The excitement was palpable when the Nature India trip to Thattekkad/Munnar kick started with the team packing itself into three SUVs at Kochi airport. It was a bright and sunny January morning. The 45km drive from the airport to Thattekkad is a scenic one. There are winding roads and rich vegetation on either side. The route passes through Kaladi (the birthplace of Adi Shankara) and the small town of Kothamangalam. The day we were travelling, it was festival time in a local church and there were colourful processions on the way. It did not delay our progress in any way and we were in Jungle Bird Homestay well in time for lunch. This was our home for the next three days. Gireesh Chandran, Sudha and Sandhya were our hosts, guides and caretakers.
When we decided to tour Europe, the question of opting for one of the standard tours or planning one on our own came up. We opted to plan things ourselves.
What made us take this call?
- The most critical factor was that we felt that if planned well, we could do it cheaper than a standard package
- The next factor was the ability to decide exactly how many days / how much to time should be spent at a location
- Most European location would have much more to see than what time you could afford to spend there. So making a choice of what to see is very important. In a package one hardly has a choice.
- The most irritating aspect of a group tour is that you are as fast as the slowest team member. Also the departure and break times are decided based on the general requirements – may not be what you want
- We were covering only Schengen countries, so visa was simple
- Our past experience with package tours has not been great!
Is it very difficult to plan a tour?
Not really. It certainly requires some time and dedication from your side. A bit of familiarity with the geography that you are touring would be a great asset. The following are essential if you are proposing to plan a trip yourself.
- Skill and inclination to pick-up and read tons & tons of material on the internet to figure out which places are worth a visit – you can certainly do a good job if you have specific interests, as standard tours are designed using a ‘typical tourist’ in mind
- Comfort of using Internet for booking hotels, train tickets, bus tickets and making other reservations. Language is usually not a big issue as popular websites offer English as a choice. Else, you could use integrator/intermediaries who offer online booking on their website. These intermediaries, in some cases, may have a charge.
- Using information on places of interest and size of museums and palaces to plan the number of days required for each place.
- Sufficient time for planning and making reservations
What is on the flipside of the ‘do it yourself’ plan?
We spent a day and two nights at ‘stay@matthuga’, a homestay, to visit Jog falls and the old temples near Sagar. Birding was an added bonus. On two mornings we had the opportunity to bird near Talavata – a village about 20km away from Sagar on NH 206 where the homestay is located. It is about 10km before Jog falls. I had read in a few places that localities near Jog have a lot of bird activity. But, with no specific clue on where to go, I decided to find out if there were any water bodies around – there was one about a kilometre and a half towards Sagar, on the left side of the highway.
Devbagh which literally means ‘Celestial Garden’ was the destination we picked for a stop-over during our Coastal Karnataka trip. I had heard about the pristine beauty of the Devbagh Resort from earlier visitors.
Karwar, a small town near the Karnataka-Goa border looks very rustic. It is known to have been a part of the vibrant trade network during the colonial era. Karwar raised the waves of creativity in the mind of a young Tagore inspiring him to put pen on paper and author Prakritir Pratishodha – story of a Sanayasi and a young girl.
I was looking for a decent accommodation near Jog falls for a family trip. There were not many options available. The choice finally was stay@matthuga – a homestay near Jog falls. There were mixed reviews on the net, but it looked suitable for our needs.
We landed at matthuga late in the evening after spending time at Jog falls. We were greeted by some sunbirds and bulbuls. The small garden in front of the building looked beautiful in the evening sun. It was very quiet, but for the bird activity. The first impression was good.
Ladakh is slowly recovering from the devastation which it suffered from the recent natural catastrophe. It is a painful period of rebuilding for the people of Ladakh. The toughest task would probably be for the BRO to rebuild roads.
One needs to visit the Himalayan region to really appreciate the work done by BRO. Ladakh is a cold desert up in the Himalayas posing a terrible challenge to engineers working on developing road networks. The terrain is unfriendly and has extreme weather conditions. These areas would be fully snow covered for almost nine months a year. However, they are of high strategic importance – being the supply route to many defence positions like Siachen.
The word “National Park” brings to mind pictures of large mammals and tropical forests for most of us. At best it may extend to a bird sanctuary. What we usually forget it that India has a mainland coastline of 6000 km. If we add islands as well it will stretch much more. Coastal regions contribute significantly to India’s bio diversity.
Marine National Park in the Gulf of Kutch is one of the very few of its kind in India. It is located in the southern part of Gulf of Kutch in Jamnagar district (Gujarat). It consists of several islands and is filled with sandy beaches, coral reefs and mangroves. Pirotan island is the best known (relatively speaking !) of the lot.
October is the right time to recollect a trip to Porbandar, a small port town in the Kathiawar region. Kathiawar is a peninsula in the Saurashtra Region of Gujarat. The only reason why we had a stop there was that it was the birthplace of Gandhiji. Later I realised that Sudama – famous friend of Krishna was also from this place.
We reached Porbandar by road from Dwaraka. It was a nice 3 hour drive in the morning. This little town stands frozen in history. One gets the feeling that the time is somewhere in the early 20th century when you look around. A quick drive through the narrow, dusty lanes brought us in front of an entrance – the gateway to the Gandhi museum and the house where Gandhiji was born.
Our first stop in Gujarat was the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), a wild life sanctuary about two and a half hours to the north east of Ahmedabad.
The resort : There are a few resorts available in LRK. We decided to opt for the Eco Tour camp run by a local conservationist – Devjibhai Dhamecha – on the edge of LRK (Dhangadhra). The accommodation on offer is ‘kooba’ (huts). These huts have circular mud walls with a thatched roof. Each hut has a veranda. Around the main door we can see beautiful patterns painted in different colours. Eco Tour camp had five huts at the time of our visit. Huts have electricity and neat, attached bathrooms. You could enjoy local delicacies prepared by the friendly team headed by Premjibhai. The resort does not serve or permit alcohol and non-vegetarian dishes.