am told that sometime elephants do come into the resort as the forest blends into the resort. As long as we don’t mess with the elephant, it will come by and go further down the hill, without really bothering about you.

Jaywalking at Night in the stone path within the resort at Kurumba Village
Jaywalking at Night in the stone path within the resort at Kurumba Village

On the Kurumbadis

The next morning I wake up early, and look at some of the paintings that adorn the wall of each of the rooms.  I also ask around, and figure out that the Kurumbas were hunters and gatherers, and usually exchange goods and services with the other 2 tribes. The Kurumbas had small dwellings with a garden patch, growing bananas, mangos and jackfruit. Most of their settlements have seen migration from the higher reaches of the nilgiris to just above the plains, owing to de-forestation. Some of the Kurumbadi tribes in the region, work in the ‘Kurumba Village’ resort. It is also said that the Kurumbas are known for their sorcery, but this yet to be verified. This website, talks a bit about the Kurumbas. If you happen to know a little more, do help me gather information by commenting on the post.

Painting/Sketchings of the lives of the Kurumbadi Tribes
Painting/Sketchings of the lives of the Kurumbadi Tribes

Planning the day ahead

At breakfast, Nandu and I decided to plan our day on what each of us wanted to do. I wanted Nandu to travel on the toy train and also attend a class on environment with the in-resident. Nandu wanted to play and read something on the hammock. So I had to sit and plan the day out. I wanted to go on a little hike with the in-house guide, who advised me on a hike nearby but he clearly said kids cant do the hike, so I postponed that plan to the next day to be done, when Nandu was sleeping.

Scenic Breakfast View at Kurumba Village Resort
Scenic Breakfast View at Kurumba Village Resort
Dining against the backdrop of the Bakasura Mountains
Dining against the backdrop of the Bakasura Mountains

So the plan for the day was to start with some hammock time, picking a couple of books from the room(Each room comes with a little library of books, apart from a library at the reception). It was initially a little tough trying to balance 2 bodies on the hammock, but once we settled down, it seemed a very relaxing thing to do.  Nandu went in first,  trying to play on the mobile, to discover that there was no network and no Wifi for him.

The lure of the hammock in a forest-Kurumba Village Resort
The lure of the hammock in a forest-Kurumba Village Resort
Morning Story Telling
Morning Story Telling

Naturalist Tour for kids, inside Kurumba Village

A resident naturalist called Dinesh, takes kids on little tours inside the resort and introduces them to the animals inside and gives them an introductory lesson on how children can get closer to the environment. I decided to follow them from a distance to try and see what Nandu learns, since I was trying to teach him something similar on our trip to the Andamans

Spot that Bird There!
Spot that Bird There!

Dinesh decided to divide the session into 2 parts. Nandu was with Rohan, another kid staying at the resort, and both of them had to go collect leaves and twigs from around the resort. After they had got about 5 leaves, they needed to pick up a paper and create a little art form by sticking the leaves on paper. While paper dried, Dinesh would take them around the resort, talking about the birds in the vicinity, spotting animal footmarks, learning to stay still and hug a tree, and about the Kurumbadi village. I was lapping all of what Dinesh was saying, staying happy that Nandu found an interesting activity to engage himself in.

Ambling our way within the resort (Kurumba Village)
Ambling our way within the resort (Kurumba Village)
Nandu reaching out for the adhesive at the Children-Activity center at Kurumba Village Resort
Nandu reaching out for the adhesive at the Children-Activity center at Kurumba Village Resort
Children's activity centre overlooking a beautiful view of the forests at Kurumba Village Resort
Children’s activity centre overlooking a beautiful view of the forests at Kurumba Village Resort
Tree Hugging Excercise at Kurumba Village Resort
Tree Hugging Excercise at Kurumba Village Resort

The tree hugging exercise is a beautiful excercise that teaches kids that the tree is our mother and feeling the vibes that flow from nature to us humans. One needs to spend about 5 minutes in silence trying to hug the tree, feeling the bark of the tree (preferably blindfolded as your senses of touch are heightened). Nandu is a kid who is high on energy, and it was a brief break to pause and connect with nature. I intend to do more such trips, that helps him connect with nature and grow up to be a environmentally conscious traveller.

The last time Nandu and I did this in the Andamans, I got an award from Indiblogger for being the best blog talking on the environment. While it was encouraging to see external people realising its importance, I realize these are still baby steps towards making him an environmentally conscious traveller, but If you have any ideas that could help and sustain learning, please do comment and let me know.

Nandu collecting all the twigs and sticking them in his slam book
Nandu collecting all the twigs and sticking them in his slam book
Kurumba Village certifies Naturalist Nandu
Kurumba Village certifies Naturalist Nandu

This series continues in Part-3

Have a look at Kurumba Village’s facilities

 

If you cant wait, and need a little highlights reel on what to expect in the other parts, do watch this below video

Cost of Staying

The resort is priced above 12,000 INR onwards on its rooms, and it differs depending on the room type. Browse through their website to book directly

Best Time to Go

There is no best time for a place steeped in the hills, but if you can just before the Europeans come here for their winter season (Dec-February), the resort is flush with the freshness of the onset of the North East Monsoon(Oct-Nov) and the Pre monsoon showers (June-September)

Getting There

From Chennai– You could take the train 12671 to Mettupalayam via Coimbatore and then take a taxi from there to the resort. If you are flying down, take a taxi from the Peelamedu airport in Coimbatore.

From Bangalore-The best way is to drive, through Mysore and Gudalur into Ooty, Coonor and then Kurumbadi, but if you dont prefer the hills, you can drive through Salem, Erode, Avinashi keeping the ghat roads to a minimum of 14 kilometres. For those flying or taking a train, you need to come to Coimbatore to then take a taxi.

From anywhere else in India-Fly in to Coimbatore and take a taxi/train to Mettupalayam

To get to Kurumba Village, its best you travel on your own in your vehicle. Whether you travel on your own or take a taxi for your rides, it should be another 6000-7000 Rs on your driving costs at the minimum.

If ever you wish to be adventurous, the way to do that is to take the train at Mettupalayam and get down at HillGrove, and trek down into the Kurunji flower areas, cross a little waterfall hoping you dont slip, and you will find yourself in 20 minutes at the resort. I dropped my S7 Edge into the waterfall, but thankfully my phone can remain in water undisturbed.

The resort has only BSNL signals, so if you have anything else, it makes sense to call the resort from Mettupalayam/Coonor for directions, as there is no easy signboard to spot on your left, where you need to make a V shaped turn down the valley. If you are not sure how to drive down or drive up a hill, it helps if you can drive in 1st gear or get a driver who is at ease with driving in the hilly regions.

 

In search of Kumbakonam’s Famed ‘Degree Coffee”

I make the transition from the 4th to the 5th gear, when I see signs of Kumbakonam Degree Coffee on the Chennai-Bangalore highway near Kanchipuram. The Coffee that they serve is usually passable, to the point that it helps you refresh on a car ride, and then you get back to driving. While I have seen spurious copies of the Kumbakonam Degree Kaapi, I always wondered whether I would anytime be able to amble by for an original filter coffee/Degree Coffee at Kumbakonam. I found an opportunity recently, and I thought I should get to the right place to have the coffee. So I set out in an auto from the bus stand to the Venkkatramana Hotel, which I was told was the best place to sample the ‘Degree Kaapi’

What is the Degree Kaapi? Why is it called so?

Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam
Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam

Coffee is a mix of Decoction and Milk, and the Degree Coffee is basically using the first decoction of the day, with boiled milk at a particular temperature around 110 degrees (and hence the ‘Degree’ in the name). The first decoction is also sometimes called as the first degree. Quora has an interesting thread, that also says that chicory was mis-pronunced as Tikery and that came to be known as degree. The decoction comes from the Arabica and Robusta Coffee beans. Apparently Coffee came to India from Yemen in the 1600’s and the Coffee at Venkkatramana hotel comes through ‘Mohan Coffee Works’ which makes the powder, after sourcing it from the hilly tracts of Chikmaglur in Karnataka.

People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam
People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam

WikiPedia also mentions this on Filter coffee- ” The upper cup is loaded with freshly ground coffee. The grounds are then compressed (i.e., tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup’s pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one has to tamp the coffee to retain the same extraction. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory holds on to the hot water a little longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the coffee grinds.

The resulting brew is generally much stronger than Western drip/filter coffee, and often stronger than even espresso.”

Where is Kumbakonam?

Kumbakonam is a temple town in Tamil Nadu by the Cauvery river known for its temples. It’s also the hometown of the famous mathematician Ramanujam. Kumbakonam plays host to the ‘Mahamaham’ which is held once in 12 years (very similar to the Maha Kumbha Mela with a rythmic 12 year cycle)

Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)

In Search of the ‘Degree Kaapi’

I figured out that there were 4-5 places one could go to for sampling the ‘Degree Coffee’ in Kumbakonam. There is Murali’s Cafe, Krishna Bhavan, Mangaleshwara Cofee Hotel and Venkkatramana Hotel if you want to have the Coffee directly. If you want to take home some memories there is Venus Coffee Shop and Mohan Coffee Works. I chose the last hotel in each of  lists, as I was recommended this by the local auto-driver

The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam
The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam

I hear the first destination to sample the Coffee was 10 minutes away. The auto driver, drove with an air of superiority as if he was the crowned prince who was steaming down his private road, passionately muttering things about the little lanes we pass by. I also hear him put together a temple package for the evening. I nod my head and say, we’l see. As it turns out he chose to assist me filming at the venue, in return for some coffee and tiffin.

Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel
Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel

Venkkatramana Hotel- Go For the Coffee

We met the Venkkatrama hotel’s proprietor who tells me about the history of how the Pasumpon Coffee Club used to have fresh cow’s milk early in the morning and how that used to lend a special taste as the decoction added was the first one. Usually the taste withers off with the second and third decoction, and that’s where the difference in taste happens. The earliest person to make this was Panchapakesa Iyer, who used to own cows and start making the first brew available at his Lakshmi Vilas hotel as early as 5 am. Over time, there have been more people from the Iyer community of Tamil Nadu who have set up shops, but there are only a few in operation, including the Venkkatramana hotel.

Do watch him and my experience with the Degree Coffee in the below video.

 

K-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel
M-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel

Post the ‘Degree Kaapi’ experience at Venkkatramana hotel, I proceeded to Mohan Coffee Works to go buy some coffee back home for my father, as he loves the powder from this store.

Buying Coffee Memories for Home- Mohan Coffee Works

Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand

 

The Coffee machines usually aim to ground 100 grams of the beans to around 80 grams of coffee powder. Usually this is an indication of very high quality, but its probably for the connoisseurs of this special taste of Coffee. This process is called roasting and after the heating is done, its advisable that the powder cools for 5-10 minutes, else the powder is half baked.

Chicory is added for colour before the Coffee powder is lapped by customers. However the beauty of the ‘Degree Kaapi’ is the heating up of the un-diluted milk to 110 degrees, and then mixing it with pre-heated decoction

I signed off from Kumbakonam, after making my bag pregnant with 4 packets of Coffee powder, and promised to come back for more to explore this little town. I am interested to go to the nearby temples on my own pace, and I hope to come back to Kumbakonam to just be able to do that over the weekend.

 

 

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New Trailer Out- ‘The Surf Trail’

Our little documentary on the Covelong Surf Festival is all set to release in November. The festival was conducted in August, and was getting sewn up in the edit room all this long. Here’s a little trailer and a couple of images. Let us know how you found it!

Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong
Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong

Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil NaduJonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu

Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfing has its hits and misses
Surfing has its hits and misses

 

#TravellerStories-03-Of Happy Pizzas and Other Stories!

Let’s meet Nikhilesh Murthy who is third on this series called  #TravellerStories. He’s a traveller from Bangalore in India  who blogs at about lifestyle and culture in various places. He is a marketer for an IT company in Bangalore. In this episode, we throw a few questions at him and find out what he likes and doesn’t.

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStories? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

Nikhilesh Murthy saying Cheers!
Nikhilesh Murthy saying Cheers!

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

For all practical purposes, I am a “Bangalorean”. While my roots are in Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, I only go there once a year to visit the family deity. I work in the marketing department of an IT company and am responsible for one of their technology functions. When I’m not doing that, I’m busy attending music shows or trying out new food at places across the city. I make it a point to take a few weeks off every six months and go travelling, some times on my own, sometimes thanks to work.

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

Most folks I’ve met are always surprised as to how I can speak English so clearly (and many times better than them). They also get surprised when I talk about world politics, western music, etc and don’t know too much about fixing computers. Many folks also get a bit shocked when I talk about bands like Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Black Keys  and musicians like Miles Davis or Jack White because their assumption is that we all listen only to “Indian music”, which is either Punjabi music ( an opinion of folks from the UK and Canada) or Bollywood music. I also enjoy living in hostels and travelling solo. So many of the local folk find it odd that I’m not sticking to the general impression they have that Indians (like the Chinese) travel in large groups and are quite loud. I wouldn’t completely blame them for that stereotype.

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

I always encourage folks to try out the famous masala dosa in Bengaluru. I’ve taken a handful of foreign friends to the Airlines Hotel ( but CTR in Malleswaram is the best). And they love that along with the vada. They find “the savoury peppery donut” quite fascinating.

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why) ?

I don’t think there is a single place as such that comes to mind. So many options – Mysore, Mangalore, Coorg, Chikmaglur just to name a few. Each of these are very different from the urban jungle of Bengaluru. Less traffic, more polite folks, a lot of nature to discover. And not to forget, great food. Just try the pandi curry (pork curry) in the average Coorg household or the ghee roast in a Mangalorean house to know what an array of flavours we have to offer.

E) Of all your travels on work, which city charmed you the most and why?

I was in love with New York for the longest time, but a trip to New Orleans changed all that. The culture and vibe of the city is very unlike any other US city I’ve been to. There’s jazz and blues at every corner; come night time, the bands play on the streets and people dance away. Not to forget the cajun styled food which offers familiar Indian flavours yet is completely different. The architecture of the old French and Spanish styled streets make for beautiful pictures. I was fortunate to be in the city during the French Quarter music festival. It was an experience like no other and is now the benchmark for what a music festival should be.

F) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling? 

Most of these stories are best shared over a cold brew. To name one,  I would have to say that during my recent trip to Cambodia, eating a pizza topped with some unmentionable organic elements, which led to some embarrassing situations once the good stuff kicked in, was not one of the brightest ideas I’ve had.

Nikhilesh Murthy in Cambodia, trying to cover a sunrise at Angkor VatNikhilesh Murthy in Cambodia, trying to cover a sunrise at Angkor Vat

If you would like to be featured and tell your stories that may be of interest to the traveller community, do write in to us at Kartik@katchutravels.com

The Covelong Music and Surfing Festival 2016

Covelong near Chennai, is home to the annual 3 day beach fest with Surfing, Music and Yoga as the main attractions by the beach. Usually the 3 day festival happens in August or September. To know more about the festival and latest dates click here. Go further to read what happened in 2016’s edition of the Covelong Surf Festival

The real beauty of a music festival by the beach is not as much about the music, as much as it is about the vibes that evening. Its about a crowd that wants to jive about, its about a musician who wants to get the crowd involved, even if they don’t understand the music.

Usually the Covelong music festival has an acoustic stage and a beach stage through the day, but its the night that takes centre stage. The colours, the scent of the salted sea, the colours of the locals and fireworks, and yes the Bass thundering its away besides the raging waves makes for 3 evenings of high octane raving over music. I didn’t quite understand the music, but shaking a leg and feeling lighter is probably the key, as I would discover.

 

surf1

Fuzzculture’s Arsh was engaging with the audience really well. He looked like the singer KK when seen from behind with long hair, and a guitar round his shoulder.

surf2

 

He had quite an aura emanating, when the smoke from the stage were seen in the background of the lights. The independent music scene and the musicians surely had me think, that I should probably move beyond bollywood and popular music.

surf3

 

surf4

surf5

 

The crowd genuinely seemed to be interested in listeing to the musician and it was nice to see the local fisherman also getting involved trying to sample the music.

surf6

surf7

The front stage is not where all the action happens. I briefly went behind and saw the stage from behind, and it looked like the cover of a music band, with all colours of the spectrum lit against the dark of the twilight playing into darkness’s hands.

surf8

The local flavour at the beach near Chennai was the corn seller selling corn. It was not overpriced like a lot of commericalised corn. I took some corn, rested on the sands, looked at the moon in the distance, its reflection on the sea and thanked providence for providing a beautiful experience of music by the Bay of Bengal. I would come back tommorow for the surfing. Till then, it was time to get to Mahabalipuram and go and catch the highlights of the India-West Indies T20 games being played then in Florida.

Corn seller at the beach, during the Covelong Surf Festival
Corn seller at the beach, during the Covelong Surf Festival

I came back the next day to watch some surfs and was spellbound by the magic they created in traversing the sea with their artistry

Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival