Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Goodbye 2016. Wishing all the readers of my blog a happy 2017. Trip to Matheran, Jayanti’s 60th Birthday, Karin’s Wedding, Nagarhole, Barbeque, Hair Styling and other stories.

2016 was a very eventful year. Once again I wish to thank all the readers for continuing to visit my blog and encouraging me to write. It is with utmost pride I wish to inform all of you that my blog has crossed “1, 00, 000 page views”.

2016 Family Get Together
Travelling abroad and within India has become a standard feature in our lives. I have always maintained that traveling is extremely therapeutic and rejuvenating. There is nothing like a jaunt with family and friends to balance one’s life, especially today.

In the months of April and May we visited New Zealand for three weeks. We drove all over NZ from North to South. The country is blessed with exceptional natural assets – lakes, forests, mountains, rivers, beaches, volcanoes, coves, geysers and much more. We were spellbound coming face to face with ‘Maori Culture’. We were most impressed with the way the environment is respected and protected.

We travelled extensively within India. We went to Mumbai and visited Matheran. We also visited Jaipur and took a trip to Shillong, Kaziranga, Kolkata and the Sundarbans. A short stay in Coonoor and Nagarhole ended our travel for 2016.     

Visit to Truefitt and Hill. My nephew’s wife Shree, who manages a very successful PR firm in Bangalore, came home to be part of my birthday celebrations. During the course of the evening she presented me a gift voucher to visit the newly inaugurated barber shop ‘Truefitt and Hill’ in Indiranagar- the oldest barbershop in the world, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in April 2000. Truefitt was established in 1805 by William Francis Truefitt. He styled himself as hairdresser to the British Royal Court and the firm received their first Royal Warrant from King George III. Their advertisement proudly proclaims that Sir Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Sinatra were groomed by T and H hopefully they will add Capt Pubs.  

I was truly delighted that I would be groomed in such a famous barber shop. Some of the guests were upset with Shree for giving me a gift which had no use. They all screamed at her, “Have you seen his head? One cannot get any balder than this”. Ignoring all jibes and innuendos, I went ahead and took an appointment at the hair dressers.

After a short walk around and explanation of the facilities by the manager, I was handed over to the head barber who proceeded with the grooming in the ‘Dukes Room’.

Dukes Room – Royalty
Starting with a ‘Royal Shave’ the barber took me through the most delightful grooming experience of my life. The courtesy and skill exhibited by the London trained barber was simply outstanding. This was followed by a ‘Royal Haircut’, ‘Royal Manicure’ and ‘Royal Pedicure’. The package also included a ‘Head Massage’ and ‘Face Massage’. This 150 minute blissful experience is punctuated with many cups of herbal tea, cookies and pastries. All this comes at a cost. If I were to visit the outfit again, on my own, the same set of services would cost me around Rs10, 000. It was a once in a life time experience.

We visited Matheran. Our early October visit to our daughter’s place in Mumbai coincided with Rita’s birthday. We went along with the Blahs to Matheran for a short trip. Matheran town by itself was a huge disappointment, once again reflecting the utter chaos in the local tourist industry. Bad parking arrangements, disorderly rickshaw pullers and horse attendants, nonexistent roads, dirt and filth all along the approach to the cottages portrays a very sad picture of the hill station. The entire population of Matheran is dependent on the tourist for their livelihood. The government seems to be blissfully inactive and their involvement appears to be totally lacking. 

The only saving grace was our hotel a Neemrana property- ‘Verandah in the Forest’. The Verandah in the Forest is one of the most unique heritage hotels in Matheran. This resort in Matheran was the second house to be built on the isolated Western Ghats by Captain Barr in the 19th century. This impressive building has been converted into a resort whilst maintaining all the essentials of this old time Indo British architecture. A huge verandah with endless period furniture welcomes you and gives the visitor a ‘non hotel – hotel’ ambiance as claimed by the owners. The rooms are huge and cozy, the service is excellent and the food is delectable. The overall setting reminded me of a very well run plantation club. 

The Verandah

Huge - really big

View from the verandah

A posh drawing room

Cozy couple

Birthday girl enjoying dinner with son in law
The drawing, dining room and the library takes you back to a different era – sitting in dinners, opulent china and silver ware, candelabras, coffee in the library, afternoon tea and so on.Verandah in the Forest’ is truly a remarkable getaway from the fast paced city life.

Dinner for the royalty
Jayanti’s 60th Birthday. My dearest wife reached the 60 landmark on 17 Oct 2016. The whole family was excited and made detailed plans to celebrate. Bali and Sri Lanka were ruled out due to paucity of time and finally we chose ‘Jaipur’ the pink city to bring in her birthday. Vivek, Shubhra and Samara joined us at the airport for an early morning flight. We checked into ‘The Marriot, Jaipur’, to be joined by Akhila, Anirban, Ayaan, Agastya and Aarin.

The three day celebration started with a delicious lunch at ‘Spice Court’. Marwari Mutton Tikka, Kheema Batti and Lal Mass stole the show. Going to a restaurant with Anirban and Vivek is a complex exercise involving assessment of various places, consultation with other foodies, research on the net etc. Without exception we end up eating gourmet food and other exotica in the best places in town.
At Spice Court restaurant

All in Jai's honour
In the evening we visited ‘Rambhag Palace’ Jaipur. Even a short stay in the hotel is sufficient to absorb the magnificence of this 181 year old structure. The palace comes alive at night with colorful and elegant lighting and melodious live music in the background. The overall ambiance is one of luxury and unadulterated opulence with a touch of royalty. The hotel staff prepared a lovely birthday cake for Jai.

Simply captivating

A photo op

Cake cutting in advance. Twins had retired
The grand kids and I spent a lot of time in the pool and indulged in a Jacuzzi and sauna.  Marriot looks after the tourist very well, the food is good and the staff is polite and helpful. The next morning we visited the famous ‘Lassiwala’ of Jaipur to quench our thirst. Thereafter we went on a drive around the city before returning to the hotel for a quiet lunch and some badly needed rest.
The evening was filled with fun and frolic.

Joy ride in Jaipur

At Lassiwala
 We visited ‘Choki Dhani’ which offers Rajasthani heritage, music, dance and traditional food under one umbrella. Everybody had something to do in the village -camel rides, arrow shooting, head massage, tribal dance and many other such activities kept all of us busy throughout the evening. The package deal includes a typical Rajasthani meal in an ethnic setting.  
Totally absorbed except one - Aggy

A lovely performance

Very pleased with each other

Waiting for the Rajastani meal
We reached the hotel just after the stroke of twelve. We brought in the birthday by popping a bottle of champagne, hugs from children and grand children and many good wishes to Jai.

Masti masters

Very apt

It was a wonderful holiday with our children, their spouses and all the grand children. Like Jai said” This was the best holiday I’ve had in a long time”. 

Jaipur after many years wears a very clean and tidy face. It was a pleasure to drive around in the city. 

A lovely evening with daughter dear. Narain Nivas Palace Hotel Jaipur
While on the subject of Jai’s 60th birthday, the school decided to celebrate her birthday on our return. I was also invited to the function. Both of us were in for a pleasant surprise. The school had organized a full-fledged ’Shashtipoorthi’ ceremony.  The term Shasti in numerology denotes sixty (60). In an individual’s life, the completion of sixty years is referred to as Shastipoorthi. It is regarded as a renewal of marital vows and marks the transition from the material to the spiritual world. The event is marked by the celebration of second round of marriage rituals.
Are you serious

Very serious after the second wedding

All the witnesses

Freedom International School celebrated their Annual Sports Day on 15 Dec 2016 with the theme ‘A Tribute to the Armed Forces’. They invited Air Vice Marshal Sandeep Singh, Commandant of Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE)as the chief guest. A few of us veterans also attended the sports day. All the events were conducted with military precision and well received by the parents and spectators. There was even a Military Tattoo and a marching cadence presented by the four Houses at school. A replica of the Sukhoi aircraft, INS Vikramaditya and Kargil sand models created by the school staff and the students made for a great photo op after the function.

Sushama and Jai giving final touches to 'Kargil' sand model
Wedding in the Hills.  Our niece Karin married Gabriel in Coonoor on the 21 Dec 2016. It was yet another destination wedding. All the close relatives of the bride and the bridegroom were there along with friends of the bride’s parents. The bride’s friends joined the merriment in large numbers and so did the local guests. The three day celebrations included the welcome dinner at Wellington Lake, the Mehendi ceremony at Dunmore House, the reception at the Wellington Gymkhana Club, and finally the wedding at the Taj Gateway Hotel. All the events were organized in different venues which made it extremely interesting.

Karin and Gabriel all smiles

Very proud parents

A photo of for brother and sisters
The wedding was extremely well organized. The planning and the execution of the wedding were excellent. Girija and Shankar had planned all the events with great care and attention to detail. Old friends, good weather and the lovely ambiance of Coonoor made a positive impact on the wedding.
Karin and Gabriel looked radiant in their wedding attire, full of smiles and warmth.

We wish them both a very long and happy married life.

Jai and I along with our children and four grandchildren stayed in a cottage ‘Shunyata’ located eight kilometers from Coonoor. The cottage is located at an elevation overlooking a beautiful valley. The accommodation is very well appointed with three bed rooms and a huge drawing and dining. Early morning tea in the verandah, trekking in the tea garden and sighting wild Nilgiri Gaur in the estate were the highlights of our short stay. The cottage is looked after by a very affable family which is co-located in the compound. Steaming hot, delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner is prepared by the family on request. Considering its lovely location and good facilities, the charges for renting the entire property appeared to be quite reasonable. 

The view speaks for itself

Another view of the valley below
Tryst with Tiger. Daughter and family and the two of us left for the ‘Wilderness Resort’, Nagarhole early in the morning on 26 Dec as a part of our annual wild life trip. Both Akhila and Anirban are passionate wild life buffs. The resort is located at a distance of 195 Km from Bangalore on Nagarhole Road adjacent to ‘Veeranahosahalli Village’. After a sumptuous breakfast in ‘Kamat Upachar’ we reached the resort by lunch time. The condition of road to Hunsur and beyond has improved a lot, making the drive enjoyable. Including the BF stop, we clocked around seven hours. The December weather was extremely pleasant, especially inside the resort. 36 Km further on the same road takes you to the gates of the ‘Nagarhole Tiger Reserve’. The road passes through Nalkeri forest.

‘Wilderness Resort’ is a sprawling resort spread over twenty acres of forested area with every creature comfort to keep the guests happy and contented. The architecture finds a delicate balance between nature and functionality. The builders have ensured all their structures blend extremely well with the natural surroundings.

As you enter the resort through a specially designed gate, an enormous foyer welcomes the guests to the reception, sitting and dining area. The openness of the structure with its high ceiling, immediately unlocks one’s senses to merge with nature. 

There is a very well appointed ‘Activity Room’ with TT, Billiards and many other indoor games.  A small amphitheater is housed near the lobby for screening wildlife documentaries. It also has a party area with a pit for barbecues and bonfires. To keep the guest occupied, the resort has a cute swimming pool, a tall observation post and a rope way to slither across.

Huge and impressive facade

Tall and spacious foyer overlooking the party area, amphitheater and the barbeque pit

Well spread out cottages and suites

The Tent

A typical cottage
There are different types of accommodation from, Luxury Tents, Teak View Cottages and King, Queen and Master Suites. The accommodation is well spread out to enhance privacy and provide an uncluttered view of the flora and fauna. The rooms are really huge with spacious verandahs and some of them have a lovely open air bathing area.

Nagarahole means, Naga – Snake and Hole – Stream. The forest is situated in two districts of Mysore and Kodagu in the state of Karnataka. It was originally constituted into a sanctuary in the year 1955 covering an area of 258 sq. Kms and subsequently enlarged to include the adjoining areas of Mysore district and now extends over an area of 643.39 sq. kms which was given the status of a National Park in 1983.

The morning safari starts at 5.30 am and the evening one at 3.30 pm lasting a total of two hours. We did a total of 4 jeep and 1 bus safaris. On the very first day we were extremely lucky to witness a mock charge by a female elephant and for the very first time I heard an elephant’s shrill trumpet as she reached out to her herd. I was really scared to see an agitated elephant so close, in spite of our driver/guide assurances that it was only a ‘mock’ charge.

Inmates of the forest
Spotted deer


Most sought after
Crested Serpent eagle

Malabar Giant Squirrel

The deadly Gaur
 After the safari we were driving back to the resort and all of a sudden the jeep stopped and the guide showed us a tiger in a clearing. With the sudden surge of adrenalin, the excitement builds up and you feel totally elated. This was my first sighting of a Tiger in the wild and it was truly fascinating.

Waiting for the safari
Every evening we sat in the verandah and enjoyed the stillness of the forest and the tranquility that pervades any forest. Apart from going on all the safaris, the children thoroughly enjoyed being in the open.

We were extremely fortunate to have Mohammed Anees, a well-known herpetologist, take us on safaris. Anees is in charge of ‘Wilderness Resort’ and is passionately involved with wildlife. Being with Anees added a very special flavor to our stay. He kept us busy with his snake catching episodes, tiger sightings and other jungle tales. Anees has been associated with snakes since he was three years old and continues to be a snake saver.  In fact, in the CBSE syllabus, Class V students study a chapter on Anees called, “The Snake Saver”, introduced to create awareness about conservation.

The Legendary Snake Saver
In addition to being a snake saver Anees loves to cook. Mutton biriyani, specially prepared by him was our culinary highlight. The food in the resort is well prepared and tasty.

After three eventful days we left Nagarahole and Wilderness Resort completely satisfied.

Family gathered around a bonfire waiting for the year to end. We finally bid good bye to 2016 and ushered in 2017 by lighting a lantern and letting it loose to soar into the sky and shed light on all.
Cheers until next time.

Once again Happy New Year to one and all

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