Category Archives: World

A walk in the wild at Chitwan National Park

(By Ankita)

It was during a wildlife sojourn in Pench, Madhya Pradesh that I first heard about a walking safari. Over a mesmerising bush dinner in the jungle, the naturalist Chinmay regaled us with tales of a German couple who quickly climbed a tree when they realised a tiger was nearby, and his own back injuries due to a surprise rhino attack in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. It was these accounts that played on my mind, as I embarked on my first walking safari in the very same park, courtesy the staff of Barahi Jungle Lodge.

Early morning boat ride across the Rapti River
Early morning boat ride across the Rapti River

We convened for some aromatic French press coffee and cookies at 8:30 AM. Even at that hour, the lodge was shrouded in thick fog, the cool temperature making us glad for the protection of our jackets. A quarter of an hour later, we were at the banks of the Rapti River, ready to cross over to the forest and begin our adventure. As we pulled away from the lodge, we saw what looked like dried logs lying on the slope leading to the river. But on closer inspection, they revealed themselves to be ghariyals, a crocodilian reptile known for its long, pointed snout.

A ghariyal
A ghariyal

The late winter fog hung over the river, turning the other boats into shadowy silhouettes and the way ahead into curtains of veiled mystery. But the boatman and the naturalist Saket – they didn’t fail to see a grey shape in the distance that spelt both danger and excitement. I grabbed the binocular beside me and feasted on the beautiful sight of a grown rhino sipping water from the river.

A rhino at Rapti River, Nepal

The only problem was that it was right on our path to the forest and there was no way to go around it, without risking a charge. We drew closer and closer, hoping against hope that the rhino would note our presence and move out of the way. I watched through my camera lenses as the rhino turned to look at us. There seemed to be a few moments of indecision and then the great horned creature went splashing through the water to safety, sending a million droplets of water into the foggy air. The whole surreal episode left us with renewed excitement for our upcoming tryst with the forest.

We climbed up an incline to plunge straight into the ‘rivering forest’, the part of Chitwan National Park bordering the Rapti River. The sheer thrill of walking through the wild coursed through me as dried leaves crunched beneath our feet, the trees formed a web of greenery whenever I looked up, and secret calls pierced the air intermittently. This was how our ancestors lived, I mused; wandering through forests and settling down for a meal of scavenged food in a natural clearing.

Wild flowers
Wild flowers

One cannot hope to spot too many birds on a walking safari, as the vantage point is not ideal for getting a view of them through the thick foliage. But we could certainly hear them. The ground was strewn with red cotton silk flowers, hill glory bower, poisonous giant milkweed and bright orange flame of the forest. Every now and then, we’d almost walk into a spider web, but for Saket, who’d stop and point out the little creator in the centre of the web. Spotting butterflies was a much more fruitful exercise and we pursued a fair few, including the cabbage white and the great Mormon. When you’re on a jeep or elephant safari, you barely look at the ground but on a walking safari, you are free to peer at rhino apples, called such because they are highly favoured by rhinos (but not fit for human consumption!) and little red sindure berries, which give off a colour akin to the ‘sindoor’ that married Hindu women smear on their foreheads. There are over 600 Indian rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, so it came as no surprise that most of the ground was covered with mounds of their excreta! Incidentally, rhino excreta is supposed to have medicinal benefits for ailments such as cough and cold.

A clearing in the forest
A clearing in the forest

Presently, we reached a 360 degree clearing that allowed us an excellent 360 degree view of the forest. It was the perfect spot to assuage our rumbling tummies. Saket and the local guide busied themselves with unpacking the breakfast while we rested our walking sticks against an enormous fig tree and found a nice big log to sit on. Chitwan National Park is full of fig trees whose trunks are as massive as walls, and tall clusters of sal trees in patches. Interestingly, stranger figs are parasites, often wrapping themselves around the host tree until it is dead.

We enjoyed a charming breakfast of sandwiches, muffins and fruits, curated by Barahi Jungle Lodge, in the midst of the forest, possibly watched by creatures safely camouflaged by the vegetation. When we’d finished and packed up, careful not to leave behind any signs of our presence, the fog had cleared almost completely. It was mid-morning by now and we were halfway through our safari. And that was when we had the most exciting experience of the day – an encounter with a mother-daughter rhino duo! Our guide and naturalist spotted them in the distance, just in time to avoid a potentially unsafe confrontation. “Hide, hide!” they whispered, as we contemplated how we’d been sharing the clearing with the rhinos all this while without knowing it!

Watching the rhinos from our hiding spot
Watching the rhinos from our hiding spot

We stood among the trees, well out of the way of the rhinos. “They’ve smelt us for sure,” Saket said, as the creatures looked around curiously before resuming their grass munching. It was a while before they started moving and we watched in silent excitement as they walked by slowly, quite oblivious to the effect they were having on us. While rhinos look peaceful enough, they can weigh up to three tons run at 40 km per hour and cause significant injuries with their horns. So it was a good thing our friends that day were more intent on finding breakfast than chasing us way!

The eerie Nandbauzu Lake
The eerie Nandbauzu Lake

It’s not just the prospect of bumping into predators and being watched by strange pairs of eyes that make a walking safari at Chitwan National Park deliciously spooky. It’s also the presence of places like the Nandbauzu Lake, marked as the location of the suicides of two sisters in law. ‘Nandbauzu’ means sister in law in Nepali. The mossy, tree-framed lake looks peaceful and welcoming but chills are bound to run down your spine when you hear tales of the tragic deaths that occurred here and the subsequent haunting. One other story Saket told us was of the ferocious Kanchirua, a killer rhino responsible for the demise of at least ten people. He was such a terror that the forest department tried to relocate him. But Kanchirua returned, and lived to the ripe old age of 43. We were thus suitably awed when after some scouting and retracing of steps, we came upon the site of his remains. I had never seen a rhino’s skeleton so closely before, and nothing will erase the sight of the late Kanchirua’s magnificent skull and bones.

The remains of Kanchirua
The remains of Kanchirua

There are several military outposts in Chitwan National Park and we had to be ready with our permits whenever a group of patrolling officers accosted us. Poaching used to be a menace but the numbers have come down significantly thanks to their vigilance. We also waved at other guests occasionally. But by and large, it felt like we were all alone in the dark, whispering forest. Once or twice, we fell off the designated route in pursuit of a bird or animal but finding shortcuts and alternate routes was equally exciting. On our way back to the lodge, we glimpsed a herd of deer through the foliage. Our guides could hear their calls though I couldn’t. Thus ended my first walking safari. If you have more time and stamina, Barahi Jungle Lodge will arrange a day-long safari that takes you through the village as well, where you could enjoy a local meal. We however, thanked the forest for protecting us and returned to the lodge for a sumptuous lunch, followed by bathing in the river with Sundarkali, a grand old elephant.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and leave your email address below for free access to more such stories:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Advertisements

Italian temptations at Alto, Four Seasons Jakarta

Far removed from the commercial and at times, grimy environs of Indonesia’s capital city, Alto at Four Seasons Jakarta offers one of the most elegant dining experiences a couple of newly weds can hope for. Jakarta was our final stop in Indonesia but we were determined to make the most of it. And with a dinner reservation at this fine Italian restaurant, one thing was for sure – we were ending our honeymoon in style.

IMG_20170525_201740
We walked into
IMG_20170525_201755
a space of mellow lights and tables
IMG_20170525_201254
with gorgeous views of Jakarta
IMG_20170525_201746
and we couldn’t help but go click-happy.

There are two Four Seasons hotels in Jakarta so after some re-routing, we managed to find the right one. The hotel itself is extremely elegant and luxurious, manned by uber-courteous staff. We were directed to the 20th floor to reach Alto, their Italian restaurant. Rich hues of red and ochre combined with grand seating arrangements and a sweeping view of the city from 360 degree glass windows greeted our suitably impressed eyes.

Enjoying a glass of Prosecco
Enjoying a glass of Prosecco

Polished wooden chairs and tables were nestled at cosy spots by the windows or found centre-stage in the midst of the restaurant. Ours was one of the cosier tables, separated by slim curtains from the busier main section. We were welcomed with a tall glass of Prosecco wine and thereafter, the four-course set dégustation menu was ours to enjoy.

Salad at Alto, Four Seasons Jakarta
We began with a fresh arugula, tomato and avocado salad
Spaghetti at Alto, Four Seasons Jakarta
moved on to a broccoli and pumpkin spaghetti,
Mushroom risotto at Alto, Four Seasons Jakarta
a decadent mushroom risotto
Pistachio crème brûlée at Alto, Four Seasons Jakarta
and ended with a pistachio crème brûlée – unique and flavourful.

While the meal didn’t disappoint us at any point, we were particularly pleased with the creaminess of the risotto and the seasoning of the glassy spaghetti. The salad was very light and refreshing – great for calorie counters. The pistachio flavour in the crème brûlée was quite intense and took some getting used to. But this was a meal to remember indeed and we’d like to thank the hosts for their excellent service.

Address: Four Seasons, Jl. Jendral Gatot Subroto Kav 18, Gatot Subroto, Jakarta
Reservations: 021 22771888
Cost for two: IDR 500000

Have you subscribed to our Youtube channel yet? And don’t forget to leave your email address below:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

10 must-dos on your Dubai holiday

Once upon a time, Dubai was one of those places that rarely featured on people’s travel bucket lists. Then, as more and more Indians began to set up base in this glittering Arabian city and the wheels of its publicity began spinning, the world started waking up to its many attractions. We are all well acquainted with the urban paradise that is the commercial centre of the United Arab Emirates. But what really sets a holiday in Dubai apart is its potential for adventure, discovery and inimitable experiences. It also helps that getting a Dubai visa is a breeze for Indian nationals.

1. Swim with the dolphins
It’s not easy on the pocket (13000 rupees onwards) but where else are you going to get a chance to get so up, close and personal with dolphins? Dolphin Bay at Atlantis The Palm is a beautiful lagoon surrounded by palms, where you can swim with adorable dolphins and indulge in various water sports. Getting clicked with the dolphins will put you back by a few more rupees though the memories are worth treasuring. If the water baby in you is still not satisfied, head to Wild Wadi Water Park and try every one of those roller coasters, wave pools and gulp-inducing water slides!

2. Go for a desert safari
Dubai is in the Middle-East after all, which is synonymous with large expanses of strangely hypnotic deserts. And no amount of civilisation can take away the primitive appeal of spending a day in one of nature’s most trying landscapes and ending with a star-studded luxury desert camp. To get your adrenalin pumping, go dune bashing, ride a camel or enjoy a four-wheel-drive safari that ends with belly dancers, desert barbeque and cocktails in the setting sun. And did we mention that you can get an Arabian style mehendi done as well? At around 6000 rupees, this one’s not too expensive either.

3. Ride a hot-air balloon
This one’s for those who simply can’t get enough of the desert. Personally, I think a hot air balloon is just the right amount of adventure. Unlike bungee jumping, you get to stand comfortably and enjoy the sandy panorama around you. And you also have other people with you to make it less forbidding. You’ll have to wake up before the birds do for a truly memorable hot air balloon ride, because then you get to see the sun rise over the horizon of the Sahara desert and capture some truly breath-taking photographs. An hour in the balloon will cost you around 18000 rupees.

4. Get a bird’s eye view of the city at Burj Khalifa
You haven’t really seen a city until you’ve looked down upon its urban jewels from up above. A must-do while in Dubai is a visit to the observatory deck at Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s tallest building at 828 metres. Prices begin at 125 dirham (2300 rupees) and you can choose between the 124th and 148th floors. End your experience with a drink at their restaurant bar on the 122nd floor. Since this is a sought after experience in Dubai, it is advisable to book your tickets well in advance. Both the day-time and night-time views are equally spectacular.

5. Shop till you drop (and a lot more) at Dubai Mall
Dubai seems to excel at building the world’s record-breaking architectural marvels. With 1200 stores, Dubai Mall has the distinction of being the world’s largest mall and it’s safe to say that there isn’t a single luxury brand you won’t find here. The best part is that there’s so much to do apart from shopping! You can go skating at a giant ice rink and peek at fishes in the aquarium. Kids will also be wowed by the dinosaur skeleton on display and indoor theme parks. When you get hungry after all that shopping, there are 150 food outlets to choose from.

6. Stay at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah
I have just two words to recommend this Burj Al Arab and they should be enough – seven star. Sure, a stay at Burj Al Arab might involve mortgaging your house and everyone in it but imagine scoffing at five star hotels and telling them you’ve seen better. Although seven star hotels are not really verified, the exceptional restaurants at Burj Al Arab make a visit here worthwhile. You can also spend a couple of nights at Madinat Jumeirah for an authentic Arabian experience. It’s a replica of a traditional Arab village with souqs (markets), palm-ringed canals and romantic villas and hotels.
And in case you cannot afford it for your entire duration of travel (it can get really expensive!), make sure you book Dubai hotels in advance since there is always a certain rush. Planning your travel can also help you save on airfare, with multiple providers like flydubai offering economical prices, which means you don’t have to string out your accommodation, food or shopping!

7. Get off your high horse and dig into street food at 2nd of December Street
Enough with all these expensive indulgences, we say. Sink your teeth into some refreshingly cheap street food with the locals at this lane, earlier known as Al Dhiyafah Road. Here you will find tasty treats from Iran, Lebanon and India. The grilled lamb and couscous salads come highly recommended. For a filling meal, try the seafood at Pars Iranian Kitchen and home-style fare at Ravi Restaurant. As per regulations, these restaurants cannot serve alcohol but a meal here will only put you back by around 1500 rupees.

8. Walk down history lane
And get a dose of art and culture too, while you’re at it. Dubai was once a quiet fishing village and remnants of its serene past can be found at Al Fahidi Historic District and the endearing Basta Art Cafe. At the erstwhile Bastakia Quarter, you can walk through a maze of tiny lanes that are dotted with museums and art galleries. Notable among these are XVA Gallery for contemporary art and Majlis Gallery for Middle-Eastern art. Shop for fabric at the textile souk and then treat yourself to a scenic tour in a water taxi. The Dubai Museum is also worth a visit for history lovers.

9. Play a game of golf
In case you didn’t know, the folks of Dubai are quite crazy about golf. At the golf courses designed by Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els, you might bump into a known face or two. The most famous courses are the Emirates Golf Club which hosts the Dubai Desert Classic tournament and the excellently designed Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. Tiger Woods is also set to launch a stunning golf course this year after an earlier failed attempt.

10. Let your hair down at Pacha Ibiza Dubai
What’s a Dubai trip without a night of revelry? Pacha is the name of everyone’s lips when it comes to nightclubs that stand a foot apart from the rest. And the Dubai chapter is as impressive as the rest, with groovy house music and amazing acrobatic displays. Located at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, the club comes with a Main Room, Red Room and Rooftop spread across three floors. Too expensive, you say? Well, you can afford to splurge a little since your flight tickets came so cheap!

Get other exciting travel articles in your inbox:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta: Accessible luxury

Don’t be too quick to believe people when they say there’s nothing to see in so and so place. True, Kuta is more urbanised than Ubud or Sanur but its beaches are no less spectacular, it’s a good access point for the spectacular Tanah Lot Temple and luxurious Nusa Dua area and best of all, it lets you stay in a four start hotel for the price of a three star. Our stay at Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta, was made most memorable by a lovely dinner at the gourmet lobby restaurant, a sunset soak at the rooftop infinity pool and a couple spa session to soften the ache of a beautiful trip coming to an end.

Our room

A large bed with a thoughtful pair of towel swans, little balcony lined with green fronds and a bathroom with a beautiful patterned wall were some of the salient features of our honeymoon suite at Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta.

Our room
Our room
The balcony
The balcony

The TV even had a couple of Indian/Hindi channels to keep us entertained while we sipped on some coffee. We had some issues with the Wi-Fi and air-conditioning, both of which were quickly and satisfactorily resolved. So you can definitely expect great service at this hotel.

The hotel

The seven-storey Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta sports some stunning architectural touches such as a rooftop infinity pool; a ground-level lagoon-style pool with a long walkway that leads up to a bar, along with rooms on either side; couches backed by arresting paintings, exhibits of Indonesian masks and Buddhist percussion mallets outside some elevators and a spectacular view of the pool and the sky from the railing at each level.

View from the railing
View from the railing

The fitness centre adjoins the pool at the rooftop, which is also where Sandekala, the hotel’s sprawling in-house restaurant is located. The spa is also on the roof-top and tends to be very busy so book your treatments in advance. We enjoyed an hour-long full-body Balinese massage in a functional but comfortable therapy room. If you have children along, they can swim in the kids’ pool beside the rooftop infinity pool.

Children's rooftop pool
Children’s rooftop pool

Dining

The breakfast buffet is served in the enormous and cheerful Sandekala restaurant featuring usual favourites like eggs, fruit, cakes and French toast along with an impressively large array of juices and shakes and a ‘surprise’ counter with a different Asian or western specialty everyday.

Breakfast buffet at Sandekala restaurant, Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta

There’s always one traditional Indonesian sweet on offer as well, such as sticky rice or pumpkin pudding, as well as one Asian/Chinese dish as stir-fried noodles or rice.

Breakfast buffet at Sandekala restaurant, Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta
Salad counter

Dinner at Angsoka, the lobby-level gourmet restaurant was an experience to treasure, as every dish that came to the table awed us with its delicate perfection. The consistency of the pea and leek soup was just right – neither too creamy nor too thin, and it was served with soft and delicious garlic bread soaked in the soup.

Pea and leek soup
Pea and leek soup

This was followed by a platter of vegetarian spring rolls served with lettuce and carrot salad and dips. Finally, we feasted on a classic pizza Margherita.

Pizza margherita
Pizza margherita

The hotel also serves a buffet dinner in a wonderfully luxurious ambience set to soothing lounge music.

Nearby beaches

Kuta, Seminyak and Legian beaches are all close to Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta and form a part of the same gorgeous coastline. We went to Seminyak Beach in the bright light of day and were dazzled by the picture-perfect reflection of the clouds on the shore.

We etched Trail-stained Fingers on the shore
We etched Trail-stained Fingers on the shore

A neat array of lounge chairs sheltered by cute pink umbrellas lined most of the beach. We sent the waves flying, carved our names on the yielding sand with our toes and walked the length of the sun-kissed sea until we could walk no more.

Sea-bashing
Sea-bashing

Nusa Dua is half an hour away and perfect for those who wish to try water sports. We undertook the longer ride (21 km) to Tanah Lot temple instead to enjoy one of the most breath-taking sunsets of our lives.

Practical information

Rooms: Rooms at the hotel start at around 2500 rupees per night. Book them here.

Address: Jl. Sunset Road No.9, Seminyak, Kuta (don’t rely on Google Maps – the marking is inaccurate – ask the locals). The hotel is only 7km away from Bali International Airport.

Tip: Ramada Bali Sunset Road Kuta is a part of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and you could get a free stay there if you join their Rewards Loyalty Programme.

Getting around: Rent a two-wheeler for around 60000 IDR per day or book Bluebird taxis. There is also the Kura-Kura public bus shuttle service with fixed routes.

Liked this post? Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube for more and subscribe for email updates below:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Chasing the sunrise at Bedugul Lake Temple

We had grand plans for our last day in Ubud, Bali. We were to be up hours before the crack of dawn, and ride through the shadowy darkness to make it 46 km north to one of Bali’s most famous and picturesque temples – Pura Ulun Danu Bratan or the Bedugul Lake Temple.

This plan was an impromptu alternative to our initial aim of witnessing the sunrise unfold over the volcanic Mount Batur at Kintamani. We realised that there was a long trek involved to get up to the summit and we’d have to leave in the middle of the night to make it in time for sunrise. And after a day filled with exploring the Sacred Monkey Forest, Goa Gajah Cave Temple and Tegallalang Rice Terraces, we didn’t really find the time to book ourselves on a group tour to Mount Batur. Besides, riding on our own in the wee hours of the morning sounded like a more exciting prospect.

And that was how we ended up rubbing the sleep out of our eyes at 4:30 AM on day six of our Balinese honeymoon.

Maya Ubud to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan

At 5 AM, the darkness was yet to pierced by the first semblance of light. Our route took us through various little roads, involving so many turns that we lost count. It was also surprisingly cold at that time of the morning, a fact we hadn’t accounted for. It was summer after all, with day temperatures hovering at a sunny 28 degree Celsius. But combined with the gusty wind and the light fabric of our summer overalls, we were left yearning for the fluffy jackets in our winter wardrobe back home!

Advice to travellers: Carry a warm jacket for early morning trips, regardless of what time of the year you travel to Bali.

Eventually, we left all the little roads behind and caroused smoothly for a good 26km on Jalan Baturiti Bedugul, with beautiful vistas passing us on either side of the road. It was nearly 6:30 AM now and Mohit was pressing down on the accelerator hard so as not to miss the first rays of dawn. The sun had begun to announce its presence and I was able to feast my eyes on the misty Bedugul mountains in the distance. Other cars and a few bikes/scooters kept us company as we finally made our way to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, the water temple dedicated to Shiva and his consort Parvathi.

Note: Google Maps asked us to ride further ahead but we soon asked a local and turned back. Take a small right when you start nearing the temple, as per the map.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

After confirming with a guard that the temple was indeed open, we entered. There was no entrance fee or the compulsion of a sarong. A handful of tourists were already there, all seemingly mesmerised by the golden brilliance being cast from the high heavens. In silence, we walked around the banks of Lake Bratan, admiring the 11 storey tall Meru tower of the temple and its wobbly reflection on the water.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

The pagoda-like Meru tower is made of wood and always the primary shrine of a Balinese Hindu temple. While Pura Bratan’s Meru tower is dedicated to Shiva and Parvathi, the temple is also used to worship the Balinese water, lake and river goddess Dewi Danu as Lake Bratan is the chief source of irrigation in central Bali.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

It is also possible to go boating on the lake for a price and we did see some colourful canoes lined up on the banks but there didn’t seem to be a boatman available. A lone boat carrying a couple of western tourists slid through the water while the rest of us looked on. After having our fill of watching the sunlight glimmer over the temple, we took a walk, circling the lake as far as we could. There was no one on the other side and we had the view of the mountains and the sky streaked with haloed clouds all to ourselves.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

While the main shrine is on the water, there are many other temples inside the complex, accessed by well-maintained gardens strewn with large animal statues and tall coniferous trees. We walked through the garden, admiring a dolphin and a tiger, lavender fields, a couple of fighting pigeons and an Indonesian woman wearing the local straw hat.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

Presently, we encountered an arresting pair of gates which we presumed to be the main entrance to the temple complex. In all, there are four groups of shrines housed within the complex, dedicated to the Gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Goddess Danu.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

A pair of beautiful snarling dragons awaited us on this side of the lake, surrounded by a cluster of short bamboo trees.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - Bedugul Lake Temple, Bali

Witnessing the sunrise over the mountains on our way to Pura Bratan and then immersing ourselves in the scenic serenity at the lake temple was a deeply spiritual and satisfying experience for us in Bali. After our invigorating walk and exploration of the temple complex, we rode back to Maya Ubud Resort & Spa, thankful for the warmer air and the promise of another destination waiting to be explored before we bid goodbye to Indonesia’s favourite honeymoon destination.

Share on Pinterest:

Bedugul Lake Temple - Trailstainedfingers.cpm

Have you ever had a spiritual experience during your travels? Leave a comment and let us know!

Stay tuned for more stories from our picturesque Bali honeymoon:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.