Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Elephant Corridor, Coorg.....a great experience!

While planning a trip to Coorg, we were looking around for a good home stay facility, when a friend recommended (through a circuitous reference!) the Biddanda Estate/Elephant corridor, owned by Viju and Nimi Chengappa. I spoke to Nimi, and she directed me to their well made site, which also has a very clear route map.
We arrived there at mid noon, after a 4 hour drive to Honsur, then some sightseeing and lunch en-route to Sidapur, a short distance from the estate. Set in the midst of coffee and pepper plantations, tall trees and lush greenery, the main house and adjacent guesthouse look very inviting, with a quaint look which belies the modern facilities inside.
There are two very spacious and well furnished rooms on the ground floor, with a verandah fitted with chairs, hammock and plenty of reading material. The upstairs room has bunk beds, useful for families with two children.
Nimi’s creative and artistic talents are apparent everywhere—from the little decorative knick knacks even in the bathroom, the innovative “basket” shades for lights, the board listing products for sale to the designing of the open kitchen and outdoor gazebo.
After a short rest, we set out on a tour of the estate with Viju, who pointed out coffee and pepper plants, fruit trees like the litchi, avocado and passion fruit, and enthralled us with information about the vast and rich plantation. It was a learning experience.
As the sun turned into a fiery red ball, we went up to the terrace of the new cottage/honeymoon suite that is being built. (It promises to be a special place, with great facilities and views). Later, as the moon shone through the tall tree tops, pretty lights (including solar ones) transformed the cottages and the surrounding area into a fairy land! The dinner gazebo was the perfect setting for a dinner (with a vast array of mouth watering dishes, including typical Coorg cuisine).
Elephant Corridor gets its name from the fact that elephants actually use the plantation to walk across, and they come especially for the jackfruit tree adjacent to the guesthouse! Unfortunately, they did not choose to visit the two nights we were there, though I could hear faint trumpeting a couple of times!
The next morning we were to leave for the Dubare elephant camp, and though it was well before breakfast time, Nimi cut us the most delicious sandwiches (with her homemade orange marmalade and passion fruit preserve!) After a cup of coffee (grown in the plantation) and lemon grass (growing right there!) tea for my son, we set off. The Dubare experience was unique (of that in another review) and we made only a brief visit to Madikeri before choosing to head back “home” to the estate. I took advantage of the daylight left to take another quick round of the plantation (accompanied by the two affectionate and friendly dogs!) and Nimi’s organic kitchen garden—including parsley, celery, tomatoes, brinjal, aloe vera, lemon grass, rosemary, all spice and curry plant. Coffee and pepper had been left out to dry on the soil—the more natural way as compared to cemented drying areas. They invited us into their cosy and beautifully decorated family cottage, and regaled us with interesting anecdotes and history of the place. Later, we came out to the seating area under a moonlit sky, surrounded by fairy lights, till it was time for another grand dinner!
The Chengappas are more than perfect hosts…they imbue a warmth and sincerity that epitomize the famous saying: greet a visitor, send back a friend! We left the next morning, the richer for the experience.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Colorful crafts!

A glimpse of the hand crafted wares on sale at Dilli Haat...puppets, dolls and toys, hand woven carpets, items made of glass, beads and shells, hand painted panels, china ware, bamboo products, delicately embroidered Kashmiri "phirans" (like cloaks), toys....under the blue sky or colorful canopies!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Soak in the colors of India!

Dilli Haat (Dilli= Delhi and Haat= open air market place) is a popular haunt of Delhites and tourists--it's not only a shopper's and foodie's paradise, but an authentic glimpse of the colorful culture and traditions of India! Walk into the spacious open air forum with a welcome from folk dancers, taste the variety of Indian cuisine,(every state has an outlet to sell its specialities), buy hand made products from craftsmen who come from all over India (and sometimes demonstrate their skills)watch cultural programs, or simply soak in the dazzling colors of India!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Signs of the times!!

A board near a fast food shop in a shopping complex in Delhi! (Note for my non-Indian friends--"Pao bhaji" is like a burger, but with a variety of spicy fillings!)

This one is along the driveway of a shopping cum office complex in Bangalore!

Happy New Year from Bangalore!

"Happy New Year" is a refrain you will hear in India throughout the year....every state has its own New year! Today is UGADI in the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and GUDI PADWA in the western state of Maharashtra.

Ugadi is being celebrated in Bangalore (capital of Karnataka) with the traditional decorations, new clothes, exchange of greetings and special dishes! Mango leaves and flowers are on sale everywhere, and used to decorate houses and temples(and even shopping centers!)
People draw colorful "rangoli" (special designs) in front of the door, and tie mango leaves and flowers (called "thorana") as decoration on the main door. An early morning traditional oil bath is followed by prayers and worship ("Puja") when a mixture of neem leaves and jaggery is offered to the deity. This combination is supposed to symbolize the bitter sweet nature of life in general! The lunch ("holige") is very elaborate, including various curries and special dishes like the "ugadi chutney" (neem flowers, mango, tamarind and jaggery---again, the same symbolism as the Puja offering)! The rituals in neighboring Andhra Pradesh are similar, and mango rice is essential on this day.

In Maharashtra too, jaggery and neem leaves must be eaten today! The other specialities are a mixture of mango and jaggery ("Aam paana" --aam: mango) and sweet dishes ("shrikhand" and "pooran poli").
A new cloth is tied to a bamboo stick (a "gudi") which is then decorated with a copper pot ("kalash") and a chain made of sugar crystals and neem leaves. This is kept outside the house till the evening, as a welcome to the Hindu deity Lord Rama (the protagonist of the epic Ramayana).

The rituals (and dishes!) differ, but the spirit remains the same!