Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rediscovering Ooty (Part 1): Driver's Dream Roads - Calicut to Ooty


Ooty route

The adrenalin is rushing, not because of an adventurous ride, not because we are travelling at breath neck speeds, but due the prospect of the impending journey through one of the most beautiful and scenic roads of God's own country Kerala. A guy who is passionate about any road trips, be it his routine daily trips to office or through badly maintained roads, needs nothing more to feel excited.

Akin to the period of a blossoming love, everything around starts to look beautiful - the colorless cloudy sky brightened up by the rising sun and even the roads inside Kozhikkode city which has a deserted look. It is just ten minutes into the journey which started from Kozhikkode and Feroke Bridge, the southern exit to Kozhikkode city, is already in sight.

kozhikkode ooty route


The water underneath seemed to enjoying their stillness while we glided over them. Bridges, one of the major engineering feats, always has got a special charm and each one has got its own identity. Travelling through a bridge is sure a pleasant experience for all, coz it brings out a different experience from the tarmac laid on soil, add to it an unobstructed panoramic view of the surroundings too.

Feroke is always characterized by the umpteen number of lorries cris crossing the road, many of them parked in such a way that only a miniscule portion of the road is available for moving vehicles and the scenario is quite dangerous. It is just 15 minutes past 7 in the morning and the situation is no different. A level4 pass in the game of road rash is a must to qualify for driving in these roads.

The lorry dense Feroke is slowly giving way to the wide open roads of Ramanattukara. The junction roads are so wide that on a harthal day it is enough to set up a cricket match here. Even in this junction accidents are frequent, thanks to the maniac drivers who just cross the road to bus stand positioned in junction giving scant respect to the oncoming traffic without any signals whatsoever. All this happens with a traffic police as a witness, who never intereferes with the driving techniques of those who rule the road.

Immediately after the junction roads split into two and we have to take the straight one which is the Nilambur route. The road to the right takes us down south to Thrissur. Seems like Ramanattukara market has already started bustling with activity.


ramanattukara

Another junction is coming up. This is the place where the road inside the city intersects with the bypass. To the right is Thrissur and to the left is Kannur. We have to go straight, eastwards carefully crossing the bypass, where a similar intersection just 5 kms away claimed the life of 5 people when a private bus coming from the city, ignoring the read light stormed into the bypass hitting sideways a car which was going through the bypass. Thankfully here there are no traffic signal lights to jump.


Goodbye to Kozhikkode city and we are now in buttersmooth roads with the occasional twisties and to give company there are lot of taxis and cars laden with luggage a mini lorry can carry and occupancy in these five seater vehicles will be atleast seven. It is an easy guess to find out that an airport is around and typically the density of such vehicles increase near airports. Interestingly only one among them will be travelling and the rest are going to see them off. The irony is that in the airport no one other than the passenger can get inside even the lounge due to security reasons.

The kozhikkode airport is just before Kondotty and once the diversion to the airport is passed trafic seems to be reduced drastically. Kondotty town is still sleeping. There is a diversion here and we have to take the left turn to Nilambur.



Some more big twisties and itz a pleasure to just guide the vehicle through the extreme left, with the slight press of accelerator keeping it in the turbo range and just zooming off once the turn is completed.

Another town is approaching fast, Manjeri, the commercial capital of Malappuram. Before we enter the heart of this town situated right in the foot of Western Ghats we have to make a left turn. Yes the turn is in sight and the sign board shows the direction to Ooty.



Some more of the town roads is passing by, which houses almost all the government establishments of Malappuram.

One more junction is approaching and thankfully there is no sign boards, no GPS in vehicle means the only way to confirm the route is the good old method, just open your mouth and ask.



The good fellow in his Malabar accent not only specified that it is a left turn here, but also reminded that we have to take the next right turn.

A little ahead there is a small road to the right, but my better half, based on her intelligent thought process announced that we have to take the straight road. A little into this road and I am growing suspicious. Another direction query properly answered and we have to turn our vehicle back and the road which we early saw. Just after the eastward turn the geography suddenly changed. The hill roads were still not in sight, but the road was completely engulfed by the lush greenery on both sides with really tall trees on both sides.


The density of these tree folks is beginning to increase and the feeling is like we are getting lost in a jungle, even though the place is by no means a jungle.



Roads continue to be smooth and the gliding is continuing. Another scene change is in the offing. The density of trees has not gone down, but surely more light is coming through it, thanks to the less densely packed leaves of these big teak trees.


The appearance of teak trees signifies the approach of another popular tourist destination Nilambur. One of the most beautiful hamlets of Kerala with umpteen number of beautiful tourist spots. I have made an exclusive coverage of Nilambur in one of my earlier travelogues. (You can read it by clicking here).

Breakfast time is approaching and right after Manjeri we were looking for a Hotel, Nilambur approached and still no hotels in sight, some of them were closed. We are now in the heart of Nilambur town and most of the shops are closed, seems like this city comes to life very late, thanks to the population who will be mostly business oriented. At last one hotel with ample parking lot is visible. This hotel is jampacked with tourists who came in two buses having their breakfast. So we have to move out and look out for another. Nilambur town is now history and still no hotels in sight.

A board pointing to Vazhiyoram restaurant is visible. Vazhiyoram project is an initiative of Govt of Kerala jointly with some private partnership to offer quality restaurant and rest room facilities to tourists. The Vazhiyoram board is pointing to take a right turn from the road and with anticipation we follow suite.

The vazhiyoram restaurant is in sight, a neat little building.


But their seems to be zero activity here too. I could spot a homosapien moving around and he promptly told me. "Food is not ready saar. Breakfast will be ready only by 10am". The term Government seems to bring a lethargy to all the people involved just like the way the most of the Government workers are.

Our breakfast dreams seems to be over as we are now again cruising through the brilliant roads with the beautiful trees on the sides giving us company. A big bridge is appearing. Once on top of the bridge the view is awesome. Oh I am going to stop right after the bridge just to walk back and enjoy the scenery around. We are in for another surprise here. Right after the bridge amidst the big teak trees stood a colorful building and the board read - "KTDC Tamarind Hotel"



Within a minute we are inside the tamarind hotel and luckily the response of the reception to the food query is positive.



Ample time for me to walk back to the bridge and to have view of the beautiful landscape around. Isn't this beautiful


The distant view provided a moutain too in the backdrop.

The other side of the bridge is not too bad either. This tamarind hotel also have rooms facing this side of the river.

For those who want to explore Nilambur can very well stay in this beautiful hotel where room rents are in the range of 1000 to 1500 INR per day for AC rooms. A great bargain indeed.


I am not alone here as can see some beautiful cranes around too. They color were so contrasting to the surroundings.


The food in Tamarind hotel is typical Kerala food and everything is served neatly. A good one hour zoomed past inside this restaurant.

We are again back on track and beautiful roads starts again. It is dream to drive through these roads maintaining just enough speeds to twist and turn without applying brakes and keeping the vehicle on track.


Most of the trees on both sides are teak, but wait now we are in between a coconut farm. Watch the beautiful biggies from whose name Kerala got its name.



A forest checkpost is in sight. If the roads till now was superb, then what should I call the roads we are in now. It is superbly superb !! The big bamboos with the light green color was adding another dimension to the already beautiful surroundings.



This is the stretch which I was waiting for, the roads from Nilambur to Nadakani. It is just twisties and more twisties.


beautiful roads in Kerala


nilambur gudalur route

There is a rhythm in the movement of vehicle. Never do stop and accelerate kinds of turns here, just glide at the right speed. Enjoy the surroundings, open the windows and feel the fresh air. Watch the rich and diverser fauna. Some trees have there roots crafted like a complex neural network.


Nadugani churam

Sun's heat will never be intense in this part of the world. These roads should be experienced by the real passionate drivers atleast once in a life time and here being in God's own country I keep on coming back again and again to experience these roads and each time the passion just aggravates.

Here comes the first glimpse of coffee plantations



Even though the roads till now were not steep there was a regular upward ascent, something which justifies the kind of altitude we have gained when look to one side of the road. Big mountains are on sight now.



After around one hour of drive through these prestine environment, the vehicle was brought to a halt since my little daughter complained that shez feeling a little dizzy. But once outside all her dizziness went away.


It was just 2 days back that we decided to make a trip to Ooty, making use of the long weekend owing to the Vishu festival. Eventhough Ooty was least preferred, thanks to the highly dense hotel population making it not an adorable location, we chose it coz through a websearch, I had found a new resort much too far away from the hustle and bustle of Ooty. The anticipation of the unknown destination also is keeping us enthralled throughtout this journey.

The checkpost at Nadugani is visible now. We have to take the right turn from here.


The next town is Gudalloor, but before that the terrain ought to be more scenic as we are now amidst the western ghats.

Roads continue to be the same way as we saw earlier before Nadugani.



Only difference being that there were some population here which was completely absent before Nadugani. The plane twisties through forests are now paving their way out for the some steep climb to mountains and the postcardish scenaries is appearing one and after another in front of us.



The tea plantations is making the hill appear to be covered with green fur.

Another distance boards signalling that we are just 2km away from Gudaloor.




After Gudaloor it is just another 20km drive to the not so famous resort about which we have lots of expectations. As we are nearing by the excitment even gave way to some anxiety for if the resort is not so good then we are in for a real loss as we had 3 days at our perusal.

More buildings, most of then showing signs of age appear as Gudaloor town in sight. The left road takes one to Mudumalai, while the right one is to Ooty.


Gudaloor

Immediately after Gudalor, roads narrowed down, owing to the shops and some buildings which encroaches into the road.


The upward climb has started. The guy on the other end of the phone at Brookdale resort, confirmed that after 20km of travel through this road, we can see the sign board to the resort on the left side. The beautiful landscape is continuing. Watch how beautifully arranged these trees are.



The real twisties with upward climb is now on and I am completely turned on. The vehicle was surging ahead completely in agreement with the exhilaration and the excitement with which I am guiding it on. The enjoyement of keeping it in the turbo mode ensures that the upward climb is a cakewalk even with 7 passengers and their luggage on board.

As expected we are now in parallel with some mountain peaks.



Again we are descending and all of sudden we seem to be in the midst of a valley with really tall pine trees around. Oh boy this is some sight!!!


pine trees ooty


The sight of those trees seem to be etched in our minds, but the excitement of driving by the sidelines of high mountains is really special with deep trenches on one side and gigantic terrain on another side. This is hilly roads at its best.



Another sudden change in landscape. The tree covered mountains are history and ente the green veiled medows.



This journey is completely eventful for any nature enthusiast as the kind of scenery one gets to view keeps on changing. After each kind of terrain one begans to wonder what next. And here comes another change.
A beautiful lake is in sight, add to it the medows, the big moutains in the backdrop, the cattle's grazing, a location which brings out the artist in you.


woodbrook lake

This is the woodbrook lake and the resort guy had mentioned that their location is very near to the woodbrook lake. Naturally 14 eyes were on the prowl for that sign board showing - Brookdale and the search did not last long, just 1km after the woodbrook lake, the vehicle is swerving left to concrete laid tarmac, climbing really steeply into the resort's property



The first impression is really good as we could see some of the cottages facing the beautiful valleys. A sharp U turn followed suite and the parking lot is in sight. It was one of the most beautiful parking lots one could ever see, overlooking the beautiful moutains and paved with beautiful grass.


brookdale


The excitement grew manifold, as we unload the luggage, surveying the surroundings of the property which is spread out large, quite unlike other Ooty hotels. We sure made the right choice.


The journey from Kozhikkode (erstwhile Calicut) to Ooty via one of the most scenic roads in India, has surely lived upto the expectation. Now its time to check out this beautiful resort and the activities we can indulge here.

Lets enjoy this resort too after a small break !!

Click here to read the rest of the story
Part 2 - Brookdale Resort 
Part 3 - Woodbrook Lake
Part 4 - Ooty Kids Park, Film shooting point and a memorable camp fire



Monday, May 2, 2011

A Day Break @ Travancore Heritage


For a quick summary, scroll down to the end of this post

"Is this the right turn to 'Travancore Heritage'?",

"Yes sir", Pat came the reply by the guy who did not take his eye of the tea which he is preparing in the road side shop. We had traveled around 5kms from the international tourist destination Kovalam and the road side sign board,now read Poovar - 9 kms. I swerved the vehicle out of the Poovar route into the narrow sublane. A typical village road, but with lot of houses around.

"Amma, Will there be many games and prizes to be won?" my son queried.
"I don't know, everything is arranged by one of my colleagues in office", my better half answered who is visibly tired, thanks to her extended working hours yesterday.

"Amma, Will there be a swimming pool too?" my little daughter asked in her customary tone, as if it is mandatory to ask something, following her elder ones never ending queries.

"Yes there might be !!, We are going there only na. Let us find it once we are there" sounded a little bit harsh though.

I had some doubts too... How many members are there in the team, are they all friendly, will there be kids and so on, what are the facilities in this resort.....but it is better to keep quite as the moment demands silence and wait until the events unroll.


Only yesterday night did I decide to be part of this outing of my wife's team mates, with the cricket world cup final on the very same day pulling me back, and the oppurtunity to have a good time with wife and family by the beach side tempting me to join.

I could now see the wide open gates of the "Travancore Heritage" Resort. The resort resembles a typical traditional home and kept up to its name. Overheard my wife talking with her team mates and got to know that all of them has arrived and has gone for a walk.

Let us step inside and get to know more about the resorts "heritage" claims.

Wow the lobby is neatly set up with antique furniture. The standing Ganapathy idol carved out of stone is really standing out. The board which explains the resort's facilities itself is made out of wood.

My god!! Lot of activities are hidden inside. Ayurveda seems to be the Unique selling point coz it might be the one which attracts foreign tourists here. Two pools,lots of indoor games, etc. my kids and the kid inside me is happy.


Expectations are rising sky high as we are stepping out of lobby into a beautiful restaurant by the side of a pool christened "Cliff top pool", and eventually getting out of the reception building whose external appearance had a proud outlook akin to the palaces.


My camera was getting ready for a clicking spree for the poor thing know that it will be subjected heavy work out during the day, opening and closing its shutters atleast a thousand times.


This seems to be a hilly area. The thick cover provided by the trees around is not allowing us to give a wider field of vision and everything seems to be hid behind the trees, something which is really good.

The cottages are now making its presence as we are treading downhill through the neat walkway.


The word Marvellous, will not do justice to the way they have adhered to the traditional construction methods. The wooden panelled walls, the tile paved roof and cottages positioned in such a way that the occupants will feel right in the midst of woods in a green topped hill is something truly addictive. A perfect dwelling place for those seeking solace out of their daily chores (read managers!!).


Some duplex cottages are present too, with each one of them having ample space in the front.


The gentle sea breeze will no wonder make life in one of these swings very pleasing


But something even more beautiful is awaiting us as I could get a glimpse of the horizon ahead. The gush of air rushing against us also is increasing more and more as we are moving down.

There in the beautiful lawn we could see some people sitting, who happens to be the members of this team outing who were enjoying the sea breeze and the breathtaking view ahead.

Yes we are on the edge of a cliff now, a cliff overlooking the sea.



The view of the sea from top of a cliff is really mind boggling and it is something which cannot be caught on a camera as the scope of vision is limited. We are now on top of the chovara cliff and this is the closest point of the cliff with the sea. Two years back I have been on top of this cliff, during my exploration of unknown but beautiful beaches near Kovalam (You can see the log here).

Well the customary pleasantaries are being exchanged with some smiling homosapiens around, but my eyes kept its sight set on this location.


Half an hour already whizzed past in this exquisite ambience.

Someone is announcing the whole team to go down the cliff for their is a small ground there for some team activities and our tread starts.

A tower like object is in front of us and the sign board reads - "Elevator". Wow there is an elevator to go down the cliff. Great. Wait there is are some steps to go up tooo.. Let me just climb up.

The ladder like steps is making some sound as I slowly tread up, but as I am gaining altitude the complete demography is unfolding.

The resort is built in two parts, one on top of the cliff and the next part underneath it without disturbing the natural undulations of the land. The upper area from where we just came houses the main reception building, which contains a restaurant, two conference rooms, a cliff top pool and individual cottages amidst thick vegetation.

The lower part underneath the cliff has a multi storeyed building which houses many rooms overlooking the sea, a beach side pool, a restaurant and some playing area. I can see all of them from here. Just watch this


The journey down is pretty quick and looking back the elevator looks like this.


The multistoreyed appartment complex was looking more beautiful from here and the most attractive thing is that all of the rooms seems to be facing the sea. The swimming pool in front the apartment complex is positioned in the most apt location. A dive to the pool followed by a good rest in one of those beds feeling the sea breeze can make your day for sure.


Since we are on a "Day break" Package which means using the resort's facilities for a day only, we are not able to spend the whole day in the pool though.

Within no time teams were formed, rules announced, a volleyball is seen flying around, irrespective of gender some diving is happening, claps heard, whistles blown, scores announced, some deafening triumph roars heard, kids getting amazed to see there parents rolling in the dust and all of us soaked in sweat !!


Just like any sports, the team spirit rose after the game, everyone woke up from dreaming inside the natural dreamworld and the whole team got along together pretty quickly. Eventhough I knew just one or two members of the team, after this game I felt part of the team.

Another two hours whizzed past, something else was getting into our discussions, the cricket world cup final. Only 1 hour more for the game to start and to our joy the hotel staff has set up a television in their mini conference hall for us. Our plan is to move to the conference hall after lunch.

The antique shop just near to the poolside is a good sight too.


Right near to the antique shop is the restuarant. What is that net like thing in front of the restaurant. Wow it is a model of the chinese fishing net, something that is a speciality of the backwaters of Kerala, an innovative fishing tool whose technology might have transferred to Keralites by the Chinese visitors many hundreds of years ago.


How beautiful it is to see them in huge numbers in those backwaters, just reminded me of the ashtamudi trip where we got to view a lot of them (Click here to see the real chinese fishing nets in action)

The resort property ends right after the restaurant and the gates to the beach is housed here.


We are tempted to go to the vast beach which we saw earlier from the top of the cliff. But now its time for lunch and every one is walking back to the restaurant on the cliff top.

We are now back in the reception building, sitting together around a neatly set table, with everyone involved in good conversation, mostly about the impending final and discussing about the playing strategy as if it really matters on how the team will play.

The ceiling work of the restaurant was truly reminiscent of the palaces.


It resembled (only to a minimal extent) one of those ceiling works of the magnificient Padmanabhapuram palace (To take a complete virtual tour of the palace, click here).

Some of the team members got into the pool by the side of the restaurant which tempted my kids and myself to plunge, but since the kids will be hungry I decided against it. The food was good for it disappeared in no time. Everyone began to move to the conference hall as it is time for the game to start. Somehow I was attracted to the pool just like my kids and soon I could feel the slow massage of pool water against my whole body as I glided through the pool. I felt really happy that I could achieve one of my new year resolutions (See the story here)which was learning swimming, by february itself. Now I am sort of addicted to water and swimming has become a kind of passion. For me it is the only single person oriented workout which can be done without feeling bored.


The water in the pool seems heavily cholrinated and I forgot to take the googles too. Opening ones eyes in such pools underneath the water can be quite dangerous and I could feel the itching immediately if I open it underwater. My kids too was enjoying as there was a mini pool where I could leave them alone.

The news arrived that Sri Lanka team is batting. Great!! now I can swim for some time more as I won't miss India's batting.

Almost one hour passed when my wife came to inform that some more games are being arranged in the conference room.

The mood in the room is quite different, watching the game with a group of people can make it completely special, the cheering, the ooomphs, the aahs, everything is happening as if we all are on the stadium. Reminded me of the days when we watched the 1996 world cup at the hostel.

In the midst of the game watching another announcement came for a game inside the room and everyone readily agreed. The rule of the game was announced and I simply fell in love with the purpose the game serves. 5 person standing in a line, an image to be shown to the last person, he/she draws the image using his/her finger in the back of the person standing in front, this person draws what he understood to the next one in front and the final person has to draw it on paper. A classic case of requirement gathering where the customer and analyst speaks in two different languages.

More interestingly the images shown had some artefacts too, which means some unwanted lines were drawn, for example a circle on the roof of a house. If one draws the circle on the back of a person, he can never associate it with a house. So the ability of the person to convey the important specifications first hiding the artefacts also is being tested.

The game evoked great response and the images drawn triggered lot of laughter.


Another game announcement soon followed which is more strategy oriented. Throwing a ball to the person behind, who will inturn throw to next person without looking back until the ball reaches the last person in the line. Now he has to throw it to the person in the front, finally reaching the first person. The team which does this in minimal time is the winner. If any person fails to catch it, the game has to start over again.

More cheering came and for a moment the world cup final took a backstage as a bunch of excited professionals began to pass the ball.


Kudos to those who organised these games and made the preparations, each and everyone participated and the purpose was served. Time just flew and till now we had not visited the beach.

Quickly tread down, into the elevator, move down the cliff, walk around the sea face building, the pool, the restaurant with chinese net and into the wide open beach through the gate where the security announced that the gate will be closed by 7 pm, so return early.


This is truely a wide open beach, with an initially grassy patch followed by the sandy area.

Turning back I could see the cliff and the resort, but completely hidden behind the trees.


Only the elevator tower can be seen.

There is another resort - "Somatheeram Ayurvedic resort" right next to the Travancore heritage, which can be seen in this picture.


This resort too has not disturbed the natural beauty of this place.

As we move ahead, I could spot a rocky terrain at a distance, the very same place where I stood for more than an hour enjoying the beauty, some 2 years back. I had climbed down to that rock from the Azhimala temple.(See the photos here)


Eventhough it was tempting to have a dip in the sea, has to rule it out, coz time is running out faster than expected. Darkness is spreading quite fast too thanks to some rolling clouds.


As we slowly walk back to the resort, the main point of discussion was completely about the travancore heritage and how the day unfolded.



By the time we reached back the resort, all lights were switched on and I am again reenergized for another photo shoot. Just watch how beautiful the cliff top pool is with the restaurant building in the background


Inside the restaurant too the lighting has made it look quite different.


The whole team is waiting for us at the lobby as it is time to depart. Surprising to know that I could get out of the cricket fever and completely missed the first part of the game. Srilanka's batting is over and within 15minutes or two the dashing openers of India will take to the crease.

As I cranked the engine for the return back after bidding bye to a wonderful team who organised a fantastic outing, the thoughts of this outing was sharing its space along with the cricket final.

What happened in the final during India's batting is history, but what unravelled in front of us at Travancore Heritage will remain history in our minds !!!



A Quick Summary of Travancore Heritage Resort

Location:
Around 6km from Kovalam. In the Kovalam - Poovar Route

Resort type:
Located in chowara cliff overlooking the sea. Organised in two parts.

On the clifftop:
The reception, car parking lot, restaurant, conference rooms, cliff top pool, neat little cottages. Two cottages has got private pools too. Each cottage is so isolated from the other that one feels that they are in their own world.

Down the cliff:
A multistoryed building overlooking the sea with many rooms, a pool just in front, a restaurant and easy access to beach. (I assume these to be more economical than the other)

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