Category: Heritage

A stay at Annamalai Tiger Reserve

Sunrise - Forest Rest House Attakatty
Sunrise – Forest Rest House Attakatty

We decided to take a small break during the Christmas holiday period, pretty much at the last minute. As expected, decent places to stay without having to break the budget were hard to find. But as I started looking around places that can be reached in a comfortable day’s driving, the hill station of Valparai stood out.

Valparai is located on the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, close to the town of Pollachi. As I started reading more, I realised that Valparai is located adjacent to the Annamalai Tiger Reserve, which in turn is contiguous with Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala. While researching for suitable accommodation for the family in and around Valparai, I came across the Forest Rest Houses located within the Tiger Reserve.

While I have stayed inside or adjacent to forests previously, I realised that my kids had not. This, along with the suitability of the accommodation for this specific trip and the budget were the key factors that influenced us to consider this option. But the most important, and surprising, factor was that accommodation at any of these Forest Rest Houses could be booked online through a surprisingly good web-site.

Accommodation booked, I rented a car through Zoomcar for the duration of the trip. An important point that we had to keep in mind was that, as the place was located within a Forest, access was restricted after 4 pm. This was to minimise any wildlife encounters. As the place is a fair distance away from Bengaluru, we decided to break our journey at a friend’s farmhouse near Coimbatore.

The drive to the rest house (at Attakatty) was uneventful, except for the fact that the location of the rest house is not very well sign-posted from the main road. We ended up missing the turn-off and had to make some sharp U-turns to get back on the route. But once there, it was very nice. Accommodation is in the form of low-slung rooms, beneath tall green trees nestled on the side of the Western ghats. It is sufficiently far away from the main road to block off vehicular noise, but close enough that we could walk down to the tea stall at the junction for delicious snacks.

Attakatty Forest Rest House
Attakatty Forest Rest House

The room was spartan, but reasonably clean. Bed linen was provided, but one has to carry all toiletries, as well as soaps, towels, etc. There was running water in the very clean toilets, but ours was missing hot water. The staff were attentive and made arrangements for hot water, so it was not too much of an inconvenience.

Dinners and breakfasts were at the Rest House. Prior notice of a few hours has to be given to the caretaker so they can prepare the required quantity of food. The food was typical basic South Indian fare, but delicious.

We were only there for a couple of days. but the experience of staying inside the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, one of the key ecological hot-spots of the World, was a very memorable one. On the first evening, we were visited by a small group of Lion-tailed Macaques, a species of monkey endemic to the Western Ghats.

View of Aliyar Dam
View of Aliyar Dam from Attakatty

I had high expectations of spotting endemic bird species, but this did not fructify. But I still managed to observe a good number of birds, some of which were lifers for me.

For a last-minute holiday, this surpassed expectations and made for a refreshing break.

 

 

Somanathapura Temple – A Sculptural Marvel

Chennakesava Temple Somanathapura
Chennakesava Temple Somanathapura

The Chennakesava temple at Somnathpur was built by rulers of the Hoysala dynasty in the 13th Century. It is located on the banks of the river Kaveri, about 20 kilometres to the South East of Mysore. Along with the more famous temples at Belur and Halebid, this temple forms part of the magnificent Hoysala temples of Karnataka.

I recently revisited this temple (more a monument as active worship does not take place here anymore) while on a visit to Annamalai Tiger Reserve. The intricacy and profusion of carvings is simply stupendous. I know it’s a cliche, but words really cannot do justice to the beauty of this monument.

Somanathapura Temple Compound
Somanathapura Temple Compound neatly maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India
External walls of the Chennakesava Temple
External walls of the Chennakesava Temple
Profusion of carvings
Profusion of carvings covering literally every inch!
A finely carved chariot
A finely carved chariot
Intricately carved ceiling
Intricately carved ceiling
Smoothly Carved Pillars
Smoothly Carved Pillars inside the temple

Discovering Bengaluru

Discovering Bengaluru

It’s not often that I write about a book before I have completed it and absorbed it. But in the case of ‘Discovering Bengalure‘ by Meera Iyer, I am making an exception.

The book, as it’s sub-title point out is about Bengaluru’s History. However, forget any preconceived notions of what a history book might read like. This is a history book with a difference. By focusing on specific neighbourhoods of Bengaluru, the book immediately makes history accessible and personal. No longer is it an abstract concept of people and events long gone by, but it makes us aware of and appreciate the history all around the city. This is done primarily by grounding the narrative around important heritage structures around Bengaluru.

The book also describes interesting walks in each of these neighbourhoods by which anyone can get out, explore and become more familiar with the history of that area. This technique immediately gets the book out of a library or home and into the streets, in the hands of ‘explorers’. Indeed, a logical extension of the book could be a mobile site or app that can serve as a reliable and handy guide for people interested in the history and heritage of a place.

Meera Iyer is Convenor of the Bengaluru chapter of INTACH and her familiarity and passion for the heritage of the city comes through in this book. Do get your hand on a copy and go out and explore Bengaluru!

An Ode to the Humble Udupi cafe

Udupi standing restaurant
A typical ‘Sagar’ restaurant

Though Bangalore is where I have spent the most of my adult life (across two stints), I have made no secret of the fact that I am yet to warm to the city in the same way as my home city of Mumbai. And one of the key factors in that is food.

I do not think anyone will argue that, between Bangalore and Mumbai, when it comes to food, Mumbai is streets ahead. And when it comes to street food, it is almost unfair to make any comparison – Mumbai’s exceptional street food at very reasonable prices is one of the best in the world, in my humble opinion. As one travel guide put it, Mumbai’s street food culture is more varied than many entire European / Western cuisines!

However, if there is one area where Bangalore manages to beat Mumbai, it’s to do with South Indian snacks. And specifically, the culture of ‘standing joints‘ which go by the generic names of ‘Darshinis’ or ‘Sagars’. Also called ‘Udupi‘ cafes, these typically serve hot  vegetarian South Indian snacks usually cooked in full view of the customer and served with a range of delicious chutneys and sambar at pocket friendly rates – it is the closest that Bangalore gets to Mumbai street food. Add on the exceptional South Indian filter coffee which typically costs only Rs. 10, and you have a clear winner!

South Indian filter coffee
South Indian filter coffee

And like Mumbai street food, everyone, rich or poor, businessman or working class, can be seen standing and eating next to each other. The open nature of these cafe / restaurants with no glass frontage or door also makes for a very welcoming and comfortable space for segments of people who might otherwise think twice of eating out alone.

Almost every locality in Bangalore will have one of these. For a long time, it felt like the only exception was the area where I live. We had all the varied shops and restaurants you would expect in a typical middle / upper-middle income locality, except for one major gap – an Udupi restaurant. Thankfully, the gap was filled a few months. Maybe catering to the locality, this specific outlet does not have any ‘standing only’ tables. But in almost all other aspects, it sticks to the standard template. And, as was to be expected, the place has been buzzing almost from the first day.

 

State Birds of India

I recently came across an infographic about ‘State Birds of India’ on a Nature Group that I am part of. I am sure we all know that the Peacock is the National Bird of India, but did you know that each state of India (and most Union Territories) also have their own ‘State’ bird?

Not just Bird, each of them also has their own State Animal, Tree and Flower. The ENVIS site of Forest Research Institute has a helpful page on these – http://www.frienvis.nic.in/KidsCentre/State-Animals-Birds-Trees-Flowers-of-India_1500.aspx

Here are some (hopefully interesting!) observations of the various State Birds:

Indian Roller Bandhavgarh

The Indian Roller is the most common State Bird across India with 3 states – Karnataka, Telengana and Odisha – having this beautiful bird as their State Bird.

GREAT INDIAN HORNBIL

The state in the extreme South West of the country – Kerala – shares its State Bird with the state in the extreme North East of the country – Arunachal Pradesh. This is the Great Hornbill. And this reflects the commonality of habitat at these two extremes of the country, separated by over 3,000 kilometres of vastly different ecological habitats in between.

Indian sporting birds (1915) (14563975598)

The intriguingly named Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant is the State Bird of the North Eastern states of Manipur and Mizoram. The Hill Myna, an excellent mimic – is shared by Chattisgarh and Meghalaya.

Two of our more common birds – Asian Koel and House Sparrow – are shared by Jharkhand and Puducherry and Bihar and Delhi respectively.

Sarus cranes (Grus antigone)

Among more iconic species, the Sarus Crane is the State Bird of Uttar Pradesh, while the Great Indian Bustard is the State Bird of Rajasthan. An interesting anecdote relating to the Great Indian Bustard – apparently the only reason the Peacock was chosen as India’s National Bird was due to the unfortunate similarity of the Bustard’s name with another word in the Indian language… Which is a shame, because being India’s National Bird could greatly have improved the chances of this – India’s largest and one of the world’s heaviest flying – birds survival in the wild.

Great Indian Bustard from DNP

Note:

All Images have been sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Here are the attributions: