All posts by varnicamathur

A visual effects artist by profession, I am on the road for a new adventure every free moment. For me, journey is as enjoyable as the destination. Sometimes even more. Beginning from the first moment when an idea of a trip comes in my head to the time I crash back on my bed after the trip, each moment is worth the money, the energy and the time. All my travels are shared by my wild life photographer husband who enjoys and shares my love for wandering 'when on a break'.

One Earth Retreat | Mulshi | Maharashtra

Visited : March 2021. Stayed for 1 day.

It was exactly a year since the first lockdown was imposed in the country. COVID situation in the state was then a teeny-weeny better and following our decade old tradition of celebrating our birthday in a unique way, we decided to head to One Earth Retreat. It was the perfect place to social distance from people, office and heat 🙂

This was also Jiraiya’s first roadtrip, his first outdoor trip (excluding the vet visits!) in his 3 months of life.

A two month old cutee Jiraiya out celebrating his parent’s birthday!

From Mumbai, we took the route via Baner. Although Tamhini ghat route is beautiful the route (except the ghat) is broken and bumpy.

Check the location here.

The smiles of the welcoming staff made us feel right at home. The bohemian-casual chic décor is comforting and looking at the greens inside and outside, right away we understood the close connection the owners have with the earth.

Yes, this place is gift wrapped in the glitter of a successful homestay but inside is a very different story. This is actually a product of hard work done by Mr Hasan (co-owner) to create a sustainable holiday home by containing and utilising rain water in man made dams/embankments. This has resulted in a green space around the farm with private scenic treks, trails, lagoons and waterfalls. Night sky is clear (for star trails!) and wind full off night buzzez making this retreat is every nature lover’s dream.

Walking on the wild trails of One Earth Retreat

One Earth is also a popular venue for many interesting activities including self-development retreats, music gigs and community learning workshops.

Food was vegetarian (only) and cooked home style. The chef is a magician no less. He was serving too with lot of love 🙂 . All of them were so SO welcoming towards Jiraiya.

Yummilacious, home made – light vegetarian food.

The trees surrounding the farm stay are very wildlife friendly with lots of fruits and flowers. It was a pleasure walking around in the whole property doing birdwatching, spotting unusual flowers and enjoying the vistas.

We stayed in the Serenity room which had a long balcony with lots and lots of ferns and palms (with young Jiraiya around, an avid gardener – it was a continuous marathon for me and Sunny). The amenities in the room were first class and almost luxurious.

The balcony of the room also gives a unique vantage point of the tree canopies as well as the ground below where the birds of the valley can be viewed easily (think, Vigor sunbird peeping into the bathroom while you are in the shower or a partridge calling out early in the morning and you mistakenly think your alarm has gone off!)

Random photo of me chillin and boys doing all the work. Sunny > birding & Jiraiya > gardening 🙂

Just something to note! The weather was pleasant when we visited. Our room did not have air conditioner (there was a cooler – almost as effective!) and afternoons were very hot. I think monsoon and winters might be ideal if that’s a problem.

For Jiraiya, it was overwhelming. His first outdoor trip, in the forest was a feast for his nose and curiosity tiring him out.

One Earth Retreat – Bookings and cost

One Earth Retreat is a 4 bedroom villa nestled in a planned forest. Guests can book the whole villa by paying for all the rooms or book per room. Best way to book is to whatsap or call on 755-869-6651. If packed with requests, they sometimes might miss Instagram DM queries. Check out their Instagram account for more property photos, amenities and tariff information.


Manas Resort with petting zoo | Igatpuri | Maharashtra

Visited: June 2021. Stayed for 1 day.

Locked up at home for many months had got our toes itching for open spaces. Even though most days started with morning walks, we were longing for an outing with Jiraiya where he could be let off the leash and could run around freely. We had passed Manas resort multiple times on our trips to Nashik, and had seen the spacious pet friendly resort from the highway. It was an easy and quick decision to book a weekend stay here.

Check location here.

Manas resort has two sections. One is with the petting zoo, pets are more than welcome here. The other adjacent to it is the ‘luxury resort’, (not sure if pets are allowed there). Although the petting zoo one does not have the term ‘luxury’ in it, we did not miss it. The room (we stayed in Delux suite) was very well kept and had very comfortable furniture. Rooms had all amenities like tea/coffee station, a well kept private garden and seating, good sized bathroom with hot-water tub, televisions and air conditioners (no mini fridge, cool booze can be bought in-house on overpriced rates).

The amenities were limited and less staff was present to attend to the guests due to COVID restrictions, yet we had loads of fun. Seeing Jiraiya run in the resort’s vast, empty, well kept lawns was very satisfying to our pet parent soul.

The views of the lush green Sahyadri hills and valleys from the back of the resort is magnificent and a big blessing for the eyes. All through out the day we could see trains going towards and away from Igatpuri station. The resort grounds are well maintained, with green lawns and kids playground.

They used to have buffet system in pre-pandemic times, but during our stay there was no restaurant eating available. In-room service for food and beverage was good, but overpriced. There were no inclusions of any of the meals in the tariff. For us it worked fine, during the day we visited the Soma vine village (pet friendly, we were after all in wine capital of our country) and ate our lunch and breakfast out. We only had dinner in the resort. Food was tasty with good portions and staff was helpful, warm and prompt.

This resort – thanks to it’s animal lover owner, is popular for its petting zoo, which houses many exotic birds, goats, cow and a pack of multi-breed dogs. I am not a supporter of captured wildlife for tourism, but if the animals are kept in good conditions and with proper care and facilities, I understand their necessity. They help humans find an emotional link to the species. Zoos make people aware of the natural beauty of various species, and most automatically become sensitive about them and understand the importance of conserving it. I think it’s a great place to bring smaller kids and get them to be comfortable around animals and birds, helping in making next gen more environment friendly. I have read that they used to house a larger number of species here pre-pandemic, but they were absent during our visit.

Most interesting attraction of the place, along with various animal and bird sections was the in-house vegetable garden patches scattered around the cottages attracting multitude of butterflies, bees and other garden beings. The railing leading to our cottage was covered with flowering Turai (ridge gourd) vines with some young vegetables hanging from it. Our cottage backyard had patches of Brinjal, Okra and some other green leafy veg plants. All flowering and looking beautiful. It was funny spotting some random vegetable growing here or there like a lonely Cabbage growing all alone right next to the aviary under a group of Papaya trees. This planed chaos of vegetable gardening added to the fun of the place.

For us, main attraction was the resort being pet friendly. Off-course your pet needs to watch the in-house wildlife from a distance. The petting zoo has time slots (updated time-table will be given during check-in). The resort grounds are open to guest pets (except when resort dog pack is out for playtime for 1-2 hours) where they can play freely provided there is no complaint from other guests. We were lucky as there were not many guests and Jiraiya had open spaces to himself for hours. His excitement of seeing such large grounds for sniffing and running for the first time in his life was a new experience for us. They also have pet grooming facility which was shut due to staff shortage.

Our trip was short but very satisfying. We would certainly come back again to enjoy the comfort and open free spaces of Manas resort.

Manas resort and petting zoo – Bookings and cost

Manas resort and petting zoo offers variety of room options. Check out Manas resort and Petting zoo website for more property photos, amenities and tariff information.


Coastal Suites | Benaulim | South Goa

Visited : October 2018 & February 2021 . Stayed for a week each.

Goa is permanent resident in every beach lovers holiday destination ‘go to’ list. The amalgam of culinary, wilderness and culture is well balanced here. There is something for every visitor. While vibrant North Goa is more popular among visitors we usually prefer the quaint south. We prefer quiet, affordable and well maintained lodgings and therefore we chose (twice!) to stay in Coastal suits apart-hotel, Benaulim for our long trips to South Goa. It never fails to satisfy our requirements.

Coastal Suites Apart-hotel Location

Coastal Suites is located in a quiet town of Benaulim in between Benaulim and Serbatinum beaches, and is 10 mins walk away from both, It’s about 4o mins drive from the airport and 15 mins from Madgaon train junction and local transport is readily available.

Check exact location here

In our opinion, the location is quite convenient, as it is within a town full of little shops and cafes, and most of cultural/wilderness/historical attractions of the state are in 1 hour radius.

Yes, although there are a million hotels, homestay, guesthouses where ever you go in the state, but hardly any can match this location and the offered amenities. Their amenities/facilities were a major plus-plus for us!

A bit of distance from the beaches makes sure that you have your quiet, even in the evenings when weekender tourists and locals rush to these beaches. Walking to Benaulim beach is jazzy with restaurants and cafes lining the streets but the road to Sernabatim gives a little peep into lives of the locals in their vibrantly coloured houses.

The old banyan trees and wetlands along the way are great spots for birdwatching!

Coastal Suites Apart-hotel Property

Coastal Suites in itself is a set of two humble, unassuming white multistory (one is double floored and the other triple floored) buildings surrounded by tall coconut and date trees. The tasteful décor reveals itself as you enter the gates.

A common swimming pool in the center acts like a sparkling blue center piece and is very well maintained. We have ourselves observed Brian, the owner fuss about it’s cleanliness and checking every aspect of it himself. That’s good! and is the best part of privately owned stays compared to fancy hotel chains. The owner takes personal interest in the on-goings of the property. Lounge and garden chairs are spread across the common area around the pool for some casual hangout.

Across the pool is the reception area where Rachel, property manager, greets everyone with a wide smile, always ready to help and guide all guests. Reception is a plain area, nothing fancy – yet welcoming. It has a couple of sofas and a tiny library, stocked with books left by earlier visitors and open to all guests for swaps or borrowing.

Parking is available right outside the property gates for cars as well as bikes.

Brian has made sure that Coastal Suites can support work from home staycations and have high speed WiFi. Which was really a plus for us. I could peacefully keep working on upcoming blogs for ‘When on a break’. Goa vibe really gets your creative juices flowing.

Power backup for regional electric power failures is up and running within seconds. They have a UPS for WiFi routers too, so you don’t loose the internet connectivity as soon as there is power cut.

We let them know about our requirement for a scooter during our stay and Brian readily recommended a neighbor who provided this service.

Coastal Suites Apart-hotel Rooms

We stayed in a 1bhk suite with a long balcony on the 2nd floor in ‘B’ building.

Kitchenette was fully equipped and convenient to use with all the appliances clean an maintained – working perfectly. Ample amount of utensils (and more on request) were available.

The living room had a pull-out couch and bedroom has a good sized comfortable bed. The two of us enjoyed the abundant walking space in the room and balcony unlike hotel rooms where spending a week can be daunting, continuously coming in each other’s way.

Large size bed placed in the spacious bedroom is very comfortable and study table here makes it a great place to catch up on some work.

Bathroom, although was spacious and had the regular amenities (solar heating system – economical and environment friendly!), it is designed in a way that it looks very luxurious and fancy.

Air-conditioning in bedroom and television in living room was included. Other furniture included was a dinning and study set and a wardrobe. Balcony had a sleek cloths drying stand and lounging chairs.

Best of all, the whole facility is kept spick and span and interior decoration is done very tastefully and in good proportions with a lot of thought given to fine details, anticipating what a holidaying guest might require. Nowhere did we feel that corner are cut or cheap materials/appliances/fittings have been used. This property is made with a lot of love and passion and it shows in every aspect.

Unusual for us was the personal washing machine in the room. No more post holiday dirty laundry or sandy beach clothes!

Coastal Suites Apart-hotel Food options

As the name suggests Coastal suites is a set of service apartments. Hence, there is no inhouse restaurant or cafe.

These serviced apartments are a 5 min walk from grocery stores and a plethora of restaurants and eateries serving very delicious Goan food as well as various western/asian/indian cuisines. We were spoilt for choices and when not in a mood to spend too much money, we headed to the store and cooked in using induction and microwave and their compatible utensils. When we felt too lazy, and only wanted to move a finger, we ordered from the two Coastal suites recommended restaurants Yashodna and Viva Goa. Needed more variety, got food delivered via Zomato/Swiggy.

Most eateries/beach shacks serve alcohol around the property. We could easily buy alcohol from the liquor stores on Benaulim beach road and refrigerate them in the apartment for private fiesta.

Water filtration system is installed in each building from where we could fill our bottles with drinking/cooking water. (This economical and environment friendly option is much appreciable!)

Coastal Suite Apart – hotel Staff

We’d like to take this opportunity and say a special Thank you to some of the Coastal Suits staff who made our vacation so enjoyable.

Rachel : Super-helpful and extremely attentive. She always greets all the guests, is very informative and made us feel welcomed. Thank you!

Chatur : Ever smiling and always ready to help in whatever way he can. Thank you for housekeeping our room and the property. He dedicatedly maintained cleanliness and hygiene of the property.

Special Note for Brian: Your personal efforts to maintain the property is very much visible and appreciated. For us, that is what sets this property apart. It’s a perfect blend of comfort and luxury but with a personal touch. Thank you for hiring and retaining the best staff. It is not always the rooms nor the amenities that make a stay a wonderful one or a horrible one – it is how your people care for guests’ needs. I am extremely grateful that you have an amazing team at your property! kudos!

Coastal Suite Apart – hotel Bookings & costs

Along with 1BHK suites, Coastal Suites offers many other options too. Check out Coastal Suites Apart-hotel website for more property photos, amenities and tariff information.

They take bookings through online portals, but feel free to give Brian a call (on the website) and he will be more than happy to hear your requirements and suggest the best room available to satisfy them and also guide you with the booking process.

Final verdict : The accommodation is very economical, and you get SO much for it. It’s totally worth it! our stay proved to be an excellent choice (every time!) !!

After a wonderful day in Goa, we usually would walk up to Sernabatim beach to watch the sunset. With no fancy resorts around, this beach remains a quiet getaway most of the days.

Kausani : Best view of the Nanda devi range

Date of the trip: 21st Nov 2020

Let me give you a couple of moments just to absorb the magic of that stunning blog cover photo. And just so you know – it’s real, and it’s magnificent. The three Trishul peaks right on your face in Kausani are hypnotizing and slyly overshadow the humble Nanda Devi peak. For us, they reminded us of the queen of Himalyas – Mt Kanchandzonga.

Now with our travel story,

Kausani is a small sleepy (but touristy) Himalayan town North East of Ranikhet. Geographically, very close to the Nanda devi range. The route was scenic and roads are of good quality. Kausani is not very far away from Ranikhet. It’s a straight 2 hour drive, so it can be considered for a day trip when staying in Ranikhet. However, with a more chilled itinerary (like ours) it can easily be stretched into an overnight thing.

View from the road when travelling from Ranikhet to Kausani.

Our intention on this trip was to (extremely) slow travel. We wanted to enjoy the scenic route as much as the destination and therefore took a lot of breaks to admire the valleys and riverside villages and fields. Villages were preparing for the upcoming harsh winters by drying pumpkins and other gourds, preparing preserves and pickles.

The route goes via many farming villages and along the Kosi river. Short pauses on almost all bridges and wherever the river was adjacent to the road, it gave us abundant opportunities to bird watch. Our eyes were always peeled to spot kingfishers, waders and dippers or black or hill partridge.

Stop over at Khatarmal Sun temple :

While driving to Kausani (or Almora) from Ranikhet one stop (worth the detour), is Khatarmal Sun temple. Keep a watch on google maps as the diversion to it is very hard to spot.

Intricate carvings and designs, clear skies and valley view overlooking Almora, makes this pit stop worthwhile.

Katarmal Sun temple is one of the first sun temple of the country. The labyrinth of small temples of shiv-parvati around it makes this majestic structure mesmerising.

Walls of smaller temples are decorated with unknown lost ancient language inscriptions and divine designs.

Checkout the small café at the entry gate run by the locals. Easy snacks to eat and tea are available here along with locally sourced pickles and jams to shop. Himalayan scenery from this vantage point is outstanding.

A short 10 min uphill hike is required from the parking lot to get to this place through the village, edged with fruit trees.

Where to stay in Kausani :

There are many lodges/guesthouses/hotels of all budgets here. KMVN (Kumaon mandal Vikas Nigam) is a much sort after accommodation for it’s excellent Sunrise views of the Nanda devi range.

Season for visiting Kausani :

It’s an all year round destination. However, as the town is situated on lesser Himalayas and there is hardly any blockage or aerial distance between Nanda devi range and the Kausani ridge, the temperatures drop considerably once the sun goes down or if winds blow. Snowfall is common during winters

What to see and do in Kausani :

Like all Himalayan towns with epic views, this one also has multiple scenery viewing points like sunrise point and sunset point. A gazillion ancient stone temples also enrich the history of this town. A number of seasonal waterfalls like Rudrahari waterfall are great ways to enjoy the natural beauty by hiking to it.

Walking in pine forest after watching the golden sunrise.

Off-course, we always find time to go for walks and bird watching where ever we go. While walking back after watching sunrise, we had an excellent birding session. Checkout the ebird list here and Sunny’s instagram account for the photos.

Places we missed visiting in this trip, but are definitely going in our ‘next time’ list :

Me and Sunny trying to capture the stunning Trishul view in our memories for ever. No amount of photographs or videos do justice to the feelings.

Hiking trails all around Kausani off-course tops our list. Guided walks in the flora/fauna rich forests around the town to various waterfalls and temples are worth the experience.

Although we missed it in this trip, it would be awesome to visit the planetarium and observatory to check out the night sky and maybe do some astrophotography. 

Watching locals go about their daily chores while getting maximum sunlight . Or did I just need a reason to look at those snow peaks again?

The highlight of this town is the Anasakti Ashram. Constructed on mountain overlooking the Someshwar valley and view of snow-capped mountain, this ashram was abode of Mahatma Gandhi for some weeks. He was so mesmerized by the beauty of this town that he proclaimed that it is no less than Switzerland itself. Since then ‘Gandhi Ashram’ has become no.1 tourist attraction of the town which is nicknamed ‘Switzerland of India’ by the father of the nation himself. It is possible to stay in the ashram but they don’t have any online portal for booking. It’s in our list for next time, missed it due to pandemic restrictions.

Interested in literature? Spend some time in museum dedicated to the famous poet Sumitranandan Pant. He was born in this quaint town and had his most inspiring work written here influenced by mighty snow capped Himalayas . Oh! I think these majestic mountains and oak forests can turn anyone into a poet. But only few of them can land their work in our school syllabus! :p .The museum displays his personal items, drafts of his poems, letters, his awards, books, stories etc. Due to shortage of time, unfortunately we missed this one too, it is in our list for next time!!

Sunrise photography session. It’s a serious job for the men in our family! :p

In the town there are innumerable travel agents and guides who are more than interested in taking the visitors to see all the popular tourist spots for a fee. That’s a great way to enjoy what the town has to offer and help the local economy.

What to eat in Kausani :

As we were there for only a day and were someone’s guests, we did not checkout any food places in the town.

No trip to any cold Himalyan town is over without a plate of my favourite pahadi Maggie!

On our way back to Ranikhet we took the route via Lodh and stopped at ‘Rudraksh restaurant’ (located here) to eat their Kumaoni Lunch thali.

The family that owns this hotel owns the surrounding fields and most ingredients are locally sourced from the village. Kumaoni food is pre-cooked and has set thali menu depending on availability of ingredients. Servings are off course unlimited.

We stopped here for lunch. Other meals are also available.

Visited : November 2020 : Too hungry to click proper pictures!
Tthis was how our thali looked: Kumauni style rajma/Aloo ke gutke/Bhang ki chatni poured generously over radish salad/Bhat ke dubke/Steamed rice. Just the stop needed to warm ourselves during midday winter chill in the Himalayas.

During our visit to Kausani, we felt that it’s a wonderful and beautiful town in it’s own sense. A super short visit may not do justice to enjoy everything this place has to offer. Looking at a gazillion hotels and restaurants might make you think of it as touristy (these do reduce the charm of this place). But over the years beauty of this place has attracted lots and lots of visitors, mother nature has been really generous with providing the town with excellent views and hiking opportunities. Many famous entities like Mahatma Gandhi and Sumitranandan Pant have added to it’s rich history.

Kausani surely deserves more than a stop over or a day trip! We WILL be back for a longer stayover next time!

Mobile phone time-lapse of the family enjoying the magical golden hour in Kausani.

I hope Kausani has at-least found a little place in your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!’

Have you stayed in Kausani? Please feel free to add in our ‘next time’ list so we can get to it next when we are in town!

Subscribe to get regular updates on this blog & checkout our Instagram page for more of our photos during the trip.


Ranikhet : 15 things to do when you don’t feel like doing anything

Date of the trip: 14th Nov 2020 to 3rd Dec 2020

Ranikhet, a small sleepy mountain town in the lower hills of western Himalayas, home and headquarters of Kumaon and Naga regiment – it’s where my parents currently live. When you have a home in one of the most scenic towns in the country, and when (you are) on a break after 7 months of lockdown – there is no point looking anywhere else – just pack your bags and take the flight!

Nobody can resist the invitation when these majestic Himalayas call!

Jump directly to15 things to do in Ranikhet, when you don’t feel like doing anything!

Nainital is the most popular tourist destination in the Kumaon region (undoubtedly!) but having visited both the cities, I feel the ridge town of Ranikhet often gets overshadowed by the valley city of Nainital. Nainital is full of hustle – bustle, glittery market lights and eating places, but nature lovers are in for an overwhelming experience in Ranikhet where you walk on the beautiful forest trails which abound in this fairytale colonial town, while a life goes on in Ranikhet at an unhurried pace. It’s far more peaceful and serene than Nainital, needless to say, Ranikhet is more like a town we would love to visit even when we are on our own.

Ranikhet is a mountain town settled around an army cantonment. This town was a summer establishment for British since the 1870’s before becoming home to Kumaon regiment. Apart from the military, this town is famous for its majestic views of the Himalayas and Nanda Devi range and Jhula devi temple.

As the sun rises above the Ranikhet ridge, the sleepy town gets on with the day to day chores.

Best time to visit Ranikhet:

Every season has its bests in Ranikhet. Specially for birders to note, this town lies en-route the migration channels of Himalayan birds. Although residents are abundant, each season has its own bunch of avian visitors.

For best views of the Himalayas, Mid October to Mid March is the preferred time.

December temperatures starts to drop below zero degrees while January and February can get snowfall. Ranikhet, due to its close proximity to Himalayas has a very localized weather which can change drastically throughout the day. It may rain unexpectedly throughout the morning and clear out into a bright sunny day during noon, just to go back to an overcast evening. Temperatures fluctuate accordingly.

During our visit in November (autumn), these pink blooms with their sweet nectar were covering the valleys along with golden/drying autumn foliage of Oak, Horse chestnut, Pine and Deodar. All trees were hosting a plethora of birds and animals during the day.

How to reach Ranikhet :

Delhi is the nearest International Airport, while Pantnagar receives flights from Delhi via Dehradoon is 75 km away. Kathgodam is the nearest railhead and is about 50 km from Ranikhet. The New Delhi – Kathgodam Shatabdi is most convenient. Due to the prevailing lockdown we however had to take a taxi and go by road all the way to Ranikhet – which was to be our home base for next two weeks.

We landed at Delhi airport around midnight and by the time we crossed over into Uttarakhand the sun was up. After getting off the highway near Moradabad we stopped at New Shri Sai Dhaba for a cup of tea. Soon we crossed Choti Haldwani (home of the great Jim Corbett) and started our uphill journey. Road between Choti Haldwani and Nainital can be a bit more dizzying as it has continuous sharp curves. Beyond Nainital, up in the higher mountains, it’s a bit better as there are longer straight roads between the bends. We reached Ranikhet by lunch time.

Our first flight (Mumbai to Delhi) experience post lockdown. Not very comfortable with things covering the face but at-least safe!

Where to stay in Ranikhet:

Like most hill towns in the country, there are innumerable guest houses and homestays in the city. But to truly enjoy a relaxed holiday amidst the pine forests looking at the beautiful range, absorbing the essence of the place, you must try to stay a couple of days in the old British houses turned into Resorts, like Chevron Rosemount , Holms Farm  Heritage, Yak and Yeti or West View etc… Construction of new buildings is not allowed in the town hence unlike other tourist destinations, this town is quiet and does not have mushrooming resorts everywhere. Even if you do decide to stay in one of the local homestays or guest houses, try one meal at these hotels and you will definitely come back with lot of landscape photos and satisfied pallets.

Chevron Rosemount. We did not stay here but enjoyed some meals and coffees here. The chef here is outstanding and the Himalayan view from it’s garden is unforgettable.

How to travel in and around Ranikhet :

Of course, like any other holiday destination, having your own private/rented car/bike is always a plus (Zoomcar from Delhi, perhaps?). You then have flexibility to move around as well as stop anywhere without any problems. Roads in this patch of the state are in excellent conditions and road trips and biking groups are very popularly seen on them. However, private taxis are readily available from all hotels (private tie ups) as well as the city taxi stand

We stop multiple times through out the road trip. Pausing to enjoy the view or spotting a bird sitting in the clearing for a perfect picture are always big part of our trips.

Before we go ahead, a point about safe wildlife interactions :

Be aware of your surroundings while venturing out at any time of the day or night. People are safe and helpful but being cautious and aware of wild animal’s presence is important. Deer, Macaques and Langurs however cute, can be ferocious. It’s never a good idea to try feeding, cooing at them to attract their attention or trying to touch them. Ignoring them and walking away is the only way to stay away from their business. Photograph the animals, if you need to – from a safe distance so as not to disturb them. Be sure to keep a lookout at the local news on current leopard sightings. Leopards and other animals like foxes and bears are used to human activities so they normally avoid crossing paths. But if caught by surprise, might misinterpret your excited actions as an attack and may retaliate in fear. Understand, no wild animal hunts humans for food unless really necessary, self defense and fear may result in negative interaction.
We are venturing into their home after-all.

And finally,

15 things to do in Ranikhet, when you don’t feel like doing anything:

Ranikhet is mainly a leisure holiday town. A heaven for people like us who want to unwind after a hectic office schedule. Slow traveling and pausing at each turn to appreciate the peaking mountains and forest sounds. Some days when I got up too early, amidst pin drop silence – I could hear the breeze blowing through the pine leaves and reminding me of the ocean waves in a distance. The freshness and purity of the air rejuvenated all my senses. Its a feeling that needs to be experienced and expressing in words is impossible.

One of our favorite pass times when we did not feel like doing anything. Pulled out a rug, found a sunny spot with a view and… siesta time!

Other than rolling on a rug, catching up on some reading and sketching (see photo above) we spent our time in the town doing these 15 things and found ourselves in complete peace of mind and relaxed – all lockdown blues washed away!

01. Watch the rising sun.

Sun rises behind the Ranikhet ridge and there is no easy way to see the sun rising directly. The whole Nanda Devi range is clearly visible from most view points and the golden snow peaks gleam majestically when you see the range, getting its first beam of light in the morning, golden hour and it gets more and more magical with each passing moment. 🙂 . It is truly enchanting. No amount of photographs or any kind of lens can do justice to what we saw that day. During our stay we tried and tested a lot of view points for the best sunrise and sunset photos. Finally figured that the best spot to enjoy sunrise is – a viewing platform ahead of the Narsing Stadium, just above Pathak Bakers. In addition to this, the view of the sun rise from Haida khan temple is equally (if not more!) rewarding.

Sunrise view after Nanda Devi range got its first snowfall. Getting up early in freezing weather was so worth it. (Check the cover photo on top to see what Sunny is clicking!)

02. Enjoy a cool evening and a fabulous sunset.

 For sunsets, there are innumerable places and all top each other. The complex cloud formations, endless valleys to the horizon, multitude of hues and the glowing orange ball of setting sun behind the false horizon – nothing can beat the romance of this moment.

Sunset view from Seven stones sunset point.

To make a great evening of it we headed to the sunset point on Chaubatia road, Foresta Cafe – near Seven Stones viewpoint. The chilled industrial vibe and soothing ambience of this eatery is great for some instagramable pictures!

There is a different taste to instant noodles in the mountains. Order for some hot coffee or tea with mommos to go with it – evening will certainly be memorable. “Pahadi wali Maggie’ is no joke. Who have tasted it will agree!

03. Watch the Trishul rise above the clouds (and go back!)

Winter and spring  months are the best time to watch the Nanda Devi range. The cycle of the range hiding and revealing behind the clouds is what holds the magic of this town. 

Falling in love, guaranteed! The triple peaks of Trishul (screen left) are the prominent features of this part of the range. Nanda devi peaks 2nd highest in India humbly stands on the other end (screen right).

04. Visit local old temple and churches.

Like all high altitude villages, endless faith and hope is needed to keep the people going, face the hardships due to remoteness and tough weather conditions. Ranikhet being a British stronghold has a big bunch of old churches too, most of them in ruins. Some old unused churches have been converted into army veer-nari (war widows) welfare institutions. Each of these temples and churches have interesting history and stories about them.

A couple of thousand brass bells aorn the walls of Jhula devi temple, Ranikhet.

Jhula devi was built 700 years ago to save the villagers of surrounding valleys from man eating leopards and tigers. It’s a popular temple to make wishes and promises. The perimeter around the temple is full of hanging bells, devotees offer bells as a mark of respect once their wishes are fulfilled by the Goddess. Its a popular pilgrimage spot for locals.

St Bonaventure’s church area is decorated with multicolored flowers. This church runs a primary school adjoining it.

A visit   to St Bonaventure Catholic Church, is a sweet reminder of colonial architecture. The original interiors and wood work is preserved carefully including. Although now removed, one of the rifle rack locks are still attached to one of the benches, it is a reminder of a bloody episode in the churchs past which had forced Britishers to carry weapons into the church during an uprising by freedom fighters.

05. Admire the vistas and the peace of Haidakhan temple.

Drive to the neighboring village of Chiliyanaula and visit the peaceful Haidakhan Babaji Temple in the early hours. Its a place of spiritual devotion, and is surrounded by fruit trees with a majestic view of the valley flanked by 180 degree view of mighty Himalayas.  It’s a great place to practice some meditation. The empty compound and melodious hymns playing continuously inspire to introspect and admire the complete Nanda Devi range in silence. It’s sure to make you feel saintly.

You don’t need to be a believer to visit the Haidakhan temple. The peaceful surroundings and open valley view of the Himalayan range is reason enough!

06. Follow the hiking trails and go or long walks.

Every morning we would pick one of the trails before or after Ranikhet club and do leisure birding while enjoying the pine and oak forests. No guide is required if you have you have presence of mind or a general idea of the place. Check the landmarks on google maps before hand. Benches provided en-route for resting let you absorb it all in. Don’t try to finish the hike quickly, take your time and let the moments fly by with cool breeze. If you can, take a rug and have a picnic on the way. Always remember to cleanup afterwards!

Our favorite was the route from Jhula devi temple to West view hotel via forest route opposite the temple. From West view we again took the forest route towards Ranikhet club via Chevron Rosemount hotel and Army holiday home.

Walking on the quiet forest trails of Ranikhet are the real reason I would choose Ranikhet anytime over the bustling tourist cities of Ranikhet. They never disappoint.

07. Visit the Kumaon Woolen Center.

The Kumaon Regiment is the most decorated unit of Indian army but it comes at a great price. Many courageous soldiers have sacrificed their lives for our country, and after them The Regiment has taken the responsibility to rehabilitate their families/wives and children. This particular center sells woolens, clothing and handicrafts hand woven by war widows with traditional Kumauni designs. A must shop stop! Shop with a cause.

08. Buy, use and consume products made by the local community.

Kumauni valleys are full of fruit and flower orchards. A couple of NGOs/ Govt organizations and Kumaon regiment center encourages the locals to collect the produce and make preserves/jams/pickles/honey etc.. They are delicious and we bagged a whole lot of them from wherever we could find them on the shelves. It encourages the local economy and helps each household through hardships.

Umang is one such organization which employs local talent and resources to churn out great quality woolens, handicrafts and condiments. My sweater in the photo is designed and hand woven by the village ladies and presently my plate has toast with wildflower honey on it. Every bite takes me back to my holiday in Ranikhet.

09. Visit the local Ranikhet bazar.

Check out the colorful vegetables imported from the plains and local grown fruits and veggies all out on display in the main bazaar. Its just along one main road, but houses all possible stores with local and otherwise products. Try the freshly cooked local cuisines here wherever you see most locals flock!

Due to COVID restrictions, we did not venture into the market, walking around clicking pictures and experiencing the local colour. Driving through does not justify the experience, but here we are – the new normal!

An apt mural on petrol pump wall at one end of the market road. 😦

10. Walk along the golf course.

The Golf course is closed to tourists. However, the road which passes through the two part golf course is accessible to everyone and can be used for walking and enjoying the sunset and wide open spaces of one of the highest, most beautiful golf courses of the country. (Watch out for flying balls!)

Sunset from golf course.

11. Visit Holm farm heritage stay.

This Heritage homestay was constructed around 1870 for a high ranking British officer with a view of the whole a Nanda Devi range with a private apple and other fruit orchards. Post-Independence it was used by the by our first Prime Minister late Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and his family as a holiday home and a socializing venue. Other than him, this guest house as hosted Viceroy Mountbatten and many other celebrities and personalities. It is now maintained by the same family which took over it from the Britishers as its caretaker. The architecture of the main building is old worldly but it has some modern cottages now around it. The main hall is adorned with hand painted rose bush wall paper  and old photographs of dignitaries and antique piano now decorates the dining hall. The host, Mr. Himanshu Upadhyay is a very warm person and full of stories. Food is delicious and homemade. It’s a must visit, try booking a cottage for stay here or at-least come for a meal. Personal vehicle/taxi is recommended as the route is through the forest, up a hill and the farm house is invisible from the streets.

Post lunch photo with Mr Himanshu (Second from left) in front of Holm farm.

12. Visit Kumaon Regimental Museum.

Kumaon Regimental Centre (KRC) Museum was established in the 1970s and is maintained by the Kumaon and Naga Regiment of the Indian Army. The KRC Museum has an excellent collection of memorabilia from past wars and campaigns, and a display of the different weapons used by soldiers along with their achievements and mission success stories.

It was very interesting to see photographs and read about the missions and names of the people involved. Many of these stories of battle and courage were very relatable as I had read them or heard about them in the past (or seen in some movie!).

PS: Don’t miss staff of Jhasi ki rani on display inside!

Outside the KRC museum. Drive to it and let the KRC guard know you want to see the museum. Security is high respectful behavior is appreciated.

13. Birding! Birding!

Although I have covered birdwatching earlier with hiking. I think it deserves its own place in this list, I cannot emphasize enough on how delightful birdwatching in this region is. Birds are not shy at all and for an unassuming birder, coming across a huge mixed hunting party while on a hiking trails is no less than a maddening paradise, at one such instance we ended up listing 20 – 25 different species on a single thicket of trees on one of the road bends!! While visiting or staying at Chevron Rosemount, the best part is the birdwatching opportunities from the comfort of the garden (…sometimes an odd barking deer grazing peacefully too) while enjoying some mixed pakode and coffee/tea. The forest maintained around the hotel is a sort after feeding ground for birds. The rare Himalayan birds do their hunting rounds twice or thrice a day, keep the binoculars always ready.

Even if you have never done birding but like to observe new species, these walks through the forests will certainly be joyful!

The Khaleej pheasants, once endangered – are now legally protected by the gov. and often cross the walking route with a large harem and chicks.

For more excellent wildlife pictures from this trip, you must visit Sunny’s Instagram account!

14.  Try your hand at recording the star trail.

Ranikhet being on the ridge and away from any big town or factory enjoys clear skies most of the year giving the visitors from metros (like us) a memorable view of the night sky. This opportunity should not be missed. Star gazing, milky-way photography, star trail photography is a great way to spend some quiet time under the blanket of a million stars. Some cool places to enjoy this hobby is Holm farm, road going across the golf ground, Seven stones viewing point.

One fine chilly night, Sunny dared to step out and set his camera pointing up!!

15. Visit Choti Haldwani and other neighboring towns.

A visit to Choti haldwani is easier to undertake on your way to Nainital/Ranikhet or while returning back. This small village at the junction from when Himalayan roads leave the plains and start going up. It was home to legendry Jim Corbett. His life achievements and artifacts are neatly curated in his family home – turned museum which is a must visit. Most notable are the his letters to his friends and family and journals.

Nainital being the judicial capital of Uttarakhand is a transport hub and one big city of Kumaon making it base for most visitors as it has easiest transport solutions to all surrounding destinations. On the other hand Ranikhet is closer to the Nanda devi range so it is closer to towns which are in direct shadows of the Himalayas. Both cities have their pros and cons. As we were already based in Ranikhet for the fortnight, we decided to visit these towns from there. As we had enough time on our hands we spaced out each out station trip. Typically, to absorb Ranikhet’s true essence, you need to stay here atleast 3 to 4 days then check out the surrounding towns.

These are some other towns we visited during our stay at Ranikhet:

I hope Ranikhet has now made it to your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!

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Nainital : 7 things to do in a day during a pandemic!

Date of travel : 01st Dec 2020

Nainital is one of the most popular holiday destinations in North India. In the list of best honeymoon destinations in Himalayas, it sits right next to Shimla and Darjeeling. While staying in Ranikhet, one weekday (while my parents went to respective offices – smirk!) we decided to go on a day trip to Nainital.

The valley town being a tourist hotspot, there was an initial reluctance to visit it amidst COVID pandemic. But we adjusted our itinerary in a way that we avoided crowded areas and stuck to open spaces as much as possible where social distancing was easy.

The whole town in itself can be covered on foot and is made for people who love to walk in the sun while enjoying the cool breeze and taking pictures. Having said that, taxis/self drive cars, cycles & bikes and handicap assistance is readily available – so, don’t worry!

Step 01, The golden rule is to use the golden hour. We left early from Ranikhet so we could reach Nainital before the holiday makers get up and get about. We could therefore enjoy the quietness of the city and did not have to be too cautious right from the beginning. We took a private taxi from Ranikhet, but intercity buses and shared taxis are also available between these towns from main bus stands. It takes roughly 2 hours to reach Nainital from Ranikhet.

First view of the valley town of Nainital. Home to many prestigeous schools, fantastic views and starting point for many Kumaoni adventures. The city has a lot of faces and is run by the natives living in these matchboxes houses facing the sun, away from famous Naini lake.

7 things to do in Nainital in a day at the time of a pandemic.

There are multiple tour operators & guides who are more than eager to get hired and show all the viewing points in the city. It’s overwhelming to be approached by so many of them as soon as the taxi pulls onto Tallital. It’s a good bargain to hire them if interest lies in scenery watching and shopping. Otherwise, politely refusing their offers is the way to go. Always remember that they are offering their services to earn an honest living and need to be respected. The guides, often locals have a lot of stories to tell and can be surprising source of great recommendations for eating places. Alternatively, a ropeway ride to snow view point from one end of Mall road is a good choice.

Empty streets is such a rare site in Nainital, early morning certainly has its own charm!

During this particular trip, we wanted to avoid social interaction and did not hire a guide. We were staying and coming from Ranikhet, Himalayan peaks were not a major attraction for us. There was no point looking at cloud covered Himalayan peaks using a telescope which we could see clearly with naked eye from our backyard! (lucky us!) Read more here about, why you must stay in Ranikhet to have the best Himalayan experience!

As we did not have any interest in seeing the view points or get hustled with the crowd, we decided to ask our taxi to drop us at Tallital side of the Mall road and park in the taxi stand across the lake in Mallital. Our plan was to walk and follow this route, call him when were done.

There is so much to see in Nainital, it was difficult to decide where to start. I guess, when in doubt – always start from the top. 🙂

01. Visit G.B. Pant High Altitude zoo.

I have already written in detail how I feel about zoos. They get me excited and I go back to being a 5year old. All the wildlife here are very well kept, healthy and enclosures are well maintained. Most are rescued and have medically recovered from all over Kumaon. Like all high altitude zoos, this one too is made on a hill (very similar to Gangtok or Darjeeling zoo) and as you follow the yellow arrows, you eventually finish a loop going up and down the hill. It has a big veterinary hospital and a very well-constructed and maintained interpretation centre (not to be missed!) within its boundaries.

Overall, our visit to the zoo was much more fun than I had expected. Being one of the first visitors of the day, we had the whole zoo to ourselves for most of the time and ended up spending three hours here instead of our planned two.

We chose to walk slowly and spend time at each enclosure observing the animal/bird’s behavior. We have seen a lot of restless animals and birds in many zoos in India as well as abroad. Fortunately in this one, all were relaxed and basking in the winter sun.  Some big cats were active and the bear was too busy grooming himself to bother about the visitors.

No private vehicles are allowed on the road going uphill to the zoo gate. Road is a narrow single lane with bungalows built at its edge with people walking all over it. There is no way any general driver can maneuverer on that. It’s better to either walk up the hill from Mall road or take a shared taxi from the Mall road at the start of the slope. We had reached fairly early so while going towards the zoo the taxi was empty with only two of us in it apart from the driver. But while returning, looking at the cramped taxis we preferred to walk.

Apart from the interpretation centre there is a souvenir shop, clean paid washrooms and a cafeteria (with fresh delicious snacks) are also present around the entrance of the zoo.

Timing for the zoo (Friday to Wednesday) – 10am to 4pm

Ticket for Zoo (for Indian nationals – free for senior citizens, children upto 5 years) – INR100 p/p

Ticket for interpretation centre (for Indian nationals above 12 years of age) – INR30 p/p Taxi to and fro from Mall road uphill to the zoo entrance – INR30 p/p

02. Walk on Thandi Sadak.

Once down the Zoo hill back on Mall road, turn left to cross the iconic ‘I love Nainital’ signboard to reach Thandi sadak.

A pedestal road spanning 1 km goes along half of the Nainital lake opposite the Mall road. Thandi sadak is lined up with lush greens of pine, deodar and oaks, which restricts warm sunbeams to fall over the road, keeping it cool always. I have walked on this road a decade ago, the enchanting winter morning mist still gives me the chills when I think about it. Not many people come this far, so it’s likely that social distancing will be pretty easy.

Due to our extended zoo trip, we had to skip the Thandi sadak part of our itinerary.

03. Take a boat ride from Naina devi temple to Mall road.

From the base of the zoo, if you take the route of Thandi sadak – the walk will end at Naina – devi temple. It’s beautifully constructed temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati’s reincarnation – Naina devi, on whose name the town and lake is named.

Our plan was to walk to the temple via Thandi sadak and hire a row boat to the Mall road instead of walking to it. We had to off-course cancel the plan and walked directly onto the Mall road.

04. Walk on Mall road.

For decades, Mall road has been the pathway to millions of romantic rendezvous. Walking along the lake with antic street lamps bordering it and café’s inviting aromas of hot chocolate and cappuccinos and fresh bakes will surely make you fall in love with this tiny town. It’s a pretty wide road with a ‘no car’ section, making social distancing quiet easy.

View of Thandi sadak and Naina devi temple across the lake from Mall road.

05. Shop for wood work and candles.

The shops on mall road sell a lot of locally sourced wood artefacts as well as really fancy molded candles. These are good souvenirs to pickup when in town. It was essential that we avoided the popular local markets as they tend to get over crowded during the day, so we decided to only visit empty(ish) mall road souvenir stores.

Some well made fruit shaped candles bought from Nainital.

06. Check out the Murals

This was something that I think I appreciated the most during my visit. A group of artists have painted portrait murals on mall road as an appreciation and to honor civic workers/cleaners who actually keep Nainital pretty behind the scenes. All tourists must pledge to travel responsibly and support the efforts done by all these hard workers in keeping the cities/town we love looking lovable!

Portrait murals of Nainital.

07. Visit one of the many lake side cafes and restaurants

We chose to visit ‘Café LakeSide’ for lunch. The retro ambience and old English melodies made the charming afternoon most relaxing. Hot steaming sizzler and grilled fish was all that one can ask for to end a memorable day in Nainital.

Sizzling delicious lunch at Cafe Lakeside.

Full meal for two: INR2000/-

As we watched the bustling  Mall road below us(balcony seating) and the sun setting behind the hill across the lake with its last beams cutting across the high ridge, it was time to put on our jackets and order for that cup of hot chocolate. Temperatures in Nainital start dropping drastically in the late afternoon as the sun goes behind the surrounding hills, adding extra cool awesomeness to this valley town.

Bonus recommendation!: If by chance you are around till sun down drive towards Pangot to see Nainital lights at night.

I hope this list has given the creamy top things to do in Nainital on a short trip ‘When (you are) on a Break!’


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Anandvan Resort | Bhandardara | Maharashtra

Visited: December 2020. Stayed for 3 days.

For us, a dream destination for a long weekend would be where both of us can keep our feet up & relax. Forget all about office deliveries and deadlines. Where the accommodation is nestled comfortably in the natural environment and not the other way around. Beautiful birds singing, feeding and dancing around us (tempting us to get our cameras out!). Weather, ‘just perfect’ – some sunshine with occasional cloud cover and a chill in the breeze, just enough for a light jacket. Food items and beverages, delicious and abundant. A team of staff members who host us as their own guests at home. Where we feel at home minus all the house work! 😀

Me enjoying the sun after long day of overcast in our cottage garden.

We found this to be true in Anandvan resort located in Shendi village, Bhandardara. A town along the shores of Arthur Lake in Ahmednagar district, in the foothills of Kalsubai Mountain range (highest range and peak in Maharashtra). Its location keeps it cool all year round.

Mesmerizing vistas wherever you look. Arthur lake on one side and Kalsubai peak on the other, we stuck happily in the middle.

The advantage of sharing its borders with Kalsubai Harishchandra nature reserve is the ability to attract a large number of different bird species. Built on a hill, plantation of trees and shrubs is carefully planned in the resort which invites mixed avian hunting parties all throughout the day. Best part, we were able to watch rare birds and click their photographs from the comfort of our cottage and it’s garden. Flowering plants get large number of butterflies, bees and macro wild life. Lush green trees are full of fruits and other edibles for squirrels and other usual garden dwellers. There is no need to go anywhere once you check in! It’s a perfect example of a healthy ecosystem.

Sunny photographing rare birds busy feeding and hunting. Checkout his Instagram account for more pictures.

The placement of cottages in this resort is planned very well with enough privacy and luxury. They are very spacious & view from each room (and private garden) is exclusive. They are furnished with all amenities and are very clean/well sanitised. We stayed in lake view series of cottages. However they have tree houses overlooking the valley also. As stated earlier, this resort is built on a hill so accessing the higher rooms/cottages can be difficult for physically handicapped persons.

The lush green trees within the boundaries of the resort make wandering around so SO much fun.

We had opted for the package with set buffet meals. The buffet menu is carefully picked with good number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes for all the meals. Dishes were prepared with care and were very delicious. Waiting staff was always ready to help with any food requirements and were very prompt and professional. Chef comes to each table to greet the guests and to take their feedback. The food here kept our taste buds working and enjoying the whole day. I suspect, there is an al LA cart menu and although all meals can be served in the room they appreciate guests coming to the restaurant for dinner at-least to enjoy the live music. We had all our meals in the restaurant and only asked for evening tea and pakodas (inclusive in the meal package) to be served in the room’s garden. We enjoyed them thoroughly along with a light drizzle and passing by clouds in the wind.

Chilling with a cuppa, every moment’s joy is well deserved. 🙂

Staff was just perfect. Hospitable, polite, ever-smiling & helpful. COVID-19 prevention precautions were being followed by each one of them diligently & we felt very safe all throughout our stay. Mr Raj Patankar, although always busy with managing the resort, never failed to chat with us cheerfully and help us with information regarding the sights around the lake. Every single staff member from the chef to the waiter to housekeeper and to the lady sweeping the pathways and keeping the garden made us feel at home.

The love and cheer that each staff and management member puts into this resort is what makes this resort more than ‘just a place to stay’. Each detail is well thought and executed (and maintained!)

There is a well-marked trail from the back (or top) of the resort which can be taken for a hike till the top of the hill. It’s an outstanding vantage point to see the panorama of the valley and the lake in the centre. It’s not a very strenuous hike and only takes 20 mins or so to reach the top. Guide is available at the reception if informed beforehand. Ours was a spontaneous decision, so we did it without a guide. Watching the sunrise from here with coffee is a great start of the day.

There is a bare rock midway to the top of the hill from where the length of the lake is completely visible. We found this to be a better spot to have a picnic than the top which was covered in tall grass (see second photo of Sunny in golden grass overlooking Arthur lake)

Other amenities include a spa, a swimming pool and a club house with indoor games, usage of them was prohibited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Phone signal is low (BSNL & Airtel work best, Vodafone in patches) and wifi works when it works. It was fortunate for us, these restrictions almost forced us to do nothing. We took this opportunity to have conversations while enjoying the view, feeling the breeze on our faces, relaxing and unwinding.

Evenings by the pool are always cooler!

Final verdict : We enjoyed each moment of our stay here at Anandvan resort & spa and will keep coming back for sure!

Essential information for booking stay in Anandvan resort, Bhandardara.

Website : www.anandvanresorts.com

Location link : https://g.page/AnandvanResort?share

Contact for current packages & costs : 074 000 50216

Special mention : It’s a pet friendly resort.

When to go : We went during winter months and it was pretty awesome. Looking at the location of this resort, monsoons will be good too. Summers, hard to say. It won’t be too bad – I suppose.

What to wear : It’s an upscale place, semi formal/smart casual would be great. Slightly warm jacket/shawl/sweater is a must.

How to reach: (from Mumbai) : Head on the road to Nashik (NH160) but turn towards Bhavli dam road from Pimpri phata, Igatpuri. Although it passes through villages and fields and winds/unwinds on the ghats, the quality of road is very good and scenic. There are multiple streams, waterfalls and rivers on the way which are great for breaks. If you are a birder, keep your eyes open!! There is another road from Ghoti, but it’s broken, it’s better to avoid that one. It takes close to 5 hours to reach the resort from Mumbai ( excluding the time you would spend on Bhavli dam picnicking! ).

Best picnic spot on the way to Anandvan resort : Bhavli dam. This rest is essential beforehand to enjoy the winding forest/village/field roads on the ghats ahead.

Birdwatching in Bhigwan

Date of the trip: 26th Dec 2019 to 28th Dec 2019

Bhigwan had our attention since my father first recollected his birding getaways to the lake many many years ago. It is called Bharatpur of central India and let me tell you, it’s really not just hearsay. It is located at one end of the reservoir of Ujni dam on Bhima river. During the winters, the reservoir’s water attracts migratory birds from faraway lands. There are villages located at the banks of the reservoir. Each village offers a different view and experience of the reservoir’s water. Some of the most popular villages for birding are Takrarwadi, Bhigwan, Kumbhargaon and Diksal.

The star of the show, here and everywhere!!! majestic and fiery – Greater Flamingos!!

Best time to visit Bhigwan

Like for anywhere in India (except the Himalayas or the ghats) Summers is not the best time to visit this lake. Unless interest lies in photographing some egrets and random pond heron.

Monsoon, the water levels are too high and surroundings have overgrowth, not a preferred time, but can be a possibility.

Winters is by-far the best time. It’s when the migratory birds pass through, the weather is cool and humidity is low. Starting from November all the way to March. January and February being the prime time.

Winter on the lake is a chilly affair. 🙂

How to reach Bhigwan from Mumbai

Best way to get to Bhigwan is to self drive (or taxi) past Pune directly to the Bhigwan lake (google map route is good – A lakeside spot marked as Bhigwan bird sanctuary in Bhigwan). 

All other close by birding spots like Kumbhargaon and Diksal are also marked clearly on the map. Roads are fairly good as its highway throughout. There are small hamlets and sugarcane fields all along the way with some occasional water bodies.

The awkwardly looking Bhigwan lake is surrounded by industrial civilisation and many of these villages have fishermen which double up as tour operators. The two points marked are most popular as well as our destinations.

Where to stay in Bhigwan

(Actually – Phaltan, 50kms away – for Mumbaikar’s, this distance is nothing!)

After a quick trip to the lake to see where the road ends, we headed towards our stay for the night before the sun set. Village roads can be a bit risky to drive if you are not used to them. While researching, I read that many locals in the area provide boat ride / rooms and meals to the birders visiting the lake. There are many lodges close by like Anand or Satyajit lodge which provide economical stay. Kranti flamingo point (check map above) has a MTDC affiliated hotel too. For us, Christmas hangover and year end blues deserved more luxury, so we booked a room at Jaksons Inn in Phaltan, a little further from Bhigwan, beyond Baramati. It was a 45 mins drive on the country road, sugarcane fields on both sides. These surrounding areas are dotted with factories, it’s the sugar hub of the state. 

The only odd travel mates were the long tractors carrying the sugarcane harvest and some tempo trucks. They are long and rickety, fun to watch.!

By the time we reached Jakson Inn, the sun had set. After the day of travel, the comfort of a cozy room and a warm bath always refreshes us. A quick bath, and we headed down for dinner. This hotel has a tie up with many factories in the surrounding areas. The officials who visit the factories always stay here and the hotel is built with all amenities possible.

The secret of best experience is to ask for the hill view!!

They have a buffet for all meals as there are no proper restaurants around and have an amazing menu. I think I have never loaded up on fish preparations as much as I did in their buffet. Kudos to their chef, for churning out such excellent dishes. The staff was ever smiling, helpful and took care of all our needs. They were surprised with our request though, packed breakfast at 6 AM was not a very popular request I believe. :). More birders should come to stay here perhaps!

One of the best things about this hotel is that they have taxi and tours facilities for many tourist spots around the area, so you do have options, in case you want a day off from birding

Birdwatching at Bhigwan

Depending on the time you reach (we reached around 1pm), there is a scope of great birding on the way after you pass the houses in Bhigwan town and drive through the forest towards the lake on the kaccha mud road. We started driving really slowly, windows down and eyes and ears alert.  There were many bird sounds coming from the dry forest and soon we spotted a large flock of yellow wagtails and silverbills hopping on the ground, carefree! A flock of rosy starlings covering the dead tree like leaves was a stunning sight. A yellow crowned woodpecker crossed the road and made us chase it from tree to tree.

Yellow crowned woodpecker – made us hop tree to tree with it.

While chasing the woodpecker we accidentally got too close to ground nest of rock bunting. In our defense, it was right there on the road side!! We were alerted very furiously by Mr Ashy crowned sparrow lark swishing swooshing in front of our faces trying to distract us and mumma Lark twittering continuously on a rock at the side. The eggs were well camouflaged with  the surrounding rocks, we were relieved that we did not step on one, we would have felt extremely guilty.

Dry terrain on the way to the lake. Walking on this mud road gave us the taste of rich bird population of this place.

The sun was right above us and it was very hot so we decided to circle back later and for now go ahead to the lake to find out details of the boating tours. It was too hot for a productive birding trip into the water and the light was also not too great for photography. As suggested by the operator we decided to return the next morning.

Magical birding morning. Thick haze and chilled gusts of wind.

We reached the lake only by 8 AM the next morning. It was covered with thick mist which was just beginning to clear out. There were many families, photographers and couples on boats trying to cruise in the mist mainly to see the Greater flamingos. Poor birds, at one point there were around 15 boats and cameras pointing towards them. Thankfully most boatmen who are also bird guides here have sense to keep distance from these birds so as not to intimidate them.

These painted storks were so much at peace with our presence that they dint even bother to walk out of the lake. Boatmen know exactly what kind of tourist are you. They get only the selected few to this corner who can appreciate these meditating birds.

For us the main highlight was the cluster of painted storks. They are not the main attraction here and are often overshadowed by the tourist magnets, the Greater flamingos. They were not snooty like the flamingos and gave us full opportunity to photograph them in detail. They stood there feeding themselves, not caring for our approaching boat. It was an excellent feeling. We did see so many of them nesting at Bharatpur but had never imagined that we would be just a couple of feet away from them and they would not mind!

As sunlight started tearing through the mist, we spotted various waders, grey herons, ibises, painted and open billed storks, ducks and tiny weed birds.

What you lookin at, chimp???? common ringed plover – threatening our boat!

For afternoon birding we headed towards ‘Kranti flamingo point’, Kumbhargaon. Its close to Agneepankh flamingo viewing point (Agneepankh being the hindi name for Flamingos, the deep fiery red visible when they fly gets it this name) but we wanted to checkout the MTDC hotel there, incase in future we want to stay closer to the lake. If you follow google maps, you would eventually reach this place. It’s a multi storey grey building, lodge kind of a place, affiliated by MTDC. It was not looking very appealing and we did not enter it. Instead we met the owner in the parking lot and he summoned Rahul, a boat rower who doubles up as a bird guide.

Each village is assigned one colour which they need to use on their boats so that they are easily identifiable in the hazy vast expanse of the lake. These are blue, from Kumbhargaon. Horse bowhead seems to be a common design though.

Rahul was much better informed guide compared to the morning one and understood bird behavior better. A photographer himself, he had a good angle/lighting sense and was able to predict a lot of bird perch positions to get the perfect bird picture. We were not very sure if it was a good idea to go for a late afternoon birding trip but Rahul did not disappoint us at all. We were able to check off most water – birds from our Bhigwan bird list pending from the morning trip. The gem of the trip was the excellent observation of an Osprey perched on a fish net pole doing his noon poop business. A colony of Shovelers covering a small island entirely and zooming over and around it also provided us with amazing photos.  A lonesome Bar Headed Goose and a couple of Garganey Teals were grooming themselves in the sun. I think this may be nesting/ juvenile nursery for Black Headed Ibis as there was a variety of age groups here. There was a surprise sighting of Woolly Necked Stork here, we were not expecting this one!!

Posing for that perfect reflection, Bar headed goose.

Bird guides in Bhigwan

As an independent birding trip, it is an excellent choice. Birds here are not shy and the guides are very cautious of the distance. They participate in many rescues too. The boat man/bird guide was not very well acquainted with the bird names but was very enthusiastic to learn. He informed us that they undergo training for being guides but it’s not a comprehensive one. A boost in number of birders to this hotspot may be the encouragement they need. The only tourist who come here are locals from surrounding cities like Pune or Baramati interested in boating or flamingo sightings. They haggle a lot on the costs and don’t give positive online reviews if they don’t see flamingos, mmm.. I dont think that’s fair. There is an amazing collection of birds waiting to be spotted, listed and photographed in and around this huge lake and overshadowing them with one species of bird is unfortunate.

We just kept following these boards to the lake and met him. He leads a team of bird guides/boatmen and can take care of your bird list easily. Sorry for the wonky photo 😉

Send us an Email if you need Rahul’s contact information.

Cost of a birdwatching trip in Bhigwan

We took the whole boat to ourselves:

Rs 800 per boat ride (no time limit 3-4 pax occupancy)

Close encounters with the ringed plover, lark and painted stork:

Priceless

Witnessing poopy Osprey hunt:

A million-dollar moment

Fire up!!

What to eat in Bhigwan

Lunch options in Bhigwan town are limited to local restaurants serving local cuisine. Fishing is the primary source of income here and has a strong presence in their food scene. All restaurants, although not fancy looking, have tasty set meal thalis for meals.

Ideally we would have asked our guide for recommendations, we forgot – so a quick google search got us to this place closest to where we were on the way to Kumbhargaon. Bhigwan fish curry is the town specialty and everyone seemed to serve it in set meal thali.

Like any regular Indian town, Baramati and Bhigwan have the morning hustle bustle in the market along the main road. Samosa pav/ Vada pav and hot tea are readily available. We got our breakfast packed from Jakson inn so we just bought a cup of hot tea on the way.

Road side sugarcane juice stalls are absolutely a ‘not to be missed’ if you are coming here in the harvest season, how we did.

ppsstt…There is also a missal pav joint right outside Jakson Inn which serves memorable misal pav.

Is Bhigwan worth visiting?

In conclusion, Bhigwan is not as commercial or well developed like Bharatpur, but it has its own charm and its own list of birds. We felt, it was a better place to photograph birds as we were much closer to birds and they don’t mind close proximity with humans.  It is not cramped with tourists making random noises to disturb the birds. The boatmen here are very enthusiastic and pro navigators. They are still new to the business and still need a lot of training to unlock full potential. For example, the forest before the lake has so many species of land and forest birds but they were completely oblivious to it. They must certainly be trained to know what gem of a place they live in.

Beautifully painted oars of our boat. Its quieter than the motor boat making the morning birding a peaceful experience..

The lake is surrounded by villages and sugarcane fields, no proper tar roads and food stalls like other more commercial sanctuaries, no picnic spots or souvenir shops and maybe that is why birds are more calm and human friendly here.

Walking around the lakeside village.

Downside is the constant stench in the air and neon green pigmentation in the water due to paper and sugar factories. I think the efforts are good and if the place is promoted in the correct way, it may evolve into a more popular and well maintained birding spot. That may pressurise the authorities to take action against water pollution too. Water pollution results in less and less migratory birds each year. This humongous lake is a safe haven to many bird species, pollution problems here need to be a red flag in the tourism and environment sector.

The pollution in the lake froths on the shores.

Without a doubt, it’s a thumb’s up place and we would certainly re-visit soon.

Every one march to the left… now everyone march to the right! yes, you hear me… keep your beaks up… turn your beaks down! lift your left leg up and scratch your wings… lovely!!! that’s the way, boys and girls – you dance like a flamingo!!

While returning to Mumbai we took the route via Mayureshwar sanctuary (detailed blog a bit later!) and spotted a couple of Red Naped Ibises looking for insects in the empty dry harvested fields. Looking outside the window, glaring into the open expanse of fields has never been more rewarding!!

Next time hopefully we will be able to spend more time at Mayureshwar too.

For more visual treat, make sure you follow us on Instagram 

To see awesome bird pictures of this trip, check Sunny’s Instagram account!

Check out our bird-list here

Let us know in the comments below if you have been to Bhigwan. Where did you stay? Where did you eat? Did you go for birdwatching or for any other purpose?

If you are planning to go, add any questions that you may have, below!

Love for road trips

I have been traveling all my life around the country with my parents. My family loves travelling, there is a special soft corner for road trips and we are always ready for some adventurous bird-watching trips.

Our first car in the background, the best companion in our local road trips.

A couple of years back, when I got married to Sunny who was a complete ‘Bombay boy’ and had not traveled much, I jumped at the task of showing off the beautiful vibrant India to him.

Some times the most scenic roads in life

are the detours you din’t mean to take.

~ Angela N Blount

Sunny is an avid wildlife photographer (check out his instagram page) and was a welcome addition to our family of birdwatchers. There are innumerable species of birds found in India for every terrain and in search of those, most of our travels are on a beaten path where normally no typical tourist would wander.

Off-roading in search of a bird, most common adventure during our trips

Road trips are great for experiencing the art of slow travel. You have the independence of deciding the speed of travel and the best part is the freedom to stop anywhere and absorb the surroundings. Breath in the new air, try food at a local dhabba or just grab a quick chai or nariyal/nimbu pani and stretch your legs, take some amazing photos and carry on…

Packed breakfast and tea or roadside dhaba stop. Slow travel is the essence of relaxation.

I have very fond memories of my father driving our Omni van with us, grandparents and our dog in it, all comfortable. Munching on snacks, jamming with the radio and discussing the route and our destination. My mother always struggling with the large paper maps and open windows (thanks google for maps! phew!) . Those are the best family times I have embedded in my head. Road travel in India has evolved since then. We have expressways, better planned bypass roads and better midway facilities making road trips a breeze. After my marriage, me and Sunny have continued the family trend and try to hit the road as often as possible.

Years have passed by, even though my father sometimes leaves the wheel for Sunny now, our fun on the road has only increased. 🙂

In this blog I have shared my experiences of road travel trips around Mumbai (our home base) in our own car as well as from other cities in a rented car.

Rental cars make it easy to travel to remote places in any state/country.

When there is a choice, always do a road trip!

When you go on a road trip,

the trip itself becomes part of the story.

~ Steve Rushin

Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite road-trip route and what’s the best thing you like about a road-trip!!


Check out our recent road trips…

Andamans : Honeymoon destination 101

Date of the trip: 21st Nov 2013 to 27th Nov 2013

The first thought while going through the photographs of our trip to Andaman Islands was ‘out of the whole wide world, how did we ever decide on this destination?’ It was our honeymoon after all, our first adventure together after the roller coaster ride of a big fat Indian wedding. We had not travelled together before, and everyone who has travelled with companions knows how important their roles are in making or breaking the trip. For both of us, this was when we really realised that we had chosen the best companions for the longest journey of life and would love to be beside each other in all the future adventures of our lives and around the world. It all had to start from the beach! …Always the beach…

Two beach bums enjoying the perfect calm of the high tide. 🙂

 Inexperience and lack of time had been the reasons for us to book a package holiday from ‘Make My Trip’, a reliable tour operator. My cousins had been to the islands a couple of years back, and since then I always dreamt of visiting the Andaman islands. I did not want to go to a crowded honeymoon cliché, it was wedding season in India at that time and many popular honeymoon destinations would be overcrowded and overpriced. Sunny wanted to have a relaxed time and was not comfortable with low temperature locations at that time. So mountains were a no! – Oh, How he has grown into his glove since then! He was always inclined towards nature and wildlife but never had any close encounters nor got around to photographing them much. These were the hobbies which were yet to develop. On top of the list at that time was only spending quality time and trying to understand the new changes in our lives, strolling romantically on the beach and enjoying cocktails & beers! A tour package was perfect for this kind of holiday and I am glad now that we did not do a DIY stint. We literally did not use any brains during this trip and it was perfect!

‘Make my trip’ took care of our flights, accommodation, transport, food and a couple of activities during the trip. Our group was a small one, with 2 more honeymooners and a middle aged couple with a baby boy and a 10 year old daughter. They gave us enough time and space at every site so we could easily soak up everything and never felt rushed.

Tour map .

According to our one week itinerary we were to land at Vir Savarkar International Airport, Port Blair, capital of the Andaman Islands. After a night’s stay, we were to visit the Ross Island (now known as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island – longest name ever!) and then proceed to Neil Island (now known as Shaheed Island) where we were booked for only a night. The last destination was Havelock Island (now known as Swaraj Island) , that is where we were to spend the rest of the week, coming back to Port Blair only to fly back to Mumbai.

Fishermen back from their morning catch.

Andaman Islands are all rounders in every sense. They truly have something for everyone.

Andaman Islands are an important part of Indian history, holiday paradise for history buffs!

We tend to leave behind our sense of patriotism somewhere in our busy day to day life. A visit to the Cellular Jail (Kala pani) is a jolt to remind us of the freedom struggle and the rock strong will of our freedom fighters who stood up time and again against the mighty British Empire. ‘Make My Trip’ had arranged a guided tour to this site and it was a very informative one. It was the most depressing place we had been to by then. The guide did try to cheer us up in the end by taking us on the roof from where we could get a breath-taking view of the blue ocean in all four directions. It didn’t help though when he added that the blue ocean all around was in fact the reason this spot was chosen for the jail, any prisoner who tried to escape would die of exhaustion while swimming before he reached the nearest land.

The “light and sound show” at the prison is a must see. Spoiler alert! If you are like me, you might leave teary eyed.

Entrance to Cellular jail compound.

Even a half day visit to Ross Island is time well spent. It has a very long and intense history. Most recent contribution to Andaman Island’s history is that it was the barrier saving Port Blair when the December 2004 tsunami hit the Andaman Islands devastating most of the islands. Port Blair and its high density population owns it to Ross island for blocking and breaking the wave’s wrath so it did not hit the city in full intensity, wiping it out completely. The eerie ruins of the old township covered in roots make excellent photo ops. A short hike up the hillock where the town church was, is a good way to scan the whole island. The huge gothic style walls and arches may not be that pretty in the evenings when they look like a set for a spooky exorcist movie. Most of the tourists only walk around the base of this hillock. That is where the eateries are and visitors can feed the number of spotted deer and peacocks.

The ancient roots growing over the ruins of Ross island give it particularly eerie feel. I and Sunny enjoyed walking around clicking hundreds of pictures.

Drooling at that magazine photo of white beaches of Maldives and Mauritius? It’s closer (and cheaper) to home than you would think!

Early morning flight meant sleeping like an ogre till the destination, but we were wide eyed during our second leg of the trip from Chennai to Port Blair. We were flying over Bay of Bengal and could see small green islands spread across the vast blue ocean. That’s when we knew we had made the right choice and this is going to be an outstanding trip!

Picture perfect first glimpse of the islands. Both of us were stuck to the window glass like a pair of geckos!

All through the trip the ‘Make My Trip’ rep took us to many beaches and each one was more beautiful and dazzling than the other. Port Blair itself has only one tourist beach, Corbyn Cove . We reached there around sunset, it was like all tourist beaches with water sports, snacks and shell jewellery and handicraft stalls. We found our bliss in just sitting on a side wall and looking at the families having fun. It was our first day on the islands and the only beach we had seen in our lives before this was Juhu Beach back in Mumbai, it did not look much different and unfortunately was disappointing. It got us a bit worried if all the islands are going to be as overcrowded and full of pushy water-sports salesmen as this one. We couldn’t be more wrong! all the islands had their own beaches with white sand and water with all colours ranging from emerald green to turquoise blue and the peace and calm overwhelmed us.

Me in the white hat at Rajiv Gandhi sports complex pier, waiting for our ferry to Ross island (visible in the distance)

Even while walking on the pier of Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex (in Port Blair) we could see how clean the water was. A visible sea bed is very rare to us Mumbaikars. Red starfish were lazing everywhere on rocks while sea urchins lay cuddled between rocks calmly even though multiple boats and ferries to various islands were docked there. We took one to go to Ross Island from here.

Bharatpur beach, Neil island. Boats with glass base waiting for customers to show them the colourfull coral life of Andaman sea.

Bharatpur Beach in Neil island was the next beach we visited and it was stunning. Never in my life had I ever seen a beach so pretty. Although here too there were activities like glass base boat ride and snorkelling, it was quieter. In the daytime,the serene white sand and emerald blue sea was very welcoming even after the adventure we had the night before! (Read on, more on that later!). I may skip the glass boat a miss the next time around and opt for snorkelling instead. The tour operator had arranged a snorkelling session in Havelock so we skipped the paid one here (how we regret that decision, more on that later too!).

Radhanagar beach, Havelock island. Long white sand beach is ideal for a romantic stroll.

The serene Radhanagar Beach, Havelock island will always hold a special place in our hearts. I think even now when we have been to many beautiful places in our travels, it still comes in top five. The long uninterrupted stretch of clean sand with no one except our group was unbelievable.

The rocky beach reveals itself during low tide. The crooked tree trunks make the beach walk very interesting.

All our hotels on the island were adjacent to beaches. They were non touristy, side, rocky beaches. They were empty, calm and very pretty, but at the same time a bit creepy. During multiple cyclones (and the tsunami of 2004) many trees were uprooted along the beach. The authorities decided to let them lay there as they just added to the beauty of the beach – and we agree! They were amazing photo ops as the texture on each trunk was unique in its own way. These trees give shelter to various tiny marine creatures and walking along the beach became much more fascinating looking at them. We were just amazed by the colours and variety of fauna on these beaches. Oh, how Sunny wishes now to go back there and click better pictures! Really, all the beaches that we visited on this trip were mind blowing and had a very exotic feel to them. And hey! Andaman Islands are a cluster of many islands and most good sized ones are inhabited and are well connected. If you find a beach you don’t like, just go for the next one, I am sure all of them are soul soothing.

Interesting designs on the dead tree trunk.

Andaman Island spoilt my love for Mumbai beaches forever. I just can’t get myself to enjoy them anymore like I used to. 😦

Luxury comforts? check.

Accomodations booked by the tour operator were very luxurious and well maintained. Almost always we had a separate cottage to ourselves right next to the beach. They booked us into the Hotel chain SeaShell on all the islands. They managed to get us rooms in Hotel Sea Princes on the night of the rescue in Port Blair (Read on, more on that later too!). Rooms during the whole trip were very comfortable and amenities were well maintained. All hotels had scrumptious buffet meals and a view to die for! We spent some free evenings in Havelock enjoying the in-house bar overlooking the blue sea and had never felt so relaxed before (even at the time when we did not know how and when we were going to reach Mumbai 😀 – long story, coming up later!) It certainly was an unforgettable setting! Chefs in all the hotels were outstanding and the spread was always very delicious.

All the hotels we stayed in had cottages rooms and were on the beach, except the ones in Port Blair.

Inter island transportation gets you cruzin’!

We travelled within the island by the minibus arranged by ‘Make my trip’. But when we had to travel between islands, we would go the pier and board the bigger boats/small ships. Some of these were run by government and some were private ones. Comfort of the seats and ticket costs depends on which one it is. Our tickets were covered in the tour cost. Walking on the pier was always very exciting as we could see all the marine creatures on the sea bed till further away from the beach. We had never seen sea water so clear until then and we would spend many minutes trying to look for something unique swimming around.

The pier at Neil island, waiting to board the boat for Havelock island. Locals are always waiting around to help dock these big boats.

Yes mummy, it is safe!

Although Andaman Islands are closer to Myanmar than to India, we never felt the distance to our country even once. The islands are populated with Tamilians, Keralites, Andhrans and Bengalis. Hindi and English were well understood. Islands are completely safe for backpackers and tourists. People are helpful and courteous. We had left our phones and valuables on the beach whenever we went into the water and no one touched them. Economy is based on tourism alone, I don’t think they want to risk it!


‘All’s well that ends well’, nowhere it is true more than our trip to Andaman islands. November is the best time to visit the islands as temprature and humidity are low all through the day, visibility is clear and crowd and costs are low. BUT, November is also the month where cyclones may hit the island and there was one, Cyclone Leher, on it’s way the day we landed.

I cannot talk about the holiday on the islands without talking about our first adventure together. It started the very second day of our trip. We (I mean the whole tour group) started late from the hotel to go to Ross island, once we reached there, we missed the ferry back to Port Blair because the kid wanted to feed chips to the deer again. We were scheduled to take ‘once a day’ ferry to Neil island from Port Blair as soon as we were back, so we missed that too. The ‘Make My Trip’ rep came up with the idea of taking us back to Port Blair in a motor boat which was great and quick thinking. From there we got into a ship leaving for Havelock later in the afternoon.

Our ride to Havelock island.

It was a government run ship and we all had our seats booked but we were too excited and decided to take a tour of the ship and the deck. Our first ship ride, it was excellent! Sunny was ever so careful of where I was putting my feet with all the machinery and pipes everywhere. Little did he knew what was ahead of us :D.By sunset we had reached Havelock Island. They rushed us onto a jetty in a mini bus. We were not sure of where we were or where we’re going. I am sure they had told us the plan but we were too overwhelmed at the time to let it sink in. For me atleast, every leg of this journey was very exciting and I was very sporty about it.

The motor boat ride to Neil island into the sunset – a trip etched into our brains. Fun times!

There was a motor boat waiting for us at the jetty partially covered and just big enough to accommodate all of us, a helmsman and a navigator. Our luggage was dumped in the bow of the boat and we zoomed into the setting sun. Now imagine this, a low motor boat with 12 seats almost all occupied, a navigator sitting on the bow of the boat with a torch and the pilot half praying that the motor doesn’t stop or the diesel doesn’t dry up, jumping on waves 3-4 feet high with force of a fierce ocean. Each time the boat crashed into the wave it would break into our face. Flipsy – doozy, that’s exactly how our tiny motor boat was cutting through the ferocious high tide of the night. Sunny as well as other newlywed husbands were completely paranoid. Wives, including me were enjoying the wild ride, the other family was seriously sea sick and puking their stomachs out. As the night grew darker the stars twinkled above. No land or light in sight for miles, the stars filled up the sky from horizon to horizon. I wished secretly that we didn’t have the canvas over our heads, I would never get a better opportunity to see this magical sight above. Looking at Sunny’s worried face I instead wished we should reach land safely. Down below the froth made by the boat was glowing because of plankton’s luminescence. It was unbelievable and magical – straight out of a fantacy movie. We had the advantage sitting on the first set of seats, we could enjoy both, the glow in the sky and the glow in the sea. The navigator would switch on the torch light occasionally to see if there are any buoys visible to guide us to land. As the time passed, all the tour members started getting anxious to see land or lights but miles and miles of darkness was broken only with rumble of the motor and roars of the waves, and somewhere in the middle the pilot asked us if we had seen a plastic water bottle anywhere rolling on the floor of the boat. After further investigation we came to know that the boat had almost run out of diesel and the bottle had some spare in it. That was the trigger, everyone started searching for it very vigorously. There were high chances that it may have fallen off the boat in one of the jumps over the waves. The lady with the baby finally found it rolling near her feet and passed it to the pilot, everyone was hopeful of living again (phew!). All the dramatic parts of the movies Jaws, Castaway, Titanic were playing in our heads. A couple of miles more, and it was no more fun and games. We were now questioning the crew if they knew where they were going. Back of my head, obviously I knew, they are locals and they can navigate to each island with their eyes closed but the stress and anxiety on the boat was building up on me too. Their mumbling reply did not help either. No lights still in sight, once when the navigator put his torch on, we were only a feet away from a cemented pillar. All of us took a sigh of relief realising that land would be near now. In another couple of minutes and turns we saw some halogen lights, we were there finally! We had reached Neil Island jetty. Closer we approached the pier we saw there were people standing on it and waving at us with torches. And when we reached even closer, we realised the pier was almost 10 feet higher than the motor boat. It was a pier for cruise ships! The ladder came down only halfway and we all had to do some gymnastics to get on it balancing ourselves on the wobbly bow. The baby had to be tossed up first and the mother pulled herself up followed by the father and the daughter. Slowly we were all up and Sunny was visibly relieved that both of us were safe and alive. We were drenched and all our suitcases were soaked. After we reached the hotel he had the most relaxed night, dried all our clothes and slept like babies. 

View from the restaurant after breakfast on the day the cyclone hit.

This incident was followed by a bigger problem two days later when we were in Havelock Island when Cyclone Leher hit the island. October to February is the season for cyclones on these islands. The choppy sea during our motorboat stint was just the beginning of an upcoming storm. We got up on the morning of 24th November covered in coconut flakes and husks, they had flown in with the strong winds and squeezed in between the log walls of our room. We were told not to go out for the morning as the government was assessing the situation and it may not be safe to move around outside, falling coconuts were the real danger. Around noon the winds stopped blowing and as the morning sightseeing had been cancelled we decided to take a walk in the island township. The walk was beautiful and the tropical plants at the roadside were very new to us. We visited the market, did some shopping and returned only to find our tour operator waiting to take us to Radhanagar Beach. It was to be our last day on the island and he was reluctant to cancel the day’s plan completely, although it had started drizzling now, we jumped into our minibus and reached the most amazing looking beach. Remember all those Hollywood movies where the random extra is just standing in a wide open clearing and sees a dark cloud moving towards him which is actually a covering of an alien mothership, or a random girl playing on a pretty beach and sees this big wave of destruction coming towards her! Well, it was almost like that when the coast guard started banging the bell as the dark cloud of the actual cyclone was heading towards the land right in front of us. Although it was still many kilometres away, the scale of it was making it look very close. We hurried to the bus and back to our hotel. That evening the government announced cancelation and blocking of all inter island transport. Flights were postponed and all tourists were asked to stay where they were till further information. A meeting of the group was called and after much negotiation the ‘Make My Trip’ rep told us that the stay for another day will be borne by the operators and they will make sure all of us reach our destination safely. We called up our parents from the reception as cell phones were not working and updated them with the proceedings. The next day, we lounged in our rooms or in the veranda in front of our rooms, ordered room service, chilled and chit chatted. It was an unusual experience for us and although it was stressful at the time, it got Sunny and me closer. We learnt to depend on and trust each other, we were glad that we were together in this. It was good. When the sky was clear again the next day, the Indian Navy ships rescued all the foreign tourists, we were taken back to Port Blair in a cruise ship.

The big Navy ships docked on Havelock to rescue the tourists

The bay was choppier than ever and ferocious waves were tossing the ship playfully making everyone a bit sick. That night we were accommodated in a hotel in the outskirts of the city. Port Blair was stuffed with tourists rescued from every island. We were very tired that night and had wobbly legs from the jumpy voyage, we found it best just to crash and snore.

The view from the window on our last voyage through the angry seas. A fleet of ships to Port Blair with rescued the tourists.

Next morning we went to the adjacent beach to have a last look at the bay, now calm and soothing like before. The welcoming cool hues and bright sunshine was the perfect goodbye! When the runway had dried up, flights started taking off and we headed home in the first available flight managed by ‘Make My Trip’, our reliable tour operator.

A bright new day! Sadly, our last day 😦

Oooh! That was a very nostalgic write up! It leads to the next question,

Is Andaman islands circling back in our bucket list?

Obviously, we would not go back to Andaman Islands with a package tour again. We are all about DIYs now. However, I do admit, we may not have been able to handle the cyclone crisis without them. We would not know what to do and where to go during such an emergency. Although our trip was a booked tour and we had a limited kind of very touristy experiences (apart from the cray time during our motor boat ride offcourse!) it was still so much fun! and fit the requirement at the time perfectly. The place gave us so many amazing memories that we can not wait to get back and enjoy other experiences that the islands have to offer.

The amazing marine creatures with amazing accommodations on dead trees on the beaches.

Our list of ‘things to do in the next trip’ is really REALLY long, here is a short version:

  1. Taking a walk in the island towns. A day before the cyclone hit, Sunny and me went for a stroll around the sleepy town as all our days sights were cancelled due to govt. advisory. It was a short walk and we bought some fridge magnets and cup noodles incase we get stranded for too many days. Maybe next time we can explore more into towns and find some hidden gems!
  2. On the day we reached Havelock, we visited PADI certified scuba diving center and made our payments there for a trip underwater the next day. They were to take us in a boat to a coral island. Train us and take us diving. Of-course, none of that happened thanks to Cyclone Leher but it has now made it into our list for the next trip. It is very important to choose a certified dive company for a safe an memorable experience like Seahawks Scuba. They have training courses and offer multitudes of other unique activities.
  3. We had skipped a paid snorkeling session at Neil Island and were supposed to go for a complimentary one in Havelock, and guess what…??
  4. A visit to Jolly Buoy Island or Mahatma Gandhi Marine national park for exotic wildlife spotting is a must in the list!
  5. There are multiple exquisite museums in Port Blair which would be fun to visit but were not in our itinerary. Its great to see these to know more about the place you visit. So, always on our list.
  6. We have decided, next time we are here, we will hire a self drive (easily available, I have heard) and go bird watching. Some islands have conservatories made especially for birds which would surely be very very exciting to visit. I am sure these tropical islands are home to many many rare and exotic birds. Chidiya tapu is also a good birding destination.
  7. We hardly got a chance to taste some local cuisines during our stay there. As Make My Trip had our meals arranged in our stay hotels everywhere. Only once when we were rushing to catch the ship to Havelock from Port Blair, we stopped at a  restaurant for some lunch. I hardly remember it, gulped it down in a hurry. 😦
  8. I have heard of very rewarding hiking trails around Mt Harriet. Definitely adding that one!
  9. Volcano watching and scuba diving around Barren island. The only active volcano in India. Can you really miss it?
This adorable lady was always by our side on the beach during our extended stay in Havelock. 🙂

We are sure to visit the islands again soon, I am sure more things have changed there than their names. 🙂 . Feel free to give us some ideas of what to do there!

Visited Andaman Islands recently? Tell us all about it! Leave a reply below.

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