Coonoor, Tamil Nadu

A 7.5 hour drive from Bangalore, Coonoor is a quaint little hill station near Ooty. It recently came in the limelight because of a Bollywood movie called Kapoor & sons which was shot there. Before that it was visited by the off beat travelers.

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Nestled in the Nilgiris this town is a much better option than Ooty these days. It is less crowded and more personal. We took the road via Salem to get there, which is a slightly longer but faster route. The drive is also very scenic compared to the mysore- bandipur highway. There are 3-4 toll booths which are the only bottlenecks.

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Coonoor is famous for its heritage properties, home made chocolates and cosy vibes. We went in May and the weather was a pleasant 20 degrees. There are several nice places to stay, like:

1. Kurumba resort- away from the town

2. Taj gateway- in the heart of coonoor

But since we don’t like to splurge too much on stay, we picked the 200yr old heritage property called Wallwood by Neemrana. It cost INR 5000 a night and looked quite decent.

We booked a room called “Camphor” which had a lovely balcony overlooking the estate and was away from the noise of the main house. If you are a couple that wants to avoid families then I strongly recommend Camphor. The rooms in the main house can get very noisy during meals since the dining area is right there.

This room was quite basic but had everything we needed including privacy. Also the food at this hotel was really tasty and homely. The staff was very helpful too. The hotel is located bang in the middle of the town and is close to all the touristy places.

Although we didn’t go to any ūüėČ

What we did was breathe, eat, drink, drive around and sleep.

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One day we went to a place which was called 43 hair pin bends on the map. This is a very popular biking route with breathtaking views of the mountains. The drive took us through lovely tea gardens coupled with thick woods. We even saw a family of wild Indian Gaur on the way!

On the way back we passed the Lovedale boarding school. A campus like no other! It really felt like we were in the UK countryside. You must try and take a look while you are there.

Some Places to eat and drink in coonoor are:

1. Hopscotch- a nice pub

2. Cullinarium- lovely food

3. Cafe McIver- nice place to chill

4. Taj gateway- good for a snack

5. Wellington club – if you have a army connection

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All in all, it was a nice laid back holiday in the peak of summer. There are some nice walking trails and also lakes that one can explore.

Waterfalls are in plenty too if you are interested. But do not go to Coonoor seeking activities. Go there for the warmth, and the chill ūüėČ

My verdict: A lazy little hill station where there is no rat race. Enjoy the clean air and poor service ūüôā

My rating: 3.5/5 Wallwood Neemrana was ideal for us since we were out the most of the day. Food was excellent. Total value for money.

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Hampi, Karnataka

I had heard so much about Hampi but somehow the place eluded me. We finally made a plan this January to spend three nights at this fascinating place where God plays Jenga.

Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in east-central Karnataka, India. It became the centre of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire capital in the 14th century.

Transportation:

Train was the best option from Bangalore as it gave us 3 full days to explore the ruins. You leave at 10pm and arrive at Hospet at 7am. The same holds good for the return journey too.

Budget: INR 20,000 for two

Stay- 6000/- for 3 nights

Train- 1500/- both ways for two

Cab- 2500/- for 3 days

Sightseeing- 2500/-

F&B- 6000/-

Tax – 1500/-

Hotel:

Most people stay in Hospet which has the big hotels like Royal Orchid and The Hyatt. However we decided to stay in Hampi, close to the monuments.

There are two sides to explore on the Tungabhadra river. One side has the most famous ruins where historians, pilgrims and tourists flock to be mesmerized by the strange rock formations and structures. And on the other side you have the hippie vibe with bars and cafes lined up. One can get from one side to the other by boat or car. It’s very easy.

We decided to stay in Clark’s Inn which was closer to the monuments. The plan was to hire a car and see the ruins during the day and go to the other side to enjoy the night life.

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The hotel was the right choice for us because it had all the facilities like AC, swimming pool, restaurant etc that one needs in a place like Hampi where temperatures can touch 40 degrees. We paid just INR 2000/- per night for a superior room. Across the river, the homestays are cheaper but quite basic.

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There is a Jungle lodge and an Orange County property as well, but I don’t recommend them at all. Firstly both are away from the main area and secondly not worth the money they charge.

(Orange County)

( Stepped Pushkarni)

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What to see:

When you are visiting the sights, please make sure you take a guide from the Virupaksha temple office. The official rate is 1200-1500 for the day. A guide is very useful in Hampi because only when you hear the interesting stories do you appreciate what you are seeing.

Some of the must visit places are:

1. Virupaksha temple

2. Queen’s bath

3. Lotus Mahal

4. Pushkarni

5. Vithala temple

6. Elephant stables

7. Matanga hill

8. Hazara Rama Temple

9. Underground Shiv temple

10. Mahanavami Dibba

11. Malavanta- sunset point

You will need good two days to cover these and more.

( Lotus Mahal)

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The cafes that are famous are:

  • Laughing Buddha
  • Cafe chill out
  • The mango tree
  • Nargila guest house

The laid back vibe in these cafes remind you that you are on holiday. Do not expect fast service here and just thank your stars if you manage to get a place to sit.

Technically these bars are not allowed to serve alcohol. But many of them do so on request.

Close to these cafes is a sunset point which is not to be missed. Locals play music along with foreign tourists as everyone waits for the light to fade. The feeling is inexplicable as you stand atop the rocks, with the breeze in your face and happy tunes filling the air.. as the sun goes down.

(The chill out cafe)

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Best time to visit- October to February

My verdict: Overall, Hampi is a place one can keep returning to. I am in awe of its strange, barren beauty and would like to learn more about it’s ever unfolding mysteries in the years to come. The rocks defy gravity and are unlike anything else you will ever see.

My rating: 4/5 for Clark’s Inn. It exceeded expectations on all counts for the tariff . Only thing missing was an alcohol license.

River Tern Lodge, Bhadra, Karnataka

The River Tern Lodge in Bhadra is one of the many properties owned and run by Jungle Lodges, Karnataka.  Situated in the midst of the Western Ghats of Chikmaglur district in Karnataka, surrounded by the lofty hill ranges of Babubudangiri. The River Tern Lodge is a perfect blend of nature and wildlife. The lodge gets its name from the congregation of thousands of River Terns during their breeding on a nearby island.

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Accommodation:

Set next to the Bhadra dam, all rooms here overlook the serene waters of the reservoir. Rooms 1-9 are closer to the restaurant, bar and the reception and are more suited for senior citizens and families. Rooms 10-21 are a bit away from the reception and the dining hall but are more scenic and peaceful. One has to walk 50-70 steps to get there.

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We were first given room 20 which is a newly constructed cottage. The room had spectacular views, however the toilet was not fully covered with a wall till the roof. So, it was a bit strange to have the loo share the same air as the rest of the room ūüôā One could hear and smell things one didn’t want to. That too with an AC in the room!! There is always a need for a fully covered bathroom no matter now close you and your fellow traveler are ūüôā So I would not suggest room 20 and 21 for this reason alone.

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Rooms 12, 14, 16 are the best! They have big balconies overlooking the reservoir, and the bathrooms have large glass windows making it a very stunning setting! We were shifted to room 14 the next day and it was far better than room 20. The latter is also the farthest room making it even more undesirable.

Rooms have 1 double bed and 1 single bed, an electric kettle, emergency lamp, water bottles, toiletries and towels. The brightness of the cottages instantly add life to the stay and you feel immersed in nature. The constant chirping of birds and the rustling by squirrels keep you busy and entertained. There is something incredibly relaxed about this place. It grows on you!

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Activities:

People come to this lodge for the jeep and boat safaris in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. But they also have water sports- kayaking, boating, swimming etc. All included in the per head rate of INR 7,500 per day.

In the safaris, sightings of cats is low, but not impossible. However, this resort is perfect for birding. It attracts hundreds of river terns during the breeding season. Bird-lovers are in for a treat with over 200 species including, grey jungle fowl, red spur fowl, Malabar parakeet, etc. calling these forests home.

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Food and Service

Unlike other JLR properties, where food and service are nothing to write home about, River Tern was an exception. We loved the spread and the courteous staff. Every member was very helpful and knowledgeable about the forest.

The Bar has a limited menu but the rates are very reasonable.

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My verdict: This resort is perfect for nature lovers and those who wish to relax. Do not go there expecting to see cats. The safaris are more like joy-rides. Enjoy the park for other things. And enjoy the resort for its views and service

My rating: 3.5/5 Room no. 20 was a bit awkward.. but after we were moved to Room 14 it was heaven. Good service and good views make this a very relaxing and tranquil property.

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Waterwoods Resort, Kabini, Karnataka

We booked Waterwoods because we had heard really good things about it. Our plan was to stay at Kabini River Lodge (also known as Jungle Lodge, Kabini) for 1 day and then 2 days here. Jungle Lodges had really set the bar for us when we came to Waterwoods. But this property did not disappoint. Because we had no tiger sightings in the 2 safaris at Jungle Lodges, we were really glad that Waterwoods was next. Because there was a lot more to do here!

Website: http://waterwoods.in

Firstly, the rooms are breath-taking. One can see the detailing in every little corner of the property. Someone has made it with love and it is very evident! We stayed in Room 11 which is the only one with a Tree Deck and a hammock! So if you are going with your partner, just pick this room! It is secluded from the other rooms and has a great view of the Kabini River

Secondly, the hotel served much better food than JLR and we also enjoyed the swimming pool. The hotel also has room service, unlike JLR. The website is very close to the real thing and is not misleading at all. There are many more things to do at this resort than at JLR.

Lastly, The service was just exceptional! Sometimes when there are big groups on the premises, with kids etc, the staff tend to forget the couples who are around. But we never felt ignored. The staff set up a separate romantic bonfire for the two of us and it was really special!

The safari is through JLR, where one gets a bus/canter. Not a jeep. Funny thing is, it costs the same! That is probably the only point to be aware of. Everything else is just way better than JLR!! We, however, got lucky with our last safari, where we requested the JLR guys for a Jeep. Since we had stayed there the previous day, the team knew us and made an exception. And as luck would have it, we saw a tiger!

My verdict: I highly recommend this resort for a peaceful, lazy and stunning stay. Not for the safari though. We will surely be back here soon!

My rating: 4/5 only because there are no Jeep Safaris for the guests.

Ragamaya Resort & Spa, Rajakkad, Idukki, Kerala (Not really in Munnar but as pretty)

We had a long weekend this May and wanted to spend it in the hills. So we decided to fly from Bangalore to Coimbatore and then drive to Munnar from there (5-hour drive as per Google). As usual, the most renowned and highly rated resorts in Munnar were already taken. It is during this frantic search for accommodation that I stumbled upon Ragamaya Resort & Spa. The image gallery looked fantastic! Almost too good to be true. But this place even had the reviews to match the phenomenol pictures. Plus Cleartrip was running a good offer for Citibank Customers. So I booked us for 2 nights @ just 6000/- per night. Their website looks like this: http://www.ragamayamunnar.com/

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Now for the real experience…. Some points of caution:

First, we made the mistake of flying to Coimbatore and not Cochin. I say this because, while Munnar was¬†a 5-hour drive, Ragamaya was another 1 hour 15 mins away. So it took us 6 hours 15 mins to reach the place. With breaks it comes to nearly 7 hours. From Cochin the resort¬†is just a 3.5 hour drive. So if you plan to go, don’t make the same mistake ūüôā Secondly, when you think of Munnar you visualize¬†tea gardens and bunglows right? This resort is not in Munnar in the literal sense. It is in a place called Rajakkad, Idukki. So if you want to be around tea gardens Ragamaya¬†is not the right choice. Thirdly, there are very few signboards for the resort when you drive from Munnar. We saw a signboard only in the last 5 kms. Rest of the way was shown by Google maps. And the last mile is a muddy road which makes you wonder if you are going the right way ūüôā Not the best feeling if you have been driving for 7 hours! But stay patient…. …because once you reach Ragamaya the fatigue and anxiety just vanishes.

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Forget the tea gardens… this resort has the most stunning view of the Ponmudi Lake¬†and the thick western ghats rain forests. Every room faces this picturesque set up and you feel relaxed and at¬†ease almost instantly. We had booked the Raga Premier room which was contemporary, spacious and minimalist. The large balcony is where you will spend 70% of your time – I can guarantee it!

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Once you digest the majestic view, there are some cool activities to explore. You can go boating, fishing, trekking (night and day), cycling, shopping etc. We took a jeep ride to the lake for boating and fishing and boy was it adventurous! There is¬†no proper road to the lake, so the 4X4 just makes its way with the help of pure¬†engineering¬†muscle. It is one bumpy ride but so worth it! You must try it! The staff is very courteous and enthusiastic. Typical of Kerala ūüôā Even the spa was surprisingly good. For a young property (5 months old) , Ragamaya fared very well on most¬†fronts.

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My verdict: Ragamaya Resort is quite a find. Secluded, adventurous and unique is how I would describe it.

My rating: 4/5 The food could be better and they should have more signboards. Plus the resort has no liquor license yet ūüė¶

Where rum is cheaper than bottled water- Manipal, Karnataka

Don’t believe me??

Manipal is truly a youngsters’ paradise with its unexplored beaches and cheap booze. Ironically it is also the education hub of India especially for international students. I spent two years in the super modern university¬†town built by Dr. T.M.A. Pai during my post graduation. And have gone back every single year to unwind without burning my pockets.

  

(Beach at Palm Grove Resort)

Manipal is only 5 kms from the temple city of Udupi and around 70kms from Mangalore. It makes for a great long weekend getaway for Bangaloreans who can take an overnight bus or even drive down. The roads however, are smeared with pot holes thanks to the incessant rains that this part of the country witnesses 4-5months a year.

The resorts start from Udupi all the way till Marwante, which is 2-3hours before Karwar. Manipal falls somewhere in the middle of the two and has very few good, hygienic hotel options.  I have stayed in Turtle Bay, Marwante (http://www.turtlebayeco.com/aboutus.html) and the Palm Grove Resort ( no website) near Udupi. Both properties are worth the money you shell out. Clean rooms, decent food, and awesome pristine beaches!!

  

(Kaup Beach)

Now, I don’t mean to turn Manipal into another Pondicherry, where good advertising led truck loads of tourists to its shores and¬†ruined the one reason why people visited the place – Peace. However, the beaches of Manipal are pristine because there exists a practical problem. The waters here are very rough and swimming is not allowed for atleast 6months a year. Many have lost their lives in the sea due to powerful under currents. But the sheer beauty of the water and the sight of clean sand (please do keep it that way if you visit)¬†will wanna make you spend hours, just staring. The biggest factor for me is the lack of population at the beaches. Unlike goa where all you see is feet!

  

Whether you put up in Udupi, Manipal or Marwante, you can and must¬†visit all the three places. Each has its own charm. Kaup and Virgin beach¬†are a must see. The latter is a bit difficult to locate, which is one of the reasons its clean. We were shown the route by our seniors in college ūüôā Another beautiful place is Marwante, where on one side you have the sea and on the other the backwaters. The Karnataka Tourism Department has done a great job of putting up signages all along the highway to guide tourists to all possible sight seeing destinations.

  

When in Manipal, you must try the various pubs which play mostly rock music. Blue waters is a discotheque that plays house and trance. Do take a round of the Manipal University campus to get the feel of the good work those guys are doing. The facilities for students¬†are truly world class! I say this with all honesty and no loyalty because my college was not affiliated to MU at the time ūüôā You can also walk to what is called the “end point” and see the entire town from atop.

With plenty to do and drink, this trip can easily take 2-4days.

My Verdict: Manipal is a town which has been transformed beyond belief but still retains its natural beauty. As a holiday destination, I would recommend it to all those who are looking to enjoy the ride with friends and not bother about material luxuries, coz there are none!

My rating: 4/5