Tuli Tiger Resort, Kanha, MP

Kanha tiger reserve is roughly a 4 hour drive from Nagpur. One can even fly to Raipur or Jabalpur to get there by road. It is one of the prettiest forests in India and also one of the best managed.

Each safari vehicle has a GPS tracker that monitors the speed limit. Any reading above 20km/h inside the park is flagged off and interrogated.

Every vehicle is assigned an experienced guide who instructs the driver and monitors the safari. The staff is disciplined and respectful of the forest. Even the tourists are very well mannered here compared to some other parks in India.

The safari timings are:

Morning safari – 6:15am-11am

Evening safari – 3pm -6:30pm

Instagram- TheFanaticTraveller

Situated in the heart of India, Kanha has three prominent zones for tourists:

1. Kanha zone

2. Kisli zone

3. Mukki zone

The saal trees are a signature of this forest. Kanha is also the best place to see tigers in the jungle meadows. The landscape and the habitat is inspiring and incredibly relaxing. This is also one of the few reserves in India that has clean toilets at the rest area.

Spread over an area of roughly 1900sq.kms, it is one of largest national parks in central India. Tiger sightings in each zone vary from season to season based on tiger activities. There are over 100 tigers in this reserve but the main species that represent Kanha is the barasingha, or the swamp deer.

We decided to stay in Tuli Tiger Resort, which is just 15 mins from the gates. This property was in the buffer zone and was the perfect choice for us.

Rooms were nice and big. And the bed was quite comfortable. The service was impeccable and so was the food. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and would highly recommend it to all tourists who enjoy a luxurious stay in the wilderness.

There is a pond inside the property which makes it blend with the forest beautifully. And a small swimming pool to cool off after a long safari is always a welcome option.

The resort would set up a bonfire each evening, where the guests would share their safari stories. With a drink in our hands and good conversation, it was the perfect setting to end the day.

The packed breakfast each morning was a delight. We were pampered with a large spread which lifted one’s spirits if one had no sighting ūüôā

I have stayed at the Earth Lodge, Kanha but I prefer Tuli. The former is a lovely resort but a bit far from the gates. Tuli was convenient, comfortable and clean. They also have ultra luxury tents which looked out of the world. We stayed in the villas.

My verdict: Kanha is a must visit for any wildlife lover. And Tuli is a great choice. Pick the zones based on local knowledge of sightings.

My rating: 4.5/5 Very little to complain about. Except that the bathroom was flooding on and off but was fixed by the staff.

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Road Tripping in Meghalaya,India (Part 2)

Day 3- Drive back to Shillong

On our way back from Cherrapunjee, we decided to take a different route to Shillong. Instead of going via NH 206 (which was a shorter way), we went Via Smit Village. It is a slight detour but totally worth it. We were told that it is a more scenic route and one crosses the local villages on the way. But it was so much more! Every turn was picture perfect. The roads are narrower and not as good as the main highway, but the scenery slows you down in any case ūüôā I highly recommend this route!

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It is here that you will find the spectacular Laitlum Canyon! This place was really the highlight of our entire trip. I had no idea that such a place exists in Meghalaya. And nor did anyone else. I am so thankful to @tripadvisor for telling me about it and to all other fellow travelers for posting online. I hope to do the same with this blog post. Google shows you 2 destinations on the map for Laitlum, but you need to ask the locals for the right one. From Shillong, this is how you need to go:

1. Head east on MDR32 towards Laitumkhrah Point Towards New Colony
2. Turn right at Demsei√Ī-√Źong Bus Stop
3. Turn left
4. Turn left
5. Turn left at Sawlad Bus Stop onto NH44
6. Turn right onto Smit Rd
7. Continue straight onto Jongksha-Mawkynrew Rd.
8. Continue straight
9. Arrive at location: Unnamed Rd

For the best route in current traffic visit http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Shillong%2C%20Meghalaya&daddr=Unnamed%20Rd&geocode=FRRNhgEdBS56BSl_IL00j35QNzEriI8Q9y1IYg%3D%3D%3BFatPhAEdUHZ6BQ%3D%3D&dirflg=d

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(Laitlum Canyon)

It is a 270 degree view from up there. We could see 4 waterfalls and the endless movement of clouds. There is also a hiking route which I didn’t have the stomach for. But the locals use it daily to get to their homes in the valley below. One can drive right up to the edge of the mountain and park. It is really an overwhelming experience. The sheer raw beauty of this place will make¬†¬†you concede that Meghalaya is indeed the Scotland of the East!

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We had booked a 1 night stay in Tripura Castle in Shillong, which is the new favorite among the tourists.

http://www.tripuracastle.com

I have to say that the website is a bit misleading. Because the hotel is smaller than it looks online. But it is still a very pretty little property. When we arrived at the hotel, we very happy with the room (107) and also the bar. The entire place was really impressive on the outside.

But as a reviewer/blogger, I just could not overlook the glaring hygiene issues we witnessed. At breakfast, we had cockroaches crawling on our table. I saw a rat jump out of the area where the breads were Рwhich by the way had fungus and were stale.

Not only that, I even saw the waiter bring both the veg and non-veg starters in the same bowl, and segregate them at the buffet table. When I questioned him he had no answer.

Overall a very disappointing stay from the kitchen hygiene point of view. The rooms however were excellent and so was the bar!

My Verdict: Very pretty hotel, but management is not great.
My rating: 2.5/5 Because there is only so much a room can do to enhance your stay. Food, hygiene and service matter more.

 

 

Road Tripping in Meghalaya,India (Part 1)

My husband and I have driven for 10 days in Scotland and have experienced the magnificent¬†mountains and meadows that one saw in Skyfall! Till date we are in awe of that landscape.¬†We were told that Meghalaya is called the Scotland of the East. But I took it as seriously as I take Bangalore being called the garden city ūüôā

My parents live in Assam, so we planned a quick visit¬†home and managed to squeeze in a 5 day road trip to the land of pork, rock music and incessant rain. I did a bit of research online beforehand so that we didn’t go the usual places like Police Bazaar, Center point and Pinewood hotel. I was determined to see a side of Meghalaya we had never seen. The adventurous, unexplored side. The quiet and unknown side. And boy were we in for a gold mine!

Our plan was as follows:

Day 1- Drive from Guwahati to Ri Kynjai Resort (Barapani). Stay the night

Day 2- Drive to Cherrapunjee. See Elephant falls on the way. Also see the new caves that have been discovered. Stay the night

Day 3- Drive to the Dawki river and then back to Shillong via a different route. Stay the night at Shillong

Day 4- Visit Laitlum Canyon and then catch a live band in the city. Stay the night

Day 5- See the sacred grove. Drive back to Guwahati

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Day 1- Drive to Ri Kynjai

The 4 lane highway from Guwahati to Shillong is as good as any. The drive is stunning and peaceful. It takes roughly 2 hours to get to Ri Kynjai, which is 30 mins before the city of Shillong.

http://www.rikynjai.com

This is possibly the most talked about property in the north east of India. And rightly so. Ri Kynjai just blows you away. Nestled in the hills, overlooking the Umiam Lake, the hotel is exactly what it is named- tranquil and serene. The grand entry with wide open spaces tells you there is no dearth of real estate in this part of the country.

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The rooms are large yet cozy. Pinewood interiors give the hotel a very local feel. Even the decorative pieces are very ethnic and showcase the rich culture of this region. Ri Kynjai has a restaurant and a bar. The menu is limited and even more so for vegetarians. The prices on the menu are pretty random I have to say. But the quality of food was good. You can either eat Chinese or Indian food here. Nothing else is available.

This hotel is pretty pricey, so one night is good enough to enjoy its richness! You will spend anywhere close to INR 12-15k per room with all meals. They also have a spa which has massages starting from INR 2500+tax. The gift shop is beautiful, but again, exorbitant. More suited for foreigners I would imagine.

My verdict: Ri Kynjai is a must see property in Meghalaya. Even if you cannot stay there, do pay a visit.

My rating: 4.5/5

Day 2- Drive to Cherrapunjee

When we started our drive to Cherrapunjee, my father could not stop telling us stories about how deadly the route was back in the day. So we all braced ourselves for an adventurous ride. But the roads, all the way to our hotel, were smooth and comfortable. The views of the mountain ranges took us back to our Scotland trip. It is on this route that we realized how underrated Meghalaya really is:

1.This is a matriarchal state, where the women work and the men take care of the house and children!

2. It is spotlessly clean, no matter where you go!

3. Unmatched natural beauty and the food is fantastic!

4. Great roads leading up to even the most remote areas!

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We stopped at the Elephant falls which was just 20 mins outside of the city. It is a nice pit stop to make at the start of the trip, because the sights just get better and better after that. So do not go here at the end of your trip ūüôā Let it be a precursor to what lies ahead.

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(Elephant falls)

On the way, there is a spot where you can do zip-lining. We were so excited about it and the experience was memorable. You must try it. It is cheap, fun and thrilling!

Just before entering Cherrapunjee, there is a gate on the left. It is the entrance to a cave that has recently been discovered. One gets to see fossils of sea animals inside and also experience the eeriness of being inside an age old natural cave. There are guides to take you around and the walkway leading up to the cave is very well done. Even elders can go up there quite comfortably.

In Cherrapunjee, we stayed at the Polo Orchid hotel. It was rated one of the best in the area but was still quite ordinary. The hotel has a great view of the valley and the waterfalls. However, the infrastructure and cleanliness was questionable. We felt overcharged. Our original plan was to stay here for 2 nights, but we cut that short and returned to Shillong the next day (which was a great decision).

The only thing good about this hotel was the spa. Food was average at best.

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From there you must drive to the Dawki river which is at the India and Bangladesh border. The river is crystal clear and has a beautiful emerald colour. The boat look like they are in air! It is an unbelievable spot to visit

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My verdict: Since this area does not have too many options, Polo Orchid is good for a 1 night stay. It is close to many attractions and the staff is helpful if you tip them ūüôā Just keep your expectations low.

My rating: 3/5

 

 

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.

Kabini River Lodge- A lovely drive from Bangalore

Kabini is just a 4.5hour drive from Bangalore on a weekday. But if you go over a weekend, the Mysore “Expressway” might take you 6hrs. So we chose to go on a Wednesday and return on a Saturday. A very good decision to start with! The route was beautiful and full of Gulmohar trees! We went in the first week of May which was supposed to be peak season for tiger sighting.

We wanted to book for 3 nights at Kabini River Lodge (also known as Jungle Lodges), but got only for 1 night. The other two nights we stayed at Waterwoods Resort, which is right next to the former. This again turned out to be a blessing in disguise and I will explain why.

Website: http://www.junglelodges.com/kabini-river-lodge/

Jungle Lodges completely control the jeep safaris in Kabini and only their residents get to ride in them. Other resort guests get the canter/bus for the safari. So since we had just one night at this place, we got 2 Jeep safaris. Next day we were to move to Waterwoods.

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(Jungle Lodge)

DAY 1-JUNGLE LODGE, KABINI

A day before we reached, there was heavy rains in the area and the tiger sightings dropped. Both our jeep safaris were in vain. No tigers or leopards. And when the tiger sighting is not good, then there is little to do in Jungle Lodge, compared to a Waterwoods Resort.

Having said that, The Jungle Lodge property is so picturesque and open. We loved the entrance to the lodge and got a warm welcome at the reception. The staff briefed us on the agenda and showed us to our room. We stayed in room 6 which is the older wing of the resort. So it really takes you back in time! The room was nice and spacious- but no AC. Even then, the high ceiling kept the room cool. And if you are scared of lizards and insects, then this is not the best choice. We had many creatures as visitors inside our room- frogs, lizards, moths etc. But we really didn’t mind.

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(Room 6 in Jungle Lodge, Kabini)

The next time we went to Jungle Lodge was in February, and we chose the tents. They are cheaper and as comfortable as the rooms. I would recommend the tents over the rooms because there is little difference between the two but the former is much cheaper. Most of the time you are in the jungle anyway.

This lodge has a cosy bar which is a great place to chat with other wildlife enthusiasts. And the Kabini River is right next to the restaurant (Golghar) where one can go for a Coracle ride, or a boat safari.¬†The food was okay. Nothing to write home about. There is no wi-fi and no room service in this hotel. No swimming pool or games. The room has no TV either. We didn’t miss any of these things, but if you are looking for all of the above, then this is not the place for you. We saw a wild boar outside our tent in February! It was truly exciting!

All in all, a place for nature and safari lovers. The naturalists, guides and drivers are the best in the business and will spot animals in the jungle from a mile away!

My verdict- Kabini River Lodge gave us what we were looking for! Old world charm, wildlife enthusiasts, and nature! Go there for the safaris!

My rating- 4.5/5 only because the food was not as good.

 

 

North of Spain- Road trip in Feb’16 (part 2)

In part 1 of this blog about our trip to Spain, you read about St.Feliu de Boada and Pals. From there we headed further north towards Besalu. The drive was scenic, with the dry  beauty of the winter.We also got a great view of the Pyrenees.

On our way, we stopped at Figueres to see the Dali Museum. Now, we are not really into art, but this was something else! At 14Euros a ticket, it was an expensive entry, but totally worth it. Dali was a genius no doubt, but to truly appreciate his mind, you have got to see the work on display. This was my first time in a famous artist’s museum and I was blown away. More than the skill it is the thinking that amazes you.

Besalu is just a 25 min drive from Figueres. It is a quaint little medieval town with a population of under 2500.¬†The town’s most significant feature is its 12th-century Romanesque¬†bridge over the Fluvia¬†river, which features a gateway at its midpoint. We stayed in a hotel called Els Jardins De La Martana which has the best view of this bridge. This hotel was really the highlight of our stay. Since it was off-season, we had the whole place to ourselves!

The hotel has a lovely bar and restaurant downstairs which is run independently. The food was fantastic and so was the view of the bridge. I would highly recommend this place if you are looking for a quiet lazy stay. When we got there, the bridge leading up to the hotel was under repair, so we had to take a big detour to finally make it. Therefore, do call up in advance and find out if the Google way is clear. Most people here don’t speak English,¬†so one needs to be prepared for the same.

Besalu offers various activities nearby, like hot air ballooning, trekking and walking trails. All you need to do is drive down to Olot (20kms). In the summer, Besalu is very vibrant. The streets are filled with performances and historical characters: jugglers, musicians, members of the court, artisans,warriors on horseback,…. Street theatre, workshops, a school for knights, a medieval market, a donkey ride for small kids…

My verdict- Els Jardins De La Martana was exactly what we wanted and expected! The view is to die for and the hospitality was unbelievable! We also loved their dog Congo ūüôā

My rating- 4.5/5

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¶