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A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Month: June 2010

Family Fun – Destiny Farms – Outskirts of Ooty

We had not visited Ooty for nearly a decade and decided to make a trip this May. We were clear that we did not want to stay in Ooty. The beautiful hill station has unfortunately fallen prey to commercialization and become crowded. We heard about Destiny Farms from a friend and when we did a quick search on the web – we liked what we saw.

Destiny Farms is like a piece of paradise on earth. It’s about 26 Kms from Ooty ( 1 Hr drive) located at Avalanche and is set in the midst of breathtakingly beautiful lakes and hills.  If you are driving from Coimbatore it’s a 4 Hr drive ( 98 + 26 Kms) and if you are driving from Mysore its again a 4 Hr Drive ( 155 + 26 Kms). The Coimbatore Ooty hill road is a jammed up road.

It’s not easy to locate the place and the last few miles you do not see any shops / people to ask for directions. We fortunately took the hotels pick up service from CBE Station ( they charge Rs 4500 for an AC Innova)

You park your car and the last 2 Kms you travel in the Hotels 4 wheel truck that takes you through the jungle. The drive is rattling even with the truck travelling at less than 10 Km/ hr. But its fun – kids love it.

The first sight of Destiny Farms is a wow. It’s on a hillside that faces a crystal clear lake. An old mansion has been converted into a hotel. And they have strawberry , cabbage plantations, potatoes and herbs garden along the hillside. The whole place is peaceful , serene and beautiful.

The rooms are very nice ( No TV / No Fan / No Heater)  – they have proper W Style bathrooms. And you get hot water in the morning and evenings. They have two type of rooms – we stayed in the larger one that has a fireplace. ( Totaly about 20 rooms) And the view from the balcony is beautiful. The restaurant is excellent – serves great food –  kids were happy to find Pasta. ( Surprisingly no S Indian Food)

As we went about to explore the place we found a stable of horses. Big guys from Jaisalmer – you need a ladder to get on top of them. The stable was neat and the horses very well-maintained. They do complimentary rides in the evenings – in the afternoon you  can take the horses for a jog on your own around the farm  –  very nominal cost.  They also have some Sheep ( looks like its imported from N Zealand) , and Rabbits. Further down there is a pond where you can fish for Carp. The farm has over 50 cows and kids can see them being milked in the morning & evening  (automated) – the milk is so sweet ( thanks to the fresh grass that the cows eat) that you don’t need to add sugar to your tea.

In terms of activities – its a great place to relax and unwind. Good to come as a group so that the Kids can have fun. The hotel organises treks and can even set you up in a tent near the lake with barbecue & snacks. They also have  an open jeep ride that takes you the nearby hills / tea gardens etc. ( every time you go out – you have to use the Army truck thru the 2 Km wobbly drive). They also arrange for Rock Climbing and Valley Crossing.  Kids can watch cartoons in the TV room and play indoor games like TT , carom etc. The reception has a cute library with novels & comics.  You can play football or cricket at the ground near the horse stable. many of the staff are from Nepal  – and their football standard is very good

The place attracts a lot of families from Bangalore and we were surprised to see 4 families who had kids from NPS. Nights are wonderful – you can see thousands of stars sparkling in the sky. It’s so relaxing to lie down in the benches and just stare at the sky. Air is fresh & pure and you can talk softly and be heard 100 m down the hill. Every evening the hotel sets up a bonfire with music and serves veg and non veg starters. ( No Liquor)

Ooty is close by and you can pack in  a days trip to Ooty. The botanical garden is great – but all other places are crowded. The lake stinks and the boat ride was no fun. Clearly Ooty is a place avoided during the peak season.

Destiny Farms is a great place for a 2 Night – 3 day trip. Rates are reasonable – rooms are priced at Rs 4500 / night ( large ones – peak season) and include breakfast. ( Compare this with the 9 K that the Taj charges at Conoor – that includes all meals)

It’s amazing to see the passion with which the owner ( a young lawyer in his early 30’s) has built this place. He also owns a few more properties. Has an eye for perfection – and service is excellent. It’s not easy to run a place deep in the mountains in the heart of a jungle.

Kids loved the place and we didn’t feel like leaving Destiny farms. They are clear that they want to come back here every holiday.

Few Tips

1. The place accepts credit Cards

2. BSNL connection works – Airtel connection requires a walk towards the main gate

3. The farm is located in the middle of forest land – you are not allowed to venture out of the fenced area on your own

4. Days are pleasant and nights are cold. In summer nights were 5 – 6 Degrees. In Winter they would be Zero. The place is higher than Ooty – and is surrounded by forests & lakes – that’s what makes it cooler. ( Did you know that Ooty at over 2200 M is the highest hill station in the world that has no snow!)

7. No restaurants or shops close by – but the restaurant at Destiny Farms is good – lots of variety and reasonably priced

5. Contact details for Destiny Farms

Email holiday@littlearth.in , T. +91-423-2224545   F. +91-423-2444697   M. +91-9487000111/9487000222, www.littleearth.in

Trip to Himalayas with my daughter

 
A trip to the Himalayas has been on my agenda for a long time. It finally happened in May this year when I took off for 9 days with my daughter.
Day – 1 : We reached Delhi from Bangalore on 20th May and stayed at the Ginger hotel opp the railway station. Ginger is located next to the railway station – neat rooms for Rs 1000/ night. We took the Shatabdi from Delhi at 6.50AM and reached Haridwar by 11 AM. The drive to Rishikesh was less than 45 minutes. Haridware & Rishikesh are hot in May and the temeperature was in the 40’s.
Day – 2 : We stayed at the Vasundhara Palace ( Great hotel – 2.5 K / night) and post lunch did a quick tour of Rishikesh – Laxman Jhula , Shivananda Ashram, Walk along the Ganges and finally the Arti. It’s a crowded city and the Ashrams are concrete jungles. It was dissapointing and not what one had expected.
Day – 3 : The next day we left after an early breakfast and drove to Harsil. Its a long drive all along the Ganges – we left at 7.30 AM and reached Harsil at 6 PM. Stopped at Uttarkashi for lunch. Drive was hot – though we were at about 1500 M in the Himalayas. The mountains here are dry all the way to Uttarkashi and the landscape changes post that. Good restaurants are rare – but you can find Maggi in all the small tea shops. Uttarkashi has a few restaurants – but they are OK on cleanliness and service. Too many dams have killed the bubbling Ganga and in many places especially after Tehri the Ganga is like a thin stream.
On the way to Harsil we stopped by a hot water spring at Gangnaini. Water is boiling hot – but again the facilities are poor and not clean. Harsil is a beautiful place – has limited hotels and you end up staying in camps – right on the banks of the river Ganges. We stayed at the Caravan Camp – but little ahead was the Char Dham Camp which had better amenities. The view from Harsil is spectacular. Food at the camps is hot & decent but basic. Days are pleasant ( full sleeve shirt during day) but nights are very cold.
Day 4 : Harsil to Gangotri is a 2 hr drive. Beautiful scenic drive , we are pretty close to the China border and see the Jat Ganga ( a tributary to the Ganges flowing in from Tibet) flowing thru a deep gorge. This also has the highest river bridge in India. We reached Gangotri by 9 AM – crowd was sparse and we could complete darshan by 10. The water here is freezing and its amazing to see people taking bath. Thats the power of faith. We could hardly dip my hand in water for a few seconds to fill a pot with pure Ganga Jal. The trek to Gomukh is a 1 day affair – it’s about 18 Km’s and can be done in 1 day. Not very steep – but the area has no shops – so stock yourself with water / food if you plan to do this trek. The glacier is receding and some say you need to go to Tapovan beyond Gomukh to see it.
We drove back to Uttarkashi after having lunch at Dharali and reached by 4.30 eve. The Char Dham Camp at Uttarkashi is a wow. On the bank of a gushing Ganges the tents are well equipped with electricity , western style bathrooms. Excellent food is served and hot water is available. the camp is green and looks like an ashram from the Ramayana / Mahabharata days.
Day 5 : Since there are no TV’s at the camp – we slept early and woke up by 5 AM. We were on our way to Gupt Kashi by 7 AM. There are two routes to reach Gupt Kashi and we ended up taking the longer one – reaching Gupt Kashi at 6 PM. ( The route Via Kirti Nagar takes lesser time) That was a long tiring 11 hr drive with hardly any restaurants en route. On this route you can spot the Mandakini river.
The Kedar camp at Uttarkashi was also spectacular. Great view and excellent service. The next day morning we were up early and left for Phata – a 15 Km drive from Gupt Kashi. Pawan Hans and another Pvt operate run Helicopter Service to Kedarnath from Phata. the ride takes less than 10 minutes each way and lands at a 10 Min distance from the temple. It costs 8000 Rs (Cash Only) and includes a special VIP darshan pass. The helicopters carry 6 people and run every 10 min. Book in advance since they get sold out.
Kedarnath is a small hamlet in the Himalayas , surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Most people trek the 18 Kms ( steep climb) and it could take you a day to make the journey To & Fro.
We had a great darshan and were back at Phata by 11 AM. Started off for Joshimath and drove thru some beautiful spots. Chopta is beautiful and the forests here abound with wildlife – especially the Musk Deer. Again limited restaurants and you need to manage with Maggi. We reached Joshimath at 5 PM and stayed in a small hotel. Joshimath is a crowded town at 2000 metres and is the base camp for Badrinath.
Day 6: The next day we set off for Auli – a picturesque hill station at 3500M. There is a cable car from Joshimath that reaches Auli in less than 20 minutes ( drive is 14 Kms). Auli is a beautiful Ski Resort – you can see snow capped mountains all around you. We took a small trek ( walking for 3 hrs in this altitude is not easy) and climbed a small mountain from where we could see the Nanda Devi clearly. The cliff lodge at Auli is a RCI property and a proper 3 star hotel with all amenities. My daughter finally got to eat pasta here.
Day 7: We left for Badrinath at 5.30 AM the next day and reached the temple after a 3.5 hr drive. The distance is less than 50 Kms but it’s a narrow road that is very crowded. The Q at Badrinath was like Tirupathi and it would take us 8 Hrs to get Darshan. There is no concept of special pass or VIP tickets and we had to pray from outside and return.
After lunch at the Sarovar Hotel – we left Badrinath at 11 AM and reached Rudraprayag at 5 PM. We drove along the Alaknanda ( a river which originates from near Badrinath). Stayed at a small hotel in Rudraprayag.
Day 8 : Next morning we left Rudraprayag and stopped at the Prayag ( confluence of the Mandakini & the Alaknanda) – its a beautiful site and you can walk down right in front of the merging point. We then drove along the Alaknanda to Dev Prayag where the Alaknanda merges with the Bhagerathi to form the Ganga. Dev Prayag to Rishikesh is a 2 hr drive ( 70 Kms) and we were back in Rishikesh by 11 AM. Enroute we stopped by at Shivpuri – which has over 70 camps for white water rafting.
We had lunch at Vasundhara Palace and took some rest at the Ganga Hotel before we boarded the Shatabadi back to Delhi at 6 PM.
Day 9 : After some sightseeing at Delhi left for Bangalore
A quick summary
1. The Himalayas are majestic and rugged. The cliffs are almost vertical.
2. End May is the best time to travel – come June the rain start and along with that the landslides. The Helicopter service to Kedarnath is also closed during June / July
3. We had a Innova and a Guide with us for the entire trip. The whole trip from Rishikesh cost us 75 K – inclusive of food / hotel. ( Excluding the Helicopter ride)
4. The camps are great – especially the Char Dham Camp & The Kedar Camp.
5. Drives are long – the Innova is very safe , but rarely can you exceed 30 – 40 kms / hr
6. Days are pleasant – no need to pack in too many woollens. Even at gangotri & Kedrnath all you need are full sleeves. Nights are very cold.
7. Food is decent at the camps – en route could be challenges. No curd is available across the route – so you have to manage with Roti / Dal / Sabji – no curd rice.
8. You can see snow at a close distance in the mountains – but to reach the glaciers or the snowy mountains is a 1 – 2 day trek.
9. Credit Cards do not work – we saw an ATM at Joshimath that worked , but the SBI one at Uttar Kashi had no money. So carry cash
10. Our entire trip was arranged by a Rishikesh Based company
Garhwal Himalayan Explorations Pvt. Ltd, Rishikesh (Uttaranchal) India. Their proprietor Rajeev is a thorough professional. He also runs a beautiful camp at Shivpuri and can arrange for white water rafting / treks.

Contact Details of tour operator  :  0135-244 22 67,  244 26 67, 243 34 78, Cell No : + 94 120 50 478,  9758164778 ( Rajeev ),  + 94 107 97 790 ( Krishna). www.thegarhwalhimalayas.com  or  www.thehimalayas.in

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