A Few Good Things

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

A Few Good Things

Tag: ooty

A tale of two cities ……

I am back from a trip to Kolkata. A trip I made after nearly 2 years. Traveling to Cal (I still prefer calling it that way) is always a welcome change. A tamilian born in Durgapur I have fond memories of this part of the country. As I landed at the Netaji airport – I could sense the similarities with Chennai airport. Both the airports are run by AAI (Both suck and are the amongst the most inefficient in the country). Therein starts this exercise and as I was spending a day in Cal – I could not stop myself from spotting the numerous similarities and some differences between these two lovely cities.

Travel to Kolkata

Lets get started – Cal & Chennai are the only two metro cities which are still loyal to the grand old Ambassador Taxis . Mumbai is still stuck with its Premier Padmini but every other city has moved on to the Fords, Renaults, Maruti …..

Victoria Memorial Kolkata

Both Cities have a long history. Being major ports they have been key bases for the British & the Dutch. Remnants are still visible in numerous buildings spotting the city. Cal having been the capital of the British beats Chennai hollow on this count – in terms of numbers, size, magnificence….  Yes the Ripon building is impressive but is no comparison for the Victoria.

Chennai Central Railway Station

Chennai Central is an impressive structure, although smaller than Howrah Station –  both have their similiarities with their striking design and bright red color.

Howrah railway station

The Howrah Bridge is an icon of Kolkata and a marvel of engineering (Talking of the Howrah bridge do you know how many nuts & bolts were used to make it – that’s a common quiz question, check out Google). Add to this the second bridge over the Hooghly.

Howrah bridge in kolkata

The Cooum and Adyar bridge is all that Chennai has – while the Cooum is a disgrace the Adyar bridge is just a small bridge over a river that flows for maybe a few months in a year). But Chennai has the Marina Beach. (Some say this is the longest & widest  beach in the whole world. It is nature’s gift to Chennai but sadly not well maintained)

Cooum and Adyar bridge Moving on to education. Both have a culture where education is valued, kids are studious, and they have some of the best schools & colleges the country can boast off.  Many are Jesuit institutions over 100 years old – St Xavier’s, La Martinere, Scottish Church, Don Bosco in Cal and Loyola, Stella Maries, Christians College in Chennai. The BE college at Shibpur and the College of Engineering at Guindy are amongst the oldest in the country. Presidency is a veritable institution and many still prefer Jadavpur to IIT KGB. Chennai boasts of an IIT and Calcutta of an IIM.

Xaviers Kolkata

There was a time when the majority of IIT seats were bagged from Madras & Cal (That has now changed and Hyderabad holds claim to that title now). The highest % of students who crack CA are from the Cal & Chennai CA Institutes. In the 1960’s majority of IAS officers came from these two cities. (That was before reservations, now UP & Bihar hold claim to that record!!) Both cities also contribute significantly to the brain drain – and now for H1B Visas.


Both cities are rich in culture & art.  Chennai the heart of Carnatic music & Bharatnatyam, while Cal is famous for Rabindra Sangeet, Jatra, Baul & Satyajit Ray. Getting seats to the Music Academy or for a program at Rabindra Sadan is equally difficult.

Kanjeewaram silks

While the Kanjeevaram silk rustles in finery and bright colours  the Bengal handloom holds sway with its elegance and class.

Bengal handloom

The Chennai “Mami” & Calcutta “Boudi” hold sway as they majestically stride down T Nagar or Bou Bazar shopping for the finest of gold ornaments. (Both cities love to buy gold and are a key reason for the astronomical increase in gold prices in India.)

Gold in Chennai

The spicy “Jhal Mudi” and “Puchka” beckons at every corner while the “Sundal” (Boiled Chana) at Marina  bags a distant third place. Luchi – Allor Dam , Mochar Chop , Baingan Bhaja and the tasty Hilsa , Rui & Katla ( I am veg – just heard , smelt and seen them)  compare well with the  Ghee Roast, Avial , Sambar of Chennai.

Luchi in Chennai

Both are predominantly rice eaters (Some say that rice adds to the intellectual capacity and wheat to the brawn power – probably that’s the reason most of the folks in the Indian Army are from north of the Narmada and the intellectuals from TN & Bengal)

Rasagolla sweets

The Rosogolla reigns supreme in the land of sweets while the Mysore Pak and Jangri entices you in Chennai. (While I love all sweets – Bengali sweets made of “Chana” are better for health since they  are not fried)

Best hotel in South India

My only grouse in Cal is the difficulty in finding a neat & clean restaurant chain where I can dig into Bengali delicacies. (I always end up at Aheli – but that’s fine dining and pretty expensive). Chennai has Saravana Bhawan at every main street serving delicious treats that are tasty & consistent. When I asked the cab driver to take me to a good sweet shop he took me to Haldirams !!

Business in Cal has been taken over by the Marwari’s (Other than Peerless – every large business is run by Marwari’s – Birla, Abuja’s, Khaitans, even the Lovely Brand underwear are made by enterprising Marwari’s). Sowcarpet in Chennai has its share of Marwari’s & Guajarati’s but the Chettiars control the pulse of business in Chennai.

Jayalalitha Iron lady

Madam Jayalalitha runs the show , while here its Mamata Di. Both are mercurial and have a tendency to be dictatorial. Both have ideologies that they are ready to dump and freely switch between UPA & NDA as per their convenience.

Morning coffee

Chennai wakes up at sunrise to Suprabhatam, temple bells and fresh hot filter coffee. Cal wakes up a little later to “Allah O Akbar” ( in many parts) and  the aroma of Darjeeling tea. (Never figured out why Cal has a Coffee House in College Street and not a Tea House).

Both cities have their share of minorities – 20% Muslims in Cal & 20% Christians in Chennai. But thank God they live in harmony and peace.

The intellectuals at Calcutta love their “ Adda” over a cup of hot chai (In earlier times in a mud pot)  with a spicy & tasty “Singhara” (Samosa) and many of the worlds problems are solved in these neighborhood “Addas”.

Darjeeling is an overnight journey from Cal and so is Ooty from Chennai. Two of the finest hill stations in the country, which are sadly well past their prime. Both are similiar in height at 7000 feet.

Both have local trains that keep zipping thru the city from morn to night.  Cal got its metro many decades back, Chennai is working on getting it soon. The Trams in Calcutta are iconic. Chennai is a major auto hub; Cal was also nearly an auto hub, till Didi got into her act in Singur.

Local trains in India

Chennai expands to OMR with high-rise building and world-class amenities; Cal is fast expanding to Rajarghat (which when fully done one day will look like New Calcutta, its already called New Town).

The Iyer Brahmin in Chennai is pure veg , the Brahmin in Cal eats Fish & Chicken & Mutton. The DMK preaches to be an atheist, so do the Communists. DMK Patriarch Karunanidhi’s son is named Stalin and the doctrine of the original Stalin runs deep in some of the venerable institutes of Cal. But Religion runs deep in both cities. Chennai probably has the highest number of temples in a metro while Cal celebrates Durga Puja, Kali Puja, and many others … with pomp & joy

Special on Durga Pooja

The prince of Behala is waiting to be  a kingmaker (Hopefully when Jagmohan uncle comes back as the BCCI President) while Chennai adopts Dhoni , Kolkatta has adopted Gambhir.

The “Kalkatta Pan” is world famous while Chennai has its “Madras Eye” (Red Eye infection).

President Venkatraman one of the finest the country has seen  came from Madras and now Pranabda from Calcutta will probably match him.

The Statesman founded in 1875 and The Hindu founded in 1878 were the leading news papers from Cal & Chennai – both are a class apart with great editorial and error free english.

I could go on and on – but then I am going to lose my reader. So Lets stop.

Whenever I travel to Chennai or Cal I come back with a feeling of “ when is my next trip”. I remember the title song of a Bengali serial we used to watch in DD many years back in Durgapur when we were kids  “ Aajob Shahar, Premer Shahor, Bichitra Nagar, Ei Kolkata” however when I travel to Mumbai or Delhi its always “ when can I get out of this city” .

Which leaves me wondering – when we have two cities with so much of culture, tradition, intelligentsia… whys is Delhi the political capital & crumbling Mumbai the financial capital. Is there hope, will we see a change in fortune and will Cal & Chennai come back soon as the top 2 cities of this country and the world at large ?

Please do share your thoughts.

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

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