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

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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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KL – Siem Reap – Langkawi : 1st Leg

12 Apr

SE Asia is great for holidays – its close – very reasonably priced and the quality of service is excellent. This year we planned a 9 day holiday across Malaysia & Cambodia – 3 nights at KL, 3 Nights at Seam Reap and the last 3 nights at Langkawi ( back to Malaysia). This was the best itinerary ensuring that we did not waste too much time at the airport.

As usual I had my holidays for April planned by January end. Getting a Malaysia Visa is easy – all you need is the hotel booking and Tickets. Cambodia is Visa on arrival – but we still got it done from India. Udaan is a new agency in Bangalore that does Visas for all countries – they are efficient and I was happy with their service. I got my tickets from MakeMyTrip (Disappointing service) and did the hotels on my own.

MH 105 is a very convenient flight from Bangalore to Malaysia. Leaves in the afternoon at 12.15 and reaches KL at 18.55 in the evening. Bangalore airport is empty at this time. The flight was also empty , we whizzed past immigration at KL and were in our car by 19.30 – its a 60 min drive to KL city – about 50 Km  freeway traffic as we zipped past and reached our hotel the DoubleTree Hilton by 8 PM. Lovely hotel – great service, nice rooms, good food – we were surprised to see Indian Options at dinner and breakfast (Breakfast had Idli, Dosa, Vada, Sambar, Chutney, Puri , Chole etc) – rates are reasonable and comparable with 5 Star Hotels in India. We had booked two rooms for the 4 of us and I was able to use my points to get a 50% reduction.

DoubleTre Hilton is centrally located at Ampang – a 10 min walk from Petronas Tower. And that was our first stop the next day. Getting a ticket for the ride up the worlds tallest twin towers can be dicey during the rush tourist season. We took a precaution and got the tickets from the Concierge by paying a 50% premium – but when we visited the next day we found enough tickets available at the counter. Normal tickets are about  88 Malaysian Ringitt (1 Ringitt = 16 INR approximately). The ride up takes about 45 minutes – and is worth the effort. You go all the way up to the 86th floor observatory and get a peaceful 15 minutes to view the city.

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The Petronas Tower also houses the Suria Mall – a large luxury mall and the Petronas Science Centre. The KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre) is a small walk away and that houses the Aquaria – all of this can easily take you from morning 10 to 3 to cover. I guess we were fast – most people would have spent the whole day here . The Science centre is wonderful – very interactive and the kids enjoyed it. I would rate this better than the science centre at Singapore. The Aquaria is nice – but the one at Bangkok was better. We had lunch at the Suria Mall food court – and were pleasantly surprised to see a Saravana Bhawan Counter there.

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Around 3 we took a cab and headed to the Bird Park – its a 15 min drive (everything in KL is 10 – 15 min drive) and Taxis are very reasonable. (A small tip – the Blue Taxis are Executive Cabs and they charge you double what the regular red ones charge).  The Bird park is very well maintained and houses a wide variety of Birds – over 2000. Its a must see – budget 90 minutes. Close to this are the Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Garden , Orchid Garden and the Planetarium. We visited the Orchid Garden – it was not in full bloom. By the time we reached the Butterfly Park it was 5.30 PM and they were closing for the day. The lakes and Botanical garden also looked nice and inviting – but it had been a long day, the humidity was tiring and the park and lakes looked inviting but lonely, the sky was getting cloudy and we could sense the evening showers of the Equator were round the corner – we decided to give it a pass and headed back to the hotel.

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A quick shower and some rest and we were ready to leave by 7.30 PM – and now we made the mistake of the day heading to Little India for Dinner. Noisy, messy, the place was sad – and the food at Saravana Bhawan was equally dissapointing – it was dirty, AC not working , no water in the washroom- clearly you can avoid this place in KL.

I am told that there is a place called Masjid India – where a Sangeetha and Saravana Bhawan is located – hope thats better, did not get the time to check it out.

Day 2 – kept an alarm at 5 – but the Jet lag hits you (KL like Singapore is 2 1/2 hrs ahead of India) so even at 7 its like 5.30 in India – and it does take a few days to get used to this lag. After a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel we headed out to the MRT. The Ampang station is a few minutes walk from our hotel.  We wanted to go to the Batu Caves – its  a 450 Million year old Limestone Cave formation that is home to a lot of rare flora & fauna. It also houses a temple of Lord Karthik – or Muruga. Malaysia has a lot of Hindus – 8 % , many of them Tamilians who came here 200 – 300 years back as traders and plantation workers.

Batu Caves is just 15 Km from KL City – and we could have taken a Cab for 50 Ringitt (750 Rs) – but we wanted to try out the MRT. We changed two Trains and reached the place by 11 AM. Walked up the 270 odd steps to the Murugan temple – this is very Indian – crowded, noisy, a little dirty.

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On the way back we took a guided tour of the Caves – these Caves are a research site an are home to some very rare species of animals not found anywhere else in the world. Its a well organised trek that takes you about 2 Km into 3 caves – the last one is pitch dark. There are massive limestone formations – caves are full of Bats, scorpios, millipedes, cockroaches, spiders and even snakes. Fortunately we saw many of them but none troubled us.

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On the return we took a cab that took less than 45 min to reach KL and went straight to the Times Square Berjaya Mall – a big busy crowded mall. This has shops for the middle class. A few hrs here and then we headed to Sogo – which is a lot nicer. And finally we were back in the hotel by 6 PM. A few hrs of rest then a lovely dinner at the Italian restaurant by the poolside. A meal for 4 in a lovely 5 star hotel costs you less than INR 4500 – thats a lot cheaper than what you would pay at Bangalore. Through the 2 days I realised that KL is actually cheeper than Bangalore. The cost of Petrol is 50% , food is cheaper, cabs are cheaper – and the city is world class.

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We head to Siem Reap for the 2nd leg of the tour tomorrow – our flight is at a convenient time of 12 Noon and will reach Cambodia in an hr. Seam Reap  promises to be exciting – a visit to the world famous Angkor Wat temples has been on my list for long. But more of that later.

We will come back to Malaysia – Langkawi in 3 days, but for a minute what else could one do at KL. Not much at KL – but yes there are few places 2- 3 hrs drive away that attracts tourists – these include Genting Islands (Most people told us to avoid), Melaka – which looks like a nice place, Putrajaya, Cameroon Highlands , Kuala Selangkor Fireflies, Berjaya Hills & Port Dickson.

A few Good People

1 Apr

Have you ever thought how many people you have interacted with since you were born. From school, college, work, people who you meet in your building , gym, at the club ….. I am sure that number would run into thousands. Hold that thought for a minute.

Most people take pride in saying I am a self made man (or woman). Are you? Its always good to reflect back and ponder on what were the key drivers that helped you keep moving in life. What/who contributed to your success. And if you let your ego to go to sleep you can actually identify a set of key people who helped you to get to where you are.

On a flight back I reflected and listed down all the people who were pathfinders and crucial to my success, growth and development. I realised that of the thousands I have interacted with its a handful of people who have helped me so much and contributed to my success – I was able to list 50 people. And it took me just a few minutes to list them down – so profound has been their contribution. These are truly my friends, philosophers, guides, soulmates. Most I have interacted with, some so powerful that they influence you merely with their thoughts and words.

They are my teachers , my friends, my class mates , my colleagues. The manager who gave me my first job , the manager who made me cry but taught me so much, the angry manager, the patient manager, the brilliant manager, the depth manager, the span manager. My team mates – and I have been blessed to have amazing people as team members wherever I have worked. Competent, hard working, sincere, truthful, people – great professionals but more importantly good human beings. You can never enjoy your work  without good managers and a great team. So thank you guys – without you I wouldn’t be where I am.

Of all the wonderful teachers a few stand out – the Chemistry and Match Tutor from Class 11/12 , the Professor at College who saved me from rustication during the Mandal days – great teachers but also very good people.

The room mates to who I owe my engineering degree. The patient colleague who taught me the basics of a PC architecture and Ethernet & ArcNet. The friend who helped me move to US and settled me down. The customer in the DC suburb of Chantilly – who on a cold wintery day trusted me with a million dollar contract that got me started in a new country, and the hard working project managers who exceeded expectations. The pre-sales colleague with who I worked shoulder to shoulder many a late night navigating around bureaucracy and Delhi politics –  trying to crack the  massive  tenders at BSNL & MTNL.

The visionary leaders at Wipro, Sun & Apple – I owe so much to these companies and their leaders where I have spent over 90% of my career.

The service partners – the maverick marketing strategist who explained that a Brand is an Asset and taught me more about Marketing than what I could have learnt in an MBA. A friendly and helpful design agency owner, a hard working vendor who helped me deliver on a very complicated Strategic Brand project at a fraction of the normal budget.

The Yoga teacher who initiated me and taught me the basics, the spiritual thinkers who have shaped my thinking over the last 5 years and how can I forget the altar and the god of the 7 hills who has never disappointed me with any ask I have made when in crisis. The spinning instructor with the cult following who got me addicted to the Gym. Each one of them contributed and made my journey enjoyable and nourishing.

My drinking buddies and building friends  and of course my family who were always by my side. My parents who always stretched to give us the best, my siblings who pushed me and helped me – always wanting me to be the best and my wife and children who have always been by my side – as I transformed from an acerbic angry young workaholic to a slightly more calmer version.

Its finally Kudos to a set of 50 amazing people. Thats it – these are the people to who I owe it all. I would not be where I am without their help and guidance. They gave me the right breaks, they had confidence on me , they helped me at every stage in life. These are 50 people with who I connected. Thats magical – think of it just 50 people.

If any CEO can hire these 50 people – he is assured of success. You can’t find a team of more capable, competent, achievers  than them. I have been lucky to have worked with them and be associated with them.

And as I look back on the years passed by I can only say a big Thank You to each one of them. Maybe I should try and get all of them together in one place – the positive energy created by such a group will indeed create a halo around the room. Lets hope that day comes soon.

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I got Dileepan my design agency friend to make a Thank You poster for me. I now have this poster in my bedroom. That way the memories stay with me all the time.

I would urge each of you to do this exercise – its a therapy to look back and reflect on those who contributed to your life.

Understanding Creativity

27 Mar

This ROOT-WORD of Creativity is  CREA which comes from the Latin creare which means to CREATE.  Once you know the meaning of the root its easy to figure out what other words having this root mean.

Here are some words using the same root ,  Creant : CREA nt (kree’ ant) adj. Creating; having the urge to create. Create : CREA te (kree ate’) v. Bring into existence; produce; as, create a song, Creation : CREA tion (kree ay’ shun) n. The act of creating. Creative : CREA tive (kree ate’ iv) adj. Having the power to produce; as, creative ability. Creator : CREA tor (kree ate’ or) n. One who creates; maker. Creature : CREA ture (kree’ chur) n. Anything created; a creation. Re-create : re CREA te (re kree ate’) v. Bring to existence again; refresh; revive. Recreation : re CREA tion (rek ree ay’ shun) n. The act of refreshing; renewal by food, exercise, or rest

So whats the advantage of being Creative ? Find me a person who says I don’t want to be Creative ? This is one skill that can help you in your life at every stage. Most successful people are very Creative. And I am sure everyone wants top be happy & successful.

The first feeling is that  Creativity is associated with Inventions and discoveries and you are normally born with it. But Creativity like any subject is a Skill and can be developed by everyone. As the legendary Steve Jobs explains – Creativity is not about NEW , its actually about connecting your experiences and the things you see around you.

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Lets look at some examples that explain the above point.

The Strolley  looks like an amazing invention , so useful , so easy – no need for carrying a heavy suitcase , no need for a porter – A Strolley is nothing but a Baby Stroller & the Station Trolley put together – 4 wheels and a handle – that transforms the bulky suitcase to a convenient strolley – It was an idea for everyone to see but someone connected the dots and Voila a Creative output happened.

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There are numerous examples similar to this  – the Container Terminal is one. Earlier it used to take months to load a ship . Goods were shipped “break-bulk”; that is, in individual sacks, barrels, and crates, each individually loaded and unloaded by armies of workmen. This was very costly in terms of the time and labour involved, before even taking into account all that was lost or stolen along the way. In 1956 The shipping container, and the dockside cranes that came with it, eliminated this altogether. It brought about a highly automated process that reduced the cost to ship freight dramatically. As the container became intermodal, it was easily transferred from boat to train to truck in a seamless process, without the need for unloading and reloading.

This again was a simple invention made by Malcom McLean an American Transport Entrepreneur. Some Say that the invention of Containers helped the Global economy to grow by a few % points.

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Look at the Kitchen – and see how creative you can be in making new dishes by just mixing up ingredients that are lying around. Fanta and Ice Cream – gets you Orange Pop Soda, Left over Maggi packed in bread dipped in dosa batter and fried gets you amazing pakodas. You can create so many amazing fusion dishes in the kitchen just by playing around with ingredients around you. Look at the “Pan Shop” – see the amazing varieties of Pan’s he can create with just a Betel leaf and a few common ingredients.

There are many such examples but one common theme across all of them is CURIOSITY.  Curiosity is the Trigger to Creativity. You need to ask Questions , dig deeper, explore , try  and  then the dots begin to connect.

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As the great scientist Einstein himself remarked

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So lets summarise the two points 

1. We all want to be Creative

2. To be Creative you need to be Curious

We’re all creative by heart. It just so happens that some people are better at expressing it than others.

So here are some tips on how to develop your Creativity

1. Get out of the rut – if you are stuck , start afresh. Visit a painting exhibition or a museum or just walk in the park early morning. Get some new perspectives. New Surroundings help.

2. Meet and interact with diverse people – don’t stick to the same small group of few friends. Try mixing with people half your age , spend time with children , spend time with people from a totally different profession etc.

3. Be passionate about what you do – love your job or whatever you are working on. Be totally immersed in it.

4. Stay healthy and brisk – too much sleep or too little sleep can affect your Creativity. Avoid food that makes you sluggish. Don’t be a couch potato.

5. Keep your mind active – don’t waste time watching boring serials or reading the same book. Try some puzzles, tricks etc – give some constant exercise to your Brain. Creativity is like a muscle the more you exercise it the more active it gets.

6. Stay Positive – don’t get Cynical – Don’t Crib and complain and nag.

7. Use Counterfactual Thinking – Counterfactual thinking, also known as asking, “What might have been?” has been shown to increase creativity for short periods of time. To experiment with this technique, take events that have already happened and re-imagine different outcomes, alternating between the subtractive mindset (taking elements out of the event) and the additive mindset (adding elements into the event).

A silly example of counterfactual thinking in action can be seen on The Big Bang Theory, when one of the main characters makes a game of the phenomenon, asking his roommate: “In a world where Rhinoceroses are domesticated pets, who wins the Second World War?” You, however, can apply it to more realistic scenarios, such as mapping out outcomes whenever you are doing creative problem solving, subtracting or adding “what if” elements that would have affected the outcome.

These are simple techniques but practise them in your day to day life and you will see your Creativity sharpening and improving

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