Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The city of meandering canals

Better late than never. Well, that's how this post should be justified.  In the springs of 2019, we visited a versatile city, a city that can be described in several ways- the city of bikes, the city of dykes, the city of canals, the city with stuck together houses, the absolutely free-spirited city, so on and so forth. Some even call it the city of sins because it is so free-spirited. I am sure that by now you would have guessed its name, isn't it? 
Yes, Amsterdam is the city I've been describing with all those taglines. I have a few more interesting descriptions for this charming multi-cultural European city, the capital city of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is not just pretty but it has a wonderful tolerant attitude towards its people and sends out such welcoming vibes to its visitors. So much so that this city is not just ever-crowded but over-crowded, all through the year. 
There are innumerable photographs of Amsterdam and multiple posts, too, by many bloggers. What I shall be documenting is my personal experiences, some of the places we visited, some touristy spots and some absolutely local-like activities we did while in the city.
Spring is one of the seasons when it isn't too crowded. The vibes are wonderful, the weather perfect, colours all around as it's also the season of the famed tulips. Most of us know of the world famous Keukenhof gardens, don't we? The tulip gardens close to Amsterdam where about 7 million bulbs are planted by a team of gardeners between the months of October and December, open for the visitors around spring time for just 8 weeks! And believe me, they are a sight not to be missed. Keukenhof might be a touristy spot but it is worth visiting. The gardens are beautifully planned, each year with a different theme and are so colourful that they make us spellbound. Not just tulips, there are quite a few varieties of flowers and orchids, too. What I loved about these gardens was the happy vibe all around; people seemed just so happy and relaxed. Maybe colours have a magical relaxing effect on people! I feel I should do a separate post on these stunning gardens of Keukenhof πŸ˜€⚘⚘⚘.....
And there was some riot of colours!
Leaving the gardens of Keukenhof behind, let's come back to the city once again. A canal cruise is mandatory in this city. At least, that's what I felt. But doing it a little differently was the trick for maximum enjoyment. We had opted for Captain Dave's cruise. It was listed as an Airbnb activity that we had added to our itinerary. The cruise was for a small group of 13/14 people. It was a lovely experience, sipping steaming coffee, nibbling on cakes and cookies and making ourselves comfortable on warm seats on the boat. Captain Theo was at the helm and he guided the boat with expertise while narrating his stories about Amsterdam. We passed by pretty neighbourhoods, tree-lined with those iconic stuck-up houses that define the city. We crossed quite a few bridges, the Amsterdam university on one side, a zoo on another side of the canals, churches and museums, boat houses and finally reached the point when we were on Amstel river.
I was at my energetic best, trying to freeze every corner of the city with my new cellphone camera! And with such interesting places dotting the city, what can be expected of visitors! After the canal cruise we walked through the lanes lined with cafΓ©s and houses. The buildings looked straight out of the glossies, quaint and unique at the same time. There are a lot of stories about these slim and trim, stuck together beauties.By the way, did you know that the four canals of Amsterdam are included in the list of UNESCO World heritage site? We visited a very interesting place, the floating flower market. It was a crazy sight with bouquets of colourful tulips and orchids and violets and hyacinths, to name a few, apart from tulip bulbs displayed all around. I literally wanted to buy everything and regretted not living in this beautiful city. 
Crazy, right? πŸ˜€πŸ˜€⚘⚘⚘⚘
Have you read the story of Alibaba and the forty thieves? Well, if you haven't, then you should give it a read. I felt as if I had entered a cave full of treasure and really didn't know how to react. Never had I seen so many colours together and such variety of tulips! No wonder at one point of time, tulip bulbs would cost more than boat houses! This flower market dates back to 1862. The flower stores are actually barges. Earlier flower sellers would sell their flowers in barges on the canals and river. Now the barges are docked and flowers are sold on these boats. Doesn't that sound interesting? 
The Rijks Museum was on our must visit list, too. It's a beautiful building exhibiting some beautiful paintings and other exhibits; a good way to spend a morning exploring history, art and culture and then ending off with some good coffee at the in-house cafΓ©.
So much to say about this beautiful city; the post is getting longer and I have been deferring the publishing. Much happened in the meantime, a pandemic swept the world and brought life to a grinding halt. Travelling came to a standstill and we do not know when again we can travel. In such circumstances, the only way to travel is through photographs and memories. This post is my way of travelling in a pandemic-stricken world.
Travel through Amsterdam with me through this post and let me know if you enjoyed this virtual travel.
Signing out..... Take care and stay safe.

Monday, November 11, 2019

And my tea story continues.......Sinna Dorai Valparai

" And if these mountains had eyes, they would wake to find two strangers in their fences, standing in admiration as a breathing red pours its tinge upon earth's shore. These mountains,  which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man's weak praise should be given God's attention. "
Donald Miller
We did stand in awe, in wonder watching this  spectacular sunset. Beginning the post with these stunning sunset colours, unedited, sans filters, but nonetheless glorious. Sinna Dorai, " chota Saab's" or the assistant manager's bungalow in Valparai makes for an absolute eye candy. Take a look at a few photographs. Well, this post is going to be a photo tour of this beautiful property.
Valparai is a small town in Tamil Nadu in the Anamalai ranges of the Western Ghats. Although it had been in our minds for a long, long time, given its distance from Bangalore,  we took some time to plan a trip to this absolutely charming place. Once that was figured out, the drive up the mountains with forty hairpin bends was a breeze for the resident chauffeur,  that's the husband πŸ˜€.....
The highway from Bangalore via Krishnagiri is beautiful with rolling green hillocks of the Eastern Ghats. As we crossed Pollachi, one of the small towns at the foothills of the Anamalai ranges, we absolutely fell in love with the view. Winding roads, lush green forests, chirping of birds and butterflies of all colours; what more did we need! And the magnificent lake Aliyar! Stunning would be an understatement. Stopping by little springs and wildflowers lined roads to capture as many photographs as we could and have chai at a small roadside stall belonging to a tea plantation was how we enjoyed the drive. There was tranquility all around; something that we sorely miss in our city life. We, often, make such trips to experience this feeling of peace and fill in our lungs with fresh mountain air.
As we approached our destination, we marvelled at the greenery around us; tea plantations, tiny villages dotting the valleys and mountain slopes and glimmering waterfalls cascading down the mountains. Picturesque! 
But the best was yet to comeπŸ˜€.....the pretty bungalow set amidst the tea plantations! A tiled cottage with red oxide floored long veranda or sitout welcomed us. The place was beautiful, indeed. Period furniture, antique decorative pieces, fireplaces and plenty of plants were all used so aesthetically in the house that was once the home of the family who now looks after it. (Here, I must mention that we visited this charming place twice, over a span of two months. So you can imagine how smitten we are by it! ) Aesthetics and comfort were both kept in mind while designing the bungalow. There were books to give us company along with our favourite light black tea and those gorgeous mountains faraway. Take a walk within the gates of the bungalow, drinking in the beauty of the surroundings or drive around the hilly roads; the choice was ours. Well, it wasn't just the beautiful surroundings that filled us up but also the delicious home cooked meals. Meal times were such elaborate affairs. Tables were laid with such perfection that I, seriously, felt like a guest of honour πŸ˜€πŸ˜€....
The staff was forever smiling and willing to make us comfortable, be it accompanying us during our walks through the plantations or during our drives after sundown. The number of times we would've asked for a pot of their light black tea and even the picnic lunch we carried along during our trip to a faraway waterfall, too, need a mention.
I could gather some interesting trivia about one of the cottages that was built in 1942; what was to be used as a servants' quarter was believed to be haunted. Imagine, living in a haunted room! That would be our choice next time we visit Sinna Dorai Valparai πŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€....
And this iron cover that says Burn &Co Ltd, belongs to pre- independence days. This company was started by a British and had its office in Howrah, West Bengal. It is instrumental in building Calcutta Tramway System and most of the city's drainage system. That's interesting, isn't it? 

 It truly felt like a home away from home each time we visited Sinna Dorai Valparai. But then I would like to add that such places call for responsible tourism. While we have such gems to visit, they surely need to be treasured and protected. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Amidst the tea plantations

" As far as her mom was concerned, tea fixed everything. Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones? There's a tea for that too. Somewhere in her mother's pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said, " In case of Armegeddon, steep three to five minutes. "
Aprilynne Pike

I suddenly realised that I have almost stopped writing my blog. It's just those few words, a few phrases or at the most a few sentences; it's just that much I have been writing in my Instagram page.  Sometimes I felt like writing a lot more than those few sentences and share a lot many photographs of the beautiful trips we have been taking.

Going back to the extract from Aprilynne Pike, she spoke my mind; rather she read my mind. Our recent trip to Sinna Dorai's Mangorange was a perfect tea trip. Set amidst lush green tea plantations, the old, once-upon-a-time planter's cottage, built during colonial times, made for a pretty postcard. The bungalow was spacious inside, had the charm of an old English countryside cottage with fireplaces in each of the rooms, antique furniture pieces and huge bathrooms. The red tiled roof with an old battered chimney jutting out made for a perfect look; one that as children many of us would have drawn and coloured. Wild flowers grew everywhere,  butterflies flitted around with impatience, barely sitting on any flower. Throughout the day, we could see the birds busily flying over from one tree to another, chirping animatedly. This was music to our ears. And amidst all this, we sat with our cups of steaming tea, perfect in taste and aroma and even more perfect for the weather. The cook, Prabhu, was a magician in whipping up delicious meals. And had a wonderful temperament, wearing his smile at all times. A slow holiday could not be better! With a good collection of books to keep us company, long walks across the huge plantations that supplied leaves to the Carolyn tea factory just down the hill, our holiday was a good example of slow holiday. Such holidays are for the senses to come alive.
Mangorange, I wonder how it got its name. I read that not much is known about the origin of this name. There are a couple of huge mango trees around the bungalow but a pine tree shades the porch of the house. The mountains of the Nilgiris stand faraway with a very interesting needle point of a peak. Clouds are constantly at play, shrouding the mountains at one moment and clearing up at the next. The occasional bright yellow autos ferrying people through the tarred roads leading up to the nearby villages give you the evidence of life around. Otherwise it's stillness that prevails. And this makes one be with nature and enjoy the sounds of silence. A short walk down the hill on which rests the house took us to a road that led to a point with a bifurcation. One of the roads leading up a way brought us to a sign in red cautioning us of elephants.  An elephant crossing was ahead. Sounds adventurous? Well, the Nilgiris are home to Asiatic elephants and these huge creatures in herds with a baby or even a lone one can be dangerous. So we certainly needed to mind our steps and look where we were going.  As the proverb goes, dangerous roads often lead to beautiful destinations. The narrow thread of a road, moss covered pathways with deep valleys of tea plantations on one side and forest covered mountains on the other side was beautiful but quite tricky to drive on. The wild rain fed streams gurgling created picturesque views that can be best enjoyed walking along the tracks.
Mangorange embodies slow and responsible travel. It's a place best enjoyed with people who love to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature; a place where modern luxuries give way to simple functional ways of living. It's a place where what to see and what to do should not be one's priority. Life beautifully flows into nature and the combined audiovisual effect probably makes an artist out of anyone who loves nature.

This is the first of a series of three tea bungalow posts, I have planned to share in my blog. So stay tuned for more visual treats.