Taj Bekal, Kerala

If you want to cut off from the world and just enjoy a weekend of luxury and pampering, then this is the place for you. Taj Resorts & Spa, Bekal.

Bekal is a 2hr drive from Mangalore. It has a beach and the backwaters making it an idyllic spot to relax. The sea is rough and not the most suitable for swimming. However the sunsets make up for that.

We were given a traditional welcome on arrival with cold towels and a drink. The hotel accommodated our early check-in request and we were personally escorted to room 819. This was the superior room with a lovely balcony.

The steward explained everything about the hotel and guided us on the activities and services. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room. The interiors are done tastefully and have a lot of traditional yet contemporary touches giving it a lot of personality

The bathroom was even better! It had a large bathtub, with two showers, two sinks and the WC. The balcony had a swing cum bed, overlooking the backwaters.

There is plenty to do here for two nights. There is a swimming pool, and kayaking, yoga, spa, indoor games, gym, paint ball, bar, restaurants, library. Enough for two nights.

The spa has services ranging from INR 2500 to INR 12000.

The average cost per meal is roughly INR 2000 for two.

The best thing about this property is the staff. Just like any Taj, this one also has an eye for detail and every person we met was a manifestation of that philosophy. They were helpful, courteous and always preemptive of our needs. It really made us feel special, despite the resort being fully booked. The staff never ignored a single guest.

The breakfast was to die for! Probably the best spread I have ever seen in a long time and I travel a lot! Once again the staff was on their toes and managed the crowd beautifully.

It’s the little things that make Taj, the Taj.

1. When you remove the room key, the plug points stay on, so that your phone can continue charging!

2. If you have an issue, it is addressed almost immediately with no reminders needed.

3. The check-in happenes in the room and not at the reception unlike other hotels.

4. You might see chefs playing with kids and interacting like friends with guests. Very special!

My verdict: Taj Bekal is special in every way. It will make you miss it!

My rating: 5/5

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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 🙂 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 🙂 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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Varkala, Kerala, India

Kerala is truly God’s own country. I have been there more times than I can count and each time it is a new experience. Varkala was recommended to me by a mallu friend (and I have many), as a lazy laid back destination. And I can tell you for a fact that he was right!

We made a 3 night 4 day plan to Varkala from 30th Sept to 3rd Oct 2017. This was just before the season begins. This place hosts a lot of German and Spanish tourists after 15th of Oct each year. We got very good rates, both for the flight and the hotel because we booked in advance so this was gonna be a budget trip.

I have to admit that initially I was a bit skeptical about a 3 night plan. What would we do there? Will it get tedious to be there for 4 days? Would 2 nights have been enough? There were very few other places to see nearby as per google and hence my concerns.

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(Varkala Cliff)- Instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

We flew to Trivandrum and then drove to our property Krishnatheeram Holy Ayur Beach Resort. It is just a 1 hour drive from the airport to Varkala. As soon as we set foot into the property and walked up the cliff, we knew even a week would not be enough!

Varkala is like Goa, 20 yrs ago. It is off-beat, pristine and quiet. Crowd is limited and very civilized. The views are out of this world and even puts the best beaches to shame if you ask me! A hidden gem that leaves you gaping at every turn. There is a pathway made all along the Varkala cliff which ensures you don’t miss any corner of the spectacular views of the endless coastline. Bars, restaurants and shops are spread all along the walkway. The beach is famous for surfing and attracts people from all over the world!

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(Krishnatheeram Resort)- Instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

I chose Krishnatheeram Resort because it was right next to the beach and had good reviews. Varakala also has a Taj Gateway, but I was not convinced about the location. It was not beach facing. Other than the Taj, there are no other popular chain of hotels here. You have to pick from the local list on the map.

Having spent 4 days going up and down the cliff and checking out all other hotel options first hand, I think we made the right choice! This property is located in the north side of the cliff and has access to the best and most private beach. South beach is more crowded and attracts a lot of locals who come to visit the Janardanaswamy temple.

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The beach facing swimming pool was a great attraction as well, which I didn’t find in any other hotel on the cliff. We also had the best seats in the house as far as the sunsets were concerned. People staying in other resorts would walk over to our side to get a clear view.

This hotel also has a yoga studio facing the beach. Doing yoga early morning, facing the waters was so relaxing! I absolutely loved it! The AC Rooms were very basic yet comfortable. Do not expect luxury in this part of the country.

The only issue was that the resort did not serve alcohol. However, the restaurant next door did. So it was not such a big problem.

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(Beach in front of the hotel)- Instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

The first day just goes in absorbing the raw beauty and simplicity of this place. The fishermen here still live such simple lives and use such basic tools to fish. It really takes you back in time! And makes you appreciate and respect the fish served on your plate each day.

Next day we explored the south cliff and just walked around.  Some of the restaurants and pubs have fantastic locations – like the Tibetan Kitchen. The food was very average but we still landed up sitting there for over 2 hours 🙂 Each bar has a fixed rate for beer and mocktails. And everything is VERY STRONG! Mocktails are just INR200/- and are more potent that a tequila shot 🙂

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Some of the better restaurants are:

Caffe Italiano, Cafe Del Mar, Milky Way, Puccini Lala and Rock and Roll Bar.

Varkala also offers a range of Ayurveda massages. Rates range from 500-1500 per massage. The shopping is quite decent as well.

Third day we hired a bike and went around exploring the nearby sight seeing destinations. It was fun, but we soon realized that Varkala was the best place to be.

Places to see around Varkala:

  • Kappil beach- very rough beach. You can go kayaking in the backwaters there
  • Ajengo fort- very overrated. Can be avoided
  • Shivagiri- We didn’t go because we are into temples

 

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(Anjengo fort)

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(Varkala shopping)

Last day, we did yoga, had a lavish breakfast, took a dip in the pool, and then went into the sea. After that we took a short nap, had a lazy lunch. We checked out at 4pm and left for dinner to Leela Kovalam (1.5hrs). We caught the last flight back to Bangalore at 10pm

Overall budget: INR35,000 for 3 nights and 4 days for 2 people

Flight: 5,000 return from Bangalore per person

Room: 3,500 with breakfast

Bike hire- 350 per day

Airport transfer- 1,600 one way

Meals- Average 300 per head

Drinks- Average 200 per drink

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Varkala is a place that will linger on in your mind for a while after you say goodbye. The perfect destination to unwind and enjoy a good conversation. We will surely be back there soon!

My verdict: Krishnatheeram Holy Ayur Beach Resort is a very good choice if you are looking for a basic stay in the best location!

My rating: 3.5/5 because the roof of the room was dripping on the last day. And because there was no alcohol. However location is a 5/5. I would book this place again!

See more photos on my Instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

 

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.

 

 

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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 😦