A Rejuvenating Weekend At Shathayu Retreat, Bangalore

Imagine waking up to the melodious chirping of birds, amidst hills and greenery. To witness the chunky clouds float above a lake casting photographic reflections in it. To relax and reconnect with yourself; to experience peace and tranquility, as you take a step towards wellness with Ayurveda. Well, I’m just back with all this (and more) after spending the most relaxed weekend in a while.

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Sunrise behind the Meditation Hall at Shathayu Retreat. PC: Shathayu Retreat

I was at this beautiful location on an invitation from Shathayu Retreat, an Ayurveda & Yoga retreat set at a picturesque location, about 36 km from Bangalore. The retreat is located very close to the popular tourist destination of Nandi Hills and is just about 12ish km from the Kempegowda International Airport.

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Sunset, hillock & the entrance to the retreat. PC: Shathayu Retreat

On a fine Saturday morning, we started from Bangalore. As we crossed the toll and took a left turn, following the signboard for Nandi Betta, we left behind the sounds of highway and the hustle-bustle of the city, entering a quieter place. Following the directions on maps for the last bit, we reached at the sole structure standing in the middle of a sprawling piece of land, surrounded by hillocks on two sides. At first it looked like any other resort, but in no time we realised it was more than what meets the eyes.

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Statue of Lord Dhanvantari, at the entrance

At the entrance, one can see a huge brass statue of Lord Dhanvantari – the divine God and founder of Ayurveda. And I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is that this field of medicine is so widespread in the world attracting people from not just India, but worldwide. As the world has come to accept and recognize the potential and health benefits of Ayurveda and Yoga, I feel Shathayu Retreat is a perfect place to experience the journey to good health with it. I haven’t been to any other Ayurveda facility before, but this one surely caught my attention with its simple yet elegant architecture, location and great vibes.

After sipping on a glass of the cooling welcome drink, we went around to look around the property. The place offers a comfortable and luxury stay with options to choose from standard, deluxe and studio rooms. There’re consultation rooms with certified doctors & a number of, well-equipped, therapy rooms, with experienced, well-trained and courteous staff. The restaurant serves a decent variety of healthy food, no non-veg or liquor is served, for obvious reasons. I’m a vegetarian so this worked perfectly for me, but my husband gorged on the egg dishes (eggs are served, yes) whenever the menu had it.

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View of the little lake and resort from the hilltop. PC: Shathayu Retreat

We woke up at the crack of dawn to watch a beautiful sunrise, and needless to say, clicked a lot of pictures while admiring the play of colours in the morning sky.  So while a typical day at the retreat begins with meditation and yoga sessions facilitating a great and positive start to the day, we skipped that routine. I was more interested to go on a small hike to the rocky hill opposite the retreat. This place is also the venue for many adventure activities, like cross country race, Downhill Mountain biking, etc. Recently, the retreat was the venue for the Bangalore Mountain Festival.

I must confess, I wasn’t quite sure about what to expect before going there. But I’m so glad that the weekend turned out even better than what we had imagined. Plan a visit to Shathayu Retreat and embark on a journey to wellness with Ayurveda. Watch the magical sunrise & sunsets, eat healthy, indulge in yoga and meditation for peaceful and calmer mind, connect with your inner self, relax and just be.

 

Blooms And Blossoms: Lalbagh, Bangalore Flower Show 2017

It was a good day for a walk in the city. The day was clear and not too hot, and since I wasn’t doing anything significant (apart from lazing around on a Sunday afternoon) I decided to stroll off to the Flower Show happening in Bangalore. Every year, on the occasion of Independence Day, Lalbagh hosts a flower show. This year the garden city is celebrating the 206th flower show and it’s dedicated to the great Rashtra Kavi (national poet) Kuppali Vekatappa Puttapa who is fondly called as Kuvempu.

Flower Show Bangalore

A gallery showcasing the poet’s photographs, literary works, books, etc., can be visited. Stalls showcasing flower, fruits and vegetable arrangements can be seen around the area. You will see a huge arch welcoming the visitors to the flower show. Do look out for the 3-D visualization of the poet’s portrait on the left-hand side as you walk inside the arch.

The road from the arch leads to the glass house which is inside the Botanical Garden. Here is where the many beautiful flowers and plants are exhibited. One can see a huge replica of Kuvempu’s house made out of flowers at the glasshouse. There are beautiful flower arrangements inside the glasshouse. One can also see Cymbidium flowers here, that are grown in Sikkim and Darjeeling and which are originally from Australia and Netherlands. My favourite was the Gerberra and Pansy gardens and the colourful cacti pots.

Flower Show Bangalore

Outside the glasshouse, several stalls and booths are set up. Stroll past these or shop for the varieties of seeds, plants, gardening products and more. I chatted up with some of the exhibitors who gave informative insights about agriculture, horticulture, along with the unique/useful products they were exhibiting. For the first time, I tasted Areca tea and Stevia leaf (Stevia is a natural sweetener and a healthier alternative to sugar).

Later, I strolled off to the Peninsular Gneissic Rock Hill or commonly known as the Lalbagh Rock or Lalbagh Hill. This rock hill is a geological structure that is identified to be billions of years old, by the Geological Survey of India. A tower is erected on the hill top and a placard next to it suggests that it is one of the four watchtowers built by Kempegowda marking the predicted limits of the Bangalore town.

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The Lalbagh Flower Show is celebrated for 10 days. It was inaugurated on the 4th of August 2017 and will conclude on the 15th of August 2017. The flower show is open to visitors between 9 am – 6 pm. The entry fee per person is Rs. 60 (on weekdays it is priced less) for adults and Rs. 20 for children.

So are you going there? Tell me your observation if you have already been there.

Trekking in the Incredible Valley of Flowers

“Phoolon ki Ghati” the board read, meaning “Valley of Flowers”. A mountain stood tall behind it with its peak buried in the wispy clouds. The mist moved about slowly with an aim to embrace everything in its path.

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Entrance to the Valley of Flowers National Park

Incredible! I thought aloud, as I stood captivated by the magnificent view. I stood where the path forked after crossing a gorge & a massive stream. I would take the other path the following day to trek along the glaciers to another wondrous place called Hemkund Sahib. The weather had cleared that morning & day was perfect for the much-awaited trek into the Valley. Perfect weather meant no thick fog, light or no rain, but the temperature would still typically range from 15 to 8 ˚Celsius (59 to 46 ˚F); nights being especially cold. Geared up with my day-pack, a light jacket, and a raincoat hanging around the waist I started trekking towards the fabled Valley, breathing in lungs full of freshest-ever air.

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IMG_0274 Magnificent sites while trekking towards the park
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Melting glaciers

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Crossing the glacial stream

The Valley of flowers can be reached by trekking around 16 km from Govindghat to Ghangria. Porters & ponies are available as well, but of course trekking is the thrill most prefer. There are helipads at the base in Govindghat and near Ghangria too, and that apart no other vehicles are available on the top (such bliss!) We halted at Ghangria the previous evening & trekked to the Valley at the following daybreak.

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The enchanting valley

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Slice of paradise

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The guides inspecting a plant/flower

Hidden for centuries, the Valley was first discovered by Frank Smythe & R.L. Holdsworth, when they chanced upon it in 1931. The story of this discovery is quite interesting too. While returning from a successful Kamet expedition – the second highest mountain in Garhwal Himalayas, Smythe & Holdsworth were caught in a thick fog and lost their way, however, they continued walking. But as the clouds cleared away gradually, they found themselves standing amidst a fairyland bustling with zillion wildflowers.

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Garden of gods

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Many species of flora unique to this place is found in the valley. Almost each one of it has great medicinal values.

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As I inched closer to the valley, it was like a fairytale come true. Glacier melted afar, air crisp with assorted fragrance, meandering clouds almost touching the ground, cold stream gushing & freezing the breeze that touched it, and wide stretches dotted with dainty, vibrant flowers surrounded by lush mountains. Half expecting to hear the tinkling of the fairy chimes; I walked amazed by the stunning flowers & enthralling beauty of the place.

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This enchanted land lays frozen for about 6-7 months of the year. As the snow starts melting in April, the seeds start germinating. The valley is in full bloom between July to August (which is of course the best time to visit), after which the plants start maturing. The valley changes its colors every few days as new flowers bloom. By the end of September most plants are bearing seeds & berries, and the valley soon gets covered by the fresh snow as the Himalayan winter sets in. Stretched over a span of 87.5 sq. km, the valley is a glacial corridor about 8 km long and 2 km wide; with an altitude of 10500-12000 feet (approx.). The Pushpawati River flowing in the vicinity is adorned with pink Epilobium latifolium, commonly known as ‘River beauty’ during its flowering season and is quite a sight, our guide told us.

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Few of the flowers blooming in July end (early August)

We wandered deeper into the valley and reached the memorial of Joan Margaret Legge – a botanist who had slipped and fell off and was forever retained by the garden of gods. A memorial with beautiful inscription stands on the burial spot.

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Miss Legge’s memorial with a beautiful inscription

I breathed in a waft of fresh air, and let my thoughts drift away with the valley’s breeze – over the flower beds, into the gurgling streams, among the stray clouds, along the slopes & over the thriving mountains. The Pushpawati meandered gently from afar as I sat savoring the quiet moments of this alpine valley, where fairies reside.

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Important: Valley of flowers is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, please be a responsible traveler. Take nothing but memories & leave nothing but footprints.

~She leaves a tiny part of her heart everywhere she travels and memories from the place fill up the void in her heart and soul.~

Roaming in the Western Ghats

Sitting in a sparsely crowded bus station at 5 a.m. and sipping hot tea, I looked around. A few curious faces stared back at me. I was waiting for the daybreak. A sudden plan & I had packed my backpack, journeyed overnight and landed in a new place at the wee hours. And so here I was, waiting for the sunrise to take over the hostile darkness. In about an hour or so, there was light & we strutted in the small town to lookout for a place to stay. After checking some places (read negotiating the tariff) we finally dumped our luggage in an okay-ish room (clean+affordable is always a thumbs up for me).

Without much delay, we set out on the roads to feel the mountain wind in hair. An impromptu budget trip is always fun and comes with a unique experience each time. This time it was an auto ride all over the map of the coffee town of Chikmagalur!

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Auto adventures

While everywhere else the scorching sun was being cursed, he seemed to have toned down his brightness settings for this part of the country. I was really happy with his decision – as I instantly fell in love with the place. It jogged my memory to the mist covered Himalayan hamlets, which are close to my heart!

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On the way to the mountains of western ghats

A rough auto ride (after an overnight bus journey) followed by a little trek was tiring. But what waited at the end of it was a sight for soar eyes! Abundant earth colors splashed all over, distinct forest scent & refreshing cool breeze stole all the weariness.

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Welcomed to Mulayanagiri
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View from the top
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6000+ feet above sea level
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Such a happy scene to look at!
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Mountain, soil, flowers, greens, mist…

I was atop Mulayanagiri – the highest peak in Western Ghats spread over in the state of Karnataka, India.

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From the top of Mulayanagiri – not so great pan image, though.
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Wandering about…
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Dreaming of heaven with open eyes
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Dark skies, thundering and some dramatic effects, creating a mood
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Beautiful landscapes
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The tired but happy feet
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Pretty flower that was about to bloom in multiples & carpet the entire mountain soon

Deliriously roaming around and clicking pictures and soaking in the beauty of the place, next up was a trek (yet another one) through the coffee plantation to a Jhari (also Jerry) falls. A cascade carelessly falling, its gurgling sound – a song of nature, closely resembled an enchanted place from a storybook.

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Hiking through the coffee plantation & forests
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The coffee flower
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First view of the Jhari falls. Tiny eh? wait & watch!
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A little closer
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There! That’s the Jhari/Jerry falls, falling merrily

We retired for the day as our heart and soul drenched with content.

Following day started early as we headed for the Muthodi forests in a hope to spot tiger! Sadly, we did not spot it 😦 Here’s what you should do for better chances of spotting most animals, tiger (if you are lucky) included – start early, be there by 6 a.m. You can also avail a stay in the forest guest-house by visiting the Bhadra Tiger Reserve office in Chikamagalur (08262-234904). If you are in a bigger group (8-10 people) hiring a Jeep for about Rs. 4000/- turns out to be a better option and you can start the safari right away without waiting for more people to join in. We paid Rs. 1000/- (500 per person) for the safari.

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Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Muthodi Forests
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Enjoying the peace of jungle
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The quiet Bhadra river inside the Muthodi forest
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Crisp air and clear water – nature at its best
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Almost in the centre (little lower) is seen the Giant Malabar Squirrel
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The forest sky
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Pretty in Pink – flower of the bashful ‘touch-me-not’ plant
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Wading through a stream on the Safari

To beat the heat, Chikmagalur is one of the coolest (literally) places to visit. After enjoying some local shopping and purchasing coffee (Chikmagalur is called the ‘coffee land of Karnataka’) I bid adieu to the beautiful place.

~She leaves a tiny part of her heart everywhere she travels and memories from the place fill up the void in her heart and soul.~

Blue adrenaline rush!

I was excited for my first international beach vacation with my girl pals. My passport was to get its first ever visa stamped in and I was super excited. We were going to Thailand. My friends and I were to fly in to Bangkok from our respective cities from where the vacay would begin.

Though we had a rough itinerary planned, we were quite open about recommendations and exploring new places, restaurants etc. But the highlight of the trip was scuba diving in the Andaman Sea – also my first ever dive!

After reaching Phi Phi Island in Phuket, we went looking for dive shops and finally settled to go diving with this one group which sounded professional and considerate (since most of us didn’t know swimming well). As decided, the following day we gathered at the dive center, jittery yet excited, geared with scuba equipment and wet suits.

We took a ferry to the dive site, which was in the middle of the azure water with a huge rock jutting out on one side. It was beautiful but somehow the fear of water and the fear of unknown got better of me and I was super nervous. I was panic-stricken, yet I gathered courage and jumped in the water with the diving gear on for the practice session. Luckily for me, my dive instructors Chris & Fabrice were the kindest people who patiently dealt with my anxiety. Slowly I calmed down, relaxed and felt comfortable going underwater.

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As the surface closed overhead, I forgot the atmospheric world. I could only hear the quietness of water and the sound of the air bubbles that escaped as I breathed slowly. I could feel something had changed. I felt calm and peaceful in spite the rough waters. As opposed to the panic and stress I’d experienced just minutes ago, I immediately felt at home as I was welcomed to witness a beautiful underwater world that coexisted with the world I knew so far. It was the beginning of the most beautiful feeling I had ever experienced.

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School of fish

I was weightless, gliding and free of thoughts. I forgot everything the minute the underwater world unfolded its beautiful scenes before me. Surrounded by innumerable pink, purple, orange, green and more brilliantly coloured marine life in the clear blue waters was some sight!

As I glided by slowly, a sea turtle quietly swam across the sea floor. Next minute I found myself in the middle of a school of shimmering silver fish. They swam away as quietly as they came near. There were creatures of colours and patterns I had never seen, of shapes I had never imagined. It was a colourful, vibrant and tranquil world – a rich, rich underwater world.

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Sea Turtle

I, like many others, had perception about the underwater being an alien world, that which we seldom know about, that which still holds so many mysteries. But this dive changed everything – I no longer saw it as an alien world. Sure, it is way too different than the world we live in and is not easily accessible, yet it is most soothing in many ways. And my personal experience says it’s definitely worth all the troubles and challenges. You have to experience it to believe it.

The camouflage - stone fish
The camouflage – stone fish

We took a lunch break after the first dive and couldn’t stop discussing the experience while munching on the food, accompanied by the sound of waves and salty sea breeze. We then dived again to experience more of the amazing marine life.

After 2 dives, we started back to the land with hearts full of joy. By that time the sun was about to take a dip into the mysterious waters. I closed my eyes only to see the vivid images of the mysterious world that silently existed somewhere below the turquoise waters, now turning dark.

Sunset by the sea
Sunset by the sea

(PC: Javier. For more pictures from my scuba diving in Phi phi Island please click here)

~She leaves a tiny part of her heart everywhere she travels and memories from the place fill up the void in her heart and soul.~