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Let's walk this summer

SUMITRA SENAPATY looks at where you can step out in India and abroad...


Yes, being there is good, but walking there makes it even better. Walking sets the tone for togetherness — an idyllic touch to days spent enjoying the joys of a countryside that always seems to have a finger of silence pressed to its green lips. It is a life that can lull anyone into a peaceful sloth, deterring the person from doing anything at all. But what does one do on a walking holiday? As little as one cares to undertake, with the world at your feet.

Determined walkers are heralding a new trend in international tourism, as more and more vacationers are choosing walking tours over conventional travel options. It's hardly a surprise then, that many of this tribe are selecting vacations built around their sport. Walking is a growing segment of soft adventure — the buzz phrase for active travel with modest physical challenge, but with little or no danger. That challenge and a beautiful setting with good accommodation is a combination most find irresistible. When you reach the top of a hill, even if you're gasping for air, you feel so charged up, the physical-ness of it is indeed refreshing! The World Health Organisation (WHO) refers to walking as "the forgotten art" — it is also one of the best forms of exercise for getting and staying fit. It is relatively easy to do — a self-paced activity and done consistently, can help reduce many maladies. So lace up your shoes and hit the road for a little right-left-right-left!

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Coffee trailing in Chikmagalur

CHIKMAGALUR was known only for its coffee plantations and its car rallies — that was till 1978. Then former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared elections after the Emergency and because she wanted to be sure she would win, she needed a second constituency that would guarantee her that victory. Her trusted colleague, Devraj Urs, then Chief Minister of Karnataka, offered her the seat at Chikmagalur. Overnight, this small town became the focus of global attention. Chikmagalur was resplendent in the glory of limelight and Indira Gandhi won her seat. Today, it is a coffee-and-culture spot and it is best to get here by road. The culture-heritage packed drive takes you through the plains of Karnataka, but once in Chikmagalur, the forests mesmerise you. The air here has a whiff of the coffee that Chikmagalur is famous for and tourists, who are game, can enjoy a walk through a private coffee estate, a very scenic, tasty and aroma-filled experience. During the guided walk through the coffee garden, you will see, feel and smell the various stages of processing. Each stage has its unique visual beauty, smell, sense of touch, aroma and taste. The de-pulping of the ripe berries leaves a sweet smell in the air and your skin will feel the moist of the washing of the beans at the mill.

You will also feel the heat produced by the mechanical dryer and the warmth and new smell of the dry beans.

Your nose will tickle while watching the dehusker remove the parchments from the beans. The aroma created by the roasting and grounding of the beans at the roaster will awaken your senses. Finally, you will inhale and drink freshly brewed coffee in the old plantation, surrounded by the workers. Whether it is culture that you like to see in the form of temple architecture and history and myth, or pristine nature in the form of forest, wildlife and hill station, or coffee plantation and the delights of coffee processing, Chikmagalur offers it all within a walking radius of about 100 kilometres. What are the highlights of estate life? A few talk of the magnificent sunrise and sunset, almost on one's doorstep.

Another speaks of the white coffee blossoms sprinkling the deep green of the leaves, the aroma permeating the air and also the special smell of the rains. Some remember the sounds of the plantations — the night owl, crickets and the fox. Then there are the friendships, binding and intense.

* * *


The Daphne du Maurier trail

IT's from Jamaica Inn to Frenchman's Creek .... Artists aren't the only ones to have been inspired by Cornwall's light and landscape. Thomas Hardy met, and wooed, Emma Gifford in the 1870s, Dylan Thomas dubbed Mousehole the prettiest village in England and D.H. Lawrence wrote Women In Love while living with his German wife, Frieda, in the little village of Zennor. However, the writer most closely associated with Cornwall is Daphne du Maurier, who spent most of her life in the county. Fans of her books will have little trouble tracking down the places that inspired her. Jamaica Inn, just off the A30 on Bodmin Moor, is now a tacky pub, while Frenchman's Creek is near the old smuggling hideout of Helford. Then there's Polridmouth, where Rebecca met her end (Menabilly, Du Maurier's one-time home, and the model for Manderley, can just about be seen from the beach over here). At Land's End, scramble down one of the short coastal paths ahead of you and all you are faced with is wind-whipped heather, spongy grass, rock and ocean. It may feel like there is nothing between you and anything else at this point but that isn't strictly true. The Isles of Sicilly are only a few miles out to sea. It's a bit easier to get away from the crowds, when you want to beat a path along the cliff tops between Polperro and Polruan, stagger up to the summit of Bodmin Moor's Rough Tor, or stroll beside the sea from Mousehole to Lamorna. Walking the Cornwall Coast gives you the opportunity to breathe air that's been purified by thousands of miles of ocean. You visit friendly coves where tourists are welcome, but the real business of living, lobster, fish, and crabs, comes first. The Cornwall Coast Path never drifts far from the cry of the gull, the wail of the foghorn and the crash of the sea against the cliffs.

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Cozy in Coorg

ALTHOUGH Dervla Murphy wrote one of her books about the place (On a Shoestring to Coorg), it has yet, to be discovered by the "touristy" circuit. and what magic there is in these forested hills. Hiking through stands of wild cardamom, glades scented with lemon-grass, watching a heavily-antlered sambar stag dip its head to drink at a lake where the trees gave way to high meadows — Coorg is Kipling's India still. As you walk through Coorg, thickets of bamboo appear by the roadside, indicating the start of the more lush terrain for which Coorg is famous. To enter the South eastern boundaries of the region, you have to pass through a forest checkpoint ... the guards are on the lookout for poachers coming out of the wildlife sanctuary, as well as the pilfering of sandalwood and other timber out of Coorg. The splendour of the landscape does not fail to impress ... Dense jungle, in which many of the trees are ablaze with blossom, cover the lower slopes. The air feels deliciously cool and on each side, mountains rise steeply from deep, narrow, wild ravines, while occasionally one glimpses, far below in a paddy-valley, the vivid green of a new crop or the gold of stubble. The cool climate and hilly terrain of Coorg inspired the British, who were in this area for over 100 years, to call it the "Scotland of India".

They helped to make coffee a major crop, and you can now meander for hours along narrow roads winding through estates with row upon row of neatly trimmed coffee bushes. Part of the Western Ghats, Coorg is part of a small mountain range that runs north south from Mumbai to Cape Cormorin, India's southernmost tip. Here the hills rise up to 8,000 feet. You ascend slowly, through successive levels of jungle to high watershed grasslands, which catch the rains that blow in from the Arabian Sea and send them back down to the rice-growing valleys below. The hills are still wild, home to the elephant, the sloth bear and the tiger — "Just there sir," said the guide cheerily, pointing to a bend in the track where the ground falls towards the forests below.

* * *


Tirol — meadows and mountains

THE Tirol is a fascinating region with age-old traditions, picture-book villages with flower-bedecked houses, beautiful scenery, sweeping views and an excellent network of paths dotted with mountain huts offering deliciously strong coffees, refreshing beers and tasty lunches. The road winds up through forest and turns a corner, and suddenly you see green, undulating meadows laid out like a patchwork before you, dotted with tiny villages and framed by mountains. And cows. On the rare occasion when you can't actually see any, you can usually hear the gentle clanging of cowbells in the distance. Walking across the meadows, you pass a schnapps brewery on the way. Besides cheese, schnapps is one of the area's principal products. The range of flavours is incredible, and practically all villages have their own variety, so if you do fancy it, it is worth asking to try the local "brew". Pleasant walks, mostly over flat ground, lead from Seefeld to Mosern.

The walk through the woods and meadows is a pleasure, even for unpractised walkers, and quite a way to discover Nature. The objective is the "Friedensglocke", the largest outdoor bell in the Alpine area. From here, the view of the Upper Inn Valley is truly stupendous. A climb to the Stubai Glacier is hard work, but worth the effort, especially for the views. You can then walk along the ridge, stopping at one of the mountain huts for a tasty cooked lunch. (The word "hut" is an injustice — these are attractive, wooden buildings with a small verandah and tables outside). The possibilities for walking are endless. The route leads you high above the valley, passing a dairy surrounded by grazing goats where visitors can see the cheese being made, and climbing over a steep ridge into a broad, green valley and along to a remote Austrian village. It's totally unspoiled — no traffic is allowed into the village, there is a pleasant Gasthof where you can stop for a beer and a slice of cake.

Walking the Imperial Alps is definitely something to savour — mountains, meadows, fruits, cheese, beer, schnapps, wine, flowers, clanging cowbells — what more could you want from a holiday?

* * *

Wandering through Naldhera

NOW imagine the fetid furnace that is Delhi, the heat sucking at you on a hot June day. Pack yourself, pack your kids and take the train, the overnight Mail to Kalka and "The Chalets" will pick you up from there and whisk you to Naldhera. Winds thrashing the lush, towering deodar trees, thunder rumbling over the Himalayas and flowers sprinkling themselves around dainty handkerchief lawns. This is Naldhera perched way above sea level, with majestic views of the Shimla ridge, offering nature for the sybarite, hiking and rafting for the athlete and golf for those who are into handicaps and hole-in-ones. Apart from golf, one gets to breathe the same cool, fresh air that made the British overlords feel at home. Gorgeous views of valleys and forests are a perfect backdrop to the "Chalet" huts designed in Scandinavian style and here you can easily slip into the storybook romance of yesteryears. Built into a cliff hillside, the log homes are quaint and seemingly old fashioned with a working fireplace, and a wooden staircase winding up to the attic. Sloping roofs complete the romance, when you return after wandering through the hills and meadows. From Naldhera, you can walk and explore the Himalayan valley. Here, the deodars grow tall and straight, sometimes as high as 200 feet, with few lower branches, very different from the cedars you see in England. Between the evergreen Indian oaks, Himalayan pines and a single species of Rhododendron arboreum, about 30 ft high on a single trunk, very much a tree, with deep red flowers. The air smells of pines, daffodils, mountain foliage and wood smoke. Wild animals howl in the hills, while kites and eagles circle above the treetops. High on a hillside past Tattapani, one takes the cemented footpath to the ancient Shivji ka Gufa, leaving behind a placid blue-green river and deep forests. At the lingam dotted cave, there is a small deity and two sadhus with cotton loincloths, matted hair and glittering, mischievous, slightly dangerous eyes. You sit for a while without much need for conversation, staring at the white-topped mountains and totally at ease for no particular reason.

In case you need to do something else apart from walking, Yatish Sud runs a golf academy here. "The Chalets", Naldhera, would also be able to organise picnic lunches and rafting on the Sutlej during the season.

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