Monday, December 31, 2007

Halwa’s (Alwa) of Chennai!

Giving alwa to someone seems to be a nice thing which everyone likes! and ofcourse when I got some alwa from this venue “Raja Alwa Kadai” to those at the duty room of AIR, all of them said this “Ennapa (What) your giving alwa to all of us”. Well anyways this alwa was genuine and the shop here was unique as it sold only Alwa’s (Halwa). About the shop, its rather quaint well lit, pretty clean rather unassuming in its interiors. Perhaps space here is a problem, well you do have space to sit and eat and the Alwa is …mmmm…..yummy. So if you have a sweet tooth thats the place to be. Interestingly on interacting with one Raja, the owner of the shop I learn that everyday they have 10 varieties of Alwa on display. Overall they have around 70 or so varieties of Alwa. That makes it more or less a set of 10 different alwa’s for every day of the week. And if you want to pick and choose from Raja’s exhaustive Menu you need to give him at least 2 days notice. To mention a few of the alwa’s on display were: Fruit Alwa, Semiya (Vermicelli) Alwa, Tinnevely Alwa, Milk Alwa, Pumpkin Alwa, Cashewnut Halwa, Carrot Alwa etc.

And where is this Alwa shop exactly? Hey this one is located on the Beach Road, bang opp. All India Radio and on the same side that the Light house is, in Santhome. And its not very expensive either 1/4kg. of the Alwa is Rs.50/-. So I bet it fits into your budget.

P.S. And hey Raja wants help in getting a menu card done in English. So any helpers out there pitch in now! Of course in return you can demand your pound of Alwa!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chennai Thetre Scene & Metroplus

A Late Review....yet no doubt Relevant

Just thought I'd start penning down nay reducing all that I wanted to say on the Metroplus Theatre Fest. '07 after the heat and dust simmers down! You'd perhaps say that this is a late bloomer now now lets get thing straight this is not about discovering something within me nor is it just about another theatre festival but it is about something that is now recognised to be Chennai's very own theatre festival. Three in a row and you have done it “Hindu”....and its here to stay. Now as bad luck would have it despite the invites all I got to see were the last three. Blame it on paucity of time, work related pressures or just my inertia anyways thanks to the Metroplus and the Evam team (Pavithra ofcourse) for having taken care of my passes, despite the market demands. Of course I would should thank Mukund (Editor, Metroplus) and Karthik (Evam) for a rather brief live talk on my radio show and there it was in clear terms all about this edition of the festival and thats that.

On the last three plays that I got to see, aha Pegasus, on the Civil Rights movement, truly a period play, a perfect script line played to the utmost perfection for I could see no flaw despite the best a roving eye like mine would wish to. And of course even that which I saw, trust me it was done in style for none could point a finger. Adeptness is not just the word for Pegasus, every actor on stage empathized with the role they adorned and with the audience being transported back in a time machine to another day almost five decades ago to the time and events they perhaps must have read or heard about or witnessed on television, Pegasus did their job. This play was no doubt for the serious minded and definitely not for the jolly go person who wishes to sit through a play and laugh his head off. My only wish is perhaps the organisers should put this in the posters or the list of plays, another column /row on the nature of the play and the target audience that would benefit from this. For instance the column could read: “This is a period play for the serious theatre afficionado and ofcourse for those who want to look at things at a lighter vein be there on the 11th and 12th for Ristorante Immortale and .......” A note like this am certain would be of value for those who are not familiar with theatre being a serious medium of public opinion and on the flip side it is informative and categorizes the play and helps the audience make quick choices.

And now for the hilarious ones the last two: Do Masks have Expressions? Ristorante Immortale seemed to say a big yes to it. Oh my god mime...mime and mime it was, expressions... rich they were. Truly professional entertainers they kept the crowd going for exactly an Hour and then the whole thing slipped into boredom. Trust me this group from Berlin is simply great but they need to feel the pulse of an audience. Mime has its limitations and an hour is notably the max. any audience can take. The last ten minutes did not seem to jive well with an impatient audience, perhaps the group should get back to its drawing board and abridge. That apart it was a perfect rendition of sorts, masks, masks, masks all around with deep expressions, emotions or they seem to speak from their hearts for every character in the play was in sync. The characterisation of human thought process was professionalism class apart. Last but not the least the impressive finale was the most commendable and innovative at its best.

The last play of the festival Vikram Kapadia's Black with Equal on Sunday was absorbing a true comedy of sorts perhaps a reality in some cases and of course as the M.C. said it was the last time that the group was performing the play and I considered myself to be lucky to watch them at close angle. This award winning satire from Bombay definitely takes the cake for it kept the entire audience on their feet, and as one of my pals referred: Quote “.....this is exactly what goes on in our flats, am just reminded of all that goes looks like this happens everywhere.....” Unquote. Definitely that was a true purge of emotions but the play had some masala to it which of course we all like. Indeed an entertainer at its best this play was certainly made a deserving finish for the third edition of the Metroplus Theatre Festival.

But one thing which as an audience I must reflect is the much awaited post performance interactive sessions that a theatre festival should encourage. Perhaps the organisers thought that this is a time consuming exercise but certainly there can be no running away from this and one should face it. It is a well known fact that the success of any theatre festival is rated not just on the impeccable performances but also the post performance interaction that the audience get to have and the debates thereon with the performers on stage. The warmth of these interactions go a long way in bridging the gap between the performers, the wannabe and of course the ever critical audience (of course you can add me in that list albeit am no connoisseur). And while not letting the dust settle on the curtains that have come down for this edition of the Metroplus Theatre Festival must say Karthik (Evam) made a fine M.C., an interesting exercise that he indulged in and am certain it paid off being informative. And for the next edition perhaps a suggestion or two, please consider the extra column as suggested above and for heavens sake the audience have to interact with the performers on stage, so the post performance interaction is a Must. Of course you can afford to dispense with Bose's loud music (nay noise) at the Verandah, perhaps the organisers should think of something that befits the ambience and trust something more “Madrasi.....” is welcome.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Coorg! Club Mahindra!! & a Kingfisher THUD!!!

Ah well guess thats how it all began, ofcourse wudn't have to go into the intricacies of being invited ....blah blah blah...but lets get to see what Coorg was all about. And it began with a big THUD...courtesy Kingfisher Airlines....for a good nay bad nay ugly nay THUD of a land and we almost felt thrown down rudely at Bangalore...(my favourite city and I could'nt care being thrown) perhaps Kingfisher needs to get its act together for its pax....don't wish to land in Bangalore with a THUD (Witnesses ofcourse all the pax in flt-IT411 on 30.11.07 -now thats for the record..tee hee). Anyways am not grumbling and thanks to our host Arun of Club Mahindra and Kiruba of course.

That said must admit that an all paid expenses trip was awesome. Trust I have never felt so important at a resort, Being suave at its best, thats sums up the attitude of the staff at the Club Mahindra Resort in Coorg. Of course Arun need not worry that am using too good words for a description. Nay I can be a nasty critic like Subbudu!

Now for some stats of Getting there:

Getting to Coorg (Kodagu) Valley:

Air: The proximate airport Mangalore (135 kms) and Bangalore (265-270 kms) - we drove down from Blr., Calicut (190 km)

Train: The nearest rail lines are to Mysore, Mangalore and Hassan (146 kilometers).

Road: Understandably from Bangalore, there are two routes to Coorg both being more or less the same distance, and via the National Highway. The one via Mysore, is the usually chosen. After Seringapatnam, Ranganthittu, Chanrayanapatna, the state highway route takes you to your destination. The stretch after Kushalnagar (the Tibetan settlement) is pretty bad however its scenic a drive through the coffee plantations which is absorbing. Alternative route is through Siddupur which supposedly is good.

Commuting Within Coorg: Buses: There are local bus services in Mercara (Madikeri) that connects almost every place in Coorg, except Kushalnagar. To this Buddhist settlement any of the out bound buses including those to Bangalore or Mysore should help.

Best Visited:
From October - May - Through the Winter - Summer. June - September has the monsoon rains lashing and out come the leaches (so take lots of salt with you).

Understandably good
hotels, motels, guest houses and tourist lodges to suit every budget. There are some picturesque resorts like Club Mahindra and Orange County. It's best to book in advance in winter.

Things to Pack
Carry light woolens as the weather is cool throughout the year and walking shoes are a must if you want to explore the beautiful spice and coffee plantations of Coorg. Do always have a torch and antidote for nausea is recommended and salt in your boots if your here in and around the monsoons.

Places of Interest:
Our itenary:
Day 1 - After arriving at Bangalore enroute Mysore to Mercara - chill out at the Resort.

Day 2 - Talacauvery on the forenoon. And Omkareswara Temple, Abbey (Jessey) falls and the Raja's seat i.e. the central park overlooking the valley in the afternoon.

Day 3 - Dubaray elephant camp in the forenoon. And stroll around the resort in post lunch session.

Day 4 - Enroute Mysore, break at the Tibetan settlement at Kushal Nagar.

Ofcourse if you have time at command for those interested in spices the Spice Research Station and the Cardamom centre should be well worth a visit. And the fort in the town of Mercara (Madikere) a stroll worthwhile.

About the Resort:
The Club Mahindra Resort is situate amidst sylvan surroundings, well laid out manicured gardens and all what you can expect
et al in 30 acres plus land. Just over 2 years old this Resort is another profit centre no doubt for the Mahindras. Excellent food, must say kudos to the F & B section there. And rooms left nothing to ask (save a pair of scissors that I wanted the most to get rid of the numerous baggage tags)...spic and span, touching messages on a coffee leaf by your bedside and lots on candle care!

A stroll across the walkers trail along
the rear end, best done early at morn. makes for good bird watching and is definitely a relishing experience. And to be woken up by bird calls and the sound of foliage is something that everyone would relish for lifetime and the Resort has et al. The coffee shop where we had our breakfast was just the right promenade to have your cereal breakfast and sip some filter coffee (authentically Coorgese) overall it had the right ambience to enthuse a bright day. And to top it all a guide who loves his assignment, thats Joy. Joy is one of those rare species whose energy levels are welcome and a company thats summed up as joyous.

Our Trip:
Day 1: After arriving at Bangalore and driving up to Mercara, grueling a drive is not just the word, man you need to have a vehicle with good suspensions and shock absorbers, this is a must. Ofcourse one look and feel of the ambience of resort at Coorg and the smiles that welcome you along with a drink, thats refreshing. Check in follows. And my me while lobbying to get a pair of scissors, for the first time I get myself locked out of the room, eeks thats bad! Well just as I try to hide the folly there's a fellow companion blogger wo ho....she's locked herself out too...Mridula..I have company!! Anyways the staff gets us in again and we refresh and meet up at the Fern Hall for a tete a tete. After the welcome performances and Joy's wonderful introduction and click click it was...too hungry to say No. No doubt the welcome performances gave us an insight into the ethnic lifestyle of the Coorgese and how much of an agrarian society that the Coorgese definitely are. Incidentally any linguist proficient in South Indian language would notice that the terminology describing the various components that formed part of the traditional attire have a sound Tamil background. Perhaps confirming that Tamil was the once dominant Dravidian language in S. India. Now am not getting into a controversy on this, its just an observation. And one must thank all the artists who performed that evening for having patiently waited for us to arrive despite our late arrival and yet honour us. We really felt important after all. That was soon followed by some sumptuous supper its time to digest et there we are at the recreation rooms...thats atop a little hill....of course Mridula, the former ping pong champion has her day! and for me its the shuttle after a long break, thanks to our host Arun, he's a great player, I havent forgotten shuttle cock hey!.....aarrgh and we are all to bed we go, with the next day wake up scheduled for.. hmmm my bones need some rest.....zzzzzz

Day2: Yup! it was great to be woken up by bird chirps and the foliage around. Just too lazy to go around the resort, my cozy king size bed was too comfy to leave and it was tough forcing myself out to the promenade coffee shop(guess that the breakfast point). A little bird watching there....grrr...yeah we were watched by the birds rather! And off we go to Talacauvery as our bright guide Joy gets us on our feet. About 50 km from Mercara and its a winding path up and down. At least two hours, for the roads are ok...but you cant go too fast either. Now if you think we are going up attempting the trail of the mighty Cauvery you should be in for surprises. Enroute we stop at the point Bhagamandala which has a temple under renovation. The temple is a typical product of the Malabar style of construction albeit resplendent of the Dravidian architecture. The wonderful wood work on the ceilings and the long columns studded with wooden pillars and the small shrines are noteworthy.

Incidentally Bhagamandala is a spot where we witness obeisance being paid to the ancestors (shraddh) by the locals. No doubt most perennial rivers do have such spots and along the mighty Cauvery you see that at every important town through which this beautiful river flows.

Yes as she (Cauvery) flows down into Seringapatnam (capital of Tippu, the fort here witnessed some of the bloodiest battles of the late 18th century, until Tippu was vanquished) you will see a spot where the locals consider it wholly to offer obeisance so also after she enters the Tamil region at various points in Erode, Srirangam too. The latter ofcourse being the town hosting the largest Vaishnavaite temple in S. India. And then she flows into the delta of Tanjore before entering the Bay of Bengal off the Palk Straits. (Now you must be asking where to do I get all that info....hmmm that and much more is from the "Scenery of an Indian Stream" by M.J. Walhouse (I.C.S.). Its about the beautiful and mighty Cauvery. If some one can find that article let me know. I have lost it thanks to the foolish wisdom of my sister. This was in a book printed in 1881, was part of our home collection and now its the newspaperwallahs collection). And if your one whose imagination runs riot with the sorta description of Walhouse trust me, what I saw at Talacauvery was a let down. Man its not the same. Its all gone. Anyways today its another tourist destination. Around the spring is a little tank and then came a shrine and a now a temple and its corridors all 20th and 21st century tourist attractions.

Well that said we went round the so called spring....I didn't get to see the spring but we believe it emanates from the mines below. So we trust what we read about and what we see! Of course Joy said it too!..and I believe it!! ...that settles it!!! Now adjacent to the point of origin of the Cauvery is an un-inviting flight of stairs (guess a step for every other day in a year). But once your uphill you get to see a panoramic view of the entire countryside. Impressive! and the photo sessions are in full swing!! Done that and we are hungry...time for lunch...back to the Resort....ooh la la...tis a great lunch am starving you bet! And now for the evening session, the smart junkies drop off for they wanna chill at the pool in the resort and we the hags decide to go ahead to see around Mercara. This time its a 'private water fall' (ever heard of that have you?) its the Jessey falls ala now Abbey (name of the daughter of current owner of the estate where you get to see the waterfalls. Incidentally we learn from Joy that Abbey also means water in Coorgese).

Trust me the falls are a splendid sight to watch and a great place to spend an evening. However since we have little time at command, off to the next pit stop, thats the Omkareswara Temple. A Shiva temple, a neat piece of early 19th century architecture built by the local ruler to atone for his mistakes. Guess the entire valley considers this temple important. And we hop off to the Raja's seat its already dark and nay we don't get to see the views promised but we presume its great!!
ofcourse we miss not the musical fountains in the park at the Raja' seat, and the crowds that go bonkers everytime they get to hear their favourite tunes. And its time for hungry again.....but before that a little get together at Kiruba's room before we all bid him bye on his sojourn to Europa....some rounds of music with wine and other spirits keep the crowd in good mood. Of exception were the guitarists who made the evening Apoorv and Dev Amritesh, indeed that sums up a splendid eve, not so fast hey behind the scenes was Anil and his wife who were really lucky to have caught up sometime that eve for some splendid explanation on Coffee and especially Coorgese, from the blokes at Club Mahindra, I missed it all and thanks Anil you have recorded it so well for posterity. And ofcourse if you wish to know more on Coffee you should read this: 'Coffee with Coorg' on

Day 3:
Trust me we are all pepped up with the salubrious climate of Coorg. A good walk around the resort along the Trail and ofcourse much more made a good start, save for an uneasiness of my restive stomach, which I guess is the case every time am faced with processed food. Anyways couldn't ask for more! Off we are to the Elephant camp - Dubbaray. This camp is about 60 km off Mercara, a hour and half drive and the roads are good winding up and down across the Western Ghats we tread until I ask for a halt tis nauseating amidst the absorbing drive along the coffee and pepper plantations, my poor tummy!! Anyway we reach the camp just in time as the jobless elephants (nay their job is to ferry tourists on rounds in the camp) have their bath and feed, after a road and ferry journey, yup thats a quick boat ride across a small channel (of the Cauvery), picturesque indeed, the shallow waters are cool with a lots of queer islands. The ritual of the elephant bath is mainly to attract the tourists, who are amazed at the docile nature of this pachyderm. No doubt the photo sessions are in full swing and then to the feeding spot where you see them fed with balls of jagerry mixed with ragi and other nutrients which the elephants so vitally require in their diet. A word of caution for those promoting this elephant camp... hmmm this is certainly not as exciting as that in Kanha sanctuary nor does it have comparable the bathing scenes at the Nagarhole sanctuary. The elephant camp is rich in bird species and a stroll around the same with our guide Joy is worthwhile. We relished Joys intricate knowledge of the flora. His ability to distinguish them and describe them so lucidly to a visitor makes him a dear son of the soil... “Mannine Maga” indeed. Just in case you get to have Joy as your guide don't forget to ask him to show you the bubble producing sap plant. The sap of this plant is as viscous as soap solution is and can be blown as bubbles. After some good time at the camp its time for lunch trust me I was sapped of all my energy no wonder I love food and am glad I have a high B.M.R. Later that eve.. a stroll around the resort was exhilarating. The coffee varieties of Robusta, Arabica and anr. I forget, and the manner in which they are grown, the climate, yield and economics et al was absorbing all forming part of a live lec/dem session by Joy! The spicy news of pepper and all that we heard about Coffee added flavour!! The adventure filled sport that we were encouraged in the resort were fun filled sessions. The music, games and dances and the swaying bellies to the Bollywood numbers and the camp fire all courtesy our guide and to which we were treated later that evening made the it an unforgettable evening at the resort.

And hey I forget to pen on the massage I had, wow it was an extremely good massage. Deft hands and a good herbal bath, I felt refreshed can I ask for something more?

Day 4: Time for us to pack up and leave...and that we did faithfully bidding bye and thanking our guide Joy profusely ofcourse our hosts deserve the Kudos. And we are on our way to Bangalore en route Kushal Nagar, the Tibbetan Settlement.

The Nyimgompa monastery is where we stop by after an absorbing drive downhill along the coffee and pepper plantations again. Nothing spectacular its another modern Buddhist monastery akin to those that you may see in Ladakh. What made it special was that the Tibetans took care to bring down their art and culture with them as they moved down to the plains of southern India and that is enriching. A quick tour of this monastery and we were back in our suspension and shock absorber free bus, you know about the ride anyways....we had to head back to Bangalore in time, pretty sad we had to skip Ranganthittu sanctuary wish had time at command, well well speculative city traffic and our respective flights to our material destinations later that evening worry us, so should all good things come to a close.

Some Suggestions Club Mahindra:
1. Perhaps something more than just a Coffee stall/ corner in the lounge would be welcome. A coffee outlet on the lines of a Cafe Coffee Day, of course no loud music please, all the same you need to have a coffee shop that serves you varieties of coffee for your inviting visitors to the Coffee heartland. The coffee stall can be well positioned in this area and would be a welcome value add.

2. The swimming pool perhaps could have been bigger. But it definitely requires a heating system.

3. As regards massages are concerned a counselling session on the various massages and benefits of these is recommended. Your masseurs are good and you need to promote them better.

4. And last but not the least but this is hearsay, there has been a lot of controversy over the initiatives of CM. Trust CM cannot exist in isolation. You need to involve the local Coorgese in your activity. Your Corporate Social Responsibility be it Coorg or Munnar is vital. Perhaps instead of discontinuing of the mock marriage that we heard off at the resort, you should have a marriage hall where the local Coorgese could solemnize their weddings and CM should play host (of course you can charge them for the food and beverages). And visitors may witness the wedding if they are lucky enough. Now thats what you call blending with the local communities. Ideally CM could take the lead in promoting other dying traditions the way Dakshina Chitra of the Madras Crafts Foundation has done over the past decade or so.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

On my radio show

Hey tomorrow a little over 7 perhaps 7.30....tune in ...on 101.4 FM (Rainbow) tune into me hosting the Chennai based band Panatella......A funk and Roll music band with a tinge of blues and jazz....thats how they call themselves....check them out at

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Late August - October is definitely the time to be here. Well would I be blamed for calling it the poor mans Ooty ah well blame me not for it for I beg to differ on that. And yet Yelagiri definitely is a quick get away for any urbanite of Chennai or those couples who want some privacy???????? tee hee!!!!!! Anyways its a great place for trekking and being a part of nature at 3000 plus feet above sea level.

Kanha - hEY The CAT's R Lazy!!!

Kanha – 14 – well thats the perfect vibe.....for the word(any numerologist will concur on that) and where do I start....err well To do or Not to do...and of course there goes the frantic calls from the Secretary of the Madras Naturalists to Vijay Kumar concerning the elusive, slippery nay missing Me. Well as Sheela put it... my reputation preceded that was the con...nay gossip in the A.C. Coaches of the Chennai - Jaipur(Jeypore) bound Train (of course poor me was in the Gen. Class.) just as we reached Nagpur enroute Kanha for a week long sojourn. Nagpur was hot 'n dry simmering well beyond 35c and soon we found ourselves bundled off in the 3 Toyota's (nay Toyata kualis as our Pasha (the travel agent and lead driver) referred them there). Now I had a S.O.S. please stop by an ATM....for I was virtually penniless....little chillers was all that I was left with, if I didn't draw any money then Vijay Kumar our Malabari leader was to underwrite me! And so the search for the ATM began....enroute from Nagpur to Kanha (260km long drive).....we were soon on the NH-7, little did I know that this highway linked Benares with Cape Commorin. For thats the route amidst the ghat roads the ranges of the Satpura that leads you to Kanha. Lunch was an optional break at a motel and finally our Toyatawalla Pasha agreed to get me to an ATM at Seoni (pronounced Sivni the half way point and our Toyatawalla's base). The ATM was another surprise....SBI – Indore....Grrrr!!!....for the machine seemed to know its after all the machine age and that humans can wait!..and wait we all did in the Toyata's!!...for poor me to finish the transaction which am glad despite the mysterious shut down and restart!!! Anyway as good luck would have it we the Madras Naturalists brought the rains along and must be credited for cooling the Kanha Reserve. The rains just preceded us in Seoni and ofcourse there was the virgin reserves of Kanha calling out to us and bring down the simmering heat. Giving us company enroute was the ubiquitous and chweet narrow gauge line a rare phenomena to see in the plains and the train was rather short with a quaint diesel engine but our Pasha clarified that this train journey was economical on the narrow gauge, a 12 hour trip from Nagpur to ________ the closest point to Kanha and then it veers off to Jubbulpore. And Seoni incidentally has the pride of being the largest and sole narrow gauge railway junction in S. Asia. Well that didn't surprise me for Nagpur incidentally also hosted one of the only known Railway Museums on the Narrow Gauge networks in S. Asia. And on Nagpur I was also glad to know that this was the city of Ambedkar and more important the city where the Reserve Bank of India had centralised all its accounts and has all the glimmering tons of gold (solid gold bars i bet) stocked in its cellars (reminded me of the 1991, balance of payment crisis). Finally we reached Kanha (Kisli Gate) vide the State Highway 11 and 11a from Seoni at 7.30 that eve....ofcourse thats followed by the hustle and bustle of finding your favourite beds at the dorms.... and supper was at vegetarian food, must give our appreciation to Dubey the Asst. Manager of the Reserve Kitchen and Canteen maintained by M.P. Tourism. He was one soul that was rare and too willing to believe in “Adithi Devo Bhava”, ofcourse it came for a price.

Day 2 we set off for on our maiden entry at 5.30 early morn., after a great cup of chai, courtesy Siddarth, canteenwalla, into the lush greens of Kanha.....on a Canter bus steered by Joseph, Joseph thats unusual for this part of India aint it! and when Joseph got to know that we were from the South then you know it all opened up...mallu!!'d be sure to find them across the globe and Joseph was indeed a great blessing to us all. He just knows how to steer us round n round the reserve, well informed and trustworthy a driver, a rare species amidst the other rarities of Kanha! And a must interact person in Kanha. Ofcourse there was a lot of hype....about the cats...cats and cats....they say officially its 130 but unofficially its 65! God!! Do the big cats exist at all? We keep riding around in our canter and witness some of the rich bird and mammal species of Kanha – Cheetals (Spotted deers) galore, Sambhars, the elegant Barasingha (Swamp deer family) an endangered mammal unique to Kanha that has managed to do well over the past two decades, a solitary barking deer, jungle pheasants, jungle crows, peacocks and peahens swarm around and then where is the tiger?????? ah well is it so easy? I thought so? Nay! Thats the sort of answer with a disdain......from Ramanan, a veteran Naturalist and photographer, someone who has been to Kanha almost half a dozen times and each time its a different experience for him to narrate. So mystique and myriad! Is that Kanha!! Hmmm anyway no tigers to watch that stroll across for us but then there's the silver lining and thats the Tiger Show of Kanha goes along with an elephant ride a short stroll on the elephant's back once they corner the tiger in the tourist zone.... Well a visit to this daily tiger show is rather nice. And looks the like the tiger is used to human intervention.... we observed the tiger, an adult, rather cool, merrily lazing next to a kill (an Indian Gaur). Trust me this tiger was just as lazy as any other cat would be....lazed nay dazed he was to the tons of visitors and noise that was all around him and he just didn't much so...some of the Naturalists came to the conclusion that the whole show was 'fixed'! not as bad as the cricket shows we watch I guess!! Infact one rumour around the place was let off by Sudakar and that was perhaps they doped the tiger with sufficient calmpose....tee hee. Anway's that apart well well we were thrilled that the tigers after all that controversy does exist and as Vijaykumar says...that sums up the food chain cycle.... its still intact with the biggest predator still existing in flesh and blood and one need not worry anymore, ofcourse certainly not a lazing cat for us to click off after that long 26 and odd hour journey to Kanha.

Later that eve we once again decided to take the canter ride into the Reserves and oh my what a long que of jeeps waiting to least 15 ahead of us but then thanks to Joseph who bulldozes his way, in the process bumping off a jeep and amidst the screams he veers into the reserve, but thats not fair who cares...its the jungle law...of mougli....:) and hmmm no tigers at all for us that eve! but those jeeps that preceded us got lucky.....luck man as they say plays a big big role...:( After that we visited the OAT (open air theatre) and the museum, the documentary on project tiger and Kanha was informative but overall the OAT was a let down, poor maintenance evidenced the sad state of affairs in Kanha. But one thing we decided that the next day on it was the jeep for us and not the canter....and Joseph our benefactor was condescending and kind enough to get us 5 jeeps at a good rate.

Day3 at 5 we get ready, never have i got ready that early in ages, and in the jeeps we go for our long safari's round and round the park!! lots of birds and other mammals but the tiger? Well thats a ?? We get info of the Tiger sightings in and around Kanha and the Tiger show is on! But then we decide a big NO and yeah we stand by it. Ofcourse the last laugh is with a fellow naturalist who is fond of the Langur (the Indian Monkey) and my me his fascination and the pics he shot of the Langur...terrific!! is not just the word. The morning ride ends by 11 A.M. (by the way thats the time the Park shuts down in the forenoon) And we wait for the evening ride. This time around its another jeep that I embark on and as we go around the rains come. Wow convection rains and its lovely, the thunder storm and the clouds hanging over us is inviting and we understand thats its a heavy downpour in Kanha and all jeeps are advised to roam around the periphery of the Park. So all we do keep criss crossing the beaten track until the rains decide to accost us too and there we all huddle into one of the observation huts in the Park. The rains here are so inviting and it cools off the otherwise hot dry Kanha Park.

Day 4 we get off early as usual and this time its once again in search of the elusive cats. Well as they say bad luck could not get better than this. But then behold we had a great bird watching group. Name the bird that your were expected to see and our birdies saw it all. And on the mammals, reptiles and birds that its better described by Chitra whose wishes almost seem to always come true at Kanha and I always wondered how did she connect to Kanha?? And to write about Kanha as Chitra put it across in the monthly bulletin of the MNS: “Somehow the magnificence and awe that an image of a tiger evokes was missing in the rather orchestrated sightings we had of it. Moreover, most sightings were of sleeping tigers or tigers lolling around. But a few of our members actually saw a tiger on a hunt. The park claims to have about 500 Barahsinghas, 130 Tigers, 60 Sloth Bears, 96 Leopards, but as visitors are allowed into just a fourth of the park one gets to see these animals but rarely. Bird watching opportunities were not many as we spent quite a large amount of time chasing the elusive tiger, however we managed to spot many raptors (Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brown Fish Owl, Sparrowhawk, White-eyed Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and White Backed Vulture), and the Peafowl regaled us with many displays of its fine plumage. Some other interesting spottings included the Malabar Grey Hornbill, the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Spangled Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, and Painted Francolin. We were disappointed that we hardly got to see any reptiles, amphibians or interesting insects except for the odd visitor to our dormitory (the large beetle, the 6-inch black scorpion that had everyone running helter-skelter) and the olive coloured snake that one of our members almost stepped on during the nature walk.” ...there they were all and I saw them just that am no avid bird watcher. However the official claims are all contested and the cats as we all know factually are less than half of the official figures, well thats another controversy thats been raging for quite a while now and lets not get into that right now. Later early evening a Canter ride visit to the nearby village - Mocha, and a peek into the local shandy (market) was exciting. The village artefacts were aplenty and so is the vegetable and fruit market. The brown sugar (demarara) and Gur was enticing and ofcourse last but not the least was the local intoxicant drink that all of us got to sip....WOW!! Thats not all for the evening we get to see around 5 pm the elephant feeding, my me thats an awesome no one should miss in Kanha. First the Tusker get his share and then comes the family and the little ones and the females in the group they all wait patiently in a row for those huge balls made of Ragi, jaggery and other nutrients. Trust me you can control an elephant to a certain extent and when its feeding time all you can do is make them stand in a line and when the balls of food arrive its helter skelter and no man can control hunger pangs of these little gluttons...the little ones goading each other for the food with a naughty smile and an eyes filled with love and sweetness, in each little elephant calf was such a memorable sight that neither me nor Ambika or Chitra could forget in a life time.

Day 5: Got us going once again pretty early and this was ofcourse going to be a long drive to the plateau of Bamini Dadar and as Chitra wished all her wishes come true! All she wanted to see was a bear and a some of the other cat species and a snake well well lets see how lucky she got!! And just as we go winding in the known trails towards the plateau suddenly ahead of us is another jeep of those avid documentary fellas filming and they signal us to stop...why and in loud whispers.....its a bear....ooh la la. Hey Chitra one wish of yours is there...and they want us to go back a short distance which our jeep driver didn't accede to and lo suddenly the Sloth bear goes past on the left side....pretty sweet (and a pretty young fellow) looks like this one is upset with the many humans around filming and he runs along and then crosses road right behind our jeep and on to other side lo he is gone...lost into the thick wilderness of Kanha!!! We then proceed up up and above into the plateau of Bamini Dadar and my me the meadows of this region tall elephant grass, made good bird watching and finally across the abandoned air strip and to the view point. Aha breathtaking views that everyone thoroughly enjoyed and on our way back good lord Chitra's another wish.....some other cats!...and there we see the elusive shy jungle cat....that was a rare sighting.....Infact this cat didn't seem to be bothered about us, he was pretty much engrossed in his hunt for a while until he suddenly noticed a jeep full of weird onlookers gazing and clicking him off...good lord for a moment he did realise that we thought he was the spectacle nay factually it was spectacular a find. However Ananthakrishnan had better luck with Ramanan. And the pictures he shot stood testimony to that.

Later that evening we decide to go on a nature trail (ofcourse thats a walk) nothing noteworthy but for some bird watching and halfway through we are tired and the rains force us to abandon the walk and allow us to stray outside Kanha. We are off to the Chai(Tea) stall piping some hot tea as the rains bless us one and all. Later that evening its time for our last dinner at Kanha and we are one and all profusely thanking the Kitchen staff, the Manager and ofcourse Joseph, our man of honour. But the splendid evening was overshadowed by the killing of the black scorpion that accidentally wandered into our dorm....(the scorpion was stoned by one of the kitchen boys and it was spontaneous for which he repented later, for we did explain to him that they scorpions have a right to co-exist, and he would done good to stop after having chased it out rather than follow it and stone it) and the other bad event was the good old me who strayed out into the night on the pretext of having some kheer at the other restaurant and ofcourse when it was late for me to get back Vijaykumar had the jitters and raised an alarm, well well nothing happened to good old me, I was destined to be safe like the cats, which they say has nine lives! whether or not they are lazy!!

Day 6: Early morning another annual trip comes a circle and we are all packing off to Nagpur. Our Toyotawalla is ready to get us going. And we are cruising down the highway, with a halt at Seoni for some import – export and then the odd tyre that gives way not once but twice (yeah the stepini too) despite which we make it to Nagpur well before noon only to disperse into our respective material worlds.

All Images: Courtesy and thanks to: Ananthakrishnan, Chitra, Ramanan (Madras Naturalists Society).

Fact File.
Location: Geo Political - Mandla District, Madhya Pradesh, Central India. Kanha lies in the Maikal Range of the Central Indian Highlands at a latitude of 22o7’ to 22o27’N and 80o26’ to 81o3’E. The altitude range in 450 mts to 950 mts (m.s.l.). Summer temperature ranges from 11° C to 43° C while in winter it is from -2° C to 29° C. The annual average rainfall is 1600mm. It has links to other tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh and falls on a circuit of Khajuraho, Panna, Bandhavgarh, Jabalpur, Kanha, Pench and Nagpur.

Area: 1,940 sq. kms.

When to Visit: April to June and November to January

Getting There.
Air: The nearest airport is at Nagpur (266-kms) and is connected by various domestic airline services with Mumbai.

Rail: For those from the South and West Nagpur at 266 km or and from the other parts Jabalpur at 169-kms are the most the convenient railway routes to visit Kanha. Travelling in the narrow gauge railway line from Nagpur to the closest point of Kanha would be recommended only if you have ample time at command for it takes easily 12 hours and more as the passenger train halts at every other station.

Road: Kanha National Park is connected by road with Jabalpur 175-kms, Khajuraho 445-kms, Nagpur 266-kms, Mukki 25-kms, Raipur 219-kms.

Within the park: Koshi - Kanha (9-kms), Kishi - Katia (4-kms), Kishi - Mukki (32-kms). There are regular bus services available from Jabalpur to Kanha.

Cashmere & Ladakh

And if there was one place that you wish to see where all the four (4) seasons are so distinct then Cashmere or Kashmir or perhaps Kasshhmeer!!!!! oh my me what a horse like stress the locals have...well they are no doubt stressed out people with all that turmoil for over 20 years and now they are back to making money. Cashmere as I always loved to call it is a great place to laze around and bet. Ofcourse Ladakh is an entirely different experience especially if traveling upstream along the Indus and wetting your hands in the cold nay warm waters it feels so et go on....

Why Cashmere? the Immediate Reason!
It all began at one of our usual tour guides get together when the word Cashmere (Pashmina) shawls buzzed around and then some one said what about our annual convention and Cashmere said someone and lo...not many takers...but I persisted and they said lets see...that was in 2006 no takers...and again in early 2007 ....we persisted...and finally as good luck favoured one n all..thanx to Asoka, the President Emeritus of the Tourist Guides Fed. of India, from Chennai, the national body finally condescended to venture into this region once again. The Govt. of J & K promised to play host for they had to prove a point in rem! The ground work done in early summer and the TGFI fact finding team decided to have the all India convention in Srinagar in early Sept. '07 for they declared it a safe destination. And so there we go...

A rather unimpressive flight from Delhi to Srinagar save for befriending a fish....more about that later! Touch down...check out, your at altitude 5000 ft. plus and then we drive into the city, scenes not palpable. Its one large military check post at the airport...and lots of surveillance as we drive on.. another check post and another check post, god its a military town. You would find just too many C.R.P.F (Central Reserve Police Force) personnel with auto rifles ever so vigilant. Hmmm quite nosy they are when they see a bunch South Indian faces. Anyways we have a reason to be there. Ofcourse its time for yet another all India convention of Tourist Guides of the Govt. of India. And here we are the largest group from S.India (30 pax. +) in a convoy of 6 vehicles (by the way thats the way your advised to move out of Srinagar). Its a good half hour drive into the main town and along the most fashionable thoroughfare of the city the Dal Lake Road and further on to the Air India run hotel thats the Centaur Hotel (the locals call it Santoor), on the banks of the Dal Lake, a beautiful promontory, yeah prime property reclaimed for they filled in that grand old man made lake to make the hotel and that was a mistake.

About the Hotel:
The Centaur, is a pretty sad story. A lot of karmic effects right from the day the govt. of Cashmere decided to encroach upon the Dal Lake (the views, the vantage, the position it gave) and put up a 5 star hotel more than 30 years ago and till these days when the same govt. decided to close down the profitable hotel because of its same view, vantage, position that caused many a militant strike. Apparently he who holds commands over the Dal Lake and today its the turn of the Indian Army to have its command. And this convention was one reason to spruce up the hotel in more than 10 years, interestingly we landed there on Krishna Jayanti and that evening the Army camp sepoys had organised bhajans that evening and me the usual self discovered this as I kept loafing around the campus much to the chagrin of the army sepoys who were only keen to advise me not to stray around too far. That apart the environs in and around this hotel complex makes excellent space for bird watching ofcourse the king fishers – two varieties of them, common kingfisher and another one with some pale white features, and the eagles here made an excellent watch early in the morning. The day after we (thats me with Anupama, a peppy reporter from IE who was to covering the event) did some bird watching while taking an early morning stroll along the Dal Lake.

About the Conf...
Ah well that went on as usual, with our maami's and mama's in their best attire to impress the man behind the 'Un-tied Kingdom'. Oh yes he admitted it partially Ghulam Nabi Azad, the chief minister of J & K presided over the convention and at least warned us that he hoped not to mix up his speeches...ofcourse we all remember this was the man, the former Toursim Minister, GoI who while addressing the doyens of the UK tourism industry got them all glum and blushing for having addressed the entire gathering like this perhaps..."Ladies & Gentlemen, Good Evening to all those members of the travel and trade industry of the Un-tied Kingdom.....India and the Un-tied Kingdom for long have had a great relationship and today with the opening of the Indian economy we sincerely hope the Un-tied Kingdom would make use of this opportunity to invest in India. You are perhaps aware that the Un-tied Kingdom is second largest trading partner with on so forth" little did minister sahab realise that his stenographer has mistyped the works 'untied' for 'united'.

That apart we spend a lot of time moving around various parts of Srinagar one one of the oldest mosques which apparently was a temple converted and we were prevented from having a closer look at this one by a fanatic..rather strange he was...he suddenly started abusing our escort in foul Cashmeeri and then began yelling at us all and lo we thought it wise to move away, the next pit stop was a nice dargah (a spot where some holy man is believed to have been buried), which we were allowed to visit and snap all over (just as any other dargah allows) and the jumma masjid, the largest, most famous and a very fine specimen of Islamic Cashmeri art, which incidentally also had so much of Hindu elements in its Islamic construction and another day t0 to the gardens and beautiful is not just the word for these gardens are aplenty. And from atop the elevation early evening you have a wonderful sight of the lights across the lake...the Hazratbal shrine.

Amidst these was an afternoon to the house of a friend, a fish that was befriended in the flight, Shahzeab Khan, invited me home, he his family hosted me for lunch I never felt important ever before....a lovely vegetarian meal with so many dishes and oh my god the still drooling...and i can never forget that.....they simply made it lavishly vegetarian for I had warned that I don't eat dead bodies..:)

A day after we arrived the plan of action was to visit Pahalgam. Now as I said earlier we are to travel in convoy, miss being part of a convoy and your stuck for hours in the traffic jam or line up that builds to be a part of the next convoy. A convoy here would be a long line of vehicles getting either out or entering the city of Srinagar. And when they let go out of the city, they block the traffic on the NH - ...and let go a convoy. Then block the traffic of the outgoing city traffic and the next convoy of the NH goes and the 2 alternates go on. This apparently is the safest way of travelling as the possibility of a militant attack is never ruled out and when your part of a convoy the logic is it definitely is comforting. Enroute were 2 temple sites along side the Jhelum.

My me what a picturesque drive along the Jhelum, the water here is milky white, hey is it froth or just the effect of the silt it washed down off the Himalayas, whichever way, it reminds me of the streams of milk that historians quote on India...and moving on along the stream we pass through some walnut groves. Oh my god, we just stop by and pluck some walnut fruits, and try our hand at reaching the kernel inside the shell, we loved it all. Trust me in this part of the world walnuts cost you peanuts, apples cost you like bananas and bananas come for a price.....a pretty heavy price...ever dreamt of paying a handsome Rs.5/- for a tiny plantain (ofcourse this is not big given the inflation, well well we are talking here of Sept. '07 when the GoI was pretty happy on having contained inflation while rejoicing the bull run). By noon we reach this long lost paradise, hill station around 8000 ft. above sea level and after a long bus journey whats on your and this was awesome....nan's, rotis, cashmeri panneer....ooh la la am still drooling on that sumptuous lunch we had at this resort...... And then for a stroll along the banks of the Jhelum, this is nostalgic as you stumble across the rocky river bed, with the guzzling cold water and all its greenish and white colored the most proximate well thats after you step into the waters of the Jhelum and look into the water its sparkling clean....time for some photo sessions along the banks of the Jhelum, splash...splash ...splash...its a lovely chill... gosh I love it all and wish to relive it again and again. Later that noon on our way back we get to see some of cricket bat factories. It is rather interesting to note that they make willow bats that is primarily used for playing cricket with tennis balls! Guess thats not surprising for the cricket enthusiasts but for me whose so far away from the game is!! A quick round of the factory, these are small cottage industry factories that have grown over the past years, to be a flourishing cricket bat business. The best part of the whole thing is name it and you have the brand of cricket bat, well now I can guess thats where most of the fake bats with the top brand names come from, name it you have MRF, RBK, and many more. Of course the maami's and maama's did not let go the shopping opportunity and me too joined the crowd for the souvenir bats.