Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review of KSTDC Package Tours

Review of KSTDC Package Tours
As I had promised earlier, today I am blogging a brief review of KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) package tours and hopefully it’ll help you to make a decision whether to travel with KSTDC or not, for your future trips. I want you to understand it very clearly that I am not promoting or advertising KSTDC in any form. This review article is simply my 360 degree unbiased firsthand experience of traveling in any KSTDC package tour. I’m penning it down only because I had noted that there’s no such utility article available in Internet while I was doing my pre-travel information digging. Moreover, in this age of knowledge- sharing is caring, right?
Review of KSTDC Package Tours
My hotel room in Mysore.
Pros of KSTDC Package Tour:

* Booking is very easy as you can book your tickets online right at their well maintained website. You’ll get your e-ticket which you need to produce on your journey date with your valid ID. Simple procedure right?
* Hospitality in their tourism office at Badami House (Bangalore) is fairly OK.
* Tourist buses which are used seem well maintained.
* Punctuality is maintained throughout the trip.
* Briefing inside the bus is timely and fairly adequate.
* Food is not included in the package, so you have liberty to choose from Pasta to Pao-bhaji. (Just for your knowledge, package includes the transport and accommodation only. Rest all other charges/fees/expenses are solely yours).
Review of KSTDC Package Tours
Our trip vehicle for Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal trip was a non-AC deluxe 2*2 bus.
* Food breaks are given in timely intervals and all the food-stops they choose serve moderate to good food at reasonable price.
* Sightseeing schedule is adjusted in such a way that you won’t feel out of breathe despite it being very tight.
* Hotels used for overnight stay are good to moderate with modest hospitality.
* Tour Package costs very reasonable- certainly "value for money". If you are single then you’ll end up paying little extra, otherwise for travelers traveling in double/triple the package cost gets quite cheap!
* Roads in Karnataka are mostly very good unlike most parts of northern India which certainly makes your bus journey much less tiring. Well this is not the credit of KSTDC but I thought it worth mentioning.
Review of KSTDC Package Tours
My hotel room at Kodaikanal.
Cons of KSTDC Package Tour:

* All KSTDC tour packages do not have options for AC bus, like, even if you want to pay more and purchase your AC ticket it won’t be feasible. My trip vehicle for Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal trip was a non-AC deluxe 2*2 bus.
* No adequate staff to help you with your luggage. Luggage management is solely your responsibility.
* Hindi briefing by the tour-manager is grossly inadequate and I believe, in a country like India it can prove quite unhelpful for many tourists.
* Although the food places where you’re taken are acceptable but you’ll lack the freedom to explore local food places on your own most of the time.
* You’re taken to emporiums and curio shops wherever they want (based on their vested interest) and allotted an unproductively large time slot in the name of shopping. Thus your choices to shop anywhere as per your will is minimized. You end up paying more for an article and, last but not the least, your sightseeing itinerary is compromised of its "already tight time schedule"!
Review of KSTDC Package Tours
All the food-stops KSTDC chooses, serve moderate to good food (not included in the package) at reasonable price.
* Time per each sightseeing destination is not properly allotted, e.g.- you get only 1 hour to explore the huge and exquisite Mysore city palace, where as you get 2-3 hours for ‘not so worthy’ botanical gardens/parks.
* There’s no buffer time to explore the place at your own or indulge in shopping.
* This is my last point for ‘cons’ and certainly my personal sore point. Our tour manager (Mr Sekhar) was highly big-headed, rude guy and that sort of temperament in no way expected from a tour-manager. He had poverty of speech and smile. Interacting with him felt like interaction with any Govt officer/clerk from whom you want to get some work done. I don’t want to elaborate this bitter point in my travel blog with unnecessary details of our conversation, but, I would only say that he created such a negative impression in my mind that while departing at the end of trip in Bangalore, I didn’t bother to share even a courtesy goodbye or handshake with that man. It was the only disappointment for me in the whole KSTDC tour package but undoubtedly a very serious one when it comes to tourism industry.
Review of KSTDC Package Tours
My hotel room at Ooty.
KSTDC Package Tour can be a great option if:
* You are traveling solo.
* You are on a tight budget.
* You can put up with the ‘lack of liberty’ which is expected from a package tour.
* You don’t want to be stressed with arrangement of transportation and hotel booking.
* You want to cover a lot of places in a limited time.
* You have a limited time which you want to utilize to its maximum.
* You are not into luxury traveling.
* You can bear up with some long (sometimes boring) bus journeys.
* You do not care how your tour manager turns out to be!

My Rating for KSTDC Package Tour:
3.5 / 5 (of course, leaving aside my sour experience with the particular tour manager).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations

Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
This is continuation from my last travel post on Ooty. Kodaikanal is another very popular hill station of south India, situated on a plateau of upper Palani Hills at a modest altitude of 2,133 metres, contributing to the eastward spur of the majestic Western Ghats. The tourist hub of Kodaikanal is the artificial yet beautiful Kodai Lake, located at the center of the town. Apart from its reputation in being honeymooners’ paradise and richness of flora, Kodaikanal also boasts of the unique Kurinji Flower, which blooms in December once in 12 years, painting the entire valley with blue hue! The last blooming of Kurinji was recorded on 2006. Guys, now you know when to plan your trip to Kodaikanal, of course if you want to witness the rare blue sight. The goodnight sleep had rekindled my traveling spirit sunken by last day’s tedious bus journey of around 290 kilometers.
Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
Kodai Lake is an artificial star shaped lake in the center of the town and serves as the most significant tourist landmark of Kodaikanal.
By morning seven, we got ready to commence our local sightseeing at Kodaikanal. A mini tour bus took us to the Upper Lake Viewpoint in 15-20 minutes. As the name suggests, Upper Lake View gives an aerial view of the Kodai Lake. I don’t know whether it was due to the fog obscuring my vision or the abundant bushes around the viewpoint, I didn’t find the view scenic enough to write good things about it. Our next destination was Green Valley Viewpoint which offers excellent panoramic vista of the plains and used to provide ideal suicide point to determined individuals due to its optimum 1,500 meters of steep drop. Presently the viewpoint has been fortified by railings to keep a check on suicidal individuals. Once again my photography luck turned out to be poor due to the morning haze interfering with the long distance transparency. Otherwise it could have been a tremendously scenic sight!
Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
Pillar Rocks nest many endangered species and give excellent view of Agamalai with steep sides of plains of Periyakulam.
Next we moved to Pillar Rock Park from where one can see a group of two huge steep cliffs, almost 500 feet high from the ground level. Several caves have been found between as well as below them. Pillar Rocks nest many endangered species like- Crested serpent eagle, Black eagle, Honey bazard etc and give excellent view of Agamalai with steep sides of plains of Periyakulam. It is said that, once upon a time a French guy had hiked up the cliff to fix a white cross at its top. Tourists are encouraged to spot that ‘might be present’ white cross. Neither me, nor my telephoto lens could find even a slightest hint of that cross. There was an organic golf course adjacent to the park but ‘members only’ sign stopped me from stepping into the curvy green meadow. The much needed breakfast followed soon.
Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
Silver Cascade Waterfall which is formed by the outflow of Kodai Lake, located few kilometers outside the town of Kodaikanal.
Our post-breakfast destination for Kodaikanal sightseeing was the Coaker’s Walk, almost a kilometer-long paved path running along the edge of the steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai, from where one can enjoy the picture-perfect panoramic view of the plains below. We came to know that on a clear day, one can see the valley of the Pambar River in southeast, Dolphin’s nose in the south, Periyakulam town and even the city of Madurai! But focus on the word ‘clear day’. Yes, weather wasn’t so pleased with us right from the morning, especially when it came to various viewpoints. There is an observatory with telescope inside the Coaker’s Walk and numerous hawkers and fruit sellers to refuel tourist pedestrians. Coaker’s Walk is also ideal Sunrise and Sunset view point of Kodaikanal but, when you’ve to put up with restrictions of being in a packaged tour there are plenty of good things you're compelled to miss. 
Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
Two fruit-seller boys inside the Coaker’s Walk.
Just opposite to our entrance to the Coaker’s Walk there was one of the entrances to Bryant Park, a neatly maintained park cum botanical garden situated on the eastern side of Kodai Lake. Bryant Park is rich with around 325 plant species ranging from tree to cactus. Horticulture exhibition and flower show is organized in Bryant Park every summer in the peak tourist season. In this park you’ll find too many varieties of rose and dahlia flowers, a sure delight to macro/flower photographers! After exiting through the main entrance of the Bryant Park I realized its close proximity to the Kodai Lake. The nearby lakeside is bordered with Tibetan woolen shops and homemade chocolate/spice tea counters. I tasted pure honey from a mobile honey seller. It’s not like taking honey by a spoon. You’ll be given a chunk of beehive dipped in honey and you’ve to feel and chew it with the dexterity of your tongue like a bubblegum!
Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
I had tasted pure honey from this mobile honey seller.
The Kodaikanal Lake or, the Kodai Lake is an artificial star shaped lake, in the center of Kodaikanal town with a rough circumference of 5 to 6 kilometers and certainly the most significant tourist landmark in the town. There are 2-3 boat houses to offer you nice boating experience on the Kodai Lake. Obviously there are option for both pedal boats and rowing boats. There are also horses and bicycles available for rent to explore the lakeside beauties. What I found interesting was, even cycles for nursery kids were available to be hired, i.e. there was something for everybody! I took a bicycle and gave a few rounds of the lake enjoying the activities of my co-tourists, uncountable boats floating on the lake and hawkers on the road. When I got tired of cycling, I opted for pedal-boating. Sitting still on a boat in the middle of a lake while passively watching others to pass by your side is an unadulterated bliss and one of those rare moments in your busy life when you transiently get oblivious of all stressful stimuli.
Trip to Kodaikanal - the Princess of Hill stations
These bicycles might look attractive on screen but equally deceptive while trying out with a pillion!
There are few more places of tourist interest in and around Kodaikanal, like- Bear Shola Falls, Dolphin’s Nose, Museum of Natural History, Kurinji Temple, Berijam lake etc, but when you’re in a package tour you can’t expect to explore everything which you would have otherwise done. That's how my summer trip to Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal concluded with a late lunch. Our bus left for return trip to Bangalore by 4 PM and on the way out from Kodaikanal we stopped for our last sightseeing- the Silver Cascade Waterfall which is formed by the outflow of Kodai Lake, located few kilometers outside the town of Kodaikanal. After that our journey went uneventful till we reached Bangalore in the ghostly hour of 04:00 AM to bid goodbye to fellow travelers with half closed eyes. The road throughout was so good that no mark of exhaustion was left on me even after a 12 hours of bus journey (and that too in a non-Volvo bus!). Well, in my next blog post I’ll end this series with a much needed review of KSTDC tour package, where I’ll speak about their staffs, services, bus and hotels. Till then, take good care!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations

Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
This is continuation from my last travel post on Mysore. I had narrated you in the very first post of this series, about the breathtaking bus journey from Mysore (renamed as 'Mysuru' on November 1, 2014) to Ooty through Bandipur and Madumalai National Parks. The onion dosa had successfully filled up the morning void in my tummy and we resumed our journey towards Ooty. Throughout our bus journey so far, I kept noting the elegance of Karnataka roads but the real beauty was yet to be unveiled until we entered the Bandipur Forest area! As the Karnataka state border ended, Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park of Tamil Nadu welcomed us. It was the first wildlife sanctuary to be established in south India and a part of Nilgiri biosphere reserve, being located on the northwestern side of the Nilgiri Hills in Nilgiris district. Finally we were charmed by the hue of Blue Mountains and fragrance of eucalyptus as our bus neared Ooty, the honeymooners’ paradise, the home of flavored tea, delicious homemade chocolates and of course myriad Indian spices.

After reaching the tourist heart of the Blue Mountains, Ooty (Udhagamandalam), our first sightseeing destination was Ooty Lake. This artificial L-shaped lake spans for a length of approx 2 kilometers and with its boathouse it serves as the honey-full beehive attracting hundreds of swarms of tourists throughout the year. Though the Ooty Lake was constructed in 1824 for serving the purpose of an irrigation tank but presently this lake is one of the most polluted lake in the state of Tamil Nadu, used only as a sightseeing spot for Ooty tourism. Like most of the lakes on hill stations you have the liberty to enjoy boat ride on Ooty Lake while enjoying the green mountain scenery encircling the lake. Personally I didn’t find it so calm and serene as expressed in many travel websites. There were too many tourist boats in reality which might be due to my tour schedule in the pick season. So, I preferred to sit by the dock side and enjoy the tourist rush for boating from a pleasant distance.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Like most of the lakes on hill stations you have the liberty to enjoy boat ride on Ooty Lake while enjoying the green mountain scenery encircling the lake.
Either you can opt for rowing boats or paddle-boats of different seating capacities as per your group size (starting from two-seater). While rest of my co-travelers looked for means to get the essence of boating on much hyped Ooty Lake, I walked out of the boathouse and explored other fun-adventure activities around the lake area, like toy-train, off-road cycling, pony ride etc. Later, I purchased a ticket for ‘grass o ride’ (riding a 4-wheeled desert bike on grassy irregular ground) and finally ended up buying half kg of dark homemade chocolates, sandalwood incense sticks and alcohol-free perfume before finally leaving the lakeside for lunch. Don’t think me a loser dude. As a matter of fact, I had kept my boating zeal postponed till Kodaikanal, partly due to the unforgiving overhead sun and, rest due to my allergy to over-congestion of tourists occupying the Ooty Lake.

Doddabetta, lying at a height of around 2,637 meters is the highest point in Nilgiris district, second highest peak in Nilgiri Hills, and it was our second sightseeing destination in Ooty. Doddabetta is roughly 10 kilometers away from the town of Ooty and our bus could only reach up to a certain point beyond which big vehicles weren’t allowed. We got a twisty jeep ride for last few kilometers up to the top of Doddabetta peak. Road was under-maintained and vehicle rush was high in that last 3 kilometers of the steep climb. If you've got the juice you might consider hiking till the summit. Once you reach Doddabetta you’ll once again be in a high tourist density neighborhood. There were plenty of parked vehicles and food stalls over the top, making the place identical to any sunrise/sunset point of typical Indian hill station.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
It is said that in a clear weather one can spot the flat highlands of Mysore or the far away plains of Coimbatore from the top of Doddabetta!
There was a telescope house on the top of Doddabetta to facilitate the viewing of the valley and far away settlements lying below. The greenish blue Nilgiri range and the picturesque valley nested among hills are sure treat to one's eyes and telescope would probably have enhanced the details, but standing in a long queue was never my mug of beer. I utilized the full 21x telephoto range of my camera to satisfy my naked eyes. It’s said that in a clear weather (which is indeed very rare) one can spot the flat highlands of Mysore or the far away plains of Coimbatore from the top of Doddabetta, but needless to say I wasn’t so lucky!

There’s a point at one edge which has earned the reputation of being suicide point (or lovers’ point), i.e. an abrupt steep end of the cliff from where one can jump down to the valley lying thousand feet below. Somehow, I found no romanticism in Doddabetta’s over-hyped lovers’ point. While returning back I spotted a circle of crowd centered around an artist who was sketching live faces for 180 bucks only! After descending down the Doddabetta peak we visited the Ooty Botanical Garden. We were lucky as the entire garden was smiling at us with flowers of all colors because it happened that we arrived there on perfect time of the year. It was 14th May and the Ooty Flower Show 2013 was going to be held from 17th May! To showcase the rich heritage of flora and to grasp the international trends of floriculture, the Department of Horticulture and Plantation Crop, Govt of Tamil Nadu celebrates the annual flower show, usually in the month of May at Ooty Botanical Garden, to attract no less than 1,50,000 tourists from different corners of the globe to the Blue Mountains.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
I found no romanticism in Doddabetta’s over-hyped lovers’ point.
Lying at an altitude of 2,250 meters, Botanical Garden of Ooty is the third largest botanical garden in India. Yes, Ooty Botanical Garden was our post lunch sightseeing destination at Ooty. This terraced garden covers a handsome area of 22 hectares occupying the lower slopes of Doddabetta peak and boasts of beautiful undulating lawns and myriad species of plants, shrubs, ferns, bonsai plants, medicinal plants and tall trees introduced from various countries. Places of interest in the Ooty Botanical Garden include- Indian Map, Italian Garden, Glass House, Corser Vatory, Fern House, Top Garden and Fossil Tree Trunk. The Fossil tree trunk lying in the central location of the botanical garden is estimated through carbon dating to be a 20 million years old rock!

Trees carried by rivers and deposited in inland lakes were metamorphosed with replacement of the woody matter by silica to produce fossil tree trunks. You can see more of such amazing treasures of nature in National Fossil Park, Tiruvakkarai, South Arcot district of Tamil Nadu. The flower show of 2013, 117thflower show of Ooty was more spectacular than ever as 66 new varieties of flower seedlings, including special species like Acroclinum, Angelonia etc were also to be introduced. I was in a heaven of photographic opportunities but- Man proposes, God disposes. I had forgetfully left my camera behind in the bus! I had to take few consolation shots with my mobile camera (I was using a Nokia Lumia 520).
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Lying at an altitude of 2,250 m, Botanical Garden of Ooty is the third largest botanical garden in India!
After enjoying the magnificent floral beauty of Ooty Botanical Garden we were left on our own to explore Ooty. But it was almost six in the evening. The Wax Museum where I had planned to visit was also closed for that day. After freshening up in the hotel I walked back to the same place near the botanical garden and entered the Ooty stadium, where a Tamil cultural program was going on in full vibe, probably as a part of tourism festival by the Govt of Tamil Nadu. Everything around the stage was written in Tamil, so, I could not decode those banners. It was too noisy to communicate with a local guy who would otherwise have equally struggled badly to decipher my queries.

I chose the front row to enjoy whatever was going on on-stage. I didn’t understand a single word they sang or danced on but what I collected was- air of merry making, smiles and happy human expressions which are fixed like northern star throughout this world. I spent more than an hour watching, listening, clicking and fast-food-tasting in the stadium ground. Unfortunately, I ended up with the worst quality chicken Biryani that I ever tasted! Other snacks were decent though.

The clock showed 8:30 PM but I wasn’t yet ready to stroll back to my hotel. Suddenly I remembered of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and locked my current target- Ooty railway station. It was around 4 km from there but who cared. After reaching the railway station the board read ‘Udhagamandalam Station’. It was totally quiet and desolate as expected but least I expected was a sleeping coach in the platform. I read the board narrating the history of Nilgiri Mountain Railway before leaving the station half heartedly.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Can you spot the meandering rail tracks of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway down the valley?
Nilgiri Railway Company constructed the railway from 1886 to 1899 between Mattupalaiyam and Coonoor using ‘Alternate biting teeth’ technology in the ‘Rack and pinion’ arrangement between the rails. The railway has the steepest gradient of 1:12 in Indian Railways! In 1903 the railway was purchased by the Govt and the construction between Coonoor and Ooty was completed by 1908. It is a meter-gauge track and rises 6,159 feet from Mettupalaiyam to Ooty, that is 7,228 feet above the sea level. UNESCO conferred World Heritage status to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in 2005! This the same railway on which the jovial dance sequence of the Bollywood song ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ of movie ‘Dil Se’ was shot. Surely someday I’ll be traveling that railway route and blog about my wandering orgasm.

Next morning we resumed our day long bus ride for Kodaikanal. On the way we halted at Coonoor to visit the Sim’s Park. Sim’s Park is a terraced natural garden that lies at an altitude of 1,780 meters and famous for colorful flower beds, lawns and rockeries. As you move down the park you can see rare economic trees like Rudraksh, ferns, Camellia etc and further down, you’ll see the Island garden surrounded by stream and pond. On the other side lies a rose garden containing more than 200 varieties of roses. Sim’s Park has resulted by the introduction of many rare species belonging to Eucalyptus, Acacia, Pinus, Camellia, Cinnamomum etc in the Nilgiris, thereby increasing the plant wealth as well as the industrial wealth of the district.
Trip to Ooty - the Queen of Hill Stations
Sim’s Park is a terraced natural garden at Coonoor that lies at an altitude of 1,780 m and famous for its colorful flower beds, lawns and rockeries.
Sim’s Park of Coonoor takes legitimate pride in having secured more than 1,000 species of 255 genres belonging to 85 families widely covering almost all the different group of the plant kingdom. Remember, exploring any terraced garden can be quite tiring. So, do not rush inside. After all, slow but steady wins the race; right? Like Ooty Botanical Garden, Sim’s Park also charges separate fees for entry and camera ticket. Soon, we resumed our bus journey to the beautiful lake town cum hill station- Kodaikanal, about which I’ll narrate in my next travel post. Friends, do check back for Kodaikanal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trip to Mysore - the Palace City

Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
This is continuation of my previous post- Trip to Srirangapatna. After our brief sightseeing at Srirangapatna we entered the ‘Palace City’ Mysore (renamed as 'Mysuru' on November 1, 2014), and headed straight to Chamundi Hill which stands about 13 kilometers away from the Mysore city. Chamundi hill (3,489 feet approx), apart from its religious significance has great charm among hikers and adventure lovers, as it gives a perfect panoramic vista of the Mysore city lying underneath. From the hilltop you can see the Lalitha Mahal Palace, Mysore Palace, Race course, Karanji lake, Kukkarahalli lake, St Philomena’s Church and many other important landmarks of Mysore while getting dipped in the fresh forest air and spirituality.

Interestingly, Chamunda Hill has reference in the ancient scriptures like ‘Skanda Purana’. According to the legend, Chamundi Hill is the auspicious site where Goddess Chamundi (a violent form of ‘Shakti’), the tutelary deity of royal family of Mysore, had defeated the over-imperialistic powerful buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura and salvaged the terrorized people under his evil reign. In the historical background of Chamundi hill, the contributions made by three dynasties – Hoysala, Vijayanagar and Mysore rulers have been traced. On the top of the Chamundi Hill you can find the 1,000 years old Chamundeshwari Temple which is the main pilgrimage attraction of the place, as clearly evident from the dense crowd even in a weekday!
Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
On the top of the Chamundi hill you can find the 1,000 years old Chamundeshwari Temple, the main religious attraction of the place.
Chamundeshwari Temple assumed its significance after the Mysore Maharajas, the Wodeyars, came to power in 1399 and worshiped Devi Chamundi with great devotion as their family deity. It was a small shrine initially and gradually assumed its importance over the centuries. Krishnaraja Wodeyar III repaired the shrine in 1827and built the present beautiful tower at the entrance. Blessed by the Goddess, an ardent devotee Krishnaraja presented to the temple a ‘Simha vahana’ and other animal chariots and jewels of great value. Those chariots are used even now for processions on special religious days. The present day Chamundeshwari temple has a quadrangular structure built in Dravidian style, comprising the main doorway, entrance Navaranga Hall, Antharala Manatapa, Sanctum sanctorum and Prakara. There are beautiful seven tiers of pyramidal towers at the entrance and a ‘vimana’. Atop the tower at the entrance, there are seven golden ‘Kalashas’. The tower at the entrance has a small image of Lord Ganesha on the doorway which is silver plated and has the images of the Goddess in various forms.

As you enter inside you’ll find a small statue of Lord Ganesha on your right and as you enter farther, there you’ll come across a flagstaff, the footprints of Goddess and a small statue of Nandi facing the sanctorum. In the sanctum sanctorum you’ll find the stone statue of the Goddess ‘Mahisha Mardini’ with ‘Ashta Bhujas’ (eight hands) sitting in a powerful yogic posture. According to local myth, the image was established by sage Markandeya. So, obviously it boasts of a very old history! Idol of the Goddess is decorated daily and worshiped by priests as well as infinite devotees with coconuts, fruits and flowers.
Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
The colorful statue of Mahisashura in front of the bus park is a magnetic delight for the tourists!
I had already burnt my ‘flat’ soles while walking barefoot from the bus park to the main temple of Chamundeshwari. As per our tour manager’s imprudent counsel I had left my shoes inside the bus coach to take all the heat from the red-hot-coal like road of the unforgiving noon. After that I enjoyed the 30 minutes long zigzag queue, even after purchasing a 30 bucks ticket (there is a more expensive ticket as well for devotees with heavy wallets) for ‘Special seva Darshan’ with two fresh blisters down my soles. I contemplated hard on elegant topics like ‘Bhakti’ but couldn’t get rid of continuous pushing from the back and odors of sweat filling the air around me. Subsequently, different boards showing rates of ‘Laddu Prasada’ and other sanctifying procedures stole my spiritual spirit. I just wanted to do a rapid-fire Darshan of the Goddess and come out of the temple with all tissues intact. P.S.- I was not so spiritually bankrupt in those days.

Other tourist interests on Chamundi hill include- Mahabaladri temple, Narayanaswamy Temple, Mahisashura Statue, Nandi Statue, Lalitha Palace etc. The colorful statue of Mahisashura with a sword in right hand and cobra in left, just in front of the bus park is magnetic delight for the tourists who want to be snapped along with the vicious demon. There are plenty KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) buses plying between Mysore city bus stand to Chamundi Hill at regular short intervals. Remember the Darshan and Puja timings of Chamundeswari temple: 07:30 AM- 02:00 PM, 03:30 PM- 06:00 PM and 07:30 PM- 09:00 PM.

If you’re an enthusiastic trekker and want to avoid the motorable road up to the hilltop, you may hike all 1008 stairs to climb the top! While descending we got a glimpse of the India’s 4thlargest bull (Nandi) statue carved out from a single stone. This 15 by 24 feet large Nandi statue on Chamundi hill is one of its kinds but the binding of being in a package tour took the lead and I could only snap a portion of this giant bull from my window seat after a desperate zooming. It was lunch time and my experiments with South Indian thalis continued.
Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
The Mysore Palace complex is so big that you may get exhausted to explore around on your feet.
Although Mysore boasts of the title "the Palace City", yet when we talk of Mysore Palace it only refers to the official residence of Wodeyars (who ruled Mysore for more than 500 years), a living testimony to the jovial spirit of the people of Mysore and their kings, surviving all political turmoil, catastrophe and demolition, only to rise out of the ashes more glorious than ever! Our next destination after Chamundeshwari Temple was Mysore Palace. The Mysore Palace we find today is the 4th one to occupy the site since 1912, after its predecessor got burnt out in a fire in 1897.

After you purchase the entry ticket and enter the Palace complex you can deposit your camera in the free camera custody counter as photography is strictly prohibited inside the palace. But I suggest you to roam around the porch, garden areas around the main palace and take photos of- the grand palace, tourists, temples and everything you find worthy on your way. Then you may deposit your camera and step on to the majestic palace floor.

The palace complex is so big that you may get exhausted to walk around every nooks and corners on your feet, especially when you’re covering it with other sightseeing options in Mysore in a single day. So, you may opt for battery operated vehicles which will take you to all significant buildings and temples inside the Mysore Palace compound. You may also enjoy elephant/horse/camel ride to get the 'over the top' feel. Oh yes, shoes are not allowed inside the palace and seeing the polished floors of the Mysore Palace you’ll feel like a criminal if you ever thought it unfair to keep your shoes outside!

The basic architecture of Mysore Palace consists of remarkable three storied stone building of fine gray granite, with deep pink marble domes dominated by a five storied 145 feet tower with a gilded dome mounted by a single golden flag. The Mysore Palace is one of the finest work of art of Indo-Saracenic architecture blending many diverse styles like Rajput, Muslim and Gothic to give birth to a magnum opus.

The palace is set among meticulously laid gardens and has an intricately thorough elevation with a plethora of delicately curved arches, canopies, bay windows and columns in mottled style ranging from Byzantine to Hindu! The extravagant interiors of the Mysore Palace, in keeping with the flamboyant exteriors, are stuffed with elegantly carved doors, magnanimous pavilions, tantalizing chandeliers, delicate stained glass ceilings and ornamental murals portraying scenes from the Indian epics. The palace area includes twelve Hindu temples- Someshvara temple, Lakshmiramana temple, Shwetha Varahaswamy temple etc.

It’s interesting to know that the Mysore Palace is the second most tourists attracting site, just next to Taj Mahal! Tourists can enjoy Sound and Light program at Mysore Palace from 07:00 - 08:00 PM on all days except Sundays and Govt holidays. At the end of this Sound and Light Show, palace illumination can be witnessed by tourists which is really click-worthy. On every Sunday and all public holidays Mysore Palace is illuminated from 07:00 to 07:45 PM.

Dasara (Dussehra) is the grandest festival of Mysore. Every year during September-October, this Mysore Palace is the classic venue for the renowned Mysore Dasara Festival, during which cultural programs are conducted and elephants are decorated to parade with high-flying grandeur. I would anytime suggest you to spend at least half of the day in exploring the Mysore Palace, otherwise, somehow covering it in an hour is purely injustice to your traveling and disrespect to its legendary work of art.
Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
Brindavan Gardens is the most beautiful terrace garden of India, located alongside the Krishnarajasagara Dam.
The blisters which I had conceived under my soles during the visit to Chamundeshwari Temple had ruptured discharging its evil contents on the delicate porch of Mysore Palace! I did acquire a sense of guilt but the relief from that ugly throbbing pain with every step had charged up my touring soul once again. We headed to the illustrious Brindavan Gardens, the most beautiful terrace garden of India, located alongside the Krishnarajasagara Dam.

Brindavan gardens (the pleural is due to the fact that the garden is divided into north and south parts by a lake in between them, interconnected through a bridge) are meticulously laid out in three terraces, ornamented with numerous fountains, fig trees, vibrant flowers, topiary works, pergolas and gazebos. The main attraction of the Brindavan gardens is the Dancing Musical Fountain, where the water seems to dance harmoniously in various forms and shapes with the changing music and colors of light, and this whole process is computerized!

We had reached Brindavan Gardens just before the fall of evening. Previously I was sad that I won’t be able to take clear shots in dim light but later I realized that it was the perfect time to visit Brindavan Gardens because all fountains get lively in their multicolored hues and also, the main attraction of the garden, the dancing musical fountain is played from 07:00 - 07:55 PM on all weekdays (07:00 - 08:55 PM on Saturdays and Sundays). Apart from the entry fee you need to take a separate ticket for camera.

Different things you’ll come across in the Brindavan gardens are Arch fountains, Cross fountain, End fountains, Cross channel fountain, Radhakrishna falls, Umbrella fountain, Children’s park, Pyramid fountain, Inverted basket fountain, Goddess Cauvery Statue and the lake sandwiched between north and south Brindavan gardens where you can enjoying cruising on motorized boats. Brindavan gardens are currently looked after by Cauvery Irrigation Department and it seemed to me that they are unable to cope up with careless tourists who tend to throw their empty plastic bottles into fountain enclosures (Dammit, it is supposed to be a plastic free zone!).
Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
I liked the Sound and laser show in Hyderabad much more than the Mysore one.
In front of most of the larger fountains you’ll find tourists standing in queue to get photographed, keeping the fountain as backdrop. Local photographers/cameramen are clearing those queues by clicking and pocketing 5-10 bucks from the tourists. You’ll also find a lot of cameramen begging you for your instant photo. You should reach the dancing musical fountain stadium fifteen minutes before seven, otherwise, the bridge connecting to the other side of the garden gets totally packed with thousands of hurrying feet, and you can’t imagine how boring it’s to tortoise-walk the entire length of that long bridge! The dancing musical fountain show is a ten-fifteen minutes affair and starts with patriotic track "Sare Jahan se Accha" and ends with some adrenaline pumping Bollywood remix. I may sound too critical but it is hard to be honest in a personal journal. I liked the Sound and laser show in Hyderabad (in Lumbini Park) much more than the Mysore one.

We were tired enough for the day and nested for the night at River View Mayura Hotel at Mysore. Right now, I won’t comment on the accommodation and food quality there as I’ve decided to make a separate post for those at the end of this entire travelogue. The lukewarm shower invited a goodnight sleep soon after the dinner. Getting up from a comfortable bed is never easy, especially when it’s barely 04:00 AM. But, being in Rome I had to behave like a Roman. We had one more sightseeing destination left in Mysore and we made it at half past five before the day broke!
Trip to Mysore - the Palace City
St Philomena’s Church is the third largest church in India, built in Neo Gothic style of architecture. 
It was the eighty years old St Philomena’s Church, the 3rd largest church in India. Inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany it was built in Neo Gothic style of architecture. The twin spires of St Philomena’s Church are almost 175 feet high and seen from far away corners of the Mysore city! The main hall is equally beautiful as well as spacious to accommodate around 800 devotees at a time. This magnificent church remains open for the devotees and tourists from 05:00 AM to 06:00 PM. When we had reached there early Morning Prayer was on progress. It was definitely a good way to start my second day of the trip. We were enjoying the morning freshness while our bus headed to Nilgiris. The road journey from Mysore to Ooty was remarkably scenic and I've already blogged about it in the introductory post. I kept my hopes high for Ooty. Do visit back to read my travel tale of Ooty.

Friday, July 15, 2016

108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman

108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman
It had been a long, yet dormant desire to blog about my hometown- Bardhaman. Unfortunately, the innate human nature of taking one’s native place for granted did hold me back so long from exposing those beautiful places of tourist interest in Bardhaman. I kept weaving travel stories of places thousands of miles away from Bardhaman, but not of Bardhaman! Recently when I suffered a serious sense of ingratitude towards my naive hometown, I decided to showcase few travel jewels of her. I have made it a point not to press too hard on myself for this objective. My plan is to choose a site randomly for each weekend and document my afternoon visit with few clicks. Although today you may not find Bardhaman anywhere in the tourist map of West Bengal, this over-congested district headquarter has a rich history to enrich its fact-seeking travelers. Hope my tiny effort contributes to the promotion of tourism in Bardhaman.
108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman
As 108 temples are arranged in a close loop, tourists/devotees make it a point to circumambulate them on bare feet.
Today I’ll be virtually accompanying you to a unique Shiva temple complex known as the 108 Shiva Temple (We Bongs call it- "108 Shiv Mandir") comprising 108 Shiva Lingams, built in 1788. Being blessed with divine orders in her dream, Maharani Bishnu Kumari, widow of Maharaj Tilak Chand constructed the temple complex of 108 Shiva Temples. Each temple in the 108 Shiva Temples complex is an example of Bengal style Terracotta temple of seventeenth century.
108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman
A statue of Lord Shiva.
108 Shiva Temples have been designed in the form of a Rudrakshya necklace whose 108 beads are comparable to 108 small temples arranged as a close loop, connected with two ponds on either side. A thorough repair work was undertaken in 1965 and since then it is being maintained fairly by the temple trust committee.
108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman
Nandi, the bull which serves as the mount of the Lord Shiva and also as the gatekeeper of Shiva and Parvati.
In 2000 a guest house was constructed to provide shelter to outstation devotees. Further, in 2013 Tourism Department of Government of West Bengal granted approx 44.22 lakh rupees for the construction of three picnic huts at the backyard and a proper parking zone in front of the temple. Presently regular sessions of worship/rituals are conducted every day, and there is lodging facilities for tourists at a nominal rate.
108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman
A priest of 108 Shiva Temple, busy in preparation of evening rituals.
Located around five kilometers from the Bardhaman railway station, 108 Shiva Temple is easily accessible by toto (e-rickshaw) or by town service buses. Centered around the temple, a week-long fair is celebrated every year during the auspicious occasion of Maha-Shivaratri when tourists and pilgrims from faraway places gather at Nawabhat.
108 Shiva Temples of Bardhaman
Ring the Bell but not so hard!
If you ever visit Bardhaman please pay a visit to the 108 Shiva Temple. Walk on the cemented path bordered by row of temples on one side and garden on the other. Get blessings of the mighty Lord (of course, only if you aren't an atheist) and return to your place with good memories of Bardhaman. Once I clear the queue of my old travel stories I'll blog about about few more sites of Bardhaman which definitely deserve a visit.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Trip to Srirangapatna - the ancient capital of Mysore

Trip to Srirangapatna
This is continuation of my Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC. In Bangalore, to reach the Karnataka State Tourism office at Badami House, you have to instruct your auto/cab driver to drive to the Corporation Circle. There anyone can direct you to the tourism office and most probably you’ll be greeted by a fleet of white-blue KSTDC tourist buses. We left Bangalore city by 07:20 AM to catch the nail-polish smooth state highway to Mysore (renamed as 'Mysuru' on November 1, 2014). After 65 kilometers of drive from Bangalore we reached the town of Channapatna. Channapatna is renowned for its wooden dolls, toys and lacqueware, earning it the title of "Toy town of Karnataka". The time-honored art of wooden toy making, the origin of which can be traced back to the period of Tipu Sultan who invited Persian artists to train his local wooden toy-makers, is presently protected under Geographical indication under the World Trade Organization, administered by the Government of Karnataka.
Trip to Srirangapatna
A typical KSTDC tourist bus parked outside the Karnataka State Tourism office in Badami House.
In olden days, these wooden toys at Channapatna were made from Ivory-wood, Rosewood and Sandalwood but presently due to cost and availability factors, woods of Pine, Teak, Cedar, Rubber etc are also used in the toy-making by local toy-makers. If you’re ready to pay, you can purchase wooden toys colored with organic dyes which is safer for kids but I noted the price is quite steep. I would have loved to explore Channapatna, especially see toy-making in progress but we were only allowed half an hour break in front of a toy emporium. Certainly they had a huge collection of diverse wooden crafts but never enough for the traveler who wanted to see an artist making it. We had breakfast after that in some roadside inn and I was pleasantly surprised by the way they served me Idli!
Trip to Srirangapatna
I was pleasantly surprised by the way they served me Idli at Channapatna!
By 11 O’clock we reached Srirangapatna, the ancient fortress capital city of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The heritage city of Srirangapatnan is situated in the banks of River Cauvery and bordered by stone fort with four dilapidated gates preserving the ruins of Tipu’s Palace, water gate, dungeons, mosques and temples. Places of tourist interest in Srirangapatna include- Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan (Daria Daulat Bagh), Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Tipu’s death place, Jama Masjid, Colonel Bailey Dungeon and Gumbaz. In my opinion, the entire fort area is most rewarding when explored around on a horse. Yea, there are plenty of horses to give you that royal feel. 
Trip to Srirangapatna
Channapatna is renowned for its wooden dolls, toys and lacqueware, earning it the title of "Toy town of Karnataka".
The Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan was built in 1784 to celebrate Tipu’s two consecutive victories over British invaders. It’s popularly known as ‘Dariya Daulat’ which means "The wealth of the sea". All the walls and ceilings of the entire palace are exquisitely painted depicting the victories of Hyder Ali and Tipu over the British led by Colonel Bailee, the Nizam of Hyderabad arriving in the battlefield, and the durbar scenes of Tipu’s contemporaries like the Rani of Chitoor, the Raja of Tanjore, the Raja of Banaras, the Peshwa Balaji Rao II, Magadi Kempegowda, Madakari Nayaka of Chitradurga and Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. After the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, Dariya Daulat was occupied by Colonel Arthur Wellesley. Unfortunately photography inside the palace was prohibited and I behaved myself.
Trip to Srirangapatna
All the walls and ceilings of the entire palace are exquisitely painted depicting the victories of Hyder Ali and Tipu over the British Empire.
Next we were taken to the Ranganatha Swamy Temple which enshrines Lord Vishnu as Ranganatha and the largest Hindu temple of south India. Ranganatha Swamy temple was built by Tirumalaraya in 894 AD and later expanded by Hoysalas, Vijayanagara monarchs, Mysore Wodeyars and Hyder Ali. The presiding deity is a colossal statue of Lord Vishnu as Ranganatha, reclining on the huge coils of the serpent Sesha, with multiple hoods. Now few words about its architecture- The Navaranga doorway is guarded on either side by two large Devarapalakas. Most of the pillars in courtyard are in Hoysala style. The main entrance has four pillars of the Vijayanagara period sculpted with the 24 forms of Lord Vishnu.
Trip to Srirangapatna
The Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan was built in 1784 to celebrate Tipu’s two consecutive victories over British invaders.
There are many other shrines like Ranganayaki, Narasimha, Sudarshana, Gopalkrishna, Srinivasa etc in the complex. Due to its immense popularity among tourists, the outside space of the Ranganatha Swamy Temple has been converted to a mini-fairground. If you walk around the temple you’ll be surrounded by a dozen of hawkers (trying to push-sell you their wooden handicrafts) and another dozen of handicapped beggars. Our next destination was Mysore city, almost 15 kilometers away from Srirangapatna. As a sincere endeavor to continue of my tale of Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal trip I’ll talk about my glimpses of Mysore in the next travel post.
Trip to Srirangapatna
Ranganatha Swamy Temple enshrines Lord Vishnu as Ranganatha and is the largest Hindu temple of south India!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC

Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC
“WTH Dude! Traveling to South India in your summer holidays? Are you nuts?”- was the common reaction from majority of my near ones when I had conveyed them my plan of traveling to Mysore (renamed as 'Mysuru' on November 1, 2014), Ooty and Kodaikanal in the month of May. For North Indians, the deep-rooted impression of summer in South India is like sitting on the summit of a notorious volcano. Even though I did explain them that my short itinerary would cover only hill stations of south, nobody seemed convinced enough. Only after reaching Bangalore I patted my back. I found Bangalore quite refreshing and certainly a great escapade from the sucking summer of Bardhaman. 

I had booked a package tour of five days which included glimpses of Mysore, Ooty, Coonoor and Kodaikanal. I went for the KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) tour package after a lot of pre-travel pondering. Logically, my available number of travel days and confidence of wandering in South Indian states (back in 2013) were too limited to explore those places independently. So, although I’m not much of an obedient traveler who would abide by tour manager's commands, I decided for the bondage in trip to Mysore, Oooty and Kodaikanal! Remember, this is merely an introductory post of my trip Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal with KSTDC. I'll pen down separate travel stories dedicated to Mysore, Ooty, Kodaikanal and a last one to review the service of Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation as a tour operator.
Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC
A little village girl riding on a giant tusker in Madumalai National Park.
Brief Itinerary of my Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC:-

Day 1: Departure from Badami House (Bangalore), Break at Channapatna, Breakfast at Maddur, Visit Daria Daulat, Gumbaz, Fort, Sriranganatha Swamy Temple, Visit Chamundi Temple, Lunch, Visit Mysore Palace, Visit Illuminated Brindavan Gardens & Halt at Mysore.
Day 2: Visit St. Philomena's Church, Depart from Mysore, Breakfast at Gundlupet, Arrive at Ooty (Via Bandipur & Mudumalai Sanctuary), Boating in Ooty Lake, Lunch, Enjoy the nature at Doddabetta, Visit Botanical Garden, Tamil Cultural program in Ooty Stadium (not a part of the package), Dinner and night halt at Ooty.
Day 3: Depart to Coonoor after breakfast, Visit Sim's Park (Coonoor), Lunch at Paladam, Arrive at Kodaikanal and Night halt.
Day 4: Visit Pillar Rock, Green Valley View, Coaker's Walk, Bryant's Park, Lunch, Horse riding, cycle riding, boating on Kodai Lake, Depart to Bangalore (dinner en route).
Day 5: Tour ends at Badami House (Bangalore) at an eerie hour of 4:30 AM morning.
Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC

The Mysore Palace is one of the finest work of art of Indo-Saracenic architecture blending many diverse styles like Rajput, Muslim and Gothic to give birth to a magnum opus!
Apart from being the "Cultural capital of Karnataka" Mysore (renamed as 'Mysuru' on November 1, 2014), lying at the base of Chamundi Hills, merely 140 Kilometers from Bangalore has the reputation of being Karnataka’s second largest and India’s second cleanest city. Mysore is also known as the "Palace City of India" owing to the presence of a number of palaces like Mysore Palace, Jaganmohan Palace, Jayalakshmi Palace, Lalitha Mahal etc to name a few. How Mysore got its name is also quite interesting and I’ll get back to that in my subsequent travel posts. Other tourist attractions in Mysore include Brindavan Gardens, Chamundi Hills, St Philomena’s Church, Mysore Zoo, Museums etc. 

On the way from Bangalore to Mysore, it was worthwhile to give a break at Channapatna, a place famous for wooden handicrafts, statues and toys. Just about 15 kilometers away from Mysore, the ancient town of Srirangapatna is located, which has great cultural and historic significance. Places of interest in Srirangapatna include Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan (Daria Daulat) and the fort area comprising Ranganathaswamy Temple (Vishnu temple), Jumma Masjid, Lakhshminarasimhaswamy Temple etc. I’ll keep my narration very brief in this prologue as I’ll be narrating all of them in individual posts. From my very first day of the trip I resorted to local south Indian cuisines and tried to please my tongue in every possible ways.
Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC
Although the journey along NH-212/NH-66 through Bandipur Forest area is tourists’ delight but certainly not healthy for wild creatures as there’s a handsome record of cases of fatalities of animals by speeding vehicles.
Our bus journey from Mysore to Ooty on the second day was extremely scenic as the route passed through Bandipur and Madumalai National Parks! Bandipur National Park in Karnataka is a division of India’s biggest Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and well-known for its tiger, elephant reserve as well as protected sandalwood trees. Owing to its appealing flora and fauna and favorable location (hardly 80-90 kilometers from Mysore city) it is a major weekend tourist destination for wildlife lovers. We didn’t have the flexibility to get down and enjoy the wilderness of Bandipur, yet cherished the bus journey through the forest area, spotting myriad species of trees like Sandalwood, Rosewood, Teak, Bamboo etc and different inhabitants like elephants, spotted deer, peacocks, vultures and so on. 

Although the journey along NH-212/NH-66 through Bandipur forest area is tourists’ delight but certainly not healthy for wild creatures as there’s a handsome record of cases of fatalities of animals by speeding vehicles. I would strongly suggest you to reserve a day for Bandipur National Park. You can even get there directly from Bangalore and have a forest safari in the afternoon on the very same day. If you’re traveling solo and can not afford an entire safari jeep you may at least opt for the bus safari. Oh, there is also provision for elephant rides inside the Bandipur Park!
Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC
An elephant house in Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park.
As the Karnataka state border ended, Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park of Tamil Nadu welcomed us. It was the first wildlife sanctuary to be established in south India and a part of Nilgiri biosphere reserve, being located on the northwestern side of the Nilgiri Hills in Nilgiris district. This declared tiger reserve is the residence of numerous endangered species like elephant, Bengal tiger, leopard, bison etc. The bio-diversity is quite striking in Madumalai. You’ll find tropical evergreen forest, mixed deciduous forest, moist teak forest, dry teak forest, secondary grasslands, shrubs and swamps and 'what not' in the Madumalai forest! The variety in fauna is no less remarkable. Madumalai wildlife sanctuary boasts of about 227 species of birds, 55 species of mammals, 21 species of amphibians and 50 species of fishes. 

To accommodate increasing number of wildlife lovers, the forest department in charge of Madumalai National Park has built many lodges and resorts inside the forest which is indeed a good step in the promotion of wildlife tourism in the place. Like Bandipur national park, in Madumalai also you’ll get the chance of availing forest safari and elephant ride. Unlike Bandipur, Madumalai is more liberal to permit its tourists to use vehicles to explore different corners of the park. The elephant feeding camp and Kallatty Falls are among few things which you shouldn’t miss once you travel to Madumalai wildlife sanctuary. Spending a night in the Madumalai Forest, illuminated by billions of fireflies, in the months of April-May could be an experience of lifetime! Soon we were charmed by the hue of Blue Mountains and fragrance of eucalyptus as we neared Ooty, the honeymooners’ paradise, the home of flavored tea, delicious homemade chocolates and of course spices!
Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC
We saw a herd of spotted deer in Bandipur National Park area from our moving bus.
Ooty (Udhagamandalam), the honeymooner’s paradise in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, is situated at a modest altitude of about 7,347 feet. While you travel in Nilgiris you’ll know yourself why the name ‘blue mountains’ has been given to the mountainscape. Do not worry, I’ll tell you the reason very soon. Ooty is traveler's delight with its enormously wide range of flavored teas, homemade chocolates, spices and eucalyptus. The whole region thrives on tourism and agriculture, certainly one of the most expensive hill stations in India. Some places of tourist interest include Ooty Botanical garden, Doddabetta, Rose garden, Wax Museum, Annamalai Temple, Tea factory, Dolphin’s nose etc. Tourism in Ooty is centered around the Ooty Lake. One can boat or opt for several adventure activities around the lake. 

In my humble opinion, Ooty Lake doesn’t have a clear water to boast of and the town itself is too packed with tourists to allow travelers wander about in their comfortable pace. But, do not get disheartened, nonetheless traveling to Ooty has a charm of its own and you’ll feel the difference from hill stations of north India as you explore the town on your shoes. As I was in a package tour, unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury to board the much acclaimed Nilgiri Mountain Railway which ferries you through the most beautiful landscapes of Nilgiris. You must try it on your way from Coonoor to Ooty or the vice versa. On a side note, I’ve consumed too much coffee in Nilgiris (Oops!).
Mysore Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip with KSTDC
Another photo-collage from my summer trip to Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal.
Kodaikanal, one of the most picturesque hill stations of south India, located in the Palani Hill range at an altitude of around 7,200 feet, is also called as ‘Princess of Hill Stations’. This popular hill station of Tamil Nadu, apart from her position on the lap of scenic western ghats has another unique thing to brag of- the Kurinji Flower, that blooms once in 12 years! Places of tourist interest in Kodaikanal are Kodai lake, Berijam lake, Coakers Walk, Bryant Park, Green valley view, Silver Cascade Waterfall, Pillar Rocks, Kurunjiandavar Temple, Lake top view etc. Riding a hired bicycle or a horse is a ‘must do’ thing around Kodai lake. At Kodaikanal I tasted local honey from mobile honey-seller. Its yummy quotient was only comparable to the local honey I had previously tasted in Dang (a tinsel town of Nepal). I found lazing around the Kodai lake is much better than deciding for the local sightseeing at Kodaikanal. Well, you got to travel and make your own opinion. This is just the beginning of my Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal Trip. Squeeze out some time to read my travel story on Srirangapatna.