On a hill , in the woods

What happens when a quaint hill station extends an inviting hand to you and you accept ? You soak in the old world charm , sit in a heritage toy train ( remembering Noddy all the time ) and come back with stories written in red mud on the soles of your shoes .

The toy train is also called Phulrani ( Queen of flowers )  , it meanders through the mountains at an extremely slow pace and that is how everything moves in Matheran – slow and unhurried .

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The UNESCO heritage hill railway toy train in Matheran 

Walk , walk , walk and walk some more . One is never alone , there are monkeys and langurs to keep you company always.

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And this reminds me of Babes in the woods
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Langur’s vantage point 

The Sahyadris always have surprises to offer. The protruding part of this hill (left ) looked like a human face to me.

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Not many flowers around here , but I spotted a few.

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There are plenty of ‘points’ to see when in Matheran, but we skipped that bit. Long walks , fun swims and listening to the sound of silence ( interrupted by the chatter of monkeys and the shouts of excitement when the little one spotted a monkey ) dominated my time spent here.

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My daughter was in no mood to leave and wants to go back to see the monkeys , while I will go definitely go back for the automobile free , noise free experience and for the greenery .

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Matheran is a little piece of green haven ! The monkeys endorse that 🙂

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Green Matheran Sign board with an enthusiastic supporter

 

 

Matheran : To growing older , travelling more and singing again !

Asia’s only auto mobile free hill station , sleepy Matheran ( Forest on the Forehead ) seemed to be a good option to bring in my birthday.  Walking without any finality of destination , meeting rabbits on the way , the chatter of monkeys and langurs sounding like a choir of bass and contralto singers and fallen leaves which felt like forgotten post- it reminders of letting go and moving on , I enjoyed every bit of it .

A few things I fell in love with as I ambled ….

This colour , the pattern .

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Furry friends

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Surprises on leaves

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And this forlorn fellow ….

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Song on loop , for the vibes of this place and the person who made it all happen …. A world of our own by The Seekers.

Close the doors, light the lights.
We’re stayin’ home tonight,
Far away from the bustle and the bright city lights.
Let them all fade away.
Just leave us alone.
And we’ll live in a world of our own.

We’ll build a world of our own
That no one else can share.
All our sorrows we’ll leave far behind us there.
And I know you will find
There’ll be peace of mind
When we live in a world of our own.

Rabdentse Ruins , Pelling

As I was reading a list of lesser known destinations to visit in India , a picture of  Rabdentse ruins brought back some wonderful memories of my last day in Pelling , Sikkm. It has been two years since my visit to the ruins of the former capital of the kingdom of Sikkim .Most of the people we spoke to said there wasn’t much to see , but I had made up my mind and nothing could dampen my spirits . I remember the drizzle in the forest , the mushrooms , the fronds , ferns , muddy puddles and the exhaustion as we walked towards the ruins.

I have posted a few pictures of the wondrous forest trail earlier , but never quite got to posting about the ruins. So I thought it best to do it today. Better late than never. The walk through the magical forest was the highlight for me , even better than walking around the ruins

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I wish the ones who told me there wasn’t much to see , knew what they were missing.

Rabdentse tells the story of Sikkim’s glory during the Chogyal rule . Hidden inside a dense forest , overshadowed by the beauty of the majestic Kanchenjunga which attracts most people to Pelling ,the walls of Rabdenstse are more than just stubs . Rabdenstse remained the capital of Sikkim for 123 years and saw six Kings rule the kingdom.

The first structure that welcomes visitors is a Chorten – a stupa .DSC_0892DSC_0895.JPG

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Ruins of the palace , not much remains of what once must have been a grand residence of the king . The ruins are divided into the Northern and Southern wings , one used to be the living quarters of the royal family and the other was where the King met with commoners.

The Southern wing , the stone throne and perhaps the place where  people would have an audience with the king  . It didn’t  look like a throne from a distance , but one of the workers there pointed it out to me. The Marble stone you see is believed to be carried to the site by a single person.

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Remains of the living quarters . They sure knew how to find ‘ a room with a view’.

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Three stone chortens looked fairly preserved . This is the place where the highest officials would pass important judgments . Am not sure what the significance of the stone slab is , but a closer look revealed this .

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It is also believed that prayers were offered by the royal family at this site everyday. These three stones looked like stoic testimonies to all the grandeur , faith and fervour that this palace and its residents embodied.

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A final look at the ruins , before I left .

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Some ruins proclaim the building was beautiful. These do , no ?

Malshej Ghat : Not just a monsoon destination

If all you want is rolling mist , the trill of birds , green pastures with cattle grazing and if you have a high tolerance for volatile weather , then Malshej is perfect . Most websites suggest a trip to Malshej after the initial monsoon spell has washed the rugged Sahyadris clean and the benevolent mountains ( that is what Sahyadris are called ) wear their prettiest greens .

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Driving towards Malshej

July is when tourists throng to Malshej to take a dip in one of the innumerable waterfalls that bring this place to life . Since we were travelling with our 16 month old , we thought it better to travel before the peak monsoon season and landed there in the second week of June .

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Thankfully , when most places have long lists of things to do and things to see , Malshej is an exception. Do what you want , see what is there to see – the broken ranges , the dark clouds looming over them , trees dancing in the breeze ( it can get extremely windy ) , drive down to the dam at Pimpalgaon ( about 5 km away from MTDC , Malshej ) , sit and feel at peace . These are things that I did , am sure you will find your own sights to see and experiences to have once you get there .

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Towards the lake . The narow road to get to the lake .

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The white particles you see , strewn over the rocky shore, are mollusc shells .

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Walking around
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I had my Heidi moment

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The place behind MTDC , the view from my room.

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On the last evening there ,  I saw one of my favourite images – an old couple walking hand in hand to enjoy a few quiet moments with the mountains. It made me feel happy and hopeful 🙂

For me , Malshej was not about the magic of monsoon , but about my little girl watching the majesty of the mountains in awe , her clapping when she saw a bird fly by and  her giggling when the breeze made her curls tickle her cheeks !

 

 

Thread Garden , Ooty

The dimly lit room, which has exhibits of Anthony Joseph’s labour of love, is a treat for those who love art , craft and stories . “No machinery , no needles” , he says proudly . I was lucky to meet the man behind the unique technique that he calls four dimensional hand wound embroidery.

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A journey that began in 1988 continues with as much zest and his nimble fingers have found help over the years in 50 pairs of gifted hands that have supported him and matched his passion and perfection in creating each piece .Each artisan goes through three years of training in the time consuming technique .

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Lots of research , canvas , threads , glue and wires have gone into making this garden what it is today. More than a hundred varieties of flowers are on display here at the thread garden and one can take home a keepsake from the little store outside .

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Located near Ooty lake , this one is an absolute delight .

Emerald lake , Ooty

The closest I might ever get to the Emerald city in the Wizard of OZ – the emerald lake , Ooty !

In the silent valley surrounded by tea gardens , emerald lake is another pristine place in the Nilgiris. It is an extension  of the Avalanche lake , I was told .

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This is as close as we could get. The access to the lake had been shut for a few days owing to some maintenance work near the dam.

Rose garden , Ooty

I never promised you a rose garden ….

I can never think of a rose without this song playing on loop in my head. He never promised me a rose garden , but if he did , it would have to be as pretty as this one.

The rose garden in Ooty is arranged  in terraces on the slopes of the Elk hill and boasts of having one of the largest collection of roses in India. It is no wonder then , that it won the garden of excellence award for being the best rose garden in South Asia in 2006 . Surprisingly , there weren’t many people in the garden at the time I visited. I was there about an hour before closing time and that’s probably how I managed to dodge the crowd.

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As you enter
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Just before the drizzle began
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A look at the lower level of the terrace

They save the best for last , I guess , which explains why all the pretty roses are to be found in the lowest level of the garden 🙂

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Enter a caption
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Love !
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In my favourite colour
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Lady in red

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Two tones

…And then the rain drops began to kiss those rosy lips . I put the camera in , soaked in the atmosphere and kept wondering , how nice it would have been if he had promised me just a rose !

Upper Bhavani lake

Avalanche forest , Ooty .

The shola forests guard the upper bhavani lake and it is quite a journey to get there to spend a few blissful moments watching this shimmering beauty from a distance. It must have been about 30 km from Fern Hills in Ooty and we commenced our journey at 6 in the morning , not wanting to miss the first trip inside . Private vehicles are not allowed inside the reserved forest area and one has to choose from among two options , a jeep or a mini bus , to take you through the forest upto the lake.

We reached the place at around 7.30 and had to wait for about two hours for the first trip to commence . They waited for a group of 20 to let the first bus in and the jeep service wasn’t functional on that day. The canteen doesn’t open until ten , so if you do plan a trip , make sure to carry a few munchies or have a hearty breakfast before you leave. With my 13 month old quite restless , we decided to amble around and spent an hour in the pine forest just near the entrance of the reserved area. DSC_0827

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The bus journey is extremely bumpy, but once you’re up at the upper bhavani point , you forget the dread that awaits you on the way back.

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Each group is given approximately 25 minutes to soak in the beauty of the upper bhavani lake . It was my 20 minutes of peace in a very long time , with the baby refusing to leave her dad and excitedly screaming ‘water’ , I left the two behind and enjoyed the magic in front of me .

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A glimpse of Toda architecture – Ooty

The Toda tribe of the Nilgiris in South India is a pastoral community . With dwindling numbers , modernization and the loss of land , they have received attention and the Toda lands are now declared a part of the UNESCO world heritage site.

The Todas live in munds in uniquely shaped huts called dogles. These huts are built with bamboo , cane and rattan and thatched with dry grass . They have really small doors , about 3 feet and members have to crawl inside the hut. These small entrances serve as protection from wild animals and extreme weather .

The Buffalo is considered sacred and the temples have art form on the exterior walls that pay obeisance to the sacred animal . Women are not allowed even within the compound of the temple and I understood how fiercely they protect their customs and traditions when I visited the Toda village near Stepehen’s church in Ooty. The Toda lady was very apprehensive of me going anywhere near the temple and kept telling the driver to tell me that I must not touch even the compound wall.

There is a model Toda temple built  right at the top of the Botanical garden , a little outside one of its rusted and almost falling apart turnstile gates. There is only one sign board to indicate that something like this exists and no directions so you’re left to find it yourself. On the day that I visited , there must have been thousands of people in the garden but not a soul on the way to the Toda temple and I almost gave up finding it . A government officer on the way to a construction site near the Toda temple showed me the way and was kind of enough to accompany me to the top . Once on top , it felt like another world .

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Model Hut in the Toda Village – Botanical garden

 

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Wall art adorning the exteriors . The art above the little entrance resembles a buffalo head
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Close up of the thatched roof
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The really small entrance
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closer look at the arch

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A couple of smooth boulders outside the Toda hut caught my attention . Since there was no one there to explain the significance , nor was there any board with information about the same , I read it up online and found out these are used by men to prove their strength at the time of wooing women for marriage.  Interesting !

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Stones in front of the temple for the show of strength
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Toda village near St Stephen church
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Am not sure what that little thatched hut in the background is used for
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This , I was told , is a modern day home of a Toda family , built in the shapeof dogel . It was just outside the Toda village

I wish there was more information about their lifestyle and culture available near the model village, however , am happy I got a glimpse of this beautiful and rustic architecture.