A hidden gem – the KTDC Lake Palace in Thekkady

Towards the end of last August (2016), we decided we needed a vacation, even if its a short one for 3-4 days. I looked around for options out of Hyderabad and we zeroed in on a trip to Kerala, flying into Kochi in the 2nd week of October around the Dasara holidays.

After a couple of days in Kochi and Kumarakom (I will write about the lovely Aveda resort there another time!), we drove to Thekkady.

I accidentally hit upon the “Lake Palace” run by the KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) while looking for an option to stay in Thekkady (while searching on the internet) and was initially skeptical – I haven’t stayed in a government run property for years and I wasn’t quite sure how it would be – well, it turned out to be the best decision of the trip!

It turns out this is a bit of an exclusive property with a royal lineage. It was built as a summer resort for the Raja of Travancore almost 100 years ago. The Raja was actually concerned about the massive deforestation happening and thought that if he moved there for a part of the year, it could possibly be controlled – call it leading by example!

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The front view when you climb up the winding stairs

So, the palace was constructed in the middle of the Periyar lake on top of a small hill, with wonderful views all around. It is so nicely tucked into the middle of the forest on the sloped hill, a casual onlooker from the many boats which bring in hordes of tourists every day can easily overlook that there’s a property in the middle of the lake!

In fact, we got into the normal big tourist boat (the KTDC official receives you there, just be sure you are there by 3pm (check seasonal times) at the wharf – that’s the only way to get there!) and after about a half an hour ride, we were wondering where we were headed. Quite a few faces in the boat turned when they noticed us alighting near a flight of stairs at one end of the lake (that’s the only stop for the boat) and unloading our luggage as well – people were genuinely puzzled that someone can live there as there was nothing visible except a flight of stairs – isn’t that a good sign to get away from the crowds?

The first impression was wow – a long flight of stairs up and we realized we are in the middle of the dense forest with hardly any connection to the outside world (you don’t get a mobile signal and the only way to call anyone is with a BSNL mobile phone provided by the resort people – even that gets a signal only at one or two places on the property!).

The views all around are breathtaking – the place is at a split in the lake,so you can get to see like 3 branches of it. We noticed many deer and bisons lazyily lying around at the other edge of the lake and other smaller animals hanging around.

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The natural sounds of the forest are a thrill to the ear – that evening our very pleasant guide from the resort alerted us to a killing – a pack of wild dogs most likely took up some deer behind the property – we couldn’t quite see it as a large part of the resort is cordoned off (both to keep out the animals from the property as well as keep us away from the animals :)) and there is dense growth on the rear of the property.

The onset of darkness was exhilirating – night in the forest, with hardly any lights around is difficult to describe. That’s when a lot of the animals are active and the elusive tiger and leopards go for their hunt – there are so many sounds that you can clearly hear, an expert would probably be able to decipher them very well. Even just going to the edge of the property in the pitch darkness can send a chill down your spine!

I woke up early next morning (and the morning after) to some marvelous views with the mist and then the brilliant sunshine seeping through it, it formed a lot of stunning mirages around the water. The weather is so beautiful with a slight chill in the air with the end of the monsoon and prior to the onset of winter in early October – this adds some oomph to the experience!

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The previous night, I had noticed what seemed like a fire on a small piece of land in the middle of the lake – the guide told me that it’s tribals who go fishing at night in their log-like boats. We couldn’t see much in the darkness, but stayed well away because we should not be disturbing these people. The next morning, just before sunrise I noticed that log near the edge of our end of the lake. I kept looking on, just before daybreak, a couple of tribals emerged out of nowhere and they got onto the log and rowed away. I was speechless – what a simple, anonymous life they lead!

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The tribals rowing away with their catch!

With the bright sunshine, about 7:20am, came the ones we couldn’t catch a sight of the previous evening – elephants! 21 of them came out of the forest in search of the water and spent almost the entire day. What a treat to the eyes! They were in their natural habitat and in their elements – playing in the water, fighting each other or generally just basking in the sun! We were right there just across the shore, soaking in this natural atmosphere, so pristine and untouched by the ages!

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We had some friendly and beautiful neighbors too like this peacock! It apparently comes regularly to the resort for the food and is is domesticated by them to keep away the snakes from the property!

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The resort staff do make us feel pretty pampered with the custom-made food, it does feel quite cosy as there are only just a handful of other families visiting, so they do enquire about personal preferences for food.

My daughter quickly made friends with the kids from the other families (quite coincidental that one of them was her school mate!) and enjoyed her first real experience of living in a jungle.

Some notes:

It’s a small property with only 6 rooms and quite difficult to get, so I advise you book online on the KTDC website well in advance.The tariff includes breakfast, lunch and dinner – it cost about 16,000 per night (after a 10% discount) – we were there for 2 nights and it was well worth it!. I believe the fares are higher in the so called peak season.

You might have to be prepared for a few things – we lost power for a few hours on the 2nd night. Apparently, the power is only through generators – the external power to the property was cut permanently after the unfortunate electrocution of a couple of elephants a few years ago when the power line fell on them. I would say keep your expectations minimal and you would thoroughly enjoy everything this place has to offer in its natural setting. Like most places in Kerala, your hosts (the resort people) are smiling and cheerful and fill you with anecdotes worth remembering for a lifetime.

 

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The impact of consumerism on writing

In the good old days in school, English was my favorite subject and naturally I had an inclination towards poetry and literature during school. I was also a stickler for the appropriate use of the language. I’m not quite sure when this faded away, I became more acclimatized to using the language in a business, consumer, informal or casual way. Consequently, I probably stopped reading great literature somewhere along the way.

Today, it’s with a bit of dismay that I have to confess that I spend most of my reading time on news websites, which alarms me quite a lot. My father has a real liking for news and he often has TV9 news on; given the sensational tone/voice in which these TV news channels are presented (with their horrible tendency for repetition), it’s a major turn off for me and I get quite irked with my father, especially if he has the news channel on first thing in the morning. In fact, I rarely watch the news on TV anymore, given the sub-standard presentation on most channels. The news itself is usually so pessimistic and that’s an additional factor for turning away.

However, given how much of news I read on the internet, I’m beginning to question myself if I have fallen into the same trap that I thought my father fell into – albeit in a different form, which is probably not as intrusive as a loud channel on TV but nevertheless has the same affect on a number of things!

First, it has had a huge bearing on the number of really good books/pieces of literature that I seek to read. Second, the quality of most news on the internet is not anything more than the news blaring on a TV channel – often times, there’s very poor research and very basic language skills involved. Lastly, it has a profound influence, probably without you knowing it at all, in the way you process information and eventually in the way you write.

It’s almost like an addiction – opening up those favorite websites or the Google app which gives you a summary of your most searched people/news in your mobile. There is always almost an urge every hour or two to check for those news articles and sometimes you read the same stuff in different sites! Throw in Facebook, Twitter and other social media and your palate of reading for the day is filled with abysmally mediocre stuff!

So, how do we avoid these distractions and spend some quality time on reading stuff that matters? Trying to find a way out of his quagmire…..

 

To write or not to write!

Just noticed this morning that I’ve completed a 100 blog posts! Seems like a small milestone 🙂

However, the dilemma every morning is “To write or not to write”!

Finding a topic is usually not a problem, nor is getting into a flow with writing once I’m into it – I usually don’t pause till I complete the article. But often, it is the start that is a problem.

I remember when I was in school, in my English exams, when we had to write different types of essays, I would spend quite a few minutes pondering what exactly I have to write, sometimes I almost wondered if I would have any content at all.

My spouse and other people have been after me to write a book for sometime now, I am not quite sure what that book would be about, I don’t even have a topic to start with. My spouse says I should write on Roger Federer – I wonder if there is anything new that I would be adding, given that there is already so much information in the public domain and people have even written about it being a “religious experience” watching him in action. Well, whatever it is, the start is the most difficult – the inertia or mental block is way too much to get out of! Plus, I’m not quite sure if I would have enough content to keep the reader interested right to the end. Writing a blog is so much easier, you probably have a few paragraphs and you are done, but a book is a different ball game altogether! My story telling is kind of restricted in its sphere, I mean I only can recollect experiences I’ve had, form an opinion of what I see around me and present a world view of it. I’ve often struggled to tell a bed time story to my daughter, because that kind of story telling is a different thing. I’ve seen my mother-in-law effortlessly create a story out of nothing for my daughter and that’s quite amusing – it’s quite an art and I wish I had that! That’s also quite natural and pristine, I think that’s the kind of story telling that is required to write a good book. I’ve also listened to quite a few tales from my maternal grand mother and the older generation’s knowledge of the mythological tales is quite astonishing – it’s not something that you get readily from any school text books, sometimes I feel it has been passed on across generations and can’t easily be replicated in a class room setting.

So, I’m back to square one, as they say! Will I ever start? Only time will tell 🙂

So, this is just another of those random musings….

Memoirs of France – Roland Garros – French Open Tennis – Live

I’m amongst the biggest fans of tennis there is in the world!

So, naturally a pilgrimage to the 4 Grand Slams has to be completed in my lifetime!

My first taste of it was watching the US Open Final (Roger Federer vs Lleyton Hewitt) live in New York City in 2004.

Strangely, I lived in Australia for 2 years and somehow never made it to watch the Australian Open Live. I did visit the Rod Laver Arena and the surroundings, but unfortunately in April when there was no match on and it wasn’t much fun.

Last year, I watched the entire French Open from home and my daughter (who was just 6 years old at the time) took a liking to it and asked if we can see it in person the next year! That’s what triggered a trip to France in the first place!

I figured that we could see a lot more players if we go there in the early rounds. So, I picked Monday, May 29th for tickets on Court Philippe Chatrier. With Roger Federer, my favorite, opting out this year (my wife was a bit disappointed!), I was hoping to watch Rafael Nadal, the master of clay and my daughter wanted to see Andy Murray, her favorite or her 2nd favorite, Stan Wawrinka.

I thought that in normal circumstances, Rafa would be put on the centre court on the first day! However, Novak Djokovic, the defending champion opened play on centre court as per the tradition and at the same time, Rafa was playing on Suzanne Lenglen! What a really disappointing scheduling from the French Open authorities! I was hoping I could at least get a glimpse of Rafa from the top of the stairs, but the enthusiastic volunteer students wouldn’t let anyone near – it was quite disappointing for me! Plus, Murray (the #1 ranked player) at the time, and Wawrinka were scheduled at the same time the next day. This is really inexplicable scheduling!

We watched the full Djokovic-Granollers match and I thought Djokovic was quite rusty, which proved right later when he was knocked out by Thiem. We also got to see a bit of the upcoming star, Alexander Zverev in his match against Fernando Verdasco, Zverev eventually lost to Verdasco the next day in a shock.

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We also saw a bit of Kristina Mladenovic’s match, it was quite a contest stretching deep into the 3rd set.

We also managed to sneak in to some of the outside courts and see players like Pablo Cuevas from the first row.

For the kids, there is an entertainment centre right behind the centre court, with an underground space with many activities like paddle tennis, a virtual reality simulation and other games. The highlight was the meet-the-player area where Ivo Karlovic, the ace master and perhaps the tallest player in the game came over.

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I found that Roland Garros is actually quite a small place unlike the sprawling US Open complex, in fact most of the outside courts are almost squished together.

Plus, next time around I would probably not go for the 1st round, the matches are too bland. I would probably chose the 4th round day, which is when the most exciting matches usually happen.

All in all, it was a dream come true to see the French Open live.

Awaiting the next stop – Wimbledon – hopefully sooner than I imagine…..!!!

Memoirs of France – Paris – Musee D’Orsay

Well, the Louvre is just so famous and it’s got an iconic status and so everyone who is on a tour of Paris can’t afford to miss it.

But Paris is a lot more than the Louvre!

In fact, if you are constrained for time and have got only 3-4 hours, you should probably skip the Louvre and go to some of the other stellar museums in Paris. (It’s a fact that covering the Louvre and doing justice to it would probably take a good 3-4 days).

One museum that my spouse and I visited and fell in love with is the Musee d’Orsay.
Anyone taking a cruise along the Seine river as part of the Paris tour cannot possibly miss the imposing structure of the erstwhile railway station, which now is the Musee d’Orsay. Once you step into the beautiful edifice, you just find that it is probably less crowded and gives you a more personal feel.

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The first impression I got of the inside of the building is that it looks quite a bit like the Queen Victoria building in Sydney, Australia and a little bit like the Grand Central Terminal in New York – after all, all of them are/were the grand railway stations!

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The ball room

The best part of the Musee D’Orsay for me are the impressionist era paintings of Renoir, Monet and Vincent Van Gogh- it’s a really large collection and extremely rare. Maybe it’s just me, but I just felt more positive vibes around this museum than in the Louvre, some of the paintings in the Louvre are actually scary and gory to say the least!

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A self portrait of Van Gogh!

 

IMG_20170530_124650.jpg You can also step out onto the top floor for a sweeping view of the Seine river, the Louvreand all the lovely architecture of Paris, with the Eiffel tower a short distance away.

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“The hands tied up” condundrum

What is it like to deny an artist access to his tools?

If a painter were kept away from his brushes and colors.

If a dancer were kept away from the dancing stage.

If a sportsperson were kept away from their kit, ground, pitch or court?

I’m sure quite a few of us felt what I term “the hands tied up” conundrum at some point of time in our lives.

It becomes all the more difficult if it is closely tied to something you love doing, whether it be at work or as a hobby.

I’ve been feeling this lately. My major source of strength is my writing and especially in the form of an email- I’ve been told countless times by my clients, my team members etc. about how much they enjoy my writing even a formal email with a set of updates/instructions on what needs to be done. When I was onsite (in the IT sector) working on a project, my end of the day email would normally be the only thing I needed to send to ensure that my offshore team is clear on what they want to do and I would rarely ever have to get into an extended call late in the night or early in the morning to once again clarify what has been written in the email. The offshore team often said everything they needed to do was crystal clear in the email and they would look forward to it.

I’ve always found written communication is so much better to avoid misunderstandings. Of course, you can never replace the personal touch of the voice (even if it is on the phone) or an in-person meeting. So, a judicious mix is always required, but it can be made optimal.

What brings me to this conundrum is that my current job doesn’t place any kind of emphasis on writing, especially emails! In the construction/infrastructure industry (including the consulting side of it), people rarely ever read their emails, in fact most people do not know how to write a good, structured email.If anything (especially in the Government), they would perhaps look at formal printed communication (on a paper!). But not much work in this sector gets done on emails!

In addition, anyone who has known me for some time knows that I plan everything to the dot – I like a structured meeting calendar and I organize my day around it. Think of it – there’s hardly any planning or structured meetings in the infrastructure sector and the Government, many times you have to wait hours outside a person’s room to meet them – and you rarely ever get a good hearing because there’s always people swarming all over and 121 meetings are an alien concept to these officials. That’s an anti-thesis to who I am. It’s taken quite a bit of adjusting on my part not to expect such level of planning from people in this sector.

However, if you take away my writing and my planning, I’m half the person I’m – it’s like taking away the tools from an artist!

Have any of you faced having to work through circumstances where your best strengths and the tools you have built yourself on are no longer the ones that will make you stand apart from the crowd?What did you do? Would love to hear a few insights!

 

Memoirs of France – The Milau Viaduct

I have a fascination for the highest, tallest, deepest etc!

The logical route (and the fastest) from Bordeaux to Marseille would have been a straight one on the highway passing through Tolouse and Montpellier, about a 700km drive over 7 hours.

However, after having driven on countless highways around the world, I really like to go off the beaten track and explore the countryside.

While doing the research for our trip, I was excited about the prospect of seeing (and driving over) the highest bridge in the world – the Milau viaduct.

I figured that it would mean that we have to take a major detour from Tolouse and would set us back by at least 4 hours – but then, what is travel without a bit of doing the not-so-common? 🙂

So, we drove all the way up to the Milau viaduct that eventful day. What a sight it was!

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The Milau Viaduct – the highest bridge in the world!

We had a lot of company on our stroll up to the viewpoint – snails on the path!

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