Emotions – Journey to self awareness

3 Jul

The face is the reflection of the mind. If you are angry, joyful or afraid – it is very visible on your face. So what is Anger, Joy & Fear – 3 key emotions. Which brings us to the question – What is an Emotion?

A very simple explanation would be – Its a physiological reflex reaction triggered by perceptions in the brain. 

And what forms these perceptions?  A lot it comes from evolution. Man has been traced to existence 1M years before Christ – Agriculture is traced no more than 25,000 BC. What this means is that man has lived as a nomad/hunter/wanderer for 975,000 years – that is 40 times longer than he has been settled down as an agriculturalist. And a lot of our emotions come from this background. Those 975,000 years survival was key – and your reflexes were all tuned towards survival.

Emotions are thus influenced by 3 things

  • Our Basic Personality – DNA , Soul we inherited ….
  • Values & Beliefs – a lot of that determined by surroundings , culture
  • Our Behaviour – Is a function of the first two

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Our basic personality is hard coded and its very difficult to change that – but we can definitely change our Values & Beliefs and our Basic personality over an extended period of time. For e.g. Crying is good – it relieves stress but in most cultures the belief is that men cannot cry and its OK for women to cry. Similiarly women are not supposed to express their anger openly. These are beliefs that we can start to change with our children.

Changing our Values/Belief and thereby our Personality is a long journey – and thats where the importance of Self Awareness comes in. And this is the link between Emotional Intelligence and Spirituality. As Ramana Maharishi stated – the journey starts when you ask the Question – Who am I ?

A self aware person is in control of his emotions – there is a big difference between “being in control” and “suppressing” –  the former is good the latter is bad. Anything that is suppressed will come out violently like a volcano. Most health problems are a cause of suppressed emotions – the whole schema of Psychosomatic illness stems from suppressing your feelings and emotions.

The Daniel Goleman model talks of this extensively and explains the core components of Emotional Intelligence under two heads

  • Self Management – Self Awareness, Self Regulation & Motivation
  • Ability to relate to Others – Empathy & Social Skills

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The first step you need to take is to acknowledge that YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for your emotions – blaming others, the surroundings, the environment, destiny, fate – living in self pity is not going to help.

Lets take a simple example – Mr X is paranoid about being punctual – he gets wild if people are not on time. Who is responsible for Mr X being angry ? Most of us would say its because the other person was not punctual – but the reality is you cannot change others. If Mr X wants to be happy – he needs to change his belief system  from being punctual is a commandment to its Ok if you are late.

Self Awareness helps you to peel the onion and get to the depth of understanding what are your core values and beliefs which you stick to – and take a real hard look at them – see if the are the cause of anxieties and slowly start working on letting go of them.

Emotions are nothing but an energy – we are all billions of electrons spinning around – we are all waves. Anger is an energy like a tornado, a smile and a radiant face is an energy wave like a breeze in a  beautiful park – you can decide which energy wave you want to be , a murderous storm or a pleasant breeze in the park. Even in anger you can be aggressive , assertive or passive – being assertive shows you are in control of your emotions.

Positive energy creates more positive energy – which bring us to the topic of Strokes. The whole world is hungry for a compliment, a few words of praise – and the whole world is stingy – it costs nothing – But we are full of criticism and struggle to compliment. Facebook operates on the concept of positive Strokes – a Like is nothing but a positive stroke. When a child comes running and says I cam 3rd in class – you say OK but who came 1st & 2nd. A key thing to being happy is to be more open with compliments and positive strokes – it does make the world a better place and what goes out will soon come back to make you happy.

Research has shown that in high performance teams the Ratio of positive to Negative comments is 6 : 1 , the tipping points is 3 : 1 . This is not just at work but can be practised at home also. Everyone needs a positive stroke – so don’t be stingy.

Finally there are a set of 5 common drivers around which almost all of can be bracketed – you can always be a mix and match of a few but there will be one driver that is your main trait.  Drivers give us an insight into peoples behaviours and help us to build relationships more effectively. Based on the work of Taibi Kahler there is a test by which you can measure your main drivers.

The 5 Drivers – Which one are you 

  • Be Perfect – “I have to square up the blocks accurately” – perfect accuracy is very important
  • Hurry Up –  ” I want to this on time” – Speed is very important
  • Please people – “I will look around to see who is watching me” – Don’t take strong stands want everyone to be happy with them
  • Be Strong – ” I will sit on the floor rather than the table” – as if discomfort gives it added benefits
  • Try Hard  – ” I will try it out horizontally first” – as if the extra effort was worthwhile

In summary – its good to reflect and invest in your self development. Reading books , discussing with friends is good – but take one more step. I did that and attended a wonderful 2 day training on Emotional Intelligence conducted by Aruna (She runs a Training company called Navgati – http://www.navgati.in/team.html) – in 2 days you get to learn so much from someone who is experienced and well read and is a wonderful facilitator. If you are at the right frame of mind a training like this can help you accelerate on your journey to self awareness

 

 

 

Shreyas Retreat – Bangalore’s best kept secret

2 Jul

About 50 Km and 90 Min drive away from the chaos,mad rush, choked potholed roads of Bangalore lies a bit of paradise. Shreyas Retreat is an amazing  25 acre property located at Nelamangala on the Tumkur road. (You will have the last mile problem in locating it – so keep the phone number handy to call. Google Maps identifies the place but does not work)

I am always on the lookout for these unique classy nature resorts and I am surprised that Shreyas has never come up in any search or has  been mentioned by anyone till date – like they say the worlds best things are not advertised. It was purely by chance after I had made my booking at Ananda that I came to know of this place from a Yoga Instructor at my gym – one look at the website and I cancelled Ananda – No Regrets.

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Shreyas is a sprawling property spread across 25 acres. Its verdant and green, well maintained, lots of trees , a touch of rustiness – its natural and alive. The minute you walk in and spend a few minutes you realise that this place has the right energy balance – its just perfect.

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It has only 12 rooms – 8 garden cottages , 3 pool side rooms and a 3 Bedroom cottage. The rooms are large, airy, lots of sunlight – the bathroom is large and extends to a nice open courtyard (Hot water 24 by 7) . The Decor was to my liking –  classy and rustic (not glitzy and overdone). The Garden Cottages have a nice verandah. Rooms have AC / Fan / Wi Fi / Good Lighting / Kettle / A Safe / Nice study Table / Decent Storage – No TV.

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Its a Yoga retreat and they have two Yoga Halls – an outdoor open hall and an indoor one that doubles up as a meditation hall / meeting room – They also have meditation huts in a few other places. The unique thing – they conduct Yoga and chanting sessions even for their staff – lucky staff !

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The group yoga sessions happen at 6.30 AM and at 4 PM – the quality of the Yoga Teachers is outstanding and the practise is very energising.  I started my day at 4.30 AM with meditation  till 6.15 and then did the group session from 6.30 to 8.10 AM – all those twists, stretches and Surya Namaskars – I was famished for breakfast. And I was not dissapointed

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Food is pure Veg (No Eggs) – very healthy and tasty – served in style. This is the type of healthy breakfast you must have every day. Lunch and dinner is also simple and homely – here is a sample menu of what I was served for dinner. All the food is freshly prepared , can be customised and is very very tasty. Also not that there is no liquor served , and consumption is also not allowed. Food is served for breakfast , lunch . dinner – set menu. No room service – no restaurant where you can order for Chai and Pakoda at 4 on a  rainy day.

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The Spa is small but very well maintained and offers both Swedish and Ayurvedic therapies. Its calm and serene and the breeze wafting through the bamboo curtains ads to the charm. The quality of therapists is best in class and its money well spent. Spa Therapies are not very cheap – a 60 min session can put you back by Rs 3600. But the good thing – the 60 min session actually stretches to 75 min or more.

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Another well maintained WOW spot is the 3 acre organic garden – it grows a variety of fruits  (Jackfruit, Mangoes, Chickoo, Custard Apple, Jamun, Sweet lime) many vegetables (Beans, Variety of Gourds, Brinjal, Okra, Papaya and Spinach) and lots of herbs (Basil, Mint, Rosemary, Lemon Grass, Brahmi, Triphala, Borage etc) – I love natural farms and spent a long time in this place

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Adding to the rustic element is the sound of a Train chugging away once every 2 hrs – the rail track is not very far away and this adds to the charm of a holiday.

What else – well a few more things

1. A nice cobbled stone pathway / track around the property for long walks or jogs

2. A beautiful swimming pool and a Jacuzzi

3. An Open air amphi theatre and a movie auditorium – very well stocked with DVD’s

4. A Small conference room that can host 20

5. A well stocked Library

6. Wi Fi that works across the Resort – Excellent 3G network also

7. Pets not allowed ( Thats sad – I am sure the dogs cooped up in apartments would have loved the nature and open spaces as much as us)

Which brings me to the question that many may ask – Are children allowed ?

Unfortunately the answer is YES – you come to a place like Shreyas to unwind and connect with yourself. To Recharge and find out answers to some basic questions. Its best to come alone or with a close friend / spouse / soulmate.

I say unfortunately – because although Kids are allowed they may not have much to keep themselves busy. And the last thing you want in a property like this are pesky brats shouting and demanding attention. So if your family is a highly evolved one and your kids enjoy soulitude and can manage without TV and a stream of activities – please do come over – else figure out an alternative solution.

So who is the ideal Target Audience – I met a few people – a lady from Turkey who is here for 17 days , and another lady who is here on her fourth trip. Thats the target audience – people who want to spend time with nature , be on their own and enjoy nature, healthy food and world class hospitality. Its not a family destination – not a weekend binge party for your 40th birthday

Not advertised but the place is pretty busy most of the time – I was lucky. The weather was perfect – no rains – only 3 occupants including me. The service was perfect. Really am not able to think of a single thing that was not perfect – everything happened on time, service was soft, warm and classy all through my stay.

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Will I come back – yes I will definitely come back – the cost is steep and it does pinch to pay $ 300/night (Inclusive of all food / yoga sessions etc) – but thats the price mankind will have to pay for having messed up with nature. Two nights in Shreyas can make you feel fresh and energised –  no wonder the rishis in the himalaya by the sacred rivers become so evolved – living all their lives in this setting – nature , soulitude and less people – thats what you pay for – and sadly we seem to be hunting for these spots and recreating them in enclaves after spoiling them on mother earth. Its worth having a debate on what man has achieved in the last 50 years – is it a boon or a curse.

One more thing (As Steve Jobs always said in his memorable presentations) – Shreyas is owned by a NRI Business Magnate but is managed by Relais & Chateaux – this is a global hospitality company that runs some amazing resorts across the world. The standard they deliver is outstanding – and I am sure the experience they deliver will be too.

Here is a list of the other properties they have in India / Sri Lanka & Maldives – I have not been to any – but I now have a list to get working on.

  • Shakti 360 Leti – Uttrakhand
  • Samode Safari Lodge – MP
  • The Serai – Jaisalmer
  • Mihir Garh – Rajasthan
  • Sher Bagh – Rajasthan
  • The Malabar House – Kerala
  • Niraamaya Surya Samudra – Kerala
  • Purity – Kerala
  • Soneva Fushi – Maldives
  • Ceylon Tea Trails – Sri Lanka
  • Cape Welligama – Sri Lanka

Some More Photos

Front room of the 3 bedroom Cottage 

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Dinner Table by the poolside

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Lilies and more greenery

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Toasted bed with Scrambled Tofu – tastes like Bhurjee – must try at home

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A small neat temple in the premises of Shreyas 

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A Nice wooden sculpture of Rama – Sita – Hanuman , Has Thai features 

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The Movie auditorium 

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A sample day at Shreyas 

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Hop Skip & Jump – 3 Key Phases in your life

4 Jun

Have you seen how in a marathon all the runners jostle together as a crowd for some time and then a few start taking the lead. My observation is that is exactly what happens in life – and I have seen three distinct phases in which it happens.

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The first break out happens when you are 13 years old – in Class 8 – 9. Till then most kids and their parents are not overly stressed and life is easy. But come Class 8 – Class 9 you see a bunch of kids suddenly topping the charts consistently. Their attitude changes, they become more mature, serious and studious , and the friends circle also changes. Its crucial to observe this in your kids and the last point of the company they keep makes a big impact. So help them be connected with the right circle of friends.

Class 8 – 12 is a very crucial phase in India. In a highly competitive country – where you don’t get too many chances acing your 12th is a very important phase to stay ahead of the millions. There was a time when intelligent kids made it without too much of hard work – but today you need brains and slog to succeed. And all the kids who have done so well and bask in the glory of their 12th results will vouch for this. As they stand at the doorstep of a good college – they have opened the doors to a good education ,  smart peers, and an advantage in terms of a getting a good break in their careers. Yes there are many kids and parents with $$ power who avoid the mad rush of the Indian rat race and decide to take SAT and apply to US Colleges. A College degree in the US is 200,000 $ (1.2 Crores) Vs 10 – 15 Lacs in India in the best of institutes. And the best gift your kid can give you to is to do well and get an admission to good Indian College.

The second break out happens when you get your first job. You are around 22 – 23 now. Of the 14 M graduates in India – a few thousand will bag the best of jobs putting them at a significant advantage over the others.

Graduates Lifting Mortarboards --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Graduates Lifting Mortarboards — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Like a good school , college and community a good 1st job is so crucial in life. A respected company where you can learn and build your corporate values. Once you get a good break hang in there for some time – at least 5 years. Companies are always on the lookout for the smart ones and a few years later a few will slowly but surely stand out in the crowd and move faster up the Corporate ladder. Its hard work, Competency , Pleasant personality and a bit of YES Boss Culture that can get you on the fast track. You can stay in the same company or move jobs – always keeping an eye on being relevant in the job market and ensuring that you are not missing the next big wave ( IT, BPO, Telecom , eCommerce – we have seen so many waves in India since the 90’s)

The third break comes around the mid to late 30’s – when you make it to the big league. You start to run a  business or become a Sr VP or a Country Manager. You made it in the rat race – you have hit the 1m $ salary in India , you own a few mansions, you have a jet setting life, you are disappointed when the airlines does not upgrade you from Business Class to 1st Class and your holidays are in exotic locations globally.

But for achieving all of this – remember that the 1st breakout is important. That gets you started. I see my nephew who was brilliant and worked hard for 4 years –  he now stands at the altar of the best colleges in India – his career is set. I also see my daughter and some of her friends in Class 9 – who are gifted with brilliance – but are yet to push on the accelerator of hard work and diligence. iPad, iPhone, You Tube and a giggly time pass friends circle threatens to block their path. Should we be strict and disciplinarian or should we allow them to live the life of the current era – there are pros and cons to both – I am not sure which is the correct path.

I hope like any parent that this stage will pass and the kids will leverage all the resources at their disposal and get set to breakaway in the marathon of life.

Tamara Coorg – A Critical Appreciation

18 May

I am always on the lookout for unique nature resorts – Ever since I first saw the Ad of Tamara Coorg in a Jet Airways In flight magazine a year back I have been wanting to visit – which I finally did last weekend.

I always pronounced TAMARA the american way – the way it was spelt – only while booking did I realise that its pronounced as if it were a Tamil or Malayalam word (Tamara in the S Indian languages means Lotus) – and Tamara is indeed a beautiful nature resort blooming in the southern part of Coorg.

Getting There 

The resort is about 275 Km from Bangalore – takes you 6 1/2 hrs on a  normal day. Bangalore – Mysore road is busy and you will at best manage 45 Km/hr – average speed – getting out of Bangalore and navigating past the towns of Kengeri, Bidadi, Chennapatna, Maddur, Mandya and Srirangapatna – does take its toll – this road desperately needs an upgrade to a Tolled National Highway – its a shame that 135 Km from Bangalore to Mysore takes almost 3 1/2 hrs.  After Srirangapatna you take the bypass from Ranganthittu (12 Km of patchy Road) – and then you zip along the Mysore Mangalore highway all the way past Hunsur. Take the fork towards Virajpet (You avoid Kushalnagar and Medikeri). The Roads are in excellent condition all the way to the resort. And you pass through some forests – if lucky you may spot some elephants.  We left Bangalore on a Fri at 11 AM and reached the Resort comfortably at 5.30 PM – with a short 30 min lunch break. After 14 years we were on a  trip without kids – I was driving on a long trip after many years – and it was a pleasant difference to be in a car on a long trip with no kids.  There are signs all along the route from Hunsur so locating the resort is not a problem – no last mile problems.

The Property

The property is amazing – its almost a structural design masterpiece. The resort is on a hill –  landscape design is by an Indonesian and its built on the concept of balance between man, nature & God. The architect is from Kerala and between the two they have indeed created a magnificent and unique luxury resort. The total property is 178 Acres – Resort 9 Acres, 10 Acres of Cardamom plantations, 125 acres of Coffee Plantations and the rest are thick forests. You can smell the rich bio diversity – and at night the crickets and cicadas create a ruckus while early morning the birds and the woodpeckers awaken you with their chirping and tweets.

The 52 Cottages are built on the style of Alpine Chalets – and they come in 3 forms – Luxurious , Suites and Superior Luxury (2 Bedroom units with a Jacuzzi) . Each one is unique with 100% privacy, lots of light and lovely views. The Cottages are built all along the hill – you drive 4 Km uphill from the main road  to the reception and then the battery operated cars take you to your rooms that start at 1132 metres. We stayed at a suite that had 1 bedroom, 1 dining / hall and a large open patio – all of this mounted on stilts on the hill. Very aesthetically done. The interiors were plush and luxurious. 2 LCD TV’s, Hot water, Excellent Beds / Sofas – nothing to complain about. (If I force myself to be critical –  I would have liked a seating with a backrest in the patio where I could comfortably sit crosslegged for my early morning meditation and maybe a little lesser furniture in the front room and a yoga mat in the room)

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The distance from the first room to the last would be about 2 Km – so pick a room thats centrally located and not very far from the Central complex that houses the restaurant & bar. This is a beautiful complex – with one large Restaurant – The Falls that actually overlooks a waterfall which is full of gushing water during the rains. The well stocked bar – Deck and a large spacious Conference Room – Windows – (My first thought was that working in Apple I may struggle to justify a conference for my team here if the conference room is called Windows) –  the interiors are solid and classy.

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Food is served in the FALLS – the only restaurant – a large one which has a dance floor made of glass. Variety of food is good but the taste is just about OK – Not WOW. The Sambar lacked salt and tanginess, the Chutney lacked spice , the Rassogolla tasted canned and old, and the Medu Wada tasted like it has been refried 3 times. From Indian – Continental – Chinese – Local Kodava Cusiine it was all there – but the food was a  3 /4 star hotel standard – not 5 star. Eye for detail was missing – the table did not have sugar sachets, you had to remind people to fill your glass with water , tea and coffees was self service – Nett nett food and service lacked the quality and class one would expect in a  luxury resort.

That was a general feeling I had on service – good soft spoken people – but they lack the pro-activeness and engagement that I have seen in Ananda Spa, Orange County, Windflower Mashobra or most of the Oberoi properties. When you are walking the battery car passes by but almost always they never stop to ask you for a lift. The person staffing the reception at 7 AM looks haggard and sleepy  – small things but these are the small things that transforms you from good to great. Maybe the place needs a GM from the Oberois who can inculcate the right culture & training. (Having stayed in almost all the global hotel chains extensively The Oberoi to me is still the gold standard on service)

Moving onto activities – we enjoyed 3 activities at the Resort – a Yoga session, a long Plantation walk around the property and a lovely early morning 3 hr trek.

The Yoga session was good – but not great. The session was to start at 7 AM  – we were told to report at 6.45AM which we did punctually – but the instructor came at 7.10AM and by the time we walked to the Yoga Platform and started it was 7.20AM. Punctuality is in my blood and I get bugged if my morning Yoga session is delayed. The Teacher was a very good practitioner – a young student doing his Phd in Yoga but not trained to be a teacher. He spoke so much during the session that I felt like telling him quieten down please. The Yoga Platform is in a great location – beneath a Rudraksha tree with a small stream gurgling along. Its hard concrete – open. I would have liked this to be beautiful designed pagoda with wooden / granite floor ( again I go back to the Yoga Hall at the Ananda Spa that was beautiful) that could fit well with the overall architecture of the resort. A small point – the Yoga mats were 4 mm thick – on hard concrete that makes it uncomfortable – would have been good to have 8 mm mats. (I used two mats one on top of the other)

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The plantation trek was nice – the guide was very knowledgeable and told us all the facts about the Resort, history of Coffee, Spices etc… showed us some nice picnic spots, explained the Rudraksh trees and helped us identify numerous flora and fauna (including a unique All Spice plant) we had heard about but not seen.

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We ended the walk at the Verandah – a centre which houses a store, the evening snack place and some books for reading. It also has the demo centre for making coffee. You actually get to select coffee beans, roast it and grind it before making your own cup of fresh Coorg Coffee – a lovely educational experience that we enjoyed.

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The next day morning we headed for a trek at 6.30 AM – a 14 km long trek to a small hill called Ballayatre. Took us about 3 hrs – a lovely trek – medium grade. Fortunately it was not raining – but the previous days rains had made the terrain slippery. Climbing, slipping, forests, leeches, flies – stories of snake bites, pug marks – all of that made the trek indeed very interesting and the view from the top was the reward. Our guide Lokesh  an ex serviceman was absolutely superb.

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We were back from the trek by 9.30 AM – had a relaxed breakfast and were ready to check out at 10.30 AM. Our first holiday after 14 years with no kids – day 1 was good and relaxed but by day 2 we started missing the kids. We left Tamara at 11 AM and were back in Bangalore at 5.30 PM.

Other Pointers 

  • Rates at the resort are all inclusive – no extra charges for breakfast / lunch / dinner / treks / Free Wi Fi (they better be when you are charged almost $ 400 / night)
  • The swimming pool and Gym is under construction – should be opening soon
  • The Spa looked OK – we did not try it out.
  • A Badminton and Tennis Court – looked like the Yoga Platform – solid cement – not fitting in with the ambience of the resort.
  • We did not see any foreigners – mainly young couples probably on a  honeymoon. (Rich young couples – I could never have imagined spending this money when I was 30)
  • The Resort opened in 2012 – so its spanking new – excellent condition
  • All the water used in the resort comes from natural springs – I was told that during the rains the place is full of streams and falls – that will be beautiful indeed.
  • They get power from the State electricity board but the power goes frequently and it switches to generator supply
  • Talacauvery is just 30 Km away – we stayed indoors – we have been to Coorg many times and avoided the Abbey Falls, Raja Garden, Tibetan Monastery …… regular touristy get aways.
  • The Bittangla Golf course is not far away
  • Kids below 12 not allowed – thats good , at times it nice to be in a place where you don’t have naughty toddlers screaming and messing up the place spoiling the harmony and tranquility.
  • Oct to May are the best times to Travel, June – Sep heavy rains

In Summary – lovely property – good break – but expensive – the advantage is being close to Bangalore there are no flight charges. I have been to many amazing properties – I felt that The Tamara was missing something – let me call it a personality, soul, spirit – thats something the people who run it need to think about. The staff are good but many are not passionate – they are just going about their jobs (Like the folks at Infosys / Wipro) – which reminds me that this property is owned and developed by Shibulal and his daughter – and its great that they have invested their hard earned money in creating a memorable getaway for people like us so thank you for a nice relaxed break.

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Final Leg – Langkawi

19 Apr

Langkawi is a small Island located 1 hr flight from KL. Our Flight landed by 9 PM – and were in our hotel by 9.45 PM – its a 30 min drive. The Westin Langkawi is a wonderful property – located close to the Jetty and the Fair Mall its a beautiful property with excellent service. Rates are reasonable – our rooms were priced at $160 / night (April is off season , May the rains start – peak season is from Oct to Feb) – rates for food was also very reasonable – 1/3rd of what the Westin Gurgaon charges. It has 3 large pools – the main pool , a kid pool and a rock garden pool. A Lovely Spa called the Heavenly Spa. A centre for water sports and a Kid Activity Centre. 3 Restaurants – one with live music at night at the lobby level. A beautiful floating Pagoda in the sea where you can host private parties.  All +ves for the Westin and I am glad we chose this over Datai and Andaman – these are nice properties but located at the north west corner of the island very far away. The only challenge at the Westin was the beach – it was OK – Sand was grainy and coarse and the sea was far away exposing marshy rocks –  no comparison to the beach at Sheraton Krabi or  the Park Hyatt Goa.

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A tropical duty free island – its a UNESCO Geo Park. A small island (but 3 times as large as Singapore) – you can cover this comfortably in 3 days. Here is how we paced ourselves

Day – 1

Morning session 9 – 2 , was a drive to the Cable Car, A trek to a waterfall (not much water this time of the year) – and a drive past some beautiful golf courses and a quick stop at the Datai , a 5 min halt at a small but very clean Indian Temple and  lunch at the Indian Arabic Restaurant at Fairview Mall.

Cable Car

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View from the top of the Cable Car Ride

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Elephant Ride (Same areas as Cable Park – they also have a 6D movie)

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Day – 1 : Second Half : 2.30 to 5.30 PM  High speed drive past Mangroves – Kite Feeding , Bat Caves.

The speed boat travels at 90 Kmph – zips past miles and miles of mangroves – and on the way we crossed an area for kite feeding and entered caves full of bats. The drive reminds you of Phantom and the Denkali isles – just that the river is free of Piranha. What added to the fun was sudden rain as passing clouds drenched us for a few minutes.

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Day – 2 was spent entirely in Snorkelling / Diving / Swimming – a Yacht ride to an island – 1 hr away.

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Anvi was brave enough to try deep sea diving and she did a great job of it – not once but twice going as deep as 50 feet into the deep blue sea – she claims to have seen amazing flora and fauna including a wide variety of coral reefs.

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We were back by 5 PM and spent the evening in the lovely hotel having a peaceful dinner and watching the sunset over the beautiful island. Sun Rise at 7 AM snd sets by 7.30 PM.

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Day – 3 our flight was in the evening at 7.30 – so we had the whole day to ourselves – but we had covered almost all of Langkawi – barring the wildlife park. Its a 20 min drive from the Westin and we reached at 10 – a small but homely wildlife centre it houses amazing birds and a few animals – no tigers / elephants / leopards etc. Kids love the place – its neat , clean and very homely – being off season was almost empty – and that added to the charm.

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The place is full of beaches and water sports activities – so if thats your interest its all over the place. I believe there are some great treks to the rich forests – but all that needs more time.

We check out at 2 and head for a late lunch – and then we leave the hotel by 5 PM for our 7.30 PM flight to Bangalore Via KL.

That brings to an end one more amazing 10 day holiday. SE Asia is beautiful, affordable, efficient – and there so much more to see. I can now start planning my next holiday and I have a big list to choose from – Maldives , Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Bhutan , Bali …… let the good times continue.

All the photos of the Blogs / FB were taken on the amazing iPhone 6 – now there is no need for a camera the iPhone 6 beats most amateur cameras hollow.

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Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) in 3 days

16 Apr

KL airport is small, empty and efficient – drive from the city is fast – 45 min (50 Km distance). Our flight from KL reached Siem Reap in 2 hrs at 1.15 noon , there is a 1 hr time lag , so we leave KL at 12.15 and reach Siem Reap at 1.15.

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Basic Facts of Cambodia 

Cambodia borders Thailand – a lot closer to Bangkok – the country has a lot of similarities with Thailand and at one time both regions were ruled by the same kings. Cambodia still depends a lot on Thailand – the city of Siem Reap gets all its electricity from Thailand.

Cambodia has two main cities – the Capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap the gateway to Angkor Wat , separated by about 350 Km ( driving is 6 – 7 hrs, flight preferred).  A developing country that was under French control till the early 50’s. Between mid 70’s to early 90’s the country was wracked by internal civil wars – Pol Pots Khmer Rouges trying to create a Communist state – millions perished. A sense of calm and peace has come as recently as the late 90’s. (Formerly Cambodia was called Kampuchea)

The country was under French rule till the 50’s – and French is the second language. I am told that there is a lot of French Influence and old buildings visible in Phnom Penh – but not much in Siem Reap.

95% of population is Buddhist. Locals are Khmers – but many Chinese also.

Arrival & Visa 

Cambodia provides Visa on arrival. We got ours from India. There is an eVisa option also. (This is preferred as with large tour groups your Q at the airport may be long). I had read that US Citizens did not need Visa – but was proved wrong – so we had to get my daughters Visa at the airport – costs 30$. There is a ATM right there – they accept US dollars. If you are applying for Visa on arrival – keep a passport photo handy. The country actually has USD and Cambodian Real as the currency options – don’t convert your USD at the airport. 1 USD = 4000 Cambodian Reals , all ATM’s dispenses USD and its accepted freely everywhere. The Airport is small, you can clear Immigration in 15 min collect your luggage and reach the hotel in less than 30 min. Flight landed at 1.15 afternoon  and we were in the hotel before 2.15.

Stay 

We stayed at the Chateau d’ Angkor La Residence – a small boutique hotel in the centre of the city  with 28 Suites (12 single BHK Units and 16 Double BHK Units). It has a lovely pool and a nice garden. But no Gym. Friendly staff who struggle with english – one restaurant that serves Continental, Chinese and local cuisine – many Veg Options. We had a spacious 2 bedroom suite (over 1500 sft) – pool facing – 2 Bedrooms, Large Hall, Dining and a Kitchen. Its like a service apartment with a cooking range, fridge, pots & pans etc – all of this for  $110/day, including free Wi Fi and Breakfast. Perfect place for families to stay. The hotel helps coordinate all your tour plans and even helps you to book tickets for shows. There is no dearth of Hotels from 5 star properties to boutique hotels in the city  – the city thrives on Tourism. From Hyatt to Soffitel to numerous quality brands – they all dot the landscape.

Food is also not a problem – enough options for vegetarians including a few Indian Restaurants – we dined a lot at the Curry Walla (That is located on the main road Sivutha Blvd) . Our breakfast buffet was full off fresh tropical fruits. You see them all over town and even on the roadsides. Coconut water is also available everywhere. For the ambitious – lots of non veg varieties – Dog meat is a delicacy and we even spotted roadside vendors selling Pig Tongue.

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City

The city is small – you can cover almost any part of the city in 5 – 10 minutes by Tuk Tuk. This is the local auto powered by a bike – it can easily carry 4 people. The main area of the city is one big road that has shops , a small mall, restaurants – about 1 Km in length , it ends at the Pub Street a happening place full of restaurants and bars. Nearby is also the Old Market with lots of Souvenir shops. Everything is reasonable priced – dinner for 4 is about $ 30, a Tuk Tuk Ride is $ 2, a foot Massage for 30 min is $ 3. Well planned well laid out city – feels like a modern one, nice roads, good footpaths, well lit , no garbage , safe.  We were here during the New Year celebrations – Thai & Khmer New Year is on April 14th – coinciding with the Indian Calendar. The City was crowded and happening – but there was space for all and we never had a challenge getting stuck in Q’s or a Road Jam. People understand basic english – but when you head for a Tour take a Guide.

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What We Did

We had 3 days so we spaced ourselves well and covered the following. The Hotel has packaged options – about 10 of them and you can pick and choose. A day trip inclusive of Car/Van , Guide, Lunch will be about $ 150.

Day – 1 : National Museum, City Tour , Walk down Old Market & Pub Street , A Family Foot Massage

Day – 2 : Early morning Sunrise Visit to Angkor Wat , Visit to 3 more Temples , Lunch , Back in room by 3 PM. Swimming at the hotel. Leave at 4.30 for some shopping, strolling , Dinner, visit the Apsara Dance Performance from 8 to 9 PM

Day – 3 : Some more temples , Visit to a Butterfly Park , Back by 3 PM – , Walking in the city from 4 – 6, Dinner , Visit to the Cambodian Circus from 8 – 9.30 PM

Tourism in more detail 

You come here to see Angkor Wat and the old temples. Most of the temples are in bad shape – ruins. Built between 900 – 1200 AD by the Hindu Kings – the temples are mainly dedicated to Shiva. Angkor Wat is dedicated to Vishnu. There are 100’s of temples and they are in clusters – you can see 4 – 5 in a day. After some time it gets boring. In comparison the Indian temples we see at Badami, Belur – Halebid, Tanjore, Khajuraho are in excellent shape. The Temples in and around Angkor Wat lack the level of intricate design and sculpture that we see in Indian temples. You will see a lot of engravings from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and surprisingly a lot of Samudra Manthan depictions. To be frank – I was disappointed with Angkor Wat. Its a bit like the Mona Lisa at Louvre.  I think its very well marketed and positioned.

All the temples were built between 900 & 1200 AD – are made of Bricks, Sandstone or Laterite.The temples are in bad shape – some restoration work is in progress and even the Indian Govt and ASI is involved in a few of them. But its going to take a long time to get them in shape. Our local guide painstakingly explained that a lot of damage was done by Hindu Kings to Buddhist temple – but stayed quiet on the damage done by the Khmer Rogues and Buddhist kings to the Hindu Temples. Almost all the Shiva Lingas and Hindu statues are broken , shattered or dismembered. I was reading about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rogues – being communists they vandalised the temples and caused severe damage to these ancient temples. Lots of references to Hindu Kings having gone from S india and built these temples – but the guide and the locals give all credit to Khmers – there is no history of Hinduism there – it must have gone from S India – the temple architecture similarity and the name of the kings show that – but sadly no mention of this ( Neither do the history books in Indian schools talk of this – Sad)

You can buy Tickets for 1 day ($ 20) , 3 days ($ 40) or 7 days. Good to buy the 3 day Ticket – gives you access to almost all the temples. Tickets are Cash only. Children below 12 are free. Your photo is printed on the ticket – so the family needs to go for getting the tickets. Angkor Wat temple is best seen at Sunrise or Sunset. Its large – and would have been a spectacular sight in its heyday. Its massive – located next to a large water body. A large boundary wall and a Green walkway to the main building – we took the rear entrance as the main one was very crowded. Budget 90 Minutes

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National Museum – A good start to your tour would be from the National Museum. Its a lovely museum, well maintained, and describes the history of the Khmer Kings and the design construct of the temples – there are many informative Videos. Full of Statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, Ganesha, Devis – although all of them have features very different from what we see in India. This is the only place where we get to see numerous statues of the Buddha with a Naga on the top of his head – the more I look at the culture here – get the feeling that the Naga’s were probably a class of people from Eastern India / Thailand / Cambodia. And Apsaras were the women from the Naga  community (The Apsara tradition is very alive in this country – more of that later)  – Budget 90 Minutes

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Other Temples that are worth visiting are in the Angkor Thom Cluster – very close to Angkor Wat. Visit the Bayon (Temple of faces) , Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider Fame)  & The Elephant Terrace. You can cover the temples in Angkor Wat and in Angkor Thom between 8 & 3 PM.

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35 Km away to the north are a few more temples – one of them the Banteay Srei  – dedicated to Lord Shiva made of red sandstone this stands out among the rest. Inscriptions in the monument give it the original name of Ishvarapura – the city of Shiva. Although small – Its the jewel in the Khmer architecture Its in slightly better shape and has outstanding quality of cultured decor. To me it looked a bit like the Shore Temples at Mahabalipuram.

The drive is also nice along the country side, past the villages with small shops.

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The Kings and the ministers  who built these temples all have Hindu names – Jayavarman , Indravarman, Suryavarman , Yashovarman…. They must have had some connections to the Chola’s or Pallavas from the South – some of the temple architectures does look similiar. S India had a lot of trade with SE Asia and its possible that Trade led to India Kings coming and ruling.

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Most temples are well designed around a large rectangle. A outer wall , a lot of greenery inside – takes you 10 – 15 min to walk thru this greenery , an inner walk , a water body as a moat and then the Temple.

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On the way to Banteay Srei we visited a beautiful butterfly park – called the BBC (Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre) its not in the normal tour guides itinerary – we happened to see it on the way and stopped by – its a lovely place to spend 45 minutes. For more photos and details on the butterfly park visit http://vak1969.com/2015/04/15/butterfly-park-en-route-to-bantay-srei-siem-reap/

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Two other must do activities

Visit the Apsara Dance – there are many shows happening in town , we attended a classy upmarket one at the Angkor Village Resort. The show starts at 8 PM and runs for an hr. Nice dance depicting ballets from the Ramayana and some local dances. Tickets are normally including dinner – we took an option without dinner for $ 12 / person.

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Visit Phare – The Cambodian Circus – This is not a  circus. Its a dance , drama, ballet – depicting the story of Cambodia before and after the Khmer Rogue / Pol Pot Civil Disturbance. Program is orchestrated by an NGO with youth from broken families. These children are nurtured with skills in art / dance / gymnastics. Its a unique program that depicts the story through painting , dance , gymnastics. The expressions are wonderful and the whole event is mesmerising – its fun with a deep theme. Tickets are $ 18 / person

(http://www.pharecambodiancircus.org/circus/)

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There are lots of massage parlours in town , they are very affordable but the quality of massage is Ok – no comparison to Thai Massage.

What else could we have done 

There is a large lake – called the Tonle Sap , this is supposedly one of the largest lakes in Asia and spreads across 3 countries. You can go here for boating , seeing the floating market etc. You can do trips to the country side ( But we visited in summer when it was dry and arid). There is a waterfall and some carvings on rocks on a  river bed – again at a distance of 30 km – but this is also best seen after the rains when the water fall is gurgling and bristling with water.

Kbal Spean  is an Angkorian era archaeological site on the southwest slopes of the Kulen Hills to the northeast of Angkor in Siem Reap District. It is situated along a 150m stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River, 25 kilometres (16 mi) from the main Angkor group of monuments. The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the “Valley of a 1000 Lingas” or “The River of a Thousand Lingas”.

Overall – a lovely trip. Siem Reap and Cambodia is a must visit – its very different from Singapore/HK/ KL/ Bangkok. Its easy on the pocket, food is not a problem and its close by. People are nice, soft spoken. Its a trip where you can have fun, learning  and in 3 days understand the culture / tradition of a new country.

3 days flew past – weather in April was not too hot – between 28 & 35 degrees. Mornings and evenings are cool. The peak tourist season is from Oct to Feb. April is the hottest month and the rains start in May.

We are now all set to take the 3rd leg of the tour to Langkawi – our flight departs at 2.15 PM today – looking forward to the Westin at Langkawi. 

Butterfly Park (En Route to Bantay Srei) – Siem Reap

15 Apr

This is so beautiful that it merits more than a Facebook post – so here is a Photo Blog on a  small but beautiful Butterfly Park that we visited on our way back from Bantay Srei.

30 min of enjoying Nature – we had the place to ourselves – and this was probably the best $ 10 I have spent on this trip.

Entering the Butterfly park 

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This guy posed for over 10 minutes flapping his wings seated on a log bench – you can see the colours inside and outside.

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Another Beauty

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Making Friends with Nandu – swinging happily

IMG_4960Patiently observing another beauty

IMG_4958Hungry Caterpillars devouring the leaves

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Pupas Ready to hatch

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This species was all over the place

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Low Hanging fruits – we did pluck a few

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A Gecko that Anvi spotted

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Lovely flowers all along the pathway

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All the species in the Butterfly Park

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