I’ve long thought that rum doesn’t get the respect it deserves. In India, especially, rum is considered the ‘poor man’s’ or ‘student’s’ liquor, something people start out with before moving on to whiskey. I suppose this is understandable, considering that most rums are cheap and relatively easy to produce. But just because rum is affordable doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flavour and complexity, and can’t be enjoyed as much as any other drink. Subtle variations in the production process—from what kind of sugarcane product is used as a base, to whether it’s spiced or not, and how it is aged—can result in an incredibly sophisticated end product that would arguably not feel out of place among the best whiskeys.
We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way). Built into the granite hills of central Karnataka state and straddling the Tungabhadra river, Hampi is a 40-square-kilometre treasure trove of ancient temples, crumbling palaces and boulder-strewn natural beauty. Some even say that the ancient city was built on the ruins of one even older—the mythical monkey-city of Kishkinda, home to Hinduism’s Lord Hanuman the monkey god, devoted follower of Lord Rama.
I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, and I’m still amazed at their capacity for affection and loyalty, even though we often don’t deserve it. I believe that, if you let them, dogs can enrich your life immeasurably, and lend it a sense of fulfilment and security that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. But, like everything good in life, this doesn’t come for free.
It was April in 2014, and my wife and I desperately needed a holiday. We were tired of the beach, though, and so we decided to head up into the mountains. After casting about a bit, we decided on Kalimpong in West Bengal, where we could stay as guests of the army, and where my wife could re-live some fond childhood memories. Here are six great experiences we discovered while we were in Kalimpong.
In late 2013, my wife wanted to visit Kutch in Gujarat as a sourcing trip for her fledgling ethnic gifts business, so we decided we would turn it into our annual new year’s holiday. We spent close to two weeks in Bhuj and its surroundings (arguably home to India’s highest concentration of high-quality textile handicraft producers), investigated lots of towns and villages, and took in India’s great white salt desert, the Great Rann of Kutch.
Between the end of September and the beginning of October 2014, my wife and I had decided to take full advantage of a coming long weekend, and had booked a nice holiday in Kashmir. Unfortunately, life had other plans and Kashmir was hit by its worst floods in recent memory, so we had to cast about for other options. We finally decided we would drive down to Goa.
Driving to Goa
So. We kicked off our trip at about 5:00 AM and headed down towards Shamsabad and the Bangalore highway. This was our planned route: Hyderabad-Jadcherla-Mahbubnagar-Raichur-Lingsugur-Mudgal-Bagalkot-Belgaum-Chorla-Aldona. I must say, I was impressed with the road. Not at all like a state highway, and good enough to hit 100 kmph over most of it. The only rough patches were before and after Raichur, about a kilometer or so long each time. Otherwise, a very nice road! The only real annoyance for us was that there were hardly any roadside eateries on the highway, so we had to head into the nearest town even for a cup of tea.
For those not in the know, the Nilgiri hills are part of the Western ghats of India, where the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala meet, and whose most famous tourist trap is Ooty (AKA Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam).
Most visitors to the Nilgiris take in the sights and sounds of Ooty and its populated environs without realizing that the seemingly-infinite tea plantations on the hills offer a completely different experience, far from the madding crowd and closer to the wild. This is what we were aiming for when we left Hyderabad for Bangalore to join my brother (a dedicated conservationist) and his family and head into the hills. Our itinerary was Hyderabad-Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty-O’Land Plantations, and our destination was O’Land Plantation, an organic tea plantation about two hours’ drive beyond Ooty.
My wife and I recently got back from our vacation to Lakshadweep (read about planning, booking and costs here), and we can now shed some more light on what it’s like visiting these islands, considering there’s hardly any information to be found on the internet.
Overall, it was a great vacation and an incredible experience, one that you will not have anywhere else in India—arguably, not even in the Andamans. But, as with all travel in India, nothing really goes exactly according to plan or turns our exactly the way you want, so tempering your expectations will go a long way towards making sure you have a good time. Also, just to avoid confusion, the Lakshadweep tourism department is called SPORTS (Society for Preservation of Nature Tourism and Sports), so if someone says ‘sports’, this is probably what they mean.
In September 2016, my wife and I decided we would visit the Lakshadweep islands for our anniversary, thinking that a week or so over the new year would be ideal. We soon found out that visiting Lakshadweep was not going to be as easy as we thought.
First off, there is hardly any information available online, and whatever is there is quite confusing. So while we haven’t actually visited yet, I thought I would share some of the information we have managed to gather so far.
(Update: We’ve finally been there, and it was an incredible experience! Read all about it here.)