Saturday, October 31, 2009

River Rendezvous

The sky was steely grey, the earth startling green. Strong gusts of wind swept the verdant slopes. Clouds hurried past, kissing the top of one hill and moving on to another. I savoured the misty taste of sunshine as I clambered up the slope of a hill to reach the River Tern Lodge. Lying in nature’s lap and listening to her endless monologues I spent the next two days soaking in the bliss of serenity. Perched on hillocks overlooking the Bhadra Reservoir, this resort is an ode to nature’s ethereal beauty.
Established in 2005, the River Tern Lodge is among the newer ventures of Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), a Government of Karnataka undertaking. This resort promotes eco-tourism and gets its name from the colonies of river terns that congregate on islands in its vicinity. The Indian River Tern (sterna aurantia) is a slender grey and white bird with a deeply forked tail. Thousands of river terns make these safe sand banks their home during the breeding season which lasts from March through May. The River Bhadra swells during the monsoons and the reservoir is filled to the brim. Many islands are submerged by the copious inflow of water. As the water recedes, the islands peep out and are ready to play host to the birds and their emerging chicks. This is also the breeding season for pratincoles (glareola lactea) which arrive in sizeable numbers.
While the rendezvous with the river terns is an attraction during the summer months, the monsoon is a time to enjoy the rains. Frequent cloud bursts are showers of blessings for the rich flora and fauna of this region. Green is the colour of the season. Blossoms flaunt a sprightly exuberance and butterflies flutter with joy. The rain sweeps the dust away and cools the forest floor. There are striking signs of freshness and prosperous abundance everywhere.
Aesthetic cottages with cozy interiors offer picture perfect vistas of the reservoir, the blanket of hills around it and sunsets over the water. Winding paths lined by a canopy of bamboos lead to the rustic cottages and log huts positioned at different levels. As I walked up the stone laden pathway, I wondered if green could ever be greener. The older cottages are on a peninsula the newer ones on an island. Christened as India and Sri Lanka respectively, these fragments of land are not oceans apart. Separated by a channel of the reservoir’s water, a wooden bridge connects the two. The gentle waves that dance to the melody of the swaying bamboos fill the air with rhythms of romance.
Delicious food is served in the “gol-ghar”, the open-to-sides gazebo. Guests can take their pick at the enticing spread that simmers over the red hot charcoal at “Salt Lick”, the dining area. The steward does a good job in tailoring the menu to suit the season and the climate. Alcohol is served at “Water-Hole”, the bar. Fresh fish from the reservoir transformed into mouth-watering delicacies by the local chef are among the culinary delights on the lunch menu.
The River Tern Lodge offers several activities for the visitors. Kayaks, canoes, wind surfs, water trampoline and pedal boats are available for those who enjoy aquatic adventures. The in-house naturalist accompanies visitors on nature walks in the sprawling 4.5 hectare property. Butterflies are a plenty. The great egg-fly, peacock pansy, chocolate pansy, plain tiger and bird wing butterfly are some that meet the eye frequently. When the water of the reservoir is placid, visitors can go on boat safaris to explore its vastness. Mountain bikes and coracle rides are available on request.
For those who like to venture out of the resort, the Bhadra Dam is just a couple of kilometers away. The panoramic view of the plains from the hills is a sight to behold. The velvety carpet of the paddy fields interspersed with lakes and the flowing Bhadra is a snapshot of the countryside at its very best. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary which is in close proximity to the River Tern Lodge is home to the big cats. Spanning over an area of 492 sq. kms, the sanctuary is the 25th tiger reserve in India and was brought under the “Project Tiger” programme in 1998. Peacocks, spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer and Indian gaur are regular sightings on jungle safaris. The lucky ones would get to spot tigers, leopards, elephants and sloth bears. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary which boasts of over 300 species of birds including the endemic Malabar Trogon and Southern Treepie is a bird watcher’s paradise.
The River Tern Lodge is a far cry from the clutter of urbanization. Nestled in Western Ghats amidst stately hills and a landscape that changes with seasons, it is in harmony with nature. Chikmagalur is known for its coffee plantations and Shimoga for its luxuriant greenery. Located in Lakkavali, bordering the Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka, the River Tern Lodge is a window to the best of both worlds and is an enticing getaway for city dwellers.

Quick Facts:

Location: The River Tern Lodge is located in Lakkavalli in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. Shimoga is the closest town to Lakkavalli.

Getting There:
By road: From Bangalore, drive on NH4 towards Tumkur. Take the Shimoga bypass road at Tumkur and reach Tarikere via Arasikere, Kadur and Birur. Lakkavalli is about 275 Kms from Bangalore and 18 Kms from Tarikere.

By train: Reach Shimoga or Birur by train and take a bus from there to Lakkavalli. Lakkavalli is at a distance of 38 Kms from Shimoga and 45 Kms from Birur. The resort offers pick up facilities on request.

The weather is pleasant all through the year. March to mid May is the best time to see river terns. There is a good chance of sighting animals in the wild during summer. This region receives heavy rainfall between July and September after which the reservoir is full and the surroundings are lush.

Rs 3250/- per person per day. The package includes accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a boat ride and a safari in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. Water sports come at an additional cost.

Other Attractions:
The Jog Falls, Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp and Amrutapura famed for its Narasimha Temple with Hoysala architecture are other tourist attractions in close proximity.

This article was published in The Hindu on the 01st of November 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Bridge Across Times

Gokarna lies at the confluence of the Aghanashini and Gangavalli rivers and is cradled between the Sahyadris and the Arabian Sea. Its timeless temples and beguiling beaches draw a steady stream of devout pilgrims and tourists. While Gokarna's temples transcend eras its beaches are throbbing with life. With rugged trekking trails and great outdoors, the adventurous can embark on exciting paths of discovery in and around Gokarna.
Gokarna’s narrow lanes are dotted with many ancient temples. Pilgrims constantly pour into the Mahabaleshwara Temple and the Maha Ganapathi Temple which are considered supremely sacred. Most temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and hence the festival of Shiv Ratri is celebrated with great fervour. Religious ceremonies and cultural events are organized as a part of the festivities which span nine days.
To the south of Gokarna town are four beaches wedged between rocky cliffs. The sun and the clouds that pepper the sky paint the water with shades of blue varying from turquoise to azure during the day and startling strains of orange at dusk. Om Beach is popular, Kudle Beach is pristine, Half Moon Beach is secluded and Paradise Beach is indeed a paradise. In good weather one can trek all the way from Kudle to Paradise.
Numerous cultures, customs and cuisines strike chords of harmony in this quaint town visited by people from the world over. With exotic resorts and spas for those who wish to be pampered in the lap of luxury to beachside shacks for travelers on a shoe-string budget, Gokarna offers a great fare to suit all pockets.

Famous Four
Being the only beach approachable by a motorable road Om is the epicenter of beach activities and water sports. With unique contours, its shoreline traces the sacred Hindu symbol and hence the name “Om”. The lush flora that thrives between the folds of the hills renders a scenic backdrop to this bewitching beach. It can get crowded on holidays when tourists and locals turn out in sizable numbers to have a splash and dash in the sea. As foreigners frequent Om Beach, the seafront shacks are well equipped to suit their tastes. From internet palours and pool tables to a painted platter with an enticing array of cuisines, these shacks have it all.
A short trek down the hill along a rugged path takes you to Kudle Beach which is often overshadowed by Om. Kudle which is located adjacent to the Gokarna Town Beach is relatively less hampered by human activity. It is an ideal retreat for people looking to getaway into the beauty and bliss of nature. Boats that drift along the shore occasionally, offer thrilling rides for those who like to hop across beaches.
Half Moon and Paradise Beaches can only be reached by foot or boat. These beaches which are not yet swept by the wave of commercialization are clean and cozy. Their splendid natural settings serve as great outdoor camping sites.

Mahabaleshwara Temple
A large number of pilgrims are headed to Gokarna for the "Koti Rudra" programme held at the Mahabaleshwara Temple. ‘Rudra’ is a set of verses in praise of Lord Shiva and it will be recited one crore times during the course of this year. The programme was launched on the 27th of April 2009 on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithiya and is expected to complete on the day of Akshaya Trithiya in the year 2010.
Standing on a pedestal of history dating back to the era of the Ramayana, Gokarna is abuzz with legendary tales. There is an interesting story behind linga at the Mahabaleshwara Temple. The legend has it that Ravana performed severe penance at Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva to obtain the “atma linga” from the Lord. Ravana believed that he could attain the power of the Lord by worshipping the sacred linga. Lord Shiva who was impressed by Ravana's dedication gave him the atma linga stating that it should not be placed on the ground, failing which it would be rooted in the place where it is kept. Sage Narada feared that Ravana the asura (demon) would become invincible if he was empowered with the prowess of Lord Shiva.
The story goes that Narada approached Lord Vishnu to devise a plan to ensure that Ravana does not retain the atma linga. Knowing that Ravana would not fail to perform his evening prayers, Lord Vishnu is said to have positioned his Sudharshana Chakra between the sun and the Earth to create an illusion that it was sunset. It is said that Ravana stopped at Gokarna to perform his daily rituals and Lord Ganesha was sent there in the guise of a young boy. Ravana entrusted the linga with the boy and began his prayers. The boy agreed to hold the linga on the condition that he would leave it on the ground if Ravana failed to appear after he called out thrice if it became too heavy. It is believed that the Gods placed the weight of the three worlds on the linga which became unbearably heavy and the young boy called out to Ravana who was engrossed in his prayers. Since Ravana did not appear even after the repeated calls the boy placed the linga on the ground. It was firmly entrenched and could not be uprooted by Ravana. This is believed to be the origin of the linga at the temple and the story is often narrated with great enthusiasm.

Tadadi Fishing Port
The Tadadi village near Gokarna has a fishing harbour and a fish processing plant which was set up by a team of experts from Denmark. Many fishing communities thrive on the marine life that abounds in the region. While the men bring home the catch, the women slice the fish and marinate it with salt. The hills, the river, the colourful boats and the fish processing activities make a visit to Tadadi interesting if you can tolerate the strong odour.
The Danish team that worked at Tadadi resided in Konkan style cottages built on the slopes of a hill overlooking the valley in Gokarna. These rustic cottages are now converted into a resort. The Om Beach Resort that overlooks the intimidating horizon is a joint venture by Jungle Lodges and Resorts and Kairali Group of resorts.

Quick Facts

Getting There:
Gokarna is at a distance of about 470ms from Bangalore and is well connected by road to Bangalore, Mangalore and Goa. From Gokarna town auto rickshaws can be hired to reach the beaches.
Trains of the Konkan Railway stop at Gokarna Road. Gokarna can be reached by train from Mangalore and Goa.
Dabolim in Goa is the nearest airport.

Season: The best time to visit Gokarna is between October and March.

Namaste Café is the most popular setup on Om Beach. Hotel Gokarna International on Kudle Beach has sea-facing rooms. A hotel with the same name in Gokarna Town is in the vicinity of the Mahabaleshwara Temple. The Om Beach Resort has beautiful cottages and an Ayurvedic spa. Beach shacks provide accommodation at rates as low as Rs100/- per.

According to the locals there are many wild peacocks in the hills of Gokarna. If you are on a trek in Gokarna look out for peacocks and peahens.
Sunscreen lotion, caps, torches and umbrellas will be useful.

This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 11th of October 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Stamps, An Ocean of Knowledge

India Post is celebrating the "National Postal Week" from the 9th of October 2009 to the 15th of October 2009.

The postal department delivers messages bundled in paper across social, physical and geographical barriers. Postage stamps are an integral part of this titanic network that connects people who are miles apart. Philately, the collecting and study of stamps, is a hobby that transcends time. It has evolved as an enjoyable, educative and engaging hobby. Dr R. Sango Ram, a retired professor of Chemistry and an avid philatelist says, “Stamps are mini-ambassadors of a country in a foreign land. They depict different facets of the country like its leaders, language, geography, history, scientific advancements, art, culture and heritage”.
The most common type of stamp collection is general collection which is an assorted collection of postage stamps. A specialized collection could be country collection or a topical or thematic collection which is typically inspired by a field of interest that could be related to sports, a favourite subject or an area of work. “Nobel laureates”, “the solar system”, “man on the moon” and “Comet Halley” are some of Dr Sango Ram’s thematic collections and he believes that, “Thematic collections are the best way for beginners to acquire knowledge and inculcate interest in philately”.
Definitive stamps and commemorative stamps are the two types of postage stamps. Definitive stamps which are printed in large numbers are used for postal mailing and are available to the public for prolonged periods. Definitive stamps of various denominations usually depict iconic leaders of the country. Commemorative stamps are less common and are released to commemorate an event, mark an anniversary, honour a famous person, recognize the importance of a place or showcase rare flora and fauna. Each commemorative stamp is printed only once in a limited quantity and can be procured at designated post offices until stocks last.
Apart from stamps first day issues like first day covers, information brochures, miniature sheets and sheetlets compliment one’s stamp collection. A first-day cover is a special envelope released when a new postage stamp is issued. Miniature sheets, sheetlets and souvenir sheets are small sheets containing one or more stamps along with special designs. Information brochures carry details of newly released stamps and the reasons for their issue. Occasional releases like maxim cards and special covers which are available for a limited period after the release are a collector’s delight. Maxim cards are special postcards which portray images that were printed on commemorative stamps. Special covers are released to mark occasions or events of local importance.
While some collectors prefer to collect mint stamps others prefer used stamps. Mint stamps are fresh stamps that have not been used for postage. Used stamps are those which have either been used for postage or have been cancelled on request by the collector. Cancellation is the process of postmarking postal stationary like mint stamps, first day covers and postcards.
The India Post is constantly enhancing its portfolio of postage stamps by adding new stamps with novel designs, unique shapes and vibrant shades. By subscribing to the philatelic services offered by India Post, these exquisite releases can be a philatelist’s prized possession. In 2006, India Post released its first fragrant stamp. In an elaborate three step process, the stamps were printed, rolled into cylinders with a special imported sandalwood based ink and dried. During the process of drying microcapsules which hold the fragrance of sandalwood were embedded in the stamp. The romantic scents of roses were impregnated in a special Valentine’s Day release in 2007. The year 2008 saw the release of the first set of calendar stamps by India Post with a collection titled “Festivals of India”. Calendar stamps are theme based stamps which will be released every month till the end of 2009 according to the current schedule. India Post is working with Hallmark India to bring out a collection of 25 all-time best Indian stamps in silver and gold.
Stamps are miniature art collectibles which can be instrumental in expanding frontiers of knowledge. Philately is often described as “the king of hobbies and hobby of kings” and is pursued by people at different strata of society. Through philately one can take a deep dive to explore many hidden secrets in the ocean of knowledge.

Philatelic Deposit Accounts
India Post provides a service by which newly released postage stamps are delivered to subscribers by Registered Post at no extra cost. Stamp collectors can subscribe to the latest philatelic releases by opening a Philatelic Deposit Account (PDA) with an initial deposit of at least Rs 200/-. Until recently, the Philatelic Bureau of the General Post Office (GPO) was handling all the Philatelic Deposit Accounts. Now, this function has been de-centralized and subscribers can open Philatelic Deposit Accounts at head post offices that cater to customers from localities in their respective jurisdictions.

Quick Facts:

Philatelic Deposit Accounts:
Residents of Bangalore can open Philatelic Deposit Accounts at the GPO and post offices at Basavanagudi, Jalahalli, Jayanagar, Rajajinagar, RT Nagar and HAL II Stage.

Philatelic Museum:

The Bangalore GPO has a philatelic museum which showcases stamps released from 1947 to 2008. The museum will be opened on request on all working days between 10am and 5pm.

Phila Post:
Priced at a nominal rate of Rs 10/- per issue and Rs 40/- for an annual subscription, this quarterly philatelic magazine is available at designated post offices.