Must Go to Melbourne!

It is still 2014, and I’m already dreaming about the places I want to visit in 2015. I made dozens of wishlists of things I want to try and food I want to gorge on. But I threw those lists out of the window when somebody told me I could do it all in one place! Last month, my friend from Melbourne flew down to Mumbai and he couldn’t stop telling me about all the lovely things one can find in Victoria. He flew back to Australia but left me dreaming about that city down under…

Breathtaking Drive on the Great Ocean Road

That magnificent stretch of silver is surrounded by pure gold – the golden sun above, the golden reflection of the sunny skies on the Pacific Ocean, and the Twelve Apostles jutting out of the waters from a golden era! What wouldn’t I give to go on a long, long drive with my best buddies (a la ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’! 😉 )

Top Secret: The 12 Apostles change colours at sunrise and sunset! Those rock statues sure know how to rock! 😀

Squeal at the Seals or Point at the Penguins

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Phillip-Island

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Phillip-Island

Now, there are some birds and animals you don’t get to see everywhere. When in Victoria, make the best use of the opportunity and head to Phillip Island! If you go on a boat cruise, you’ll get to wave your hands at the slippery seals barking from the rocks. And once you’re on the Island, you’ll witness the wondrous sight of thousands of little penguins wading across the sand to head to their burrows on Summerland Beach! (Yes, you don’t always need snow to spot penguins! 😉 ) While we’re on the topic of wildlife, let’s not forget koalas! These cuddly furballs are only found on this continent. You can take a peek at their joeys in their pouches at koala conservation centres or treetop boardwalks that let you watch the playful marsupials scurry along trees and bushes.

Slurp some Chocolate or Swirl some Wine

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Phillip-Island/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Pannys-Phillip-Island-Chocolate-Factory.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Phillip-Island/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Pannys-Phillip-Island-Chocolate-Factory.aspx

If you are on Phillip Island, you might as well drop in at Panny’s Chocolate Factory and feel like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If the brown elixir is not your cup of tea, head to The Coffee Collective for your shot of caffeine in this coffee capital of Australia! For wine lovers like me, Melbourne has acres and acres of lush vineyards and a whopping 850 wineries! The cool climate and fertile lands of Victoria make it one of the best places to produce fine quality wines. Take a tour of a winery and indulge in some wine tasting with a sommelier.

Fly Over the Yarra Valley

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Yarra-Valley-and-Dandenong-Ranges

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Yarra-Valley-and-Dandenong-Ranges

Touring this beautiful wine region shouldn’t all be about walking. One can zip through the estates on a Segway, or even better – float in the air on a hot air balloon! The best thing about the ballooning experience is that you get to test your own balloon and watch how the hydrogen-filled giant is propped up. Yarra Valley has an ideal terroir. The harvests produce the country’s best wines with fruity notes. And, there’s always grape-stomping for the teetotallers! 😉

Pick Your Own Strawberries and Relish them with Cheese

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Gippsland/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Prom-Country-Cheese.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Gippsland/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Prom-Country-Cheese.aspx

For the ultimate “farm-to-plate” experience, spend a day at the Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm which is open from November to April. They’ll let you pick strawberries straight off the ground! You can either eat them on their own or try some exotic strawberry liqueurs and jams. Melbourne also produces some interesting artisanal cheeses. You might want to try the deliciously creamy sheep-cheese varieties! However, if your are on a budget and wish to try everything under the Victorian sun, catch a tram to the Queen Victoria Market. It is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere and sees footfalls of over 10 million a year!

Melbourne is not called cosmopolitan for nothing! You will find almost every cuisine you crave for. Cafes and restaurants dot this megacity where fresh organic produces are in demand. You cannot visit Australia and not try barbecued dishes or craft beers! Microbreweries and streetfood are insanely popular with the local crowd here. And the variety you can have is mindblowing! There’s Greek souvlaki and Indian samosas in the same block sometimes! 😀

Relax in a Thermal Pool

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Things-to-do/Spa-and-wellbeing/Peninsula-Hot-Springs.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Things-to-do/Spa-and-wellbeing/Peninsula-Hot-Springs.aspx

Too much travel can tire me out. This is why I shall pre-book a session at the Peninsula Hot Springs and let my body and soul unwind with a mud wrap and hot stone treatment. The natural spas in this region have therapeutic properties in their minerals. After I’m rejuvenated, I shall get back to more activities in Melbourne! 🙂

Gawk at Artsy Streets

Melbourne is very progressive when it comes to street art. This is so liberating for budding artists and expressionists! Hosier Lane and a few others are dedicated to creative and edgy street art. One can lose oneself in this maze-like place full of messages displayed through spray-paintings. Even the street-name is a work of graffiti!

And Do A Million Other Things…

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Things-to-do/Tours/Sports-tours/Melbourne-Cricket-Ground.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Things-to-do/Tours/Sports-tours/Melbourne-Cricket-Ground.aspx

Melbourne cannot be seen in a day. Not even in a week. And no, even a month won’t suffice! This multicultural city has SO MANY SURPRISES that you will want to move here permanently for a couple of years to truly enjoy the spirit of this place. There’s something for every kind of traveller. The budget tourist can take the hop-on-hop-off City Circle tram which is free! The well heeled can book a helicopter ride over the Southern Ocean to watch the 12 apostles from the sky. The sports enthusiast will find the Aussie Open, the ICC World Cup and many other matches to keep her busy. The History buff can take the Gold Mine Tour at Sovereign Hill, and the architecture-phile can awe in wonder at the sweeping arches and towering skyscrapers. Even little kids can let their feet hang out of a window on the Puffing Billy! 🙂 It’s hardly a surprise then that Melbourne has been titled the “most livable city in the world”! You wouldn’t just live here, you would THRIVE!!!

When I woke up from my daydream, I was so amazed with the variety of activities I could take part in that I decided to pull my friends into this dream too. Without re-creating any scenes from Inception (the movie), I simply asked them a few questions:-

I set the ball rolling on Twitter

I set the ball rolling on Twitter

My tweet got my followers dreaming on Twitterland! 😉 And I picked out some replies for you to see:-

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Surfing was something even I did not think of! And even though I’m not a big fan of cricket, I love stadium tours. This virtual interaction taught me I could dream better if I spread the dream to more spheres. So I threw the same questions to my fans on my Facebook page:-

The excitement spread to Facebook! :-)

The excitement spread to Facebook! 🙂

The number of replies I received did not even fit into a screenshot! 😀 See how community dreaming is better than fantasizing on your own? I don’t want to leave my WordPress followers out of the excitement, so I have a special New Year Contest for all of you!!! 🙂

All you have to do is answer the following question and send in your replies as comments to this post:-

Which of these places would you want to visit in Melbourne and why?

(Psst… You can reread this article to make a decision. 😉 ) The most creative reply will win a shopping voucher worth Rs.500! (Yay!! 😀 ) Send in your entries by 5th Jan, 2015.

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An Afternoon in Auroville

The morning I checked out of my hotel in Pondicherry, I chatted with the French manager for her opinion on Auroville. I wasn’t too keen on visiting a township-under-construction, especially on a hot July afternoon when I had a bus to catch back home in the eve. But she changed my mind when she said, “Oh! You can stay there for as long as you wish… a day, a week, or even months.” I was curious to know the mystery behind the “The City of Dawn“, and what made people stay that long… in some cases, forever!

Miniature model of the Auroville City Centre

Miniature model of the Auroville City Centre

Auroville is about 30 minutes from Pondicherry by road. Founded by Mirra Alfassa, it is a self-sustaining township of harmonious and progressive minds from 50 nationalities. Entry to this ‘universal town’ is free, but one has to register at the Visitors Centre. The entrance is adorned with brick-arches and landscaped greens. It is easy to see the harmony this place shares with nature.

The Auroville Visitors Centre

The Auroville Visitors Centre

The Visitors Centre serves as a museum of sorts. It showcases the city-plan and the vision of the founder. Auroville also hosts volunteers and interns who wish to study and help build this town.  With my pass in hand, I decided to walk through the roads (and skipped the buggies that are available on rent for walk-wary visitors).

Under the roof made of dried leaves and stems

Under the thatched roof

It is easy to feel the charm of the place growing on you as you pass through various stone-signboards with the painting a herb or a flower and its medicinal and spiritual value listed beside it. The entire place is like a forest with some areas cleared to assist walking. There are tarred roads too, but it’s always more exciting to take the road less travelled by.

Wooden model of the 'Peace Area'

Wooden model of the ‘Peace Area’

My goal was to reach the centre of Auroville, where there lies a giant sphere made of gold. The area that surrounds it is the ‘Peace Area’. There are signboards everywhere to guide visitors in this maze-like forest. This town has a field full of humongous solar-panels that fuel this sustainable-concept-lifestyle. The air is cool and clean and there are nurseries and a botanical garden to harness the goodness of nature.

I was looking for a tree to rest under (as I had quite some distance to cover before I’d reach the “golden ball”), and then I came across this spectacle that stopped me in my tracks…

The revered Banyan Tree

The revered Banyan Tree

The forest heard my voice and showed me a 100-year old Banyan Tree. This sacred tree has aerial roots that have grown out of its branches and gravitated towards the earth to form tree-like structures of their own. It looks as though there are multiple trees entwined with each other, like young children in a warm embrace with their mother.

The tenacity of the ageless banyan tree inspired me and charged me up for the last mile of my walk towards the centre of this unique world. And I stood mesmerised by what I beheld…

The Matrimandir

The Matrimandir

The ball-shaped building is the Matrimandir– an awe-inspiring blend of art and architecture! This is where the seeker comes to realise inner consciousness and peace. I gazed dreamily at the sprawling greens and blessed that French lady for convincing me to give Auroville a chance.

Admiring the Clouds below – in Coorg

This is my entry for Prismma Holiday 2014.

This year, I spent the ‘month of love’ falling in love with nature… in the least populated district of Karnataka – Coorg.

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My journey began from Mysore and we drove for a couple of hours through an empty road that lent us views of leafless, lanky trees and lush coffee plantations alternately. Once inside Coorg (Kodagu), it took us a good hour to reach our resort.

I stayed in a chalet with a valley-view at Porcupine Castle. This is an eco-friendly property that sits at the end of a long-winding road that cuts through a coffee estate. The bedrooms, walk-in closets and bathrooms have sunroofs that let in light during daytime and restrict the usage of electric-lights to nights only. The only sounds you hear in the serene surroundings are those of the winds, whistling (and perhaps your own self, gasping at the charming sights).

I sat on my balcony over the clouds, sipping on Coorgi coffee as I watched the golden sun dissolve into the silver clouds till the sky was painted in a riot of warm colours. I could see the Western Ghats curtained by the diaphanous clouds from where I stood, and an entire world of dark green trees that hid the earth that lay several feet below. The night was equally enchanting as the fireflies and bumblebees filled the air with more sounds.

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Next morning, it was time to trek! We decided to tour the coffee plantations on foot.

Hot Tip: Wear shoes and clothes fit for rugged terrain if you plan to trek through the plantations. If you can’t manage professional hiking gear, studs or even basic keds will do. Wear cargoes (that have multiple pockets to hold your things so you don’t have to carry a backpack) or denims with comfortable a tee and avoid jackets/sweaters (it only gets hotter as the day progresses and you work yourself up).

I must tell you now that nobody gave me the aforementioned tip, and my ignorant self assumed the coffee plantation would be like tea plantations – almost like a garden I could leisurely stroll through. I showed up in peep-toed flats and a fancy summer top with a knit jacket. I also took my dangling handbag along. I was in for a rude shock when I saw the trail.

Our trekking-guide handed us each a walking pole and took us through narrow clearings in the dense foliage. I soon realized my jacket was of no use when the temperature kept rising along with my body heat. After an hour of non-stop walking, our guide showed us a lake – way down the sloping hills covered with coffee trees. Our goal was to reach at the foot of the slope. Sweat trickled down my forehead for I was sure I’d end up with torn shoes and clothes if I ever managed my way down. But the adventure-enthusiast in me rose to the occasion. The rest of the trek was physically gruelling as we slid and scraped through the land with only the coffee shrubs for support (walking poles are of little help in this kind of terrain).

There was a point when I was ready to give up and I had mentally decided to never trek again if I only made it through this time. But after I reached the lake at the bottom of the slope, I knew the effort was worth it. The view from below was so humbling – all the trees dwarfed us and made me realize how insignificant humans are in this grand world. We observed many plants other than coffee (life saviour for its strong stem that keeps you from rolling down the hills into your death) – orange, eucalyptus & cherry-tomato, to name a few.

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Before I left Coorg, I made a detour to Bylakuppe. This area houses many Tibetans in exile. It feels like you’re in a new country as you absorb the distinct culture around you. I walked into the Namdroling Nyingmapa monastery (locally known as the Golden Temple) – a majestic monument that struck me with awe with its sheer size and beauty. The statues of Buddha and others inside the monastery are imposing and send a signal of peace to your heart. I was lucky to witness a prayer-session during my visit.

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My trip to Coorg ended with a torn shoe and a strengthened heart. And I hope my story will teach you not to repeat my mistake :). Write to me about your trip to this heavenly place, and if you haven’t been here already, let Coorg be your next vacation!