Valparai – The Hidden Bliss

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Valparai is a small hill station in Tamil Nadu which is known for their tea plantation.  I had this place in mind for ages and finally this year I decide to make a short trip to this green paradise. It is located 80 kms away from Coimbatore and it takes 4 hour drive on some sharp hair pin bends to get there. I set of with my family at 7 am in the morning along with a nice picnic bag.  En route a stopover at Aliyar Dam which is reservoir located just outside the Pollachi town at the foot hills of Valparai and at monkey falls for a quick fresh water shower might be a great idea despite the dearth of changing facilities at monkey falls.
Soon after I was invited by a series of hair pin bends. There are in total 42 hair pin bends that led me to the hills of Valparai. As I approached the 9th hair pin bend a breath taking view of the Aliyar reservoir awed me.
Further up until we reached the main town each bend offered a beautiful scenic view.After a long twisting journey I finally reached Valparai around 1 pm. The main street of the town hardly lasted for a km; a stretch that starts with the market area and ends with the bus station. Small stalls selling fresh vegetable, fruits and tea shops, restaurants and bakery, bustling people, filled the streets with life. I realised how simple and yet beautiful this place was.

This being such a small town, there were hardly any good hotels to stay, I only found a couple of lodges with a fair review and so I decided to choose The Green Hills Hotel (or rather Lodge). The Rooms were just about decent enough to spend the night. They had a room service facility to request for Tea & coffee. They also had like a mini restaurant, but I wouldn’t recommend having a meal there.  Thanks to my parents brains, out picnic bag served as an amazing lunch; atleast we dint have to hunt for food in a new place.

In the evening as I strolled down the road I could see the horizon of the tea estates meeting the sky. I heard the gushing sound from the stream of river that flowed between the hills, a view of sunset amongst the green bushes. It was a perfect evening that I could have asked for my holiday. Soon after me and my cousin set of on a journey to hunt food, as we  were vegetarians our choices were even limited. On the streets were some traditional street foods like  lady selling hot idlies in a cart, another cart with eggparatha and egg dosa. The only other decent restaurant we found was the Lakshmi Mess, we decided to settle with idlies and parathas for dinner.

The next morning I found a perfect way to start my day with an early walks into the Tea Garden. Stepping out of my hotel just before sunrise, I jogged through the streets of Valparai, fresh misty wind, green estates and golden rays rising above me made my trip. Although I never wanted to leave, the sun goddess with her strong ray forced me to do so. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped over for an amazing South Indian breakfast at Lakshmi Mess.

No holiday to tea or coffee county is complete without a trip to the Tea Factory and so I headed straight to the Tan Tea Factory (or Ryan Factory) to see the process of Tea Making.  The machinery and the building was old seemed more like antique and so was the tea making process.  The manager kindly showed around the whole factory and explained CTC the process of tea making.

Fresh leaves are withering by laying them on a wire mesh and drying them with huge fans. This process removes 70% of the moisture in a uniform way. Once dried the leaves are cut, torn and curled by metal rollers (CTC). Then they are fermented by exposing the leaves in air and are oxidized to add flavour and colour to the tea.  After which the flavoured leaves are dried through a drier and sent for segregation.

The final product segregates the tea into four different categories, which is then batched, labelled, packed and sold.  It was interesting to note that in this whole process no part of a tea leaf gets wasted. They are all used in some way or the other. On my way back, I spent a few minutes chatting with the factory workers and got a gist of their lifestyle.

A blissful hill hidden amongst the borders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu; small yet serene in its own way felt like a perfect weekend getaway. If you’d like to venture more then you could extend you trip to view the Athirampally falls or even visit the Indira Gandhi wildlife sanctuary at Topslip.

Horse Trams

We have all heard about the tuk tuk ghoda gadi. But how many of us have  actually heard about a horse tram ? You will find one if you travel to an tiny island located in northern corner of England called the Isle of Man.

Horse trams are found on the capital of this Island called Douglas Port. These horse drawn trams are the world’s oldest surviving horse tram service, dating back to 1876. The trams are fitted with roller bearings to ease the load on the horses bred to pull them. The trams link the 2 miles distance from the Manx Electric Railway to  Douglas Promenade  Sea Terminal and Port.

The horse has got an open carriage attached to it which can seat about 20 people at a time.  The horse rider takes his position in the front and the conductor stands on the side of the carriage.The horses are very friendly and run  for a maximum of 1 hr 20 mins a day for 5 days a week and 4 months a year. The  rest of the time their stable is the only place for them to be.

As they grow old they are shifted to - Home of Rest for Old Horses which is a famous visitors attractions in Douglas. These old horses love attention and really look forward to visitors meeting them with a bag of feed, carrots or apples.

I spent 2 days in this Island and just loved being with nature.

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Sunset for a New Dawn

For a new dawn in Priya & Nikhil’s life. Taken as  I was travelling from London back to Leeds on 15th May 2010

Spring time in Leeds

My article as published in Guardian Leeds blog.  Spring time in Leeds

Beyond Gongolas

Venice- dream destination for all of us. A blissful city with friendly people Venice is not just about Churches, Bridges, Gondola rides and boats, there is lot more to add to it. The beaches at Lido, the open market at Rialto Mercato and Glass blowing factory at Murano are a must visit.

Murano Island – A home to traditional venitican glass makers. It is said that a community of glassmakers moved to this Island in 12th century fearing the destruction of  Venetican Republic as the building were made of Wood and the procress of glass making could cause fire hazards. They dominated the world in the quality of glass making for centuries and their work is held high event today. Murano Island is a 20 minute boat ride from the city of Venice. The local transport vaporetti (water buses)  gets you there; you can also look out for a hawker who organises a trip to the Island in a private boat, they take you to a factory to show the art of glass blowing and finally open the door to a private collection of the artisans work.  I decided to choose the second option as it was the easier way out. The ride through the boat was simply amazing. Drops of water splashed on my face as the taxi glided across the vast blue canal. On my way was the San Michele Island which is famous cemetery and an intresting  fuel station for the water taxi and ships.  I had to hold  tightly onto the edges of the boat as I stood up experiencing the wind running accross my face.

The water taxi stopped as close as possible to the bank of the canal and I was received by a co ordinator who organised my personal tour of the demonstration factory and left me with the glass master to demonstrate his skills. He melted the silica powder in the hot furnace and used a steel rod to blow it from one end and create a desired shape of the melted silicon. Ten minutes of this blowing skills created a beautiful flower vase. As he was giving final touches to the vase, he placed a paper on the vase it caught fire immediately.After the demonstration the co ordinator took me to a showroom. I was stunned my eyes could not focus on one thing there were frosted and transparent  glasses in red , blue, green, Purple, fruits and vegetable, animals,  decorative pieces, dinner ware and lampshades.  I just walked from one room to another admiring these beautiful hand crafted sculptures. No doubt these were very expensive but if you were really intrested in buying any of them you could bargain get them even for half the price, and the services that I recieved was amazing, the salesman lured me by saying that they would accept card payments and also ship it to any part of the world. In the end just before the billing counter were some small and affordable products, I picked up a few to take it with me as a souviner .

I left the factory thoroughly satisfied with the tour on my way back to the island I spotted an another factory. I greedily tried my luck to see if I can get another glimpse, following the signs that said visitor’s entrance which lead me to a huge factory with 3 furnace and 6 people working in it. Italian men with well built muscles sweat off as they tried to create a world class product; they smiled at me as I saw them mixing colours and shapes to create a lampshade, I watched them work to my heart’s content, and finally left the place. As I walked out I spotted some huge cartons stacked in the corridor, these were finished products ready to be shipped to the rest of the world.

I soon reached the Island of Murano I spotted a huge artistic glass work on one side of the bridge. This blue coloured gaint sculpture is a gift to the island of Murano by the artisans living there. I also found numerous glass shops which had souvenirs like glass gongolas, boats, lampshades, show pieces, paperweights,beads, necklaces, glass jewellery. There were also some intresting stuff like colored fish in transparent glass aquariums or wrapped hard candies of multicolored glass. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting along the bank of the canal dipping my legs in the water, eating a slice of pizza, enjoying the warmth of the sun. Ah! truly Venice, truly Italian, but all good things will have to come to an end, and so I headed back saying Grazie Murano.

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Pondicherry

A long lasting trip was fulfilled as I travelled to Puducherry as its called now. Vijay and I hit the roads early in the morning at 5 am. Its am amazing experience to ride cutting across the chill wind of the ECR Road. Our 3 hour-long journeys ended at 8 am as we had breakfast at The Promenade, A hidesign hotel across the beach. I was quite impressed looking at the no of foreigners staying at the hotel. The restaurant was packed with French tourist.

We started the day by taking long walks along side the beach; the shore of the beach is covered with bed of rocks on which there is a pedestrian walkway is built. Hence once can only see the water hitting the rocks and gushing back to where they came. At around 9 am we decided to visit the “malakulam vinayakar”; the irony of the temple is that long long ago there used be a pond on which a tree grew up and hence the god Ganesha was name Malakulam Vinayakar. Out side the temple you will find a very friendly elephant that bless all tourist on their head as they bend. Mind you the elephant does not eat bananas, so get him a loads of “Arikam pullu” if you like.

After the temple we headed to aurbindo ashram, a quite place where all devotees of “The Mother” go to pay visit to her centenary. The ashram has also got a bookstore and library. You also get information booklet, which tells about the different stores at the French Colony. You can browse through http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ before heading here

We then headed to my favourite shop Auroville where I went on shop for loads of agarbatti and lanterns. Please don’t miss shopping at auroville its definetly much cheaper than their shops in Chennai and Pune. Next was shopping at MG road, one of the oldest and busiest road in the town. Here you will find some branded shops and showrooms. You will also find garment shops selling Tirpur export stuff. They are really cheap but you will have to hunt for good fitting clothes.

We next headed off to Auroville, which is 20km before Pondicherry on the way to Chennai, before going we did take a look at the governors house, which was a beautiful huge mansion. We reached auroville around 12 noon after riding through bumpy and muddy roads. This is an international township established by The Mother who created auroville to fulfil her mentors Vision – “ A new forms of individual and collective life, preparing the way towards a brighter future for the whole earth”. In the centre on Auroville is loacated “ Matrimandir”. The beauty of this place cannot be expressed in words. Please browse through http://www.auroville.org/ for more details about this place. It takes you a good 2 hours to look at the beauty of this township. We had lunch at the Auroville café, the food here is extremely good. They are made of organic ingredients and the best part is its not expensive.

As we finished our lunch we headed out back to Nama Chennai.

…….. somethings that I cannot forget about this trip.

The colonial feel of the city.
The rough waves of the sea hitting the rocks.
The small two wheeler-hiring shops.
The French riding bicycle and two wheelers through the city.
The sight of rickshaw wala.
The names of road written in French.

Bombay

A city full of life!

That’s wat one can say about our Mumbai. A city that never sleeps. Business is plenty, people work out of shops which is hardly 100 sqft and located in the basement of buildings. Each one of them doing extremly welll and have been established for years together. At night this city looks more beautiful than during day. The roadside restaurants do not close before 1 am in the morning.

A view of this city through the 12th Floor of my anunts house is breath taking. Look down and you will find the railway track, and then the slums, and then the multistoried tall buildings.

This is the only city which has the rich and the poor, people belonging to all cast and religion. where every one has ways and means to survive.

in short Lively is what i can say