Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Travel Calendar

On the heels of travel-filled 2011, this year was a mixed bag. I kept up with the previous year's momentum in the first half of 2012. As the saying goes, "All good things must come to an end"; so did my carefree travelling.

I ended my 15-month sabbatical in June, and, having had to set up my independent work, I've not been able to travel since. Before you wonder how my calendar looks full without travelling, I want to clarify that it wasn't as much travelling as I'd like; I did manage to sneak in a few trips, though. Writing, unfortunately, took a huge back-seat. Day-dreaming about my sparse trips kept me going.

As 2012 draws to a close, I hope the next year brings more new experiences everybody’s way, more new friends and more places to fall for. And, I hope to get back to writing my stories, which I've so missed. Here’s where 2012 saw me:

The mystic Baba Budan certainly chose well, when he decided to plant coffee here. Hill-dappled & cool Chikmagalur has perfect weather to grow coffee in and grow lazy in. When the weather proposes, why dispose? I suitably lolled about, in an estate aptly called 'Linger'. I walked through the estate, spotted birds, trekked and enjoyed the local cuisine. For those not inclined to laze, Chikmagalur is surrounded by dense forests, trekking routes and pilgrimage spots.

BR Hills
With trees flowering in full bloom in February, the forest was at its best, as if bedecked with flaming gold & orange jewellery. Hours spent driving through this tiny forest, in the company of friends, made this a fun-filled trip. I also had a pee-in-the-pant moment, when a herd of elephants blocked our route into the forest and sent a vehicle ahead of us scampering back in reverse gear. Luckily, after some wait, they moved down-hill and we could move on.

Kaziranga national park, Nameri tiger reserve and Hoollongappar gibbon sanctuary
This was a ten-day trip to a part of the country I had not visited before. Here, the moody Brahmaputra heaves his way through pristine, verdant countryside, creating vast flood-plains. People and animals both venerate and are intimidated by this river, which is this region's boon as well as bane, due to periodic flooding. For me, sighting the one-horned Rhinoceros, the Hoolock Gibbon and rafting down the Jia Bharali River looking for birds were highlights of the trip. See my photo-essay here:

If the phrase 'bummed around' were to literally mean 'seat one's posterior around the place', that is what would summarise this trip to Coorg. A bunch of friends at a friend's coffee plantation, this holiday was for eating and lounging. We moved only to go to the dining table or to reach out for more of the yummy food. Ridden by guilt, we did spend a few hours practising star-trail photography, amply aided by Coorg's unpolluted & clear skies.
The last bastion of Asiatic lions, Gir allowed me my first ever view of a lion outside the zoo. The hot April week took me through shrivelled, brown forests where lions camouflaged easily. I was rewarded with sightings of a handsome young male, a battle-worn elder marking his territory and a lioness with her daughter, amongst other birds and animals. The excitement continued as our driver almost had us miss our flight back and we had to endure a manic, movie chase-style drive through old Ahmedabad's dusty, narrow markets and alleys. Read about my Gir trip:

Tadoba in the scorching summer heat - madness or not? My apprehensions melted (pun intended) when I set foot into this beautiful forest. At the risk of sounding clich├ęd, it was love at first sight; suddenly, the heat didn't matter anymore. Leaving Tadoba was very difficult; after ten days, it had begun to feel like home. I finally saw my first ever tiger at Tadoba. When I wasn't seeing tigers, I had numerous other birds & mammals to keep me company.

Read about a trip when I almost spotted my first Tiger:

I arrived here from Tadoba at the ungodly hour of 2 a.m. and went on safaris for two days. An admirer of all flora and fauna, I set out eagerly in this forest, said to have inspired Rudyard Kipling's 'Jungle book'. Pench had other plans for me, though, and revealed nothing to me except langurs, vultures and a kingfisher. Not even deer or many other birds. Sigh!

Accessed by driving through winding roads & moist rain-forests, Agumbe welcomed me with non-stop rain. They don't call it the wettest place in South India for nothing. The monsoons are a good time to spot frogs and, if you are lucky, the King Cobra. A wet weekend spent without electricity (even at night) and an abundance of leeches, it took me a week after return to get the dampness out of everything, including myself. My camera, which had succumbed to the humidity and moisture within the first few hours at Agumbe, took a couple of weeks to recover, though.

The only time in life when I spent almost an entire holiday sleeping! Getting away from a particularly stressful and sleep-deprived time at work, Pondicherry was the perfect antidote. A fabulous drive from Bangalore set the pace for the trip. I'd also booked myself into a resort at the outskirts, a rarity for somebody who loves home-stays and B&Bs. Right by the beach, I bummed around, enjoying the sea, the walks and the food. I set out to Pondicherry one day, to show my other-half the beach promenade, the French & Tamil quarters and Auroville. But, languor forced me right back to my beach and my sleep. I relented; sometimes, you need these breaks where you do absolutely nothing.

It's close enough to Salem to be treated by locals as a part of their city, and, close enough to Bangalore to make it a 'day-trip' option for some. So, what was I doing staying here for three days? Even the hotel staff was surprised.

How many of us have not 'seen' the very places we live in? In Bangalore for 9 years now, I’d not yet fully explored the city. I decided to remedy that this year. Bangalore has the dubious distinction of not having "anything to do"; I set out to find if that's true. And I must admit, the city did have me stumped for a bit. But, soon, I discovered that the city's attractions were not 'in your face'; you had to dig deep to enjoy it. From temples to parks to odd palaces and museums to pubs, I explored Bangalore and also contributed to a small online guide about the city.
Read this for information I put together about Bangalore: