Udaipur Is More Than Just Lakes!

I used to have a certain vision of Udaipur in my head. I would think the City of Lakes was all about water, almost like Venice. I wondered if I’d have to be rowed to every site. When I finally had the chance to see this Rajasthani city, I discovered there is so much more! Founded by Maharana Udai Singh, the 16th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Mewar, Udaipur is a delight to behold! While I barely had a weekend to explore this city, the time was enough to convince me of its uniqueness. Follow my lead to see Udaipur for yourself:-

A Warrior’s Pride – Maharana Pratap Memorial

Maharana Pratap Memorial

Maharana Pratap Memorial

Before you go gaga over the list of lakes you’ll check off your list while in Udaipur, it’ll help to know a little bit about the region’s history. After several years of battling against the Mughals, the warrior prince Maharana Pratap was able to rest a while with his father – Maharana Udai Singh during a few years of peace in the new capital of Mewar – Udaipur. A statue of Maharana Pratap seated on his valiant horse, Chetak, is kept atop Moti Magri Hill as a memorial to his courage and service. From up here, you can get a panoramic view of the Machla Magra Hills and the Fatehsagar Lake. While you hike up this hill, you can also visit the Hall of Heroes Museum which has paintings of Mewari history and large models of Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh and Haldighati.

Lake Fatehsagar – For Leisurely Walks

You can also indulge in watersports at Fatehsagar!

You can also indulge in watersports at Fatehsagar!

Interestingly, all of the lakes in Udaipur are artificial. They all are interconnected in a sophisticated manner though. Close to the Maharana Pratap Smarak, the embankment around Lake Fatehsagar is ideal for a morning stroll. You might want to indulge in some traditional boat ride or jet off in a speedboat to admire the lush green Aravali Hills all about. For those into vintage cars, there is a museum not far from this lake.

Saheliyon-Ki-Bari: For The Queens And Their Pals

Fountains at Saheliyon-ki-Bari

Fountains at Saheliyon-ki-Bari

When the sun is still not at its peak, take a peek at the fountain-garden which the king built for his queens to relax and spend time with their friends – Saheliyon-ki-Bari. While it might seem a little underwhelming, you might be able to sight some interesting birds in the gardens if you are into birding.

Glide Up To Where You Can See It All!

Cable car ride to Machla Magra Hills

Cable car ride to Machla Magra Hills

If you still wonder how photographers manage to get breathtaking aerial views of all of Udaipur, I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s the hills!!! Get your ticket for a cable car ride to Machla Magra Hills and be prepared to be mesmerized! You can lunch at the cafe at the top after you exhaust yourself taking pictures of the lakes and chocolate hills decked in green.

Lake Pichola’s Palatial Paradise

The Taj Lake Palace at the centre of Lake Pichola as seen from the City Palace

The Taj Lake Palace at the centre of Lake Pichola as seen from the City Palace

It is always a great idea to plan a walking tour after you’ve filled your belly. The City Palace is a fort and a museum that has plenty of stories for the curious visitor. Located by the famous Lake Pichola, the palace allows you to gaze at the elegant Taj Lake Palace Hotel which appears to float on the celeste waves at the centre of the lake. If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, explore the Crystal Gallery which has a dazzling collection of rare crystal artefacts from Maharana Sajjan Singh’s collection.

Peep Over The Aravalis From Sajjangarh Fort

It's windy up here at Sajjangarh Fort!

It’s windy up here at Sajjangarh Fort!

After you’ve spent most of your day seeing the top sights in Udaipur, spend your evening atop Sajjangarh Fort, only 30 minutes from Udaipur. Rent a self-drive car using this Zoomcar coupon code and zip over to the Monsoon Palace which affords you a gorgeous view of the undulating hills. Sunsets will never be so stunning! If you are a wildlife enthusiast, you can hike to the surrounding wildlife sanctuary. Who knows, you could get lucky with a panther sighting! 😉

Shop In Old Udaipur

These bags ask to be picked up at Hathipole Market.

These bags ask to be picked up at Hathipole Market.

As if your day couldn’t be more power-packed, there’s more you can do with your time! After nightfall, head over to Udaipur’s Old Town and ditch your rickshaw to walk through the narrow alleys lined by little shops on both sides. Don’t forget to haggle for a good price while you fill your shopping bag with tiny pieces of art, shoes, bedsheets with traditional patterns, hand-stitched blankets and more. Hathipole Market also has numerous cafes and rooftop restaurants that glitter at night and add to the romance of the city.

Kumbhalgarh’s Great Wall – No This Isn’t China! 😀

Kumbhalgarh Fort - the second longest wall in the world!

Kumbhalgarh Fort – the second longest wall in the world!

After a busy first day, your second day should be a relaxed one. Wake up at leisure and enjoy a lazy long brunch at your hotel before you set off for Kumbhalgarh. 100 odd kilometres from Udaipur, a drive of over 2 hours brings you to Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district. This fort is a World Heritage Site and the second longest wall after the Great Wall of China. Only parts of the fort are accessible to tourists, but one can easily see what a marvel this structure is! Maharana Pratap was born in Kumbhalgarh and there’s a museum close to the fort which tells the story of this place through interactive models and a short film. The experience at the museum is quite insightful.

Dal-Baati From The Dhabas

Dal-baati!!! My favourite Rajasthani dish!

Dal-baati!!! My favourite Rajasthani dish!

After the Kumbhalgarh Fort trek, satiate your appetite at a nearby dhaba. Don’t count your calories as you order platefuls of dal-baati and churma! 🙂

Are you convinced yet that you should be going to Udaipur?

Let me know through your comments below!

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more travel ideas in India and abroad. Do share this article with your friends who’re planning their next holiday, so they can save up on their travel expenses with coupons from CouponsJi!

Advertisements

Precious Jewels From Around The World

Every time I step out of my house, whether to explore a new country or a new place within my land, I mostly think about what my eyes can see. And, most of that is above the ground – the buildings and monuments, the streets, the mountains and valleys, the lakes and rivers, the trees, animals and the culture of the locals, and then, the sky. What I often overlook is what lies under the earth. I am not talking about tubers or roots or the exotic dishes that are made of those, but what lies further below – several feet under, formed by immense heat and pressure – precious stones.

Austria – Emerald Waters And Emerald Rings

The beautiful country of Austria is also a major producer of emerald.

The beautiful country of Austria is also a major producer of emerald.

When I went solo to Salzburg a couple of years ago, I was busy admiring the lovelock bridge that spans River Salzach, connecting the modern world full of gardens and courtyards to the Old Town paved with cobblestones. I gazed at the lime green grass carpeting the banks on either side of the emerald river and longed to hike on the moss-covered hills in the backdrop. But not once did I think about Austria’s prominence as an emerald producer and exporter to the world. Even my journeys back home yielded similar results…

Diamonds In Golconda?

Golconda (Hyderabad) is popular not only for its fort but also for diamond mining and trading.

Golconda (Hyderabad) is popular not only for its fort but also for diamond mining and trading.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have visited Hyderabad – both when it was a part of Andhra Pradesh and after it became Telangana’s. I have even climbed all of the steps that lead to Golconda Fort, and spent a lot of money buying Hyderabadi pearls. It is only now that I see Golconda differently after my mum inquires why I never brought back any diamonds from this place that has one of the world’s most famous diamond mines.

“Czeching” Out Garnet

Czech Republic might be famous for Kafka, but it stores some of the world's best garnet, topaz and opal.

Czech Republic might be famous for Kafka, but it stores some of the world’s best garnet, topaz and opal.

3 years ago, I was exploring central Europe, and my journey had brought me to Prague – the capital of Czech Republic. Over days of checking out the most vibrant Old Town, its cathedrals, sailing over the Vltava river, being surprised over Kafka’s fame and buying copper rings, I discovered Czechia is also popular for its gemstones such as garnet, topaz and opal. But I asked myself how far and wide I’d have to travel to collect beautiful stones from different parts of the world. Could I not get all such precious stones from the comfort of my home? Would expensive gemstones always be too expensive for me to own? I’ve recently found an answer to my quest:-

Jewel On Fire – Gemstone Jewellery In Your Budget

Did you know Germany's Alps could have gemstones such as beryl, topaz and emeralds under them?

Did you know Germany’s Alps could have gemstones such as beryl, topaz and emeralds under them?

I came across the online jewellery store Jewel On Fire which lets you buy precious stone ornaments priced up to 90% lower than their retail cost. This is possible only because they cut out the middlemen and source jewellery directly from jewellery craftsmen and manufacturers. And their online presence means you can shop without having to spend a bomb on travel. They have a splendid collection of low-cost genuine diamond jewellery and those of other precious stones. I have a sweeter information for you! When you use my promo code “OINDRILADE” to make a purchase on their site, you get an additional discount on their already amazingly priced items! 🙂

Won’t You Travel Differently Now?

It's not only Sri Lanka's lakes that are associated with aquamarine!

It’s not only Sri Lanka’s lakes that are associated with aquamarine!

When I told my mum about this, she was elated. She won’t have to worry about lugging heavy jewellery back from her trips now. And travel would only be about the sights and experiences, not the expenses associated with shopping of gemstones. I will again be able to visit Germany for its castles, and not think about beryl or topaz or emerald. I will again be able to enjoy the forests and lakes of Sri Lanka without hunting for good quality yet affordable aquamarine. “Aquamarine” would only make me think of the water bodies again, and not the stone on my ring finger.

Still, You Should Know…

Hungary's creamy white skies know that that this country has a lot of creamy opal stones as well.

Hungary’s creamy white skies know that that this country has a lot of creamy opal stones as well.

Even though you will mostly shop online, lounging in your sofa, it helps to know a little more about the things you buy. It is the stories behind each earring, pendant and bracelet that makes the gemstones more precious!

Do you ever wonder where each of your jewels come from?

Write your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more interesting facts and stories from around the world. Do share this article with your friends who are into precious stones!

Explore The Luxurious Side of Hyderabad

A couple of hundred years ago, a palace could belong only to royalty. Cut to the present, and money can buy you what once only belonged to the blue-blooded. Luxury has started to become more commonplace than ever before. When I first went to the (erstwhile) princely city of Hyderabad, I explored a number of its heritage sites. I did not dwell too much on their splendour then, as I was often distracted by how simple the common man was in this twin-capital (of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). A few more trips (and almost half a decade) later, I would see a new side of Hyderabad…

Charminar’s Oft Overlooked Charm

I look up at the old city from Charminar's intricately done gate.

I look up at the old city from Charminar’s intricately done gate.

I had first clambered up the steep spiral steps of one of the four claustrophobic minarets of the Charminar in 2012 (read: Say ‘Hi’ to Hyderabad) when I was flush with the new money from my first cushy job. Not so much of a travel blogger then, I was more interested in having my pictures clicked from the viewing deck of this 16th-century mosque. It is now, after I’ve grown older (and hopefully, gained some maturity), that I wonder how much time the masons must have spent carving each window, each grill and each gate. I can now admire the intricacies of Mughal architecture. Despite the dull exterior of this neglected icon, I can imagine how centuries ago, this structure must have been an opulent place to pray.

Salar Jung’s Museum (Of Riches And Rapture)

Spotted at the Salar Jung Museum: gold rimmed wine glasses from Czechia - Is this what luxury is all about?

Spotted at the Salar Jung Museum: gold rimmed wine glasses from Czechia – Is this what luxury is all about?

Can a man be so enamoured with materialism to spend thirty-five years of his life collecting expensive trinkets from around the world? The Salar Jung Museum by the Musi River answered my question with a resounding “YES!” One of India’s only three National Museums, this house of art exhibits a baffling collection of paintings, sculptures, antique crockery, furniture, currency notes and coins, carpets, and just about anything you can imagine. Prime Minister to the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad, Salar Jung III gave most of his life to the pursuit of princely possessions. Undoubtedly a man of refined taste, he managed to own some artefacts that date back to the 1st-century!

Chowmahalla’s Enchantment

Chandeliers sparkle inside one of the grand halls of the Chowmahalla Palace.

Chandeliers sparkle inside one of the grand halls of the Chowmahalla Palace.

If you don’t get enough of luxury from a museum, there is a grand palace ready to floor you! Not far from Charminar, the Chowmahalla Palace is the 19th-century mansion that has served as the seat of power for two dynasties. The shimmering interiors of this grand palace are a testimony to how well it is kept even today. When you are in here, don’t forget to look up at the roof to marvel at the work on the ceilings.

The Grandeur Of Golconda

I pass through a tunnel as I explore the labyrinthine Golconda Fort.

I pass through a tunnel as I explore the labyrinthine Golconda Fort.

Sometimes, luxury lies outdoors. The outdoorsy part of me loves to hike and explore ruins that stretch far and wide. For those who get their high from climbing steps and gazing at panoramic views from beautiful vantage points, Golconda Fort makes for a perfect day-long getaway. Just 10km from Hyderabad, this citadel has enough to keep you (and your kids) occupied! Lose your way through its myriad tunnels or pose for your next Whatsapp display-pic from one of its viewing decks (which once upon a time, was used to keep an eye out for enemies and to fire cannonballs at any attacking army).

Revel By A River

Nagarjuna Sagar Dam - It takes a mighty structure to stop a river as mighty as The Krishna.

Nagarjuna Sagar Dam – It takes a mighty structure to stop a river as mighty as The Krishna.

The River Krishna is so powerful that during monsoons, it can cause flooding. To rein in this river’s power, use its water for irrigation and harness some energy to produce electricity, the Nagarjuna Dam was built across it. When all of the 26 gates of this dam are left open, the sight is one to watch! Interestingly, this dam also happens to be the second largest reservoir in the country (in terms of storage capacity). The water-starved stones (which never quite get to be the river-washed round pebbles) also make for a nice, crunchy walk during sunset.

Soak Up Some Stardust At A Film City

Aerial view of Ramoji Film City - where London, Paris and New York are side-by-side.

Aerial view of Ramoji Film City – where London, Paris and New York are side-by-side.

If the real world doesn’t excite you much, there’s an entire city of make-believe structures in glamorous guise. I’m talking about Ramoji Film City (read: RFC- A City Hidden in a Village). A little distance from Hyderabad, this village is where a lot of movies are shot. The place is replete with stunt-props and sets ready to be torn apart and rejoined in no time. You can fake scenes from Japan to as far as France in this little land of movie-fanatics.

Is There A Price For Peace?

Does the pristine white marble of the Birla Temple offer the ever-elusive tranquillity?

Does the pristine white marble of the Birla Temple offer the ever-elusive tranquillity?

Birla Temples across India are among the most expensive ones, mostly because of the generous use of fine marble and their ornate columns and domes. I do not believe in idol worship, but I like to take in the architectural finesse of such places. If you find the streets too busy, you can always drop in (albeit before 5 pm) and find your quiet space on the cool marble floors (or the garden behind). Sometimes, these little things carry more value than all the goods in a luxury store.

Stay Like Royalty – At The Taj

The palatial exterior of Taj Krishna seduces one's senses into submission. (Courtesy: Taj Krishna, Hyderabad)

The palatial exterior of Taj Krishna seduces one’s senses into submission. (Courtesy: Taj Krishna Hyderabad)

Where you stay on your trip makes a lot of difference to how you view a city. If you are serious about discovering the luxurious side of the city of Nizams, you should book yourself into a 5-star property, such as the Taj Krishna Hyderabad. Spread out like a palace of its own, this hotel is located in the upscale locale of Banjara Hills. After you have seen the richness of the city, sink in the riches of your own suite!

Make Your Moments Count

Precious moments are those that are shared with a loved one over a meal.

Precious moments are those that are shared with a loved one over a meal.

No matter how much wealth you have, you will be alone without somebody to love. If you do have a partner, make it a priority to travel with her/him. You will not regret the extra spend when you share a sweet evening by the Hussain Sagar Lake (read: All Roads lead to Hyderabad), holding your precious one’s hand as you polish off the eat-street’s munchies.

Let Your Food Reflect Your Lavish Taste

The glittering Firdaus Restaurant (Courtesy: Taj Krishna, Hyderabad)

The glittering Firdaus Restaurant (Courtesy: Taj Krishna Hyderabad)

A trip achieves its completion only when the local cuisine reaches your taste buds. Hyderabad is famous for its Mughlai cuisine, especially its biryani (which is very distinct from the ones in Lucknow or Bengal). The biryani at Paradise is overrated in my opinion. If you look deeper, you will discover other places for that authentic taste (and other Hyderabadi delicacies). On your luxury getaway, reserve a table at Firdaus, the Nizami restaurant at the Taj Krishna Hyderabad.

Have you seen Hyderabad any differently?

Do you enjoy a dash of luxury on your trips?

Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter to discover other luxurious getaways you can have from your city. Do share this article with those who love to live it up!

How Stops Hostel Is Making Delhi Feel Like A European City

Walking tours through interesting neighbourhoods and ancient ruins; mixed dorms with bunk beds and lockers; a shelf full of travel guides in the common room; and running into friendly backpackers in hallways from a dozen different countries – these are experiences I would typically associate with Europe. But here I was, in Delhi – a city arguably better known for its bungalows and boisterousness.

Is It Foolhardy To Be Fearless In Delhi?

Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla has stories that attract many curious listeners to this haunted fort complex.

Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla has stories that attract many curious listeners to this haunted fort complex.

I had been in Delhi several times before. Yet, this was the first trip that showed me this old city in a new light. Interestingly, this was the first time that I was exploring India’s capital as a solo traveller. I was no longer driven around in my aunt’s sedan, nor did I have my cousins’ expert advice on navigating NCR or avoiding the city’s stalkers. I had also decided not to heed my (overprotective) friend who made me swear I’d carry an electric taser or at least a pepper spray everywhere I went. Was I pushing my luck? Or had I let news reports paint a grave picture in my head? Whatever be the case, I rediscovered Delhi in a way I had never expected to know it.

Stops Hostel – A New Concept In Old Delhi

Embracing my new life as a full-time traveller, I decided to stay with Stops Hostel. The moment I entered, it felt like I’d left the red and brown Old Delhi behind to drown in bright colours. My video above will show you how vibrant the common room is. The hostel aims to attract both the right-brained creative explorers and the left-brained startup-workers. There is free wifi in all the areas, complimentary unlimited breakfast (although basic) in the dining-room-cum-kitchen and plenty of things to keep oneself occupied with – a small collection of books for those who like to cuddle up with a paperback and lie on the floor-cushions; a billiards table for those who can’t get away from perfecting their game; 3 guitars and a djembe for the musically gifted; and some board games for the laidback lounger. I can’t help but wonder whether the founders of this hostel are big fans of European hostels.

Not Too Far From Anywhere

Tuk-tuk - Delhi's only green mode of transport in a road full of cars, buses and bikes.

Tuk-tuk – Delhi’s only green mode of transport in a road full of cars, buses and bikes.

Located right in front of a Metro station, Stops Hostel is easily accessible from most places. Feroz Shah Kotla is a short walk from the hostel, and a few minutes in a tuk-tuk will take you to some of Old Delhi’s famous food streets. Walking around is also a good idea, but Delhi’s afternoons can be a little too hot for comfort, especially in the summers.

A Terrace Garden For Some Fresh  Air

Stops Delhi has a terrace for hostellers to enjoy some sun.

Stops Delhi has a terrace for hostellers to enjoy some sun.

Unlike any of the hostels I’ve stayed at abroad, Stops Delhi has a neat little terrace with potted plants and colourful chairs for the hostellers to chill in the evening. This is a nice way to help your lungs recuperate after they’ve felt the assault of Delhi’s pollution.

Food Tour In Chawri Bazaar

Kuremal's famous stuffed mango kulfi in Old Delhi's Chawri Bazaar.

Kuremal’s famous stuffed mango kulfi in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazaar.

Stops Hostel offers some walking tours (which even non-residents can join) – this immediately makes me think of those old-town-walking-tours in Europe. I decide to have a light lunch one day to stuff my face during the Food-gasm tour in the late afternoon. I have 2 other travellers who join me for this walking tour through Chawri Bazaar. Perhaps not as well known as Chandni Chowk or Parathe-waali Gali, Chawri Bazaar hides some of Old Delhi’s best preparations – kulfis stuffed in deseeded apples, pineapples, oranges or pomegranates and fruit sandwiches, for instance.

Coming Home To Dogs & Cats

Stops Hostel's pet dogs - Ginger, Gennie & Pepper nap next to their feeding bowls.

Stops Hostel’s pet dogs – Ginger, Gennie & Pepper nap next to their feeding bowls.

Travelling of late has made me quite fond of pets. The hostel has 3 cuddly dogs and some cats who are mostly in their own world but entertaining to watch. Despite these furry friends around, the hostel premises are squeaky clean. (No cat hair on the cushions! 🙂 ) These pets are not allowed inside the dorms though. After we play with them, we are to leave them in the common room or terrace.

Myths And Mysticism

The imam watches over the coffin of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki at the eponymous Islamic shrine.

The imam watches over the coffin of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki at the eponymous Islamic shrine.

I spent my first evening learning why Delhi is called “The City of Djinns” as our walking tour leader, Mayank, took us to some spooky places during the City of Mysticism walking tour. We strolled through the abandoned precincts of Feroz Shah Kotla and encountered an old woman who uttered unintelligible words aloud, as if possessed by a spirit. We walked past underground rooms full of bats as we heard stories of how a royal family was killed there many years ago. We later visited a temple where (shockingly) alcohol is served to the idol. It took me a while to fall asleep that night.

Colours In The Common Room

Charging sockets hang from the ceiling of Stops Hostel's common room.

Charging sockets hang from the ceiling of Stops Hostel’s common room.

Stops Hostel does its bit to go green by turning off the air conditioning in the dorms during the day. They encourage guests to spend time in the common room or the terrace. This is a great way to meet new people! The commmon room is inviting and warm with its coloured wooden tables, benches and couches. And there’s always some music in the background – a great accompaniment to good conversations! 😉 While I stayed with Stops, I made friends with:-

  • a blue-haired girl whose fetish is to change her hair colour to match the mood of every place she visits
  • a Gujarati diamond merchant from Russia who is spending this year travelling around the world
  • an Egyptian solo traveller who never forgets to kneel and pray before she hits the sack
  • two medical students from the UK who are stoked about mehendi and spicy food in Delhi
  • a Nepali roommate who lunches on smoothies so she can drink all night

I’ve always met interesting people whenever I’ve stayed at hostels in Europe. I honestly underestimated the scope of meeting quirky backpackers in Delhi. I’m glad I was wrong!

Take A Taxi To Tibet

One of the narrow alleys of Majnu Ka Tila - Delhi's Tibetan ghetto.

One of the narrow alleys of Majnu Ka Tila – Delhi’s Tibetan ghetto.

Not many are aware of Majnu Ka Tila – an area exclusively reserved for Tibetan refugees. This (almost) secret little hangout has the best places to get your Tibetan food fix! A couple of the night tour experts at Stops took me to this food haven in an Uber. Barely a 30-minute drive from the hostel, Majnu Ka Tila offered me a bowl of laping (a Tibetan street food made of mung bean flat noodles with a spicy paste), a tingmo (Tibetan steamed bead), sha phaley (vegetable stuffed fried savoury shaped as gujias) and some fried wantons. I was elated to find that the restaurants here serve Korean, Japanese and even Bhutanese cuisine!

Crash In Your Comfy Bed

My bunk bed is cosy, with cushions, a duvet and a wall full of mythological comic strips.

My bunk bed is cosy, with cushions, a duvet and a wall full of mythological comic strips.

After my day-long adventures in haunted forts and eclectic eat-streets, I would be glad to come back to a cosy room, a soft bed and a comforter to keep me warm. The reading lights for each bed are quite convenient to stay up without disturbing your fellow roommates. Our room had an ensuite bathroom which was also very clean and furnished with premium bath fittings. This bit felt luxurious in a hostel which is so pocket-friendly.

Where do you stay on your budget trips?

Ever backpacked in Delhi?

Share your thoughts below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more stories from interesting hostels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with budget travellers and backpackers! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by Stops Hostels. Nevertheless, all views are entirely my own.

Why The Serai Bandipur Is Every Birdwatcher’s Paradise

The gentle ruffle of feathers, a lone chirp in the wee hours of the morning… and then, a series of chirps in response to the first – these subtle sounds would wake me before sunrise in a land where the September air was nippy and nature, alive. I was at ‘The Serai Bandipur – Experiential Bloggers’ Retreat’ with a handful of bloggers from across India. We would spend our next few days exchanging ideas and stories over endless cups of coffee, bowls of soup, a jungle safari and a night-long party which would seal our friendship into something more lasting.

Befriending Bandipur

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

I would arise every day in a wonderland far removed from the cosmopolitan commotion of a city. This was Bandipur – a national park spanning over two hundred thousand acres in the South Indian state of Karnataka. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve attracts many travellers for the elusive big cat. In all honesty, it is not just the tiger, but also leopard that wildlife enthusiasts vie to catch a glimpse of. I, on the other hand, was not there just for the wild cat(s). I was on the hunt for some feathered friends.

Soaking In The Splendour Of The Serai

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage - Serai's floral greeting in the morning?

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage – Serai’s floral greeting in the morning?

Forests, although enchanting, can be exhausting in the sun and humidity. Fortunately, I was sheltered in a serene sanctum ensconced in luxury – The Serai Bandipur. This indulgent jungle resort kept me right in the middle of the wild, yet provided me with all creature comforts of an avant-garde property – a temperature controlled commodious room, fine bed-linen, a well-stocked swanky bathroom, a wood-panelled patio and a landscaped courtyard outside my cottage! With so much pampering, I knew I would never tire from my incessant birdwatching.

Sunbirds On Lilies & Babblers That Are Sly…

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

You must think I’m an early riser who staunchly lives by the proverb – ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ That notion cannot be further from the truth. I am a spoilt city brat who is stuck to her laptop at 2am – the quintessential night owl. I cannot open my eyes until I am wrenched out of bed by my mum, admonishing me to finish breakfast so the maid can do the dishes. Only a place like Bandipur can make me get up so early, and that too without an alarm! At The Serai, I would be roused from my restful slumber by the gentle rays of the sun filling up my cosy room through the French windows. Instead of a shrill alarm or a scolding from my mother, I would wake up to the sweet sounds of chirruping songbirds. That would set the tone of yet another day to be spent chasing exotic avifauna.

…Because Balconies Are For Birding! 😉

I use my verandah only for one thing - looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

I use my verandah only for one thing – looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

Stone-walled porches with varnished wooden railings,

Leather upholstered armchairs and sunroof ceilings –

These little luxuries pale when compared

To glorious sightings of bushchats and hares.

With the first ray of light, I would step out to the lanai and get my equipment ready. I can do without my morning cuppa, but I lose my cool if my DSLR’s battery is not charged. When my Benro tripod is in position and the Canon lenses cleaned and kitted out with a UV filter, I know I am ready to shoot!

Bandipur’s Birds On My Balcony! <3

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

The Serai rewarded me with quite a few gorgeous sightings of passerine birds. I did have some trouble managing shots that weren’t hazy. (These birdies are so restless, it’s hard to catch them clean!) I now have flowerpeckers, sunbirds, silverbills, flycatchers, magpies, cormorants, bulbuls and several babblers, among others in my collection. I know I’m still an amateur when it comes to clicking these flying figures, because I spotted many more that left me too stupefied for my limbs to make any movement. I could go hungry for hours if only my eyes would feed on birds! But one must eat to lug around a tripod and a bulky camera bag.

Fine Dining In The Fair Weather

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary - Serai's pan-cuisine restaurant.

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary – Serai’s pan-cuisine restaurant.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Serai’s in-house restaurant (Sanctuary) are elaborate affairs. Their buffet spread comprises dishes from across the world (read – Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine) and also some local favourites. I would generally have a platter of cut fruits, an egg – made to order, an idli, a pancake and a muffin with some freshly squeezed juice or a milkshake in the mornings. Afternoons would see me load my plate with assorted salads and dips, a baked pasta preparation, a hot naan – fresh off the pan, some grilled greens, a vegetable poriyal and some dish with gravy for the mains. I would finish off my meals with not less than 4 desserts – generally an ice cream, a mousse in a shot glass, some hot rabri with gulab jamun, and a decadent pastry.

Our evenings were usually spent at Moyar’s Edge – Serai’s bar, with a stunning view of the Nilgiri Hills of Ooty (only 2 hours away) and the crystal-clear swimming pool of the property. The bar is well stocked with aged single malts and imported wines, apart from the regular party-spirits and liqueurs. I avoid drinking these days to better practise my faith and cater to my diet as an athlete, so I took the opportunity to sample a couple of their mocktails. The evening chill helped stoke the warm conversations that flowed freely through the night.

Alcohol And Ornithology Don’t Go Together

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

Another reason I don’t like to drink is that it makes you too lethargic to wake up with the birds. I would never trade the chance of watching a munia fluttering towards her nest with a leaf in her beak for a night of mixed strong spirits leading to a hangover. That said, I couldn’t resist a glass of red wine (read – Sula Vineyards: A Fine-Wine Story) with my dinner on our last night at The Serai. I knew I would miss the place – the tranquillity of the 36-acre sprawling surroundings, the grandeur of the elegantly done interiors and the hospitality of the humble and helpful staff. They made me even more emotional with the intimate bonfire and the barbecued goodies that were served in the light drizzle in the evening.

Deep Tissue Massage Deep In The Forest

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

My time in Bandipur was not all birdwatching and gourmet dining and giggling with my new pals. I also booked myself into a 90-minute spa (which would ultimately stretch to 2 hours). My masseuse of North East Indian descent gave me the ‘fitness massage’ – one that not only releases the tension in my marathon-weathered muscles (read – Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) but also has elements of aromatherapy. I could not feel my bones after every part of my body was kneaded with hot oil. I also opted for 10 minutes of ‘hot stone massage’ which involves rolling hot river stones (which are boiled in hot water) across your well-oiled back and arms. After the relaxing massage, I sat 15 minutes in the steam chamber (to unclog my pores and let my skin breathe) before taking a long shower to wash off the oils.

You Point Your Lens Better When Your Arms Are Strong

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

After the rejuvenating spa session, I had a quick breakfast and continued on my quest for more winged wonders. I had caught quite a few birds from afar, but I was still thirsting for a close-up. I had walked most of the trail (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone) about the living quarters inside the property (spanning 18 acres), peeped up every tree that I could safely reach without being bitten by a snake, and stood still in my green pants and dark top (for camouflage), my camera delicately balanced on my palm. Yet, I hadn’t captured a bird so close it would blow my mind.

Would Passerines Pass By The Poolside?

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool - always afraid I'll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool – always afraid I’ll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

“C’mon! Change into your swimwear and jump in the water!” – My friends from Skreem prod me to leave my camera and enjoy the infinity pool (that has goalposts in case you and your gang wish to play a game of water polo). I am in two minds – I have come prepared with my towel and everything, but I can’t keep the DSLR aside. I am gripped by a fear that I will miss my best bird sighting when I am frolicking in the pool.

My Luck Finally Shines

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! :-)

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! 🙂

I spent that afternoon getting a tan on the sunbed by the swimming pool, but sacrificing pool-time did not yield me any sightings. (Sigh! 🙁 ) Next morning, however, as I got up to pack up my tripod, a look of resignation painted on my face, I was startled by the cacophonous chatter of a babbler. I’d almost dropped my zoom-lens in excitement! I quickly regained my composure and clicked away – delighted to have my feast served on a platter before my eyes. There wasn’t one, but half a dozen babblers that warbled away for close to a minute before disappearing from what seemed like a dream. My day was made.

Mission Accomplished!

I'm all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

I’m all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

That day, my joy knew no end! I wasn’t lost at the dinner table anymore. I did not forget to wish the couple that was celebrating their anniversary at this opulent resort. And, I was actually excited about the tiger sighting we had had in the afternoon. (I still don’t get the obsession over tigers, to be honest!)

In my eagerness for sharing my birding adventure with you, I have perhaps forgotten to tell you how swish our cottages were, or how breathtaking the views were from every corner of the property, or how we saw a tiger chase a spotted deer in the jungle. So, I’ve made a small video that captures some moments from my memorable stay at The Serai:-

Do birds make you feel the same way they make me feel?

Do you like tigers more than birds?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂 I would also really like some feedback on my writing and video. I am quite new to videography and your tips on editing and shooting will really help. Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to give me some encouragement!

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures of birds and luxury jungle properties from my nature-trips! Do spread the love by sharing this article with birdwatchers and lovers of the wild! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by The Serai – Bandipur. Nevertheless, all views are entirely my own.