SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Take a monsoon break

GETTING to Cherrapunji, the Mecca of Monsoons could be a tall order and it's quite possible that Goa or Kerala in the rains is not what you are looking at or has already been done. But take heart, for the whimsical rain gods ensure that there are some quaint monsoon destinations waiting to be discovered this season. So if you want to sweep away the cobwebs and wonder where to retreat in the wake of the monsoons, head for Dandeli, a picturesque all-year-round destination, which is an eight to nine-hour drive from Bangalore, towards the highway to Pune. Brace yourself and get ready to soak in the splendour of the monsoons in this foresty hide-away perched amid the higher reaches of the Western Ghats towards the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Though the monsoon is synonymous with "bad weather" and "anti travel", in the foresty regions of Karnataka it is a fun time for a "wet-n-wild holiday".

While hill hopping and monsoon chasing, base camp during the wet sojourn can be Ganeshgudi, but the obvious reaction is "where on earth is this place?"

Most guide books haven't seen this nondescript place and that explains why Ganeshgudi holds a special charm. Yes, it is indeed largely unspoilt, lesser known, and relatively undiscovered. It is not a conventional hill resort, but more of a nowhere land — a cool place where the rain gods shower blessings in abundance, especially between June and August. Don't be disappointed as the facilities and creature comforts are quite basic and you definitely won't find what you would expect in most resorty places .... The Old Magazine House Forest Camp at Ganeshgudi is where you can literally let nature walk into your room, surrounded as you are by thick Uttara Kannada rugged jungle.

The undulating streams, swaying bamboos, sylvan surroundings and trekking tracts make Ganeshgudi and Dandeli unique holiday destinations. Here the Kali river and its tributaries, meander swiftly through the dense forests. The nearby sanctuary is home to the barking, the spotted and the mouse deer, the gaur, the civet cat, the tiger and the elephant, besides a variety of birds and reptiles. It is considered lucky to spot the giant flying squirrel, so also the vibrantly coloured Malabar squirrel, which swiftly jumps from tree to tree.

Some evenings, when there is a respite from the rains, a memorable activity is to ride in a coracle down the Kali. A circular boat, woven with bamboo and lined with buffalo hide, the coracle offers a leisurely drift, allowing you to watch hornbills flying against the darkening sky, returning to nest in the tall trees close to the river.

You could ask for John Pollard at The Old Magazine House — an Englishman settled in Karnataka, he is in charge of all outdoor activities and works in conjunction with a reputed eco-friendly government organisation, Jungle Lodges & Resorts. John informs us that the only place in India where canyoning takes place is Dandeli. He also goes on to explain the concept: "This is a relatively new sport around the world and other than Nepal is not carried out in Southern Asia. It involves descending a stream as it drops over waterfalls and boulders. Sometimes steep, sometimes not, but always wet. Rappelling over waterfalls and leaping into pools for a cooling dip. Definitely not to be missed." You can also kayak or canoe at Ganeshgudi and after the monsoons have somewhat cleared, white water rafting is a cool way to see the stunningly wild country through which the Kali flows.

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IT is the thick of summer with schools out in the North, when the crash and thunder of the monsoons interrupt the general air of lethargy. Suddenly you want to break free, away from surfing channels, sipping chai and binging on hot pakodas. If you are wondering where to go for that "ideal" monsoon break, head for Thanedar, in Kotgarh district, 80 km from Shimla on the old Hindustan-Tibet road. Thanedar enjoys a special place in the history of Himachal. In 1916 Samuel Stokes, a social worker from Philadelphia, brought the first apple saplings to Kotgarh, the place he adopted as his home. One can still see the "Starking Delicious" apple orchard that he planted here. Prakash Thakur, the host, for whom the "Orchard Retreat" has been a labour of love, is also the resident expert on the history and culture of this little piece of paradise. Visit the Parmjyotir temple built by Stokes in local Pahari style, or stroll amid the serene environs of the Tani-Jubbar Lake, famous for the "Nag Devta" temple built along the lake.

Another place to chase away the monsoon blues is Shoja, a little village 5 km from the Jalori Pass that links the Shimla and Kulu districts. The "Banjara Retreat" is a solid cedar wood house surrounded by thickly wooded forests from which you get a panoramic view of the snow-covered Himalayan ranges in the distance. The numerous walks and treks in the surrounding forests and meadows are a well-known feature of the area, especially after a fresh drizzle. Thirty km from Shoja, is the Tirthan river, which flows through the valley and is great for trout fishing.

Let nature walk into your room... Ganesh gudi.

Let nature walk into your room... Ganesh gudi.  

Alternately you can walk through thick oak forest to reach the Raghupur fort. But don't be disappointed if you don't find what you expect in most hill stations; a plethora of eating joints and restaurants, shopping malls, vantage points to see and pose for photographic memories.

From Shoja, you can move onto Rohanda, one of the most beautiful, unspoilt and easily accessible locations of Himachal Pradesh, set amid an apple orchard.

At an altitude of 7,000 ft, it is situated in awesome surroundings with cedar, pine, fir and oak trees on all sides.

Explore the wildemess as you drift down the Kali.

Explore the wildemess as you drift down the Kali.  

Overlooking the Balh valley, it provides a breathtaking view of the valley, the neighbouring mountains as well as the distant snow clad Dhauladhar range. At night, the lights of Sundernagar are truly a twinkling sight.

Near about Rohanda is Kamru Nag, a powerful local deity, Shikari Devi, a mother goddess, and the pretty valley towns of Karsog and Chindi.

Moving on from Thanedar and Shoja to Rohanda, you notice the verdant shades of green interspersed with numerous silvery streaks cascading down the cliff face into the ravines below forming gurgling streams and countless rivulets. On the winding highway, there are some merry makers under a thundering fall, shivering from the sharpness of the cascading waters.

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IT is a sublime experience to savour the beauty of the monsoon in the foothills of the Himalayas or amid the densely forested regions of Dandeli and Ganeshgudi. The showers bring a multitude of visitors, to these hitherto less frequented hill stations. You can meander along the serpentine paths that lead into the forests and soak in some wilderness. Or clamber atop the ridges, to watch a green blanket coming into focus when the clouds part momentarily ... .

Enjoy yourself.

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Take a monsoon break

If you go:

Ganeshgudi

Set on the banks of the Kali river, amid the thickly forested and hilly areas of Uttara Kannada district, the camp at Ganeshgudi/Dandeli is close to Goa.

How to get there: 125 km from Goa; 117 km from Karwar; 75 km from Hubli; 57 km from Dharwad; 481 km from Bangalore

For more information contact: Jungle Lodges & Resorts, Second floor, Shrungar Shopping Centre, MG Road, Bangalore 560001 Ph: 080-5586154/5597944/5597021/24/25 Thanedar From Shimla, you take NH22 via Kufri to Narkanda (64 km). At Narkanda you leave NH22 and get on to the Narkanda-Thanedar-Bithal road. Thanedar is 15 km down the road. Rohanda Rohanda is strategically located on the Shimla-Tattapani-Mandi road. Since the Banjara camp is located on a tri-junction, it is very well connected to all weather roads providing access to tourist sites including Shimla, Manali and so on. By road from Delhi (via Chandigarh it is 465 km) Shoja At Aut (after Shimla) 29 km short of Kullu turn right. After crossing the Beas, drive through Larji and Banjar to reach Shoja. Aut-Shoja is 38 km

Ph: 011-26861397/26855153 or 9810040397

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