A photo blog and Supporting information guide for Yatris preparing to travel to #KailashMansarovar organized by Ministry of External Affairs, India

A photo blog and Supporting information guide for Yatris preparing to travel to #KailashMansarovar organized by Ministry of External Affairs, India

From June 11th of 2017 till September 2017, 1430 lucky yatris will be able to accomplish a cherished goal – One of successfully completing the Holy Kailash and Mansarovar Yatra. The Yatra, excellently organized by our Ministry of External Affairs with support from Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, ITBP, Sashastra Seema Bal and the Chinese authorities is a massive exercise in logistics, co-ordination and participation. The Yatris can do their bit by preparing well, staying fit and extending their co-operation to the organizers and fellow yatris. I have been part of Batch 5 of the Yatra during 2015. This photo blog captures my preparatory experience with supporting visuals wherever possible. I see this as my way of paying back to the Holy feet of the lord himself. Om Namah Shivayah!

BAGS – The bags are carried throughout the yatra with the help of mules. It is better to stick to a maximum of 10 – 12 kgs. Select a light weight duffel bag which is water resistant and a good duffel bag. Check out the choices available here for duffel bags and day packs. At the Gujarat sadan, the organizers provide you with a plastic/fertilizer bag to seal the bag. Add your identifier like a satin tape with name and batch number. This is useful when luggage is picked up and handed over at the lipulekh pass. Keep one empty small bag which can be left at Gunji with clothes you may not need. REMEMBER – As you climb altitude, shed your bag weight and get lighter.

Bags and packing for Kailash
Starting Top Left Clockwise 1- A Tarpaulin material water resistant duffel bag which gets transported throughout the Yatra. Use Plastic covers to line the insides and pack your stuff. Should be around 10 to 12 Kg maximum. A Day pack – for carrying on self or with the porter containing a change of clothes, medicines and thermals. A smaller bag which can store used items that can be either left at Dharchula or Gunji and collected upon return 2. Day pack by Quechua – Forclaz 30 Air 3. Tatonka – Medium size Duffel Bag 4. Waist pouch with Passport and Cash – always on self 5. Packing at the Gujarat sadan Using fertilizer grade water resistant bags, ropes and identifiers like satin tapes and yatri name and registration number on the bags.

MEDICAL KIT – The following 9 items are more than sufficient for your entire Yatra. This is apart from any other medication that your physician has advised. Listen to the advise of doctors at Batra Hospital in Delhi, ITBP hospitals in Delhi and Gunji. If you have to take a Pony + Porter both on the Indian side and Chinese side, take them. You will need them when your legs tire. It also helps to stabilize your breathing and settle your blood pressure. If you feel the need for an oxygen can, you can find one at Taklakot in their markets. For Altitude sickness – TR Coca 200 Drachms / Coca 6x can be purchased from any homeo clinic in your home town or in Delhi. Follow the schedule as advised and it should keep you in good shape till you start the descent back.

Essentials in the bag
From Top Left – Band Aid Strips, Paracetamol Tablet, Anti Allergic Tablet, Vaseline lip balm to avoid chaffed lips – to be kept in pant pocket, SPF 30+ cream on face, hands and exposed parts – to be used from day 2 regularly till return, Vaseline petroleum jelly – rub in nostrils before sleeping for easy breathing, Neosporin powder for any wounds before bandaging, Candid anti fungal and bacterial powder – dust in to socks before slipping on shoes. Muscle relaxing cream for any sprains

HYDRATION – Important to stay hydrated throughout the trip. Often long walks can leave you short of salts. Keep sipping water every 30 minutes and consume ORS/Electral if you feel drained of energy. Ask your porter/pony handler to fill up water from the streams on the indian side and experience the goodness of nature. Nothing can beat the taste of a natural spring.

Water bottle, ORS and Electral
A water bottle of maximum of one liter that can fit in to the sides of your day pack, a packet of ORS or Electral to support your water requirements and salt replenishment. If water is exhausted, ask your pony handler or porter to fill it from the nearest stream. It is absolutely safe. Please consume water every 30 to 45 minutes and an average of 3.5 to 4 liters per day. Don’t stop drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty.

OTHER SNACKS – Make small sized packets of dry fruits and sugar candies. They are excellent for snacking during long walks in the sun. Keep some in your day pack and some in your trouser pockets.

Dry fruits and sugary sweets
Make small packets of dry fruits – Walnuts, Almonds, Dried Grapes, Dried Figs and sugar sweets to keep you fit when you walk long distances – on an average of 15 – 20 kms per day. Keep them in your day pack or in the pockets of your trousers

CLOTHING DURING INDIAN SIDE TREKS  – On the Indian side treks begin at 5 – 530 AM and yatris reach their guest houses post lunch around 2 / 3 PM. It is usually sunny and one sweats extensively during such treks. Stick to simple cotton t-shirts (around 6 should be enough) and a water resistant trouser; Two such trousers are sufficient for the entire trip. Rain coats are fine but keep it only for the upper part. Advisable to keep two pairs of strong shoes. One for a lower altitude and one for higher altitudes.

Clothing for the Yatra on the indian stretch
When walking on the indian side from Dharchula to Gunji via Sirkha, Gala and Budhi it will be quite sunny. Use a cotton T-Shirt, wear a water resistant trouser (no jeans) and wear shoes which give you enough grip. Use cotton socks in this stretch. If it rains, carry a rain coat (2 pieces). You can leave them in Gunji in a spare bag if you feel you don’t need it. The trouser, usually has multiple pockets to store instant snacks, ORS and medicines if required

CLOTHING DURING HIGHER ALTITUDE TREKS  – Starting from Gunji after an extra night of acclimatization, treks are always on a higher altitude. During this period it is wise to switch to full hand t-shirts with trousers, liberal application of sunscreen, sun goggles and full UV protection caps. One may also use Quick drying T-shirts during this stretch. They can be purchased from here

Full T shirt and Trouser
When walking at higher altitudes starting from Gunji up to chinese side and return, use a full length, quick dry t-shirt and a water resistant trouser. The full hand t-shirt will keep you safe from UV rays. For high altitudes and snow, use a stronger shoe which is water resistant as you may have to cross streams, walk in ankle/knee deep snow.

CLOTHING DURING THE PARIKRAMA – Clothing during the parikrama needs care and attention to avoid exposure to the wind. Starting from the crossing at Lipulekh to Dolma, exposure to winds is going to be high. During these times, it is important to have three layers of clothing as given below – T-shirt, Fleece Jacket and a wind + water proof jacket. Apart from these, important to have the right protection to cover your face to avoid chafed lips. Useful to have anti-frostbite socks if possible else woolen socks too will suffice.

Yatra Clothing
Starting from Navidhang where yatris depart at 3 AM, right up to completion of the Yatra, it is advisable to wear 3 layers. Inner layer is a T-Shirt, On top of the T-Shirt, you can consider wearing a warm fleece jacket and finally a Wind, snow and water proof jacket. The final jacket should completely cover your neck and should have a hoodie provision. Trousers can be the same water resistant one. Use either a woolen socks or a

FOOTWEAR – Important to carry two pieces of robust footwear. Break in to them atleast a month before the Yatra and feel comfortable walking in them. Go for shoes with Ankle support. You can review the models for lower altitudes and higher altitudes. Gaiters are extremely useful to avoid any leeches or insects getting in to your legs, stones and even snow. Hiking poles are an absolute must especially while crossing streams and checking for depth of snow. Buy one which can be adjusted for height.

Footwear and walking
On the left is a low altitude trekking boots usually used up to 10,000 – 12,000 feet. On top of the green shoes are Gaitors which are used when walking on slush or Snow to avoid leeches and snow seeping in to shoes. On the right are shoes with heavier tread and increased water resistance useful when walking in higher altitudes. Use the extensible hiking poles (green and red) while walking. Use only one pole during hiking.

HEAD GEAR – Extremely important considering the UV exposure, sun rays, winds and reflection of sunlight from the snow. Avoid any temporary blindness that could come out of reflected light by having a wrap around goggles always accessible.

Head and Hand gear during walking
Cap with UV protection, Wollen beanies to wear, Microfibre to protect against harsh winds especially at higher altitudes in Lipulekh pass and Dolma La. Complete eye protection from UV rays and sunlight reflecting from snow. One has to make sure that the eye wear can be worn with a neck band and hung on the neck. Leather gloves during high altitude and windy terrain are more effective in keeping one warm

GUEST HOUSE / YATRI NIVAS WEAR – During overnight stops at Yatri Nivas’, it is important to be appropriately clothed and also stay protected as the overnight temperatures dip to single digits on the Indian side and sub-zero on the chinese side.

Guest house resting wear
On the left – Simple wear when in the guest house. A cotton track pants, Cotton t-shirt and a shell jacket and/or Wind protection jacket. On the right – Quick dry underwear. Having 4 or 5 of them can help you through the Yatra without any pressure of having to wash them and waiting for them to dry.

THERMALS – Thermals have a very important function at high altitudes and at low temperatures. It is important to understand the function of Thermals and use them appropriately. Recommended to go for one pair of Cotton thermals and one pair of synthetic thermals. Use is described in the image below.

About Thermals
Thermals – When to wear them and How to use them. On the left are Cotton thermals and on the right are polyester mixed thermals. On the indian side and up to 10,000 – 12,000 feet, cotton thermals can be worn during night before going to bed. Wear only thermals when going to bed as it can keep you very warm. No other layer on top of it. During Yatra and at higher altitudes wear the other thermals. If during the yatra you feel the need for a thermal pant during walking, wear one and then put on a water resistant trouser on top. Simple rule – At night, only thermals will suffice. During walking, it is optional.

This Yatra is led by extremely competent liaison officers who are well oriented, well equipped and one who has a direct line with the ministry regarding the status and well being of the yatris. Our only job is to listen to the instructions regarding safety & comfort given by the officers along with ITBP & SSB officers and KMVN guides. This guide follows the official document provided by the Ministry; Any other items required over and above the official list is as per the discretion of the yatri.

Wishing you all a successful Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2017

A Rejuvenated Amritsar Part 1- The Partition Museum

A Rejuvenated Amritsar Part 1-                      The Partition Museum

Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple as it is known worldwide, The Akal Takht, Jallianwala Bagh and Attari – Wagah border are the regular attractions in a 1N2D itinerary of Amritsar. Now, all that is set to change and a rejuvenated Amritsar is inviting you to stay a little longer and explore.

Amritsar is part of the Indian state of Punjab and just before the local government elections held in December 2016, the state authorities threw open the Heritage Street, starting from The Town Hall up to The Golden Temple. Though it didn’t prove to be sufficient for the incumbent party to return to power, the Heritage street has enough in it to bring in more tourists as it has breathed a new life to this stretch, which i last heard was chaotic and disorganized.

The Town Hall is a 140 year old Heritage Building and until recently housed the local civic body. One if its newest residents is “The Partition Museum”, set up by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust , a not for Profit NGO.

Town Hall entrance and Partition Museum entrance
The 140 Year old Town Hall of Amritsar and the Partition museum located within its precincts

Seventy years have passed since the traumatic events of partition that lead to the birth of two nations; but until “The Partition Museum” was conceived, there was no memorial, no designated space and no commemoration of any kind to document the migration that led to the creation of the two countries of India and Pakistan.

The Partition museum is dedicated to victims of the event, its survivors and, lasting legacy. Apart from original Newspaper clippings, the museum has reproduced moving images by Margaret Bourke White, the legendary photographer and documentary film maker of LIFE magazine. Bourke white went about her assignment in an unfazed manner, unmindful of the chaos of a newly divided subcontinent. The images are part of her work, Halfway to Freedom.

Margaret Bourke white, a Life Photographer in a White spree and Lee Etington, edit reporter
LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White (L) w. LIFE edit reporter Lee Eitingon, posing in beautiful Hindu saris. Courtesy of TIME archive and Getty Images

April 5th 1947 was Lord Mountbatten’s last ditch attempt to persuade Mohammed Ali Jinnah for a united India, citing the difficulty of dividing the mixed states of Punjab and Bengal, but the Muslim leader was unyielding in his goal of establsihing a separate Muslim State. With the British Government having granted in principal approval to grant independence quickly, things moved quickly leading to August 14/15, 1947.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a talented barrister who had no knowledge of India and had never been to India before, was tasked to head the Boundary commissions of Punjab and Bengal, which would draw the line across these provinces along religious lines. In two months, little must he have imagined that this drawing of borders would lead to Twenty million people migrating to a new homeland in one of the greatest and most painful upheavals of contemporary History.

Lord Mountbatten and Sir cyril Radcliffe
Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India and Sir Cyril Radcliffe a Barrister at Law. The architects of India’s partition

The Partition Museum captures these gripping and unfortunate moments in a section with the aid of newspaper clippings and a recounting in chaste Punjabi by Kuldip Nayar of his interview with Cyril Radcliffe in the year 1971. Radcliffe is believed to have told that Pakistan is lucky to have got Lahore; Pakistan was understood to have been upset over losing Gurdaspur.

Also reproduced is the poem by WH Auden titled “Partition” which sums up Cyril Radcliffe’s pressures and state of mind.

Generous patrons have donated preserved letters that were exchanged with their friends and loved ones after the borders were drawn up, letters to authorities on either side enquiring about their properties and holdings and many more gut wrenching communication. Amritsar and Lahore are just 30 kilometers away but for those torn by the events, the line in-between must have made it feel like a few light years away.

The museum is adding more sections by the day and in 12 – 18 months time hopes to complete them and add a wealth of information to one of India’s darkest chapters of History.

The Partition museum is also creating a digital platform by documenting oral histories of partition survivors and their families.

Spend a good 3 hours in the museum and expose yourself to this bit of history which changed the fortunes of this sub-continent.

Getting to Amritsar – Amritsar is served by an International airport that has direct flight connections from New Delhi and Mumbai. Currently Air India, Indigo, Jet Airways, Spicejet and Vistara service Amritsar. Plenty of trains ply between New Delhi and Amritsar and it takes between 6 to 7 hours for the 465 kilometer journey. One can even drive on the NH 44 in order to reach Amritsar.

Where to Stay – Amritsar is home to International chains like Westin, Holiday Inn etc., and Indian chain hotels like Taj whose newest property Taj Swarna has kicked off its operations. Finding a hotel to suit your budget is never a problem. Offbeat Farm stays have also picked up and give you an even more authentic experience.

Margaret Bourke White and Lee Eitington Image Courtesy – Time Magazine Archives/Getty Images

Facts concerning the Partition Courtesy – The Partition Museum

Continue reading “A Rejuvenated Amritsar Part 1- The Partition Museum”

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 2

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 2

After a road trip across Rajasthan, my daughter Rashmi takes another shot at blogging. This time she talks about a trip in to Chettinad in the state of Tamilnadu. This road trip, beginning from chennai is spread over 2 Nights and 3 Days. The route traverses through Chengalpattu, Tindivanam, Villupuram and Trichy over a duration of 7 hours. There are a number of clean and hygenic breakfast & lunch joints with toilet facilities on the highway. Hiring a comfortable SUV with an experienced driver-guide is important. The highways are wide and multi-laned with short stretches which may turn narrow. Experienced driver-guides maintain a steady speed with safety as a top priority. Part 1 of this blog explored the journey from Chennai to Kanadukathan, explorations within Visalam and its Gastronomic delights. In the second and concluding part, she explores the rich sights and sounds of Chettinad replete with audio visuals. Here she goes….

Good Morning! What better than going for a swim to kick start your day. I got up by 7a.m, went for a nice swim, had some simple yet delicious breakfast, and gave a kick-start to my day!

As soon as we finished our breakfast, we headed towards the reception, where we would meet our guide, who would take us in and around Karaikudi. Infact, the hotel itself provided us with a guide, who is a member if their staff. So basically, the guide wasn’t outsourced from some other hotel or company.

We started off our sightseeing by visiting the RAJAS’S PALACE- A huge, traditional Chettinad Mansion in Kanadukathan district. We got a glimpse of that mansion from it’s exteriors itself as we didn’t want to spend too much of time on the history of that place because we had many other interesting things to see and know about. The mansion had beautiful exteriors. It had been recently painted and beautified. There were these splendid carvings on the walls of the mansion of Gods and Goddesses, which added more glitter to the beauty of the mansion. Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy in their blog write, “The massive residence belonged to Chettinad’s most famous luminary Dr. S.Rm.M. Annamalai Chettiar, founder of the Indian Bank and Annamalai University. For his philanthropic efforts, he was made Diwan Bahadur, conferred with knighthood and given the hereditary title of Rajah of Chettinad by the King of England in 1929”.

The Raja's Palace front view
The Raja’s Palace in KanaduKathan, Chettinad

Next, we headed towards our guide’s house. The guide was pretty eager to show us his family’s house, so that we could get an idea of Chettinad architecture. It comprised of vintage Athangudi tiles, High Roofs, Vintage Clocks on the wall and, pillars connecting the ground of the house to the roof, and an open courtyard in the center , known as the “Mittam”, which is usally used for weddings and other family ceremonies.

A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or "Thoons", Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors
A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or “Thoons”, Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors

Once we thoroughly looked around the house and the guide, with complete interest, finished explaining the history to us, we headed towards a #Handloom and weaving centre where we we saw Cotton #sarees being made by manually made machines, with dyes and threads of various colours.

The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials like colored threads, Hand weaving instruments like Charkha and loom and finished products
The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials, Hand weaving instruments and finished products

We were told that it takes about one and a half to two days to complete one spree. Watch the accompanying video where the Weaver begins the process of weaving his magic

The process is quite long and tedious as it involves the shifting of threads, placement of the lever and other equipment, in order to get the right pattern on the spree. Watch in Part 2, the handloom process.

These sarees are sold to various cities in western India and North India, where there is a hughe crowd for all of these handmade stuff.

The next and most exciting place, which was the place where #Athangudi tiles are made.The preparation of Athangudi tiles is something that makes Chettinad famous.

Athangudi tile making workshop, Mud, coloring process, tile making and finished product
The Making of #Athangudi Tiles

Athangudi tiles are prepared in a unique process in which local soil, along with cement, baby jelly and synthetic oxides are used. The main colors that you shall find on these tiles are black, white, red, yellow, olive green and deep orange.

The tiles are cast from the locally available clay that is first burnt and then glazed. These tiles are special because they are sun-baked, which takes about a few days. But the whole process of getting the design on the tile and moulding it takes only about 3-5 minutes.

These tiles are used for flooring, wall cladding- in both interiors and exteriors. We were very happy to see the entire process of making a single Athangudi tile- from colour mixing to shaping and putting the glass. These tiles are exported to various countries, from where officials come and place orders.

Once we left from the Athangudi tile-making site, we headed toward a place where we got the real “sweetness” of Chettinad. We headed towards a house, where there was an “All Ladies” group preparing traditional Chettinad Sweets. such as “Adhirsam”, “Thenguzhal Murukku”, “Mahizhampoo Murukku”,”Mullu Murukku” and “Seepu Seedai”.

Women working the Bakshanam in a hot cauldron of coconut oil, finished Bakshanam
Ladies Self Help group in the business of making #Bakshanam. Time to sample Adhirsam, Thenguzhal, Mullu Murukku and Seepu Seedai

Made entirely of Rice Flour and using coconut oil, these snacks are prepared fresh everyday and are completely sold out by close.

Many of these groups also supply to stores across Tamilnadu where there is demand throughout the year. The best among all of them was the “Adhirsam”. I considered it as the ultimate sweet due to it’s taste, texture and flavor which included jaggrey, and coconut oil as well. So its pretty obvious that we can’t leave Chettinad whithout buying packets of these delicacies prepared by the lovely hand of these women, who do it passionately and carry on the family business with tons of confidence and courage.

Once we bought everything, we headed towards a vegetarian restaurant, where we quickly packed some lunch , which we would have once we headed back to the hotel. In between, we made a stop at a Saree Shop where we found a variety of cotton sarees, from simple and elegant to glittery and attractive. Since we all were starving, we quickly drove back to the hotel and reached by 2p.m and had some good lunch that we had packed on the way, and had a nap. The evening was quite free as we had completed most of the sightseeing during the day. So we decided that we would chill by the lawn in the evening, with a cup of tea and some of the snacks that we had bought earlier in the day. We didn’t really step out anywhere in the evening and had a light and simple dinner.

Phew! That was a long day… Good Night!

Getting there: Chennai is connected to all major cities across India and the world. From Chennai, chettinad is a 7 hour drive.

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 1

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 1

After a road trip across Rajasthan, my daughter Rashmi takes another shot at blogging. This time she talks about a trip in to Chettinad in the state of Tamilnadu. This road trip, beginning from chennai is spread over 2 Nights and 3 Days. The route traverses through Chengalpattu, Tindivanam, Villupuram and Trichy over a duration of 7 hours. There are a number of clean and hygenic breakfast & lunch joints with toilet facilities on the highway. Hiring a comfortable SUV with an experienced driver-guide is important. The highways are wide and multi-laned with short stretches which may turn narrow. Experienced driver-guides maintain a steady speed with safety as a top priority. Here she goes….

Chettinad, the unexplored part of South India and Tamil Nadu. It is a place which contains the real essence of Tamil Nadu, where one shall discover the glory and heritage of ancient mansions built decades ago and opens us up to understand south Indian culture and their business instincts.

I recently went on a Short holiday to Chettinad in the month of December along with my family, and if you ask why chettinad, it’s because we all our bored of doing the same old Tirupati, Navagraha temples, Madurai, Kodaikanal and etc…So for a change, we decided to explore an unexplored part of Tamil Nadu which is Chettinad.

Chettinad itself feels like a small state like Goa, which is surrounded by serenity, nature, beauty and warmth. We drove down from Chennai to Kanadukathan, which is a district in the Chettinad region itself. It took us about 6 hours non-stop to reach Kanadukathan, where we stayed in a heritage property known as Visalam, which is managed by CGH Earth Group of hotels, which has over 10 properties across India, mainly in Southern India. So we decided to stay there for 2 nights and 3 days and personally I feel that even after spending 2 days in such a small region, I never felt like leaving Chettinad because anyone who ever comes here, gets settled in the homely atmosphere of Chettinad.

So as soon as we entered the district of Kandukathan, we immediately drove to our resort Visalam, where we were given a very warm welcome by the staff, who welcomed us in the traditional south Indian way along with refreshments and bangles for the ladies and angavastra- which is a part of the traditional south Indian costume for men worn like a dupatta.

Visalam by CGH earth
The CGH Earth property – Visalam at Kanadukathan in Chettinad

Sanjeev Sanyal in his recent best seller, The Ocean of Churn – How the Indian ocean shaped Human History, pays glowing tribute to the chettiar business community of Kanadukathan. He writes, “Tamil chettiar merchants and moneylenders spread across South East Asia. In Malaya the lent to Chinese Tin miners and European platers, and in Burma they supplied credit to farmers. They operated through a system of guild-like firms and agencies, usually run by members of the extended family. One of the largest of these firms, established by Muthiah Chetty in the early 1900s was headquartered in Kanadukathan in chettinad”. It was wonderful to visit a part of history and learn of how well regulated Non Banking Financial Organizations were. He also mentions the role temples played in re-capitalizing some of these businessmen who lent to businesses.

Visalam who lends her name to the property, the courtyard and the sitout
The Courtyard or Miththam within Visalam. Spacious and an airy seating area.

As soon as we checked in, we were given 2 cosy and extremely spacious rooms for the 4 of us and we spent the rest of the afternoon by ordering some simple lunch and taking rest. Next in the evening, when we all got freshened up and had some tea-coffee along with snacks, we got dressed for some photography and a visit to the Pillayar Patti Temple, which was about 15 minutes away from our resort. The temple is dedicated to Karpaka Vinayakar (Elephant headed god, Son of Lord Shiva). It is considered as a very holy temple where hundred’s of people come every day to get the blessings of the lord, who is said to be very powerful. In this huge cave temple, there are rock cut images of Lord Shiva and many other Gods and Shrines as well. As soon as we got a beautiful darshan of the Lord, we headed back to our hotel as it was quite dark and there was nothing much to see after sunset. We headed back to our hotel and went around the property, clicking photographs and discovering chettinad heritage- the glorious mansion, Athangudi tiles on the floor and Traditional vessels for cooking and serving.

Kitchen wares - cooking and serving, Radio and a water boiler
Clockwise from Top left – Porcelain pickle Jars, an antique and working Radio, Water boiler, Brass serving vessels, Brass cups and cutlery and brass storage vessels for water and other kitchen ingredients

We were also told about the history of visalam.

It was originally built by K.V.A.L.M Ramnathan Chettiar for his loving daughter Vishala. Except for occasional family weddings, the mansion was rarely used. CGH earth while renovating have spared Visalam from the stress of renovation and have just breathed a fresh lease of life in to it with restoration. Using original materials like Burmese Teak wood, the new managers have retained the original charm while making rooms, polishing the marble floor and putting up exquisite woodwork.

Next, we had a delicious and traditional south-Indian Dinner, which was served on a banana leaf. It was a complete meal with starters, a main course and of course, a desert too, which were all completely prepared in a south Indian way!

Masala Seeyam, Sweet Pongal, Vellai paniyaram
Starters Left – Vellai Paniyaram OR Deep fried Rice Pancakes with Danker, a Dip of Tomatoes, onions and Tamarind Right – Sweet Pongal made from Rice and Jaggery with Masala Seeyam, a deep friend lentil and rice dumpling with Coconut chutney
Main course - rice string hoppers, idlies, Dosa with a variety of sides
Clockwise from Top Left – Idiyappam with a Curry, Idlies with a Mix Vegetable Curry, Idlies with Sambhar and Dosa with a Brinjal Curry

Dessert and warm milk to end the day
For Dessert – Masala Milk and Kavani Rice, a purple sticky rice pudding, a product of south asian influence

After that, we headed back to our rooms for a sound sleep that we needed, to begin a fresh new day!

Getting there: Chennai is connected to all major cities across India and the world. From Chennai, chettinad is a 7 hour drive.

More in Part 2

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 3

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 3

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. We spoke about health requirements and transit points in Part 1 and about the people and their lives in Part 2 . In this concluding part, we discuss about unique and easy eats, how the local people move around and about entry and exit points in to Masai  Mara and Serengeti.

Food – The local choices and No Fuss eating experiences

Cafes, restaurants in Malls cater to palates of all kinds. The Artcaffe coffee & Bakery is a must stop at all times of the day especially for their soups, breads, pastries and of course coffee. Ask your driver guide to take you to at least one of their outlets during your stay.

Soup, Falafel, Pasta and Cake n Coffee
Artcaffe in Nairobi for a light lunch and great coffee – Soups, Falafels, Fresh Pasta and great Salted Caramel cake with an Americano

Restaurants attached to lodges serve set meals/packed lunches during your game drives. For a vegetarian packed lunch ask for stir fried veggies with Rice OR Sandwiches along with a fruit and drink.

Sandwich, Rice and stir fried veggies, fruit and a drink
Packed lunch during a game drive – Sandwich, Stir fried veggies with Rice, Fruit and a drink

Apart from great tasting local coffees across Kenya and Tanzania, do try the Bitter lemon soda – Kale and a Schweppes Pineapple soda – Nannasi. Extremely refreshing on a hot day.

A bottle of Krest Bitter lemon and a bottle of Schweppes pineapple drink
Kale Bitter Lemon and Schweppes Pineapple drink

Make sure you buy some bananas (East African Highland Bananas) as it is the cheapest source of nutrition around and extremely filling during the long drives. If you dare to venture, try out the porridges on offer at some of the stops enroute. Of course, take help from your driver – guide.

Ragi porridge with BrownSugar and a Kidney Bean salad with Vegetables
Porridge with Sugar and a hearty Bean + Salad breakfast

Morning breakfast is incomplete without a steamed tuber/vegetable like potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, arrowroot or Pumpkins. The starch fills you up plus loads you up with essential minerals. The corn based dishes like Ukale along with a spinach stir fry will make you go for a second helping and make sure you have them hot. Eggs, the perennial favorite are cooked everywhere per your choice.

Omelette preparation and a finished omelette
Eggs – Everywhere and in all forms. Readies you before your arduous game drive

The lodges experiment with vegetarian variations of African dishes like the Moroccan Tagine for example which has a mix of spices, chickpeas and vegetables. With so much of indian influence, rare to not have an indian dish in the set menu for dinner at the lodges. Some of the lodges have a live meat counter much like the beloved weekend favorite NyomaChoma (Grilled Meat) available across the region.

Highlight – A few tented camps like like Kichwa Tembo offer a wake up call with Coffee, Tea and Hot Chocolate served via a pantry window at the time of your choice.

French Press, Flasks of Milk, Hot Chocolate and cookies
Wakeup Service at Kichwa Tembo – Fresh French Press, Hot Chocolate and cookies

Using services / Take Help offered

The local guide, hotel bell boys insist on taking your luggage and servicing you right from the moment you land. They insist that it is disrespectful to allow the guest to carry his/her own luggage. A decent tip atleast 100 Kenyan Shilling ( 1 USD) / 2000 Tanzanian Shilling (1 USD). For all local driver guide services, please do consult your travel partner on Tipping etiquettes, plus consider your safari experience before tipping. For all lodge services, either use the common gratuity box or tip in person. For Indian travelers it is advisable to carry USD from their point of origin for better rates at the exchange point. INR almost always fetches Kenyan shilling on parity basis.

How people Travel in the region

You must be in your 4*4 watching the traffic and wild life outside.

Matatus in Kenya and DalaDala’s in Tanzania are mini bus based transportation systems that can transport about 25 people in a vehicle. Respectable and easily accessible, they are by far the most reliable form of transportation around for those without private transport. There are about 400 Matatu Saccos registered for operation in Kenya. Saccos are cooperatives or companies for ease of management and enforcement of discipline. It is wonderful to see such a self- organised system in this fast developing region. This has brought in a lot of sanity to public transport, the locals say.

Matatus mini bus in Kenya
Matatus & DalaDala’s are the most organized form of transport across Kenya and Tanzania. Many have declared support for Football teams

It was mandatory for all those seeking a Transport Licensing Board (TLB) certification to be members of a Matatu Saccos in Kenya or belong to a company. About 1,000 matatu Saccos and 400 companies have been registered. Matatu operators, who constitute 80 per cent of the public transport system, are estimated to have an annual turnover of Kshs73 billion. To its credit, the Matatu sector buys Kshs 4 billion insurance premiums every year and remits Kshs 1 billion taxes annually. The Matatu Saccos have played a significant role in the growth of public transport and some have now become respected brands in the sector.

The Saccos proved to be the most viable way to manage large public transport fleets. They have also been pioneers in changing the image of public transport, which was dominated by rogue drivers and touts without regard for traffic rules.

Bike Taxis or ‘Boda Boda’ is another popular yet a risky mode of transport across cities and towns of East Africa; You can see more of them in Kenya. Targeted typically at the bottom of the pyramid, the bike taxis transport people and goods at affordable prices. Some of these bikes are chinese made and have to handle poor potholed roads. There is talk of a new type of bike called ‘Kibo’ designed specifically to tackle the poor roads across Kenya.

The roads in tanzania are wider, well banked and in much better shape. The current PM of Tanzania was formerly the roads and civic infrastructure minister of Tanzania. That says it all.

Masai Mara & Serengeti Entrance Gates

Whether you or your agent has selected the lodge, it is important to prepare yourself before traveling for this once in a lifetime experience. Masai Mara has 6 entrance gates and Serengeti has 5 entrance gates. It pays to understand the approach to the lodge, the closest entrance gate and if there is an option of using an air strip close by. This has an overall impact on your itinerary and helps you decide if you want to begin from Nairobi, Kenya or Dar Es Salaam/Arusha in Tanzania. This could potentially give you more ideas; For example, if you were entering via Arusha (Kilimanjaro airport), you could spend an extra couple of nights at Tarangire or Lake Manyara, visit the Ngorongoro crater and continue your onward journey in to Serengeti via the Naabi Hill Gate. In any case, be prepared for a minimum of an hour’s ride in order to get to your lodge. The option of air is a smart one and is a popular one as well. But, you visit the park for the game drives and those precious sightings of every kind.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Emirates, Dubai and Etihad, Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

 

 

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 2

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 2

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. We spoke about health requirements and transit points here.  Now to understanding the people and their lives.

It is very well know that workers, traders and merchants of Indian Sub-continental origin found their way to Kenya and Tanzania and set up businesses that are a major source of employment. But, the region and its Indigenous people through their unique skills and diligence continue to make huge contributions to their countries’ progress.

The People of the Region 

It is important and interesting to know more about the country being visited and its indigenous people. Kenya (Kamba, Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Maasai, Ameru, Samburu, Swahili)

Tanzania (Chagga, Maasai, Makonde, Swahili, Hadzabe, Sukuma, Mbulu/Iraqw people in the great lakes region).

All indigenous people have contributed to various aspects of their respective nations’ progress be it politics, sport, diplomacy, freedom struggle, human rights, agriculture or conservation. The Tea-growing Kalejins comprise the legendary long-distance runners of Kenya, The sukuma tribe who mainly fish in the Lake Victoria are among the most able bodied men and enlist in the Tanzanian military in large numbers. Thanks to tourism and the consequent establishment of lodges, many indigenous people have found year long employment. An example is the decision of Tanzanian government to call for a halt on constructions near the Ngorongoro crater and shift all lodges near the town of Karatu thereby providing meaningful employment. Karatu is dominated by the Mbulu tribe, a large farming community.

There are the big cities of Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, Arusha but it is the countryside with its small businesses – trading in coal, sweet potato, banana and other fresh fruit etc., which captivates you.

A municipal council office near Isabania, Coal sacks, finished earthen pots and butcheries
Small Business rules across Kenya and its countryside

Wildlife has opened numerous opportunities for the people across the service industry, knowledgable driver guides and as in-house naturalists at many safari camps. James, from the Kichwa Tembo is a much loved and respected in-house naturalist; He conducts awareness sessions for guests where he talks extensively about the Masai Mara ecosystem and human-beast co-existance.

The Masaai tribe cultural session on a cold evening at Kichwa Tembo, Masai Mara
At the Kichwa Tembo camp, James (in the front) from the local Masaai community introduces guests to their culture and also doubles up as the In-house Naturalist

Skilled craftsmen too sell their wares on highways at the fringes of safaris and cities. Your bargaining skills will be put to test as you set your sights on masks, shukas and other collectibles. For the art collector, a lot of these stores also sell oil-on-canvas landscapes.

Shukas and Masks on highway curio shops
Curio shops dot the highway.Bargain hard.

The Impact of Mobile Money

Many households in these parts also have a family member working in any of the big cities and supporting them. Mobile Money has become the newest symbol of empowerment for people across the society.

M-Pesa, Airtel Money – These are the most visible brands;Infact much more popular than CocaCola i reckon. The concept and resulting service has empowered the people of the region and is acknowledged universally. Every small town is serviced by the corner M-Pesa cum general store thereby overcoming the tyranny of distance, often cited as a challenge when it comes to providing banking services. There is an untold trust that has developed as a result of this system.

The service is designed to work on all types of phones. Overseas remittances, money transfer from the husband working in the city, pension transfers etc done over this network can be collected as physical cash at M-pesa centers or paid for via M-pesa money.

If you are running short of cash to tip your service personnel, dont worry, M-Pesa is there!

M-Pesa shops across East Africa
M-Pesa mobile money shops dot the landscape of East Africa. Convenience and Empowerment

Aga Khan contributions to Kenya and Tanzania

As you travel across Tanzania and Kenya, the sight of women and children carrying jerry cans for potable drinking water is unmissable. Access to clean water still remains a huge challenge in many countries in Africa. It is here that the Aga Khan Development Network, part of the Aga Khan foundation runs many programs and diverse institutions to effect social and economic development in Kenya and Tanzania.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Emirates, Dubai and Etihad, Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 1

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 1

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. Let us now cover health requirements and the Transit points.

Yellow Fever and Polio Vaccination

The Ministry of Health and family welfare has locations across major cities where Yellow fever and Polio Vaccination is administered. Access the list here http://www.mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=3642. In Mumbai, the center is located close to Terminal 2 Airport. Important to note that only 75 people will be able to receive the dose in a single day. People start queuing from 630 AM, write their names in an informal sheet of paper circulated by the first enterprising passenger and wait for the gates to open. At about 9 AM the officials start issuing tokens after verifying passports and a valid travel ticket; This is mandatory if one accesses this facility. The process inside is smooth and you walk out with a Yellow card for Yellow fever and a Pink one for Polio vaccine. Do savor the Vadapav and Pohe sold by a resident couple within the airport health center premises. Carry some water in case you plan to queue up early in the morning. There are no stalls close by.

Airport Health center Mumbai waiting queues
Passengers waiting to be administered the Yellow Fever and Polio vaccine outside the Airport Health center

Choice of airlines while flying in to East Africa

Kenya Airways is just a functional airline which focuses on just getting you from India and Nairobi;That’s it. If you are expecting pampering, better seating, in-flight entertainment and wide assortment of food, you should look at the gulf based options (Emirates and Etihad) or the increasingly popular Ethiopian. The service from Mumbai to Nairobi is on a 737-800 in a 3-3 seating. It gives you a feel of travelling in a domestic flight on an international sector. Limited leg room, Compact collection of recent Indian and long released international movies on the inflight system, one customary meal on the 5.5 hour flight and Non-alcoholic drinks complete the experience. At time seat allocation is random during full flights and the added prospect of leaving your luggage behind in case of a full flight. The last two are areas where Kenya Airways could do better with proper communication. Kenya airways was operating a dreamliner on this sector which was subsequently discontinued. Twice a day service to Nairobi is adequate for now and we will egg them on to improve Service Quality. Assorted traffic – Tourists, businessmen, MICE groups and a few religious groups as well. Affordable fares make this a popular choice.

Kenya airways Banner, Kenya airways flight and the drinks and nibbles on flight
Kenya Airways has a huge opportunity to become the Best Affordable Carrier to Africa

At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)

Instead of walking straight in to the first currency/Mobile shop, just ask your guide to take you to the Annex building of this simple airport which houses a Safaricom shop and currency changers. Safaricom plans are cheap and start from 500 KSH upwards for a prepaid card. USD, CHF, UKP are the most recognized currencies. Indian rupee, though trades at 1.51 for a KSH fetches KSH only on a 1:1 basis. Travelling with USD is quite helpful and a pre loaded Forex card is welcome almost everywhere across Kenya and Tanzania. The immigration is smooth and the folks are welcoming. The airport, like its country’s airline, could do with better passenger amenities like better seating in common areas, multiple restaurant options and of course free WiFi. Passengers often have to endure long transit times in JKIA due to itineraries and international flights departing in the evening. JKIA will do well to make their airport experience a comfortable one if not memorable.

Joao Kenyatta International airport welcome sign and airport premises
The modest JKIA needs to do a lot more if it wants to be called the “Hub of Africa”

At the Isabania border crossing

If you have not opted for air transfers from Kenya to Tanzania, the best transit point is at the Isabania border crossing. Quite a streamlined process at the border. Just make sure that your travel partner is ready with the PAX manifest with all details filled in before exiting Kenya. Once done, just pass through Tanzanian security, present proof of your vaccination, pay your Visa fees and get your passport stamped. Get a glimpse of the no man’s land before entering Tanzania.

Isabania border crossing. Tanzanian immigration building
The Isabania border crossing. Tanzania’s wonderful road quality deserves a pat on the back.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Dubai and Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.