Monthly Archives for September 2015

10 Top Most Tea Destinations of India

Blog, Destinations - GoroadTrip - September 27, 2015

Tea lovers can vouch for the fact that tea is the second most consumed drink in the world. No, coffee lovers the first is not coffee; it is water of course! Tea is an integral part of everyday life. From kick starting your day, holding heated ‘chai pecharchas’, inviting a neighbour over for a chat and taking a break from work; everything is done with a cup of tea. A fact that not just tea lovers but all Indians can take pride in is that India is the second largest producer of tea in the world. All thanks to the lush, vast tea plantations, a few of which are mentioned below:

Darjeeling:

Known as the tea capital of India, Darjeeling in West Bengal has at least 80 tea plantations which produce approximately 90 million kilograms of tea annually. With its numerous tea estates, aromatic tea gardens and tea factories, tourists get their fill of tea treats in the cool hills of Darjeeling. The spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga Mountain from many of the tea plantations is an amazing bonus.

 

Assam:

Speculated to be the place of tea origin in India, Assam produces some of the finest varieties of tea, all with an enticing aroma and attractive colour. The region,filled with high valleys, abundant waterfalls and cool climate, is a boon to tea cultivation. Tourists can get a peek into tea production at some of the workshops of the tea estates.

 

Himachal Pradesh:

The Kangra region and Palampur areas of Himachal are renowned for Himalayan tea. Several types of different flavoured tea are also produced here. The tea plantations in the Himalayan slopes along with the Dhauladhar range is a sight that is hard to take your eyes off from. You can also visit Buddhist temples and monasteries where making and drinking tea is an integral part of the activities.

 

Munnar:

Munnar in Kerala has some of the highest tea plantations in the world. Along with the eye catching landscape, Munnar tea estates form one of the favourite destinations of hill station fans.

 

Nilgiris:

Known for their deep colour and aromatic fragrance, the Nilgiri tea estates stretch to Wayanad, Nelliyampathy and Anamalai regions. Unlike other tea plantations where tea is grown seasonally, Nilgiri tea estates grow them all through the year.

 

Chikmagalur:

Though more popular for its coffee, Chikmagalur also has some sprawling tea estates. The wholesome climate of the place is ideal for tea cultivation. Traditional methods are used and hence the tea estates are gaining popularity for some of the best organic tea grown here, a variety you can easily fall in love with.

 

Anaimalai:

Also known as Elephant Hills, these ranges are at the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The lower slopes of these high hills are used to grow tea along with coffee and teak. The tea grown here has a subtle taste and aroma and is produced by Tata Tea.

Kolukkumalai:

Located close to Munnar, Kolukkumalai is in Theni district of Tamil Nadu. Like Munnar, it has some of the highest tea plantations in the world. The altitude shows in the teas produced here as it has a distinct flavour and a stark freshness.

 

Arunachal Pradesh:

A blooming tea cultivator in recent times is Arunachal Pradesh. Plantations are located at the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh. Supported by the Government, the state is all set to revolutionize the tea industry.

 

Uttarakhand:

Kasuni, Nainital, Chamoli and Champawat are places where tea is being grown in the state of Uttarakhand. A huge chunk of the land here is growing organic tea.

 

A quick look at the health benefits of the beverage makes us understand why tea is such a popular drink-

Tea contains plenty of antioxidants
Tea helps strengthening the immune system
Tea reduces risk of heart attack and stroke
Tea protects against cancer
Tea has less caffeine than coffee

A trip to these tea plantations can be as invigorating as a sip of your adored tea.

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Deepavali in South India

Blog, Festivals/Events - GoroadTrip - September 16, 2015

The festival of lights is the most eagerly awaited festival. It is a time when people travel to their traditional homes in the villages or to parents homes to celebrate the festival as a family. In each state of India, this festival has variations although the basic celebratory components remain the same. In the South, the celebrations are different….and yet the same.

Deepavali is celebrated in Tamil Nadu in the month of Aipasi (Thula month) on the day preceding Amavasai, the day of the new moon. The preparations begin a week before with housewives making various savouries—murukku, thenkuzhal, mixture and ribbon pakodaand sweets like Badamhalwa, Mysorepak, badam cakes etc..The Deepavali marundu or lehyam, a gooey sweet fudge of herbs and honey and gur, is made on the eve of the festival. This marundu is an aid to digestion as this festival is a total splurge on food!!

When the brass or copper hot water boiler was used, it was decorated with kumkum dots on the day before. Nowadays, homes are cleaned and washed and decorated with kolams and the red oxide kaavi. In the pooja room, betel leaves and nuts, bananas, flowers, sandal paste and kumkum, crackers and new dresses smeared with a dot of kumkum at the edges are placed on a plate. On the morning of Deepavali, the whole family wakes up before sunrise. Gingely (til or sesame) oil is heated and seasoned with peppercorns and jeera and applied on the scalp by the eldest family member. After an oil bath, the family members are given a ball of medicinal lehyam. Children burst crackers and a heavy breakfast of idli/vadai, puri and potatoes orpaneeyaram andpongal and chutney are eaten. Lunch too is a virundusaapaadu, a festive meal. In the evening, little earthen lamps are lit and crackers are burst

TheThalai Deepavali, the first celebrated together for newlyweds, is spent in the bride’s parental home. The groom’s parents and siblings too join the celebrations. A visit to the temple, exchange of gifts of clothes and jewellery, eating sweets and receiving blessings of elders is the routine.

Andhra Pradesh

Diwali in Andhra Pradesh is spread over five days:Dhanatrayodashi orYamadeepdaan, Narkachaturdashi orDivili Panduga, Kaumudi Mahotsavam, Bali Padyam or Bali Pratipada andYamadwitheya. It is a festival that revolves around Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

Diwali begins by visiting temples and offering poojas and in the night neighbourhoods are bright with the lamps and crackers. In Hyderabad, there is a tradition of giving bath to the buffaloes on the day of Diwali and of decorating paper figures. The poor and the rich spend big sums on expensive silk saris, jewellery and ornaments and household goods. Sweets are prepared in homes as well as bought from shops for exchange.

Karnataka

Diwali in Karnataka begins with Dhanatrayodashi, followed by Narakachaturdashi.On the third day there is a puja to Bali followed by Bhathru Dwithiya dedicated to brethren. A related festival is Gorehabba celebrated a day after Balipadyami in Gummatapura, a tiny village on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. Cow dung is splashed on each other before which quaint rituals are followed.

Kerala

Kerala is the only state in India where Diwali is not a major festival. Only areas where Tamil, Bengali and various North Indian communities resides, is the festival celebrated with grand feasts and visits to temples and fairs, friends and relatives.

Goa

In Goa, there are influences of different cultures. The Maharashtrian, Konkani and Karnataka strains of culture are prevalent in the Hindu communities of Goa.

On the day before the New Moon, 14th day of the dark fortnight, huge effigies of Narkasura the demon, are made from paper, filled with grass, wastepaper, crackers etc. It is then taken out and the family members hurl insults and taunts at the effigy…a kind of catharsis. The effigy is then burnt and cremated to signify an end to family squabbles and bitter fights over property and power.

Then the Hindu menfolk return home and have a massage given by their wives / mothers with a medicated oil called ‘utnem’. The family then visits the local temple and come back home to partake of a feast of ‘foav’ sweets.

According to legend Narkasur was a Rakshas (demon) who was terrorizing people by pillaging and killing citizens for sport. Lord Krishna killed him and the people’s fear of the Narkasur was dispelled by celebrations. They light up their houses with ‘pontis’ and place ‘akashdiyas’ above their houses.

The night of Diwali is brilliantly lit with millions of flickering candles and a display of rainbow coloured fireworks and crackers.

So, the Festival of Lights is symbolically a time for enlightenment, for the purification of the mind off evil thoughts and deeds. Whatever the method or practices of celebrations, theyremind us that there is always victory of light over darkness, good over evil and prosperity come to those who worship the divine.

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Ferry to Paradise – Traveling the Andaman Islands

Blog, Things To Do - GoroadTrip - September 9, 2015

Respecting the old adage ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, while on the islands, the rest of India is referred to as ‘mainland’. Apart from Hindi which is widely spoken, broken Tamil and Bengali will get you by too; it is from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal that the majority of the present day locals originate.

For those of you more than used to the jagged rock of the west coast or rough surf of the east, the beaches of the Andamans are like being transported to a parallel universe. Just taking in the view as you walk into one of the hundred thousand beach shores for the first time is a transcendental experience, much like a dream from which you don’t want to be awoken.

If you thought all those clichéd descriptions of white sandy beaches and blue waters were over-rated, think again. Often you wind up being the only person on vast stretches of uninhabited beach, making you feel like you have entire islands to yourself!

With multifaceted landscapes of coral garden, mangrove, sand strewn beaches and dense jungle – the Andaman and Nicobar Islands contribute more than their fair share to the spectrum of habitats that thrive in India.

Travel to the islands from the mainland is mostly done from the ports of Chennai or Calcutta (Kolkata). You do have the choice between ship and plane though word of mouth renders the former a non-option on account of the dismal conditions on board.

The journey by ship will take more than a couple of days and while you can choose from a range of classes while booking your tickets, the ‘Deluxe’ class, which enjoys the highest premium, will cost you as much as a medium priced flight.

When it comes to booking flights to the Andamans, a bit of planning will take you a long way. We say this because it is best to be able to pounce on the many discounts and mega sales from airline portals during the short span in which they are offered. It would be even better if you put yourself on ‘alert lists’ where you will be notified when prices of flight tickets to and from Port Blair drops. Employing all of these methods and with a little luck, you should be able to book a Chennai-Port Blair return from anywhere between 4000-8000 INR.

That said, no matter how good the discount, it is not recommended that you take a chance on visiting the islands off season (season: October-April/May). The incessant near-cyclonic tropical monsoon of these islands will have you strapped down to one spot as the rains often throw ferry schedules off track, among other things.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have only one major airport at Port Blair. Once out of the small airport and into bright sunshine and winding roads of this tiny island town, you should make immediate arrangements by ferry (public or private) to reach your first and next destination.

The most popular island for tourists is Havelock to which many public and private boats ferry enthusiastic visitors. All of 13 kilometers square and neighbored by the equally popular Neil Island, there is a lot to do and see while here. Taking luxurious swims in the pristine blue waters of the world famous Radhanagar, early morning treks to Elephant Beach, discovering the hundreds of snorkeling locations or enjoying a delicious meal at one of the many beach-type shack restaurants are only naming a few.

If the duration of your holiday totals to longer than a week, then it would be a crying shame to spend more than three days on Havelock. We say this because a minimum of ten days lends a traveler a fair amount of time to be able to get a taste of more than just what’s popular in the Andamans. On the other hand, if you have only a couple of days at your disposal, stay put at Neil and Havelock and surrender yourself to the persuasions of the utterly luxurious pace at which time moves.

You will be hopping on and off a number of ferries as they are the main means of transport around the islands. Booking ferries is drummed up to be a Herculean task, but it isn’t so. You are sure to be approached by a number of brokers and/or package tour dealers; though enticing, bear in mind that booking a ferry is not as difficult as they make it seem and with patience, it really only takes one try before you get the hang of it.

Depending on where you have to go, duration of travel and availability of ferries – ferries to most islands can be booked from the multiple jetties in Port Blair and you will be spending a lot of time here while doing so. While you are forced to spend time waiting for ferries in Port Blair (especially for those traveling over long periods of time), there are a number of one or half-day activities to keep you occupied (Ross Island, Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Jolly Buoy, Chidiyatapu etc). However, in terms of showcasing the essence of the islands, these barely make a dent.

This is the primary reason why we recommend that you spend as little time as possible in Port Blair. You will quickly learn that Port Blair is not your regular thriving metropolis so much so that it is difficult to find a good restaurant serving dinner beyond 9pm. Another recommendation is to prioritize the government/public ferries over the privately run outfits as the latter are infamous for not adhering to safety protocols, a negligence that has often culminated in fatal accidents.

The ferry rides can be grimy and sweaty, especially in the mid-afternoon, heat but if you manage to break away from the crowd and escape to the deck in front of where the captain steers the boat, the sea breeze will blow you away. Surging ahead into miles of uncharted ocean, this is an unbelievably glorious spot to unwind.

Our personal recommendation would certainly be to travel and see as much of the islands as you can. Diglipur and Mayabundar are places in the north that demand an overnight journey at the least, but are teeming with endemic flora and fauna just the same. Little Andaman to the south, between Andaman and Nicobar, is easily one of the most phenomenal places on earth. This secluded island generously offers its golden sand beaches to the few tourists who make the long journey to it. The waterfalls and creeks of this island are hauntingly beautiful and Kala Pathar is also nearby.

Foreigners with an Indian visa need a permit to travel to the Andamans; this can be procured from immigration authorities on arrival in Port Blair (as well as from Indian Mission Overseas; Foreigner’s Registration Office or Immigration Authorities at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai). These permits lapse within a period of 30 days after which they can be extended, with permission, by a fortnight. Be a hundred percent sure of your arrangements to exit the islands in time with the deadline on your permit as the internal security in the islands run a tight show, not hesitating to take severe action against overstaying defaulters. This permission comes with a list of places where foreigners are permitted to halt overnight as well as those where they can’t. The Nicobar group of islands is off limits for foreigners as well as Indian nationals alike.

Whether it is the crisp ocean breeze or the appetite you work up by trekking and swimming, it doesn’t matter, for the food on the islands is top notch. An eclectic mix of local tastes with tourist preferences, Havelock especially offers the best with seafood being the obvious specialty. Restaurant and accommodation choices on Havelock are a long list to choose from, suiting a range of tastes and budgets.

While Havelock has recently installed a couple of ATMS, most other islands still don’t have this option. Make sure to carry sufficient cash before boarding your ferry to an island hundreds of nautical miles away. Also, ensure that your ferry does not arrive on an island after sunset or before sunrise as local transport and finding accommodation at an unearthly hour are risks to be avoided.

The vibe at Havelock is a strange but wonderful combination of easy going and energetic. Walking along its main street, you will see a number of dive shops. Step in to any one to be immersed in the obsessive dive culture that will quite easily seduce you. Snorkeling and scuba diving are arguably the best way to experience the phenomenal beauty of the Andaman Islands.

Consider these as mere pointers, a nudge to start you off in the direction of the forgotten paradise of the Andamans – because the most unforgettable experiences we’ve had in the Andamans cannot be described; words barely do justice to this profoundly moving experience of nature’s bounty.

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