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! ❤

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 my 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.

 

Dudhsagar Plantation – A Homestay Hidden Away From Goa’s Beaches


Goa, a place synonymous with beach-life (to the casual traveller), has much more to offer those who seek something different. My friends reading this account will be flabbergasted when they learn that I did not see a single beach all through my recent trip to the ‘party capital of India’. What I saw instead was this:-

Acres Of Greens With No Sand Or Sea In Sight

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

If you are a fan of nature and forests and everything organic, get away from the coastline and drive into Sanvordem, and then further towards Kulem until you reach Karmane Village. There, where the road ends and the boundary of the Mollem National Park begins, you will find Dudhsagar Plantation – a farm-stay that is removed from the smoke of the cities and the noise of the parties. I had a chance to stay at one of the cottages here last month when monsoon was in full swing. This was perhaps the best way to begin my career as a full-time travel writer.

The Cottages At Dudhsagar Plantation

The property has 5 cottages with brick roofs which have 4 glass-patches to let light filter through in the mornings. There’s a nice sit-out area in the front porch of each cottage, with wooden lounging chairs to enjoy the view of the plantation. This eco-stay is basic, but comfortable. Every cottage is spacious and furnished with a double bed and a divan, besides shelves on a wall to store your things. The bathroom is well ventilated with grills, and the exposed brick and cement sections lend a rustic touch to it. The all-out in the room keeps mosquitoes away, but don’t be surprised if some harmless caterpillars, bugs or lizards stop by to say “hi”. 😉

Know Your Host

The Malkarnekar brothers - Ashok (right) runs the property

The Malkarnekar brothers – Ashok (right) runs the property

The plantation was started by the Malkarnekar family in 1985 and their home is built on the farm itself. Today, Ashok Malkarnekar, the eldest son, stays here and looks after the administrative bits of this home-stay. I was fortunate to be here when Ashok’s family and friends were around for a reunion, and we spent some good time chatting over chai and singing along with the guitarists in the house. The Malkarnekar siblings (2 brothers and a sister) are half German and half Goan, and fluent in Konkani, Hindi, German and English. They are all very friendly and warm. Throughout the duration of my stay at Dudhsagar Plantation, Ashok graciously showed me around the estate and took me to some interesting parts of Goa I’d never explored before.

Take A Spice Tour

(Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Every guest here can opt for an hour long guided tour of the spice garden. Spread over 50 acres, the plantation is a tropical paradise! Here, you will find a variety of trees and herbs – coconut, betel nut, starfruit, pepper, cinnamon and cashew, to name a few. Speaking of cashew, you can also learn how cashew feni is made through the fermentation process. A milder version of feni is the urak, which is distilled at an earlier stage. During my stay, I had their distinctive jungle juice – a cocktail they make with urak, limca and some “secret spices”. 😉

Jump Into The Family Well

Dive into the 15 feet natural well

Dive into the 15 feet deep natural well

Water babies will leap at the mention of a pool in a farmstay. Dudhsagar Plantation has something even better – a giant natural water well which is 15 feet deep! It was a lot of fun to swim here, the trees secluding us from the rest of the property. You might spot some friendly frogs and little fishes while you take a dip here. It is not uncommon either to sight snakes. (Yikes!!)

Relish Home-cooked Meals

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

I thoroughly savoured the freshly prepared meals at this homestay. The ingredients are locally sourced and mostly grown on the plantation itself. The food is completely organic as no pesticides or fertilizers are used for farming. Natural composting is practised here and manure is used for the plants. Ashok also showed me the nitrogen-fixing plants which absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and plug it back into the soil to improve its fertility. This reduces the need to add artificial fertilizers for the regular nitrogen-guzzling flora.

 

The food is generally vegetarian, but sometimes, the cook also prepares some fish or meat. You can have egg preparations for breakfast, and these are free range eggs from the domestic chickens on the farm. I had my fill of local vegan Goan curries which have a little bit of coconut in the form of its flesh-shavings or as coconut milk. They also use a lot of mushroom, which are my favourite! 🙂 I particularly loved the dishes for their mild flavours (I’m not a fan of spicy food) and judicious use of oil. Don’t forget to try their pineapple-banana butter, a house-speciality which I fell in love with! You will also like their homemade pickles and puranpoli.

Walk In The Rain

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Dudhsagar Plantation is a nice place to spend an intimate weekend with your significant other. The property feels especially romantic in the monsoon (read: Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains) when the raindrops rhythmically pelt on the brick roofs of the cottages and the thatched central dining gazebo. You may also want to want to laze in the swimming pool while you wait for the sun to set.

Swim In The Infinity Pool

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well (Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Not all visitors like natural wells, so the plantation also has a modern-style swimming pool that looks out to the green foliage. Fortunately, the pool’s water comes from the well, and has no chlorine. The host is building a yoga-shala close to the pool, which will be ready in a few weeks. He has plans to build a large hut which can serve as a dormitory for budget travellers who wish to learn yoga. This place has the potential to be a tranquil yoga retreat. Can you imagine how relaxing it will be to practise yoga in the middle of nature!

Read, Nap Or Do Absolutely Nothing On The Veranda

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Rejuvenating holidays are those where you don’t squeeze too many activities into your itinerary. The best way to spend your time at Dudhsagar Plantation is to read your favourite book or do a little bit of writing. The atmosphere is ripe with inspiration for those who find their joy in composing poems. Bring along a guitar and a mouth-organ, and make some soothing music if you are musically tilted. It really helps that internet connectivity is intermittent and slow here. You have another reason to tune out the world and tune in to your thoughts. The property has a wifi router installed at the common dining area, but that only worked for a few minutes during all the days I was there. No complaints, though. I quite enjoyed playing with the cute toddler (Ashok’s nephew) and the dogs (which guard the estate from trespassers and wild boars).

Things To Do Around Dudhsagar Plantation

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

If you are the restless type of traveller and cannot sit still, there’s plenty you can do around this place. I did the Tambdi Surla waterfall trek (close to the eponymous 12th century temple), peeped into a Portuguese villa, strolled atop the Salaulim dam and checked out 20-thousand-years old petroglyphs at Usgalimal. More on the activities in a separate blog post. 😉

Have you ever lived on a plantation?

Do you know of more non-touristy things to do in Goa?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

 

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to stay updated with pictures and stories of more such interesting hideouts that I keep discovering! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the Goa-fanatics you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by Dudhsagar Plantation. However, all views are entirely my own.

…Because Travelers Have Responsibilities Too!


As I recount the last days of my erstwhile corporate life, I romanticize my new existence as a vagabond. I wonder if I will have a lifestyle with no strings attached. Will I escape the common man’s worries of paying rent, getting dressed for work, cleaning the house or doing the dishes? Will I be absolved of my duties of attending to a (future) husband, tucking the (future) children into bed or caring for my parents?

Life isn't always a fairytale (Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany)

Life isn’t always a fairytale (Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany)

Wishful Thinking Won’t Change Reality

With the new-found freedom (read For Travel Goals that are Long Term…), I am becoming acutely aware of the new responsibilities I have. I am no longer insured by my employer or mandated by law to save a slice of my income for my retirement. To add to the uncertainty, the regular flow of monthly income, that I’d grown accustomed to, is missing. I can no longer dismiss my credit card bills, thinking my next month’s salary will take care of those.

I may have become a full time wayfarer, but I am still accountable to my folks. I may not have to wake up at 7 on every weekday, but I have to be awake at 4 on a weekend to meet that impatient client’s deadline. I may be able to pull off a Skype call with a trench coat thrown over my jammies, but I still need clean sets of trekking clothes on my countless hikes through the wilderness.

After each day of wandering, the mind longs for rest (somewhere in Eastern Europe)

After each day of wandering, the mind longs for rest (somewhere in Eastern Europe)

Some Needs Are So Basic, They’re Profession-Agnostic

I must also remember that my new profession does not magically make me a superhero. I need a lot of rest after every hectic day of scouting for interesting places. My sore muscles need to relax after every strenuous trek. I have to allow my weather-beaten skin to be at peace after I’ve subjected it to cold winds, charring sun-rays and liquefying humidity. After all, there is no air-conditioning when you’re on the road!

 

I mustn’t forget that I won’t be in my 20’s forever. The thrill of going solo might some day give way to a yearning for companionship. The couples and families I meet on my journeys will make me question if I indeed can live without a partner or spend a lifetime without having my own kids.

There is a kind of hunger that food cannot satisfy (my zucchini pocket in Budapest)

There is a kind of hunger that food cannot satisfy (my zucchini pocket in Budapest)

Future Depends On The Steps Taken in the Present

Ruing is of no use when you’ve dreamed an empty dream and taken no action to make it happen for real. Living each day without any consideration for what to do tomorrow, is a recipe for delayed regrets. I don’t have much advice on emotional matters, but for personal finance, there are neat ways to protect your future and grow your wealth. Bajaj Allianz Life’s recently launched Future Wealth Gain ULIP is one such way. The unit-linked insurance plan does its primary jobs of insuring the policy holder and enhancing the worth of the instrument by investing in a mix of 8 debt and equity funds, allowing you to #InvestBefikar and #JiyoBefikar.

 

There’s quite a bit of flexibility in the product as you can choose the variant you want (Wealth Plus or Wealth Plus Care), the premium you pay, the life cover you need, the policy term, the premium payment term and frequency, the portfolio strategy and even the riders.

When you've lived in strangers' homes for so long, you desire to have your own (a friend's couch in Lindau)

When you’ve lived in strangers’ homes for so long, you desire to have your own (a friend’s couch in Lindau)

Someday, We’ll Know…

Life is a tough nut to crack. You may have had your future planned out, but there are always surprises. Some pleasant, and some unpleasant. Planning ahead eases your pain through the unpleasant times of disease or death. You can never know when life will throw a curveball at you, but you can be prepped to strike a score. Getting your finances in order goes a long way in tiding over the bad times. Do not tarry. (This is the advice I give myself everyday – do not tarry.)

Getting tanned in Doha like there's no tomorrow

Getting tanned in Doha like there’s no tomorrow

I wander like I have no cares, but I have responsibilities too! Have you financially invested in your future yet? Share some of your strategies in the comments section below! 🙂

 

Do follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my journeys, and spread the love by sharing this article with your pals who are planning their future. 🙂

Onboard Air Arabia’s A320


I’m not a fan of late night flights, but there is little you can do to control the time you fly out of your home city (Mumbai in my case)  when you wish to arrive at your destination in the morning. I still remember my first flight to Goa over two decades ago, when I was only 4 and my sister, 2. I had thrown up just before the landing, and all the passengers had to leap over the puddle of vomit on the aisle. Those days of free unlimited candies and poor cabin pressure management are long gone. Cut to the present, and one can get an exclusive first class suite and a pre-booked slot for a shower cabin up in the air!

This post, however, is not to highlight the milestones the airline industry has crossed, but to tell you about my in-flight experience on Air Arabia.

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

A Look At Air Arabia’s Hub – Sharjah

The Sharjah airport is nothing to write home about. But this cost-effective hub means the planes landing and taking off from here will have to pay them less, and in turn, your flight tickets will be more affordable (hopefully). Being a low-cost carrier, Air Arabia has no exclusive lounge at this airport. The airport itself is like a fish market, full of commotion and little regard for queues. The staff seems reluctant to help. At the boarding gates, the ladies in charge behave like school teachers trying to tame an unruly class. After a couple of hours at the airport, it is finally time for me to board my plane.

There's nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

The Experience Onboard

Our A320 was a nifty aircraft, and I thought my seat in the economy class was fine. I asked for a cup of tea to relax for the next few hours that I’d be airborne. It must have worked, because I slept well. I always carry my eye mask and inflatable neck pillow to catch up on my sleep, which I never seem to get enough of (even on vacations). I was was in Sharjah to cover the light festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), and I did too much in too little time.

I pick what I'll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I pick what I’ll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I usually prep my mind to sleep by reading the in-flight magazine and waiting for the plane to go quiet. I previously wrote about my onward trip to Sharjah (read – Flying with Air Arabia), but on my return trip, the excitement had worn off as I wasn’t looking forward to going back to office and continuing with the long hours of work (usual at the investment bank). The air hostess soon cheered me up by getting me some dinner.

Time for Food! 🙂

My vegetable biryani arrives with coconut chutney on the side.

My vegetable biryani arrives with some raita on the side.

My early morning snack on my onward journey was a couple of dosa rolls with a filling of potato and chutney on the side. On my return journey to Mumbai, I had vegetable biryani with some raita. I thought the food was quite appetizing, even if a little too spicy for my palate. The portions were good too. They say that the way to a person’s heart is through her stomach. The rest of my flight seemed smooth after the meal, and the airline’s timing again was perfect! Here’s a selfie from my arrival in Sharjah (the smile is thanks to a full stomach 😉 ):-

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret


“Sharjah” – this name would often conjure up an image of a desert with mosques scattered across its parched terrain. I thought this Arab city would be a quick trip – a short walk by the souqs, a desert safari, and I’d have seen pretty much all that this place has to offer. I would realize on my maiden trip to this emirate how wrong I was in my imagination.

Khor Fakkan - beyond the desert plains

Sharjah – beyond the desert plains

Big Surprises Come in Small Packages

On my third day in Sharjah, the plan was to visit the town of Khor Fakkan. Little has been spoken or written about this place which technically is a part of Sharjah, but geographically surrounded by Fujairah. It was a long road journey which took us through the Hajar range of mountains, and well into the emirate of Fujairah.

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Time-Traveling to the 15th Century

We passed a couple of mosques on our way to Khor Fakkan, but the most striking of all was Al Bidiya – a mosque wrapped in layers of plaster from 1446 AD. This mosque is quite unusual in its architecture as it has four pointed domes – something missing in the modern mosque designs.

We had started ascending the Hajjar Mountains soon enough. And, I knew this when it started to get cold. I wasn’t carrying a jacket as I’d assumed Sharjah would be anything but cold on that sunny afternoon. I did not have the time to hike up those mountains, and I know I’ll have to go back to do just that someday.

We start gaining altitude on the Al Hajar mountains

We start gaining altitude on Al Hajar mountains

Mountain-Top Local Markets

We stopped for a while in a little village to have some Suleimani chai and succulent dates. You will be surprised to know of the amazing variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in the Emirates, especially around oases. The fertility of the soil varies here. This land is not all dry and barren. Local markets are also where you can bargain well. The friendly shopkeepers will let you taste some of their dry fruits on display when they know you will be buying. Food aside, you can also find warm kaftans and jackets with middle eastern prints as you stroll through the roadside.

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

Seeing the Arabian Sea

As we drove further, our view changed completely! We were driving along the Gulf of Oman, gulping down the dazzling waves of the Arabian Sea with our eyes. Khor Fakkan (which literally means ‘gulf of jaw’) is the only town in Sharjah which lets you see the Gulf of Oman.

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

A Bite of Luxury at the Oceanic Hotel

Khor Fakkan’s 4 star Oceanic Resort and Spa was the perfect place to put up my feet and take in the view of the turquoise waters of the Khor Fakkan Beach. Even though alcohol is strictly prohibited all across Sharjah, you will miss none of the beach excitement when you can spend your lazy afternoons sipping on some iced tea and gazing into the horizon before you.

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Meandering into Mleiha

A short drive from Khor Fakkan lies the Mleiha Desert. Its sand is distinctive with a touch of orange in the light brown. The Mleiha Archeological Centre is where they study fossils unearthed from this desert. There is a museum here that every kid touring Sharjah must be taken to. It’s quite experiential and informative.

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

Time for Desert Safari

Mleiha is also where you can take a desert safari over the undulating sands. Unlike in Dubai, the experience you have in Sharjah will be more intimate as you won’t have the crowd. This is also a no non-sense desert safari which focuses on nature, and skips the belly dance in the end. Plus, you get to stop at some locations to examine some fossils yourself! (I can already see the paleontologists smiling 😉 )

The smooth sands of Meliha desert are perfect for a safari!

The smooth sands of Mleiha desert are perfect for a safari!

Khor Fakkan and Mleiha may not be Sharjah’s only (open) secrets, but they sure are worth exploring! We often make the mistake of judging a place by the first look or through someone else’s opinion. It is time we went out on our own to discover what popular media won’t tell us. Some secrets are better kept when shared, don’t you think? I’ve let you in on Sharjah’s secret. Won’t you tell me yours?

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Have you also discovered lesser known things about popular places? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

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Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.