On my mind…

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is the virgin land of Bhutan – untouched…unpolluted…serene…still…it’s the land which draws me in like a lover’s touch and plays me like a well orchestrated opera.

 It’s a land where time truly comes to a stand still.

Image Credit: National Geographic

It’s a land where long walks down the unchartered terrain make you feel like an explorer on the brink of a discovery.

It’s a land which draws you back to the roots and brings about a balance.

It’s a land which conjures up  images of solitude, saffron clad monks who seek enlightenment, soft lilting chants, the colorful prayer flags which dot the Himalayan land and more. 

It’s a land where silence and peace thread through your core like long lost lovers.

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Destination: Amari Hua Hin

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The beautiful suite that I stayed in

The beautiful suite that I stayed in

When I travel, I open my mind.

I am not just seeing, but hearing, feeling, sensing the place. But now, as a writer, I struggle to weave in a thousand details and feelings and moments into a single near-definitive portrait, which almost seems to stand outside of time.

As I bask in the beauty of the newly launched Amari Hua Hin, Thailand – I succumb to an inviting concept of warm smiles, dazzling blue waters, spectacular décor, and pristine sands infused with style and soul – for me, as I walked through the open doors of Amari Hua Hin, I realized that I wasn’t part of my everyday.

I was transported into a wonderland where jaw dropping style and opulence came together oh-so-beautifully whetting my appetite for more.

The newly launched hotel offers a fresh, crisp and contemporary interior. The design concept at Amari Hua Hin, whilst focused on style and comfort, also reflects the beachside setting of the property.

All guestrooms are stylishly appointed and come equipped with modern amenities such as a flat screen TV, minibar and broadband internet access. The hotel also offers guests an oversized 38 metre outdoor pool surrounded by landscaped tropical gardens, a vast sun deck, fitness centre, a luxurious Breeze Spa offering a modern twist on Asian inspired treatments, a jogging track, and a separate kids’ pool and club area.

The element of luxe is threaded through every corner of the resort. The stunning blue and white decor element is truly breathtaking. Every room is thoughtfully created to keep in the ‘wow’ factor going.

What’s on offer: The resort grounds are host to five restaurants catering for different guest tastes and cravings, each offering a selection of popular and healthy choices – Mosaic, Aqua the pool bar, the Lobby Bar Coral Lounge, the bistro Reef Deli and the Shoreline Café.

What I loved:

The famed Thai hospitality. The warm smiles and the graciousness is truly a delight to bask in.

The concept of street food which is on offer at the Pool bar. Every restaurant is a gastronomic journey – beckoning the senses to open and savor delicacies specially created by the chefs.

The contemporary architecture of the hotels models itself on the rhythm of the waves and stands amid the lush landscaping of tropical gardens.

A romantic getaway or a relaxed holiday, you can define your seaside holiday and experience your own perfect retreat at Amari Hua Hin.

Escape to me came in the form of sipping on a glass of cocktail at sunset and welcoming the arrival of nightfall, unveiling an endless sky of glittering stars, heightening the aura of romance and mystique.

From spending the afternoon lounging by the sea to experiencing culinary Thai delights, to swaying bare feet on the sands whilst the wind whistles its tune…this is a must explore destination.

Thoughtful service signatures at the resort have been designed to introduce guests to the world of Amari and the destination of Hua Hin. Through an “Amari Host”, based on property, and a specially designed destination web portal, “Destination Amari”, guests are encouraged to experience local culture, whether it is through visiting nearby attractions or by attending a festival or trying a local delicacy.

Amari’s latest resort is adjacent to Khao Takiab, a popular and scenic stretch of beach, only 10 minutes away from Hua Hin’s downtown area, and two and a half hour journey from Bangkok

Amari Hua Hin, 117/74 Takiab Road, Nongkae, Hua Hin, Thailand.

http://www.amari.com

A quick guide to the best of Coorg

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Incredible!

You can’t help but mutter the word after you drink in the beauty of the rolling misty mountains and the sprawling coffee estates. The nip of the cold wind, the tang of fresh air combined with the sensous aroma of coffee, the virgin terrain…Coorg for me has always been an intruiging mix of sophistication and simplicity.

Kissed by god’s own lips, the sprawling hill station holds the promise of being different in every aspect.

If you are looking for what I seek – a hideaway from the daily cacophony, this is your destination where you can actually feel the stress of the daily sinking into oblivion.

It’s a place where you simply don your walking shoes and chart your own trail.

It’s a destination which brings forth the Wordsworth in you. You cannot help but stand and stare at the gorgeous canvas that lays ahead of you. It’s a destination where you walk into a coffee plantation and strike a conversation with the owners and before you know it, you are sipping freshly roasted and brewed coffee and being welcomed into the folds of the family – the famed Coorgi hospitality is absolutely a must experience.

It’s a destination where nature abounds – jewel coloured butterflies are your walking partners, the chirp of the birds music to your ears and the stunning carpet of vibrant colored flowers as your trail guide…it’s where you shrug away the daily and let nature carress you like a lover’s soft touch.

If doing nothing is on your agenda, then this is your must go place. Lazing in the green grass as you watch the dew drop roll or simply packing a picnic lunch and reading a book or y watching the clouds play hide and seek with you …this is the promise that the rolling hill station holds.

The famed Homestays

The Homestays are a must in your agenda simply because of the personal touch they offer. Opt for heritage homestays like Gowri  Nivas, School Estate and Java Mane, wildlife lodges like Elephant Corridor and Kalmane, plantation retreats like Bamboo Loft, Alath Cad and Palace Estate, hilly escapes like Kabbe Holidays and Honey Valley or riverside getaways like Polaycad Bungalow, Silver Brook and Sand Banks.

The homestays are a visual treat – they hold the the promise of taking you back in time.

For the virgin traveller who likes to add adventure, the there’s no dearth of activities in Coorg.

Go trekking, rock climbing and windsurfing at Hyrige reservoir with Coorg Adventure Club. Try river crossing and rappelling near Keemalekad with Coorg Outdoors.Kayaking, canoeing and river crossing in the Kabbe river and camping around Kakkabe with Jungle Mount Adventure is on the agenda.  In the monsoons, go river rafting on the KKR River with Barapole Rafting and Southern River Adventures.

Discover the mighty waterfalls

Abbi Falls near Madikeri is easily the most popular where the roar of the mighty falls works its magic around you.  Mukkodlu near Kotebetta, Mallali near Somwarpet, Irpu near Srimangala and Chelavara Falls near Cheyandane are also easily accessible. But deep within the forests near Birunani lies the magnificent Sarathabbi, which only the most adventurous can reach. I would definitely recommend this being ‘one of my best!’

Head out on a coffee plantation tour
Despite being Karnataka’s tiniest district, Coorg is the largest coffee growing region in India. A guided plantation walk through a coffee estate while staying in a plantation bungalow is essential to trace the journey of the wonderful brew from berry to cup.

I recommend: Sit back and truly enjoy the life a colonial planter at Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trails bungalows like Thaneerhulla, Woshully, Yemmegoondi and even a tea estate stay in a land known for coffee!

The elephant camp

Take part in the amazing Elephant Interaction program at Dubare Elephant Training Camp. An early morning visit allows you the chance to give the wonderful creature a bath in the Cauvery and feed it gigantic balls of ragi and jaggery followed by a ride in the adjoining jungle. Learn about pachyderms at the old forest rest house that serves as an interpretation centre.

And whilst you are in Dubare, don’t miss the river ride. The guides out there, truly ensure that you get to dip in the icy cold water of Cauvery.

Trek to Thadiyendamol, Coorg’s tallest peak. After Mullaiyangiri in the Baba Budan Giri range, the second highest peak in Karnataka happens to be in Coorg. Accessible from Kakkabe, the mighty Thadiyendamol lures trekkers to experience the unparalleled beauty unfolding at the peak.

Popular trails include Thalathamane and Nishanimotte near Madikeri, Kotebetta near Madapur, Pushpagiri near Somwarpet and Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary near Irpu.

Source of the Cauvery, South India’s holiest river

My guide, Dorai Gowda had me enthralled whilst he spun the legend about the orgin of the river – according to legend, when the Goddess Cauvery took the form of a river to revive the drought-stricken land, people gathered at the base of the hill to receive her. The force of her currents was so swift that the pleats of the women’s saris turned backwards. And to this day, the women in Coorg wear their saree in this manner.

Visit Namdroling Golden Temple at Bylakuppe 

Time stops still as you marvel at the beauty of the 30 ft high gilded statues of Buddha at Namdroling Golden Temple in Bylakuppe, India’s largest Tibetan settlement in Coorg. Serene and untouched, the area comes alive with the faint chants from the monasteries  of the Sakya, Sera, Kagyudpa and Nyingmapa orders. The beautiful stupas and the prayer flags which sway to the music of the wind creates a visual poetry – one that completely mesmerises you.

The eve of the New Year: The drama unfolds with the Living Legend

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Resolutions and toasts took a backseat when it came to the New Year Eve which was a weekend in the dense jungles of Bandipur, Karnataka  – time came to a standstill like it always does in the land where every turn held a jungle lore. The cold and misty morning chilled my core whilst I loaded my gear into the 4 x 4. And as always, there was an infectious buzz in the vehicle which was crammed with expectant faces in thick sweaters and jackets to ward off the chill; cameras and binoculars to capture moments – which mirrored my feeling.

Pradeep, veteran guide/driver/friend/ – (a bit of a heavy duty package for one so young) –  of our vehicle patiently answered curious questions…mostly centred on the predators  and like always, I could hear the single question which was creeping into every mind which stepped into the 4 x 4 – will we be the lucky ones to spot the Living Legends? The tales wove around the sighting which the group had the earlier evening – a pair of fighting Leopards; Gowri, the tigress and her cubs; a herd of elephants protecting their young ones; dance of the snakes..

But, as the vehicle slid into the first gear and the thin fingers of dawn crept in through the misty morning, conversation stilled as we held our breath whilst we glimpsed at the canvas which unfurled like a song for us –  like a slow moving sensual river into the dark sky, the golden rays fought to break through into the last of the night sky.  Our breath came out in puffs of silver smoke as we drank in the beauty of the breaking dawn – a sight to behold… dollops of golden rays casting a halo around the towering trees;  dew drops twinkling like diamonds; the glades of soft brown grass touched with nature’s kiss.

I felt like a trespasser…who had walked into god’s own paradise and walked away with a  slice of it.

With a decade plus into the un – polluted terrain and numerous safaris and countless sightings, I’ve been lucky to come across exotic and common species in their element –  but as the jeep sped down the virgin territories in the dense forest, it seemed like the first time. The jungle awaited me…with her arms open.

The butterflies had begun their dance in my stomach as the jeep entered the forest gate. The tiny wooden gate opened into a world which defied all laws. Nothing seemed familiar…though this has been my home away from home.

The deer herds wandered and looked us in the eye. Squeals of delight followed as the graceful beauties preened for the shutterbugs. A majestic peacock proudly posed for us whilst he basked in the adulation of peahens; a stop at the water body where the aerial panorama captivated us – eagles, hornbills, woodpeckers, mynahs, parakeets, orioles found now and then amongst the stands of teak and bamboo thickets; a lone Tusker ambled through to quench his thirst; jungle fowl making a dash across the road; wild boars and the Great Indian Gaur stood like silent sentinels watching us with hooded eyes. Our eyes drank in the beauty but, they also searched through thick vegetation for the ‘Stripes’ which see you, even when you don’t see them.

This cold wintery morning, as we moved deeper into the heart of the jungle, I could sense stillness in the air.  Like a frozen river, it seemed as if the land had stopped breathing. The mist rolled as the jeep hurtled down the bumpy road. I held on to the edge of my seat, my camera close to me. No one spoke. Not a blade moved. Not a bird chirped. The wild stood motionless…their keen sense attuned.  The silence was deafening.  Pradeep felt it. The naturalist in him sensed the presence of a predator. He looked me in the eye, sans words…we communicated. I felt it creep into my bones.  A stillness that numbed my senses…

And in a blink of an eye, suddenly the air was rant with alarm calls. Like Houdini’s vanishing act, everything hidden and in plain sight took flight and vanished.  The scent of the predator was thick in the air.

The trick of the “jungle sense” is to look at all possible pieces of the information and tie them together. My ears were attuned to the alarm calls…my eyes peeled into the thick vegetation.  I could sense the gaze, but couldn’t see.  I could feel the beat, but couldn’t judge from where it originated. Our eyes darted into the thick vegetation willing it to part…Did we hear a rustle…was that a low roar…hushed whispers spoke the told and the untold. Clammy hands, heart beats and a hush descended in the 4 x 4.  It was like everyone had forgotten how to breathe. Cameras were raised; lenses focussed….excitement and adrenaline kicked in. In the open 4 x 4, we let the jungle swallow us.

Time ticked by … mocking us. Eternity passed in a blink of an eye.  The alarm calls… louder and closer. And before I could let the feeling drown me, out walked from the bushes, the living legend – fluid as a poem, majestic and wild – in his full glory, Agastya, the full grown tiger.  Pradeep left out a soft whoosh…for me, everything else slipped into oblivion.  The lazy gait held such a power that I forgot to blink.  So close was he that his scent made me forget about everything else… I could read his eyes. The urge to touch overpowered everything else. Hackles rose, but the beauty numbed the senses.  Was it a mirage? For a moment, science took over whilst I questioned if human mind was capable of  projecting images that we so desperately wanted to see? But the roar that followed that thought brought all my questions to a void. A well fed cat, he was on the prowl for the female whose scent was thick in the air.

The predator was lurking for food of a different kind.

A few feet away from him, in our open 4 x 4, everyone turned into a statue.

Agastya was in a mood to ensure that our New Year chapter started off on a whole new note.  On a jungle trail, spottings are rare and usually last for a couple of minutes. But today, it seemed like the wheels of time had stopped. Seconds ticked into minutes…minutes into eons. 40 minutes, yes, 40 minutes of being in close encounter of the big male is what jungle lore is all about. And my lore was about to commence.  My camera was on a roll…900 pictures and still clicking, the moment etched itself into my wanderlust soul. Like a drug, the sighting had taken me on a whole new high. As I slowly inched up the jeep, to get closer to my nirvana – I knew all my earlier experiences had paled in front of this one.  What I was about to witness wasn’t a dance between the prey and the predator…Agastya was giving me a glimpse into the male that he was…

I inched closer on top of the jeep….so did he on the path…all the while keeping me in his radar. Curious at first, he looked me in the eye.  We stared…his tawny eyes locked into my soulful brown ones. But in the blink of an eye, I could see his expression change. Angry.  Little beads of sweat formed at my nape.  I blinked first. He continued to arrest me with his look. I wanted to move, but I was frozen. I wanted to breathe, but I couldn’t. I wanted to tell the tale through my lens but, at some point, I stopped clicking. I couldn’t. My senses clammed up on me. I was hypnotised.

He roared…the jungle froze and the sound turned my nerves into jelly. Fear found a whole new meaning…a few feet away, his scorching gaze at our jeep had us on tenterhooks. He wasn’t in a mood to pander to the camera. His searing tawny gaze spoke the same.  Hands  stilled. Invisible threads wove us together. We couldn’t budge. Something held us locked down

Angry and seemingly helpless, the scent of the female was driving him on. His roar …calling out to her. Beckoning her to come to him. A call she chose to disobey. On the prowl…the roar grew louder. His mood grew worse. The air was thick with emotions.  At that moment, we knew we had to give the dominant male…the space he needed.   Pradeep put the vehicle in gear and built a bit of a distance – which I knew, would not be enough if the wild was unleashed.

The ancient jungle lore says, “You have two lives …one before you see the Living Legend and then, the other after you’ve seen one.” My second life started on the eve of the New Year – as the drama unfolded, I was a spectator to a volatile emotions. As I captured Agastya’s various moods, searing through my soul…mocking me…challenging me – during his quest for the female who played hide and seek with him, I realised that I had barely let out a breath. I drew in my first gulp only when the cat ambled back into the wild bush…

I breathed…I breathed…I breathed.

The Jungle lore

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Yes, I admit. The jungles are my own personal brand of heroin and like an addict the lure is impossible to resist. Every man needs a drug…to some, it’s their sport, to others, it’s their play. For me, the lure of the forest is akin to a slow spreading drug…the thirst unquenchable. The need to unravel its mysteries surpasses anything ever felt before. It is impossible to not lose yourself in the harsh terrain which has a surreal stillness to it, yet alive in so many ways.
To me, a wildlife enthusiast, the forest land is a labyrinth which weaves itself with a silken thread around your wanderlust soul. The forest whispers ….the trees tell ancient lore; the soft grass hums a tune; the birds are the songs, the butterflies the poem. I hear the blue of the kingfisher; the brown of the Dhole; the stripes of the big cat; and the lone tusker.
She is a like a lover…she doesn’t let go. She, and in this case, I am partial to Bandipur, afflicts with a madness that has no cure. I tasted her, with all my senses…at the forest gate at the break of dawn, when fog and the chill; the dense lush green and the seemingly alive trees rise on the forest horizon casting a spell like none witnessed before. I may see it a million times and yet, it always seems like the first. In the twilight hours, where she spreads out her wings and reels me into tasting a bit more of her…
I sound like a poet…a lover…because she weaves a spell that I drown in…I lose consciousness.
Some liken the wild terrain to a siren – mysterious she is and magical is her spell…that she casts over virgin and seasoned wildlife lovers.
And true to her lure, every weekend would find me in the forestland drinking in the untouched beauty of the terrain. And when my weekend sojourns in the wild comes to an end, and whilst I pack my bags and head back from the awe inspiring land, philosophy threads through my core and I resort to the age old adage – – ‘The end marks a new beginning’. And true to the adage, the next five days are spent conjuring images of the coming weekend – another drive into the virgin forest in the 4 x 4 – where the slow dance between the sensual predators and the wary preys come to the fore

Birkin Bags, south sea pearls ….are we talking ‘fashion ties’?

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