A memorable trip to Ooty

A holiday in Ooty, the Queen of Hillstations, has for long been one of my dreams. My last visit to the place was a fleeting one which lasted a little more than two hours and I hardly got to see the place. This time though I was there for two days.

Day 1

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I arrived at Ooty at around 5.30 pm on Christmas day with three of my family members. The 6-hour drive from Bangalore to Ooty had been most enjoyable. I especially loved the second half of the drive because we passed through Bandipur and Mudumalai Tiger Reserves. The climb up the hills with 36 hair-pin bends offered picturesque views of the Nilgiris and to top it all was the sweet smell of mountain air.

About Lymond House

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Lymond House, our residence for the next two days, was every inch a large bungalow from a fairy tale. I was bowled by the beautiful flower garden with its endless varieties of flowers and lush green lawns. To add to the aesthetics were two swings, a barbeque in the shape of a stone well with a tiled roof, a gazebo, a canopy, a fountain and a bird bath. A great place for children I should say.

Lymond House was built by Henry Dawson in 1850 and was bought by the Sait family in 1890. The Saits still own the property. The original bungalow, which was called Dolce Villa, had only three suites, two Victorian drawing rooms and a sit-out. Three garden suites were built later. We stayed at one of the garden suites.

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Geetha, one of the caretakers of the bungalow, showed us to our suite. The inside of the suite was as charming as the outdoors. The floors and the false roof were done in wood. The walls were coloured white and red. The portions in brick were painted red and were adorned with porcelain plates, period photos and paintings, and plants. The colonial furniture complemented the old-world charm of the bungalow. The large ornate windows were dressed in long raw-silk curtains. The doors had glass panels with frilly curtains. There was a fire-place and elegant lamp shades.

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After a brief recce of the suite we were treated to a cup of tea and Paneer Pakodas. I then ventured out into the lawn with my camera. There were pretty views aplenty and I went click click click. As the evening wore on, the lights were switched on. Since it was Christmas Day and with New Year around, Lymond House was decorated all over with blinking lights adding to the ethereal feel of the place. But I couldn’t stay out for long because the atmosphere suddenly became very chilly. I later learnt that the night temperatures at Ooty touch 0 degrees celsius in winter which is much lower than the temperature back home in Bangalore. Luckily, I had carried my jacket with me.

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As the night wore on, I realised that to beat the cold I would need more than one jacket. Unfortunately, that was all I had. As darkness enveloped the bungalow, the view outside with all the blinking lights looked very romantic and I couldn’t resist going out for a walk. I walked around the place with my niece for company. Later we decided to check out the old portion of the bungalow, the one which was built in 1850. All around there were antiques galore arranged meticulously. The two large fireplaces in each of the two drawing rooms had doors and looked very attractive. Antique lampshades in various designs looked eye-catching. One of the fireplaces was lit up for us. Close-by were a lot of books and magazines neatly arranged on shelves. My niece picked up a ‘Famous Five’. I had got along with me Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’ from home. After a good 15 minutes at the fireplace we walked backed to our suite.

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I started reading ‘Black Beauty’. The poignant beginning of the novel made me emotional. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for horses. So engrossed was I in the book, that I realised I had been reading for two hours when I got a call for dinner. A sumptuous spread greeted us at the dining hall at the old building. There were Chapatis with Aloo Jeera and Aloo-capsicum curry and rice with dal. After dinner, I was back with ‘Black Beauty’. I hit the sack at midnight. In Ooty, the beds are made differently. Over the mattress is spread a counterpane and above the counterpane is the quilt with all its sides except the one near the pillow tucked below the mattress. So when you sleep you are cocooned inside the quilt. A novel way to beat the cold!

As early as 3am, I could hear crows cawing. I wonder why? At 4am I was awakened by Ayyappa songs probably from a temple nearby. It felt nice to hear them.

Day 2

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Flowers of Lymond House (slideshow)

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I was up at 6am. The air was drowned by the cries of sparrows, there were a lot of them around. I could also hear bulbuls, sunbirds and wagtails. And for the first time, I spotted fan-tailed flycatchers. My niece spotted a couple of Oriental White Eyes. At 8 o’clock, I was out in the lawns clicking away merrily. The grass was covered with dew and the flowers looked lovely.  I couldn’t get enough of them. Two well-looked after cows were grazing on the grass outside the gates. Unlike in Bangalore, I noticed that in Ooty, cattle had ample green space to graze.

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After a breakfast of Dosa and Idli, it was back to photography. My niece had a good time on the swing. It was a sunny day and soon I kept my camera aside and continued reading ‘Black Beauty’, this time on the lawn. Around that time, a man walked in with a horse and offered to take children for joy rides. Here I was reading a novel about a horse and got to see one from such close quarters. What a coincidence! We were later in for another pleasant surprise. There were rabbits at the place! A portion of the property was reserved for rabbits. And no, they were not being reared for commercial purpose but purely as pets. We had a good time feeding and stroking the rabbits. We thoroughly soaked in this ‘awww moment’.

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In the afternoon we left for Ooty Lake. After taking boat rides, it was time for lunch. We stopped by at the Curry Leaf restaurant for a simple lunch. The owner of the restaurant has a fetish for vintage cars. He had one parked just inside the entrance. And he had a large aquarium with an equally large fish swimming inside. After a wee bit of shopping we headed back to Lymond House. There were a couple of rabbits running around the lawn and I was back with my camera. I then resumed reading ‘Black Beauty’ and continued to do so after dinner.

Day 3

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Like on Day 2, I woke up early to the chirps of birds. Breakfast consisted of papaya and fluffy Puris with a yummy accompaniment. After a round of photography and then some time with rabbits I was back to reading ‘Black Beauty’ on the lawn. At noon, we embarked on a trip to Emerald Lake, about an hour’s drive from Ooty. We again encountered hairpin bends and savoured delightful views of the Nilgiris.

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Emerald Lake is stunningly beautiful and a great spot for a picnic. An atmosphere of stillness surrounds the place. This is Nature in one of her best forms. So charmed were we, that we didn’t feel like leaving the place. The pristine beauty of Emerald Lake will forever remain etched in my mind.

Lunch was again at Curry Leaf restaurant. I got to see the vintage car again and also the big fish in the aquarium. After yet another pleasant evening at the lawns of Lymond House, it was back to reading ‘Black Beauty’. I finished reading the book in another hour. Dinner was delicious with Pulao and Chapatis accompanied by lip-smacking curries.

Day 4

After spending yet another freezing night at Ooty it was time to pack up. I felt sad. In spite of the freezing night temperatures, I loved my stay. I would love to come back though not in winter. I would miss the lawns and the rabbits the most.

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On the way back, it felt nice going down the beautiful Nilgiris and then again driving through Mudumalai and Bandipur. I look forward to more such enchanting trips to the ‘Lap of Nature’.

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Cards are the best

Once upon a time they were a craze. Come any festival, birthday or New Year, I would rush to the nearest card store to pick up an attractive one or one with great words or else one which was attractive and had great words. I am talking about greeting cards. Yesterday a fad, today no more, thanks to the advancement in technology and with it the advent of e-mails and SMSes.

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In the 70s and early 80s, Gangaram’s on MG Road was the Mecca for card lovers of Bangalore. It had a fantastic collection of cards for all occasions and they came in all sizes. Visiting Gangaram’s to pick up a card was as exciting as visiting a showroom to pick up a dress. You would easily land up spending an hour or more browsing through the cards and then wonder which one to buy.  Such was the collection that you would be spoilt for choice. Particularly joyful was shopping for cards before New Year, Diwali or Christmas because you would be buying 10, 20 or more cards unlike before a birthday were you would be buying just one. When shopping for cards I would land up making a deep hole in my dad’s pocket but he wouldn’t complain. Sometime in the late 80s, showrooms of card-and-gift makers Archies and Hallmark mushroomed all over the city. The mighty Gangaram’s had competition.

With the computer boom and invasion of mobile technology in the 90s, the card craze gradually started fizzling out. When greeting someone was as easy as keying in a short and sometimes sweet message and sending it at the press of a key, why buy a card? And it didn’t end with buying a card; you had to write down the address, stick a stamp and walk to the post box or office.

But everyone would agree that in spite of the long procedure involved in sending greeting cards they are any day a more colourful and touching way to greet someone than an SMS or e-mail. They really strike a chord.

The aura of greeting cards will always remain. They are the best carriers of greetings and will always be. And what is more they can be preserved for posterity. I have a collection of more than 100 cards and they give me immense joy.

It is heartening to note that many shops still sell cards. Gangaram’s, Archies and Hallmark are still around.

This Christmas and New Year, how about some card-shopping folks? End the year greeting your loved ones in style!

Autos of the future

With prices of essential commodities going through the roof, and the cost of living skyrocketing, it won’t be long before travelling by auto-rickshaws becomes a luxury (read as minimum fare = INR 100) and you would be paying for your ride with your credit or debit card. What say you?

Original image from OLX

Original image from OLX

Original image from OLX

Original image from OLX

But then like the famous adage goes, “every cloud has a silver lining”,  we would well be seeing a fitness revolution. People would rather walk , jog or cycle to their destinations than run the prospect of a possible bankruptcy taking rides on the rick. I haven’t forgotten the good ol’ buses. Running to catch a bus is a great warm-up and travelling in crowded buses a test of physical fitness.

Wonder what the future holds for commuters? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Hard to believe these are cakes!

It’s been several years since I have been to a Nilgiris Cake Show. This year I was lucky not to miss it. The cakes at the Nilgiris cake shows are different. They don’t exactly tingle your taste buds but leave you awestruck with their looks. A thing of beauty is a joy to behold! These cakes crafted by master bakers at Nilgiris are just that. Have a look:

Every year, the show has a special attraction. This year it is a 20-feet tall replica of Hyderabad’s most famous monument, the Charminar. An India Today report says that 5 tonnes of sugar, several kilos of cream, and hundreds of eggs went into the making of this model. The team of 40 people took over 2 months to bake and decorate this delight:

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Vying for attention with the Charminar is a life-size replica of the country’s most loved cricketer Sachin Tendulkar:

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Also grabbing a lot of attention is a colourfully clad village belle:

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Barbie looks oh-so-cute as she poses alongside her dressing table:

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Here are a couple of ship cakes:

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Also on show were some striking looking wedding cakes:

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A colourful cake with peacocks:

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A cake to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema:

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The Burj Al Arab is hard to miss:

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And so is this purple dragon:

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Ever seen a cake painting?

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Children will love this Fairy Cake with mushrooms and butterflies:

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This one with a carousel looked dazzling:

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Formula 1 fans would be interested in this one:

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Santa was there too but not as a cake:

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This is one exhibition you would not want to miss! The Nilgiris Cake Show 2013 is on till 29th December at St. Joseph’s School Grounds opposite Kanteerva Stadium.

Psst….Though there are banners all around screaming “…..photography prohibited”, nobody stopped me and so many others from taking pictures.

Related links:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/life-size-sachin-tendulkar-cake-in-bangalore-grabs-eyeballs/1/331546.html

The boss speaks

This is a speech by Mr. Always_on_the_Go, the CEO of Parivarthan Inc. [an imaginary company]

My dear friends and colleagues. In a little more than a month, the year 2013 will draw to a close and we will be welcoming the New Year. While I wouldn’t say we had a bad 2013, I definitely feel we can do much better than this. So let each one of us put in that extra bit more and in that way cumulatively work towards achieving better results in the future.

Some months back on a long flight back home, I happened to have a copy of ‘Fish!’, an American business best-seller, which I bought from an airport stall. This little book with a catchy cover is a little more than a 100 pages. I confess I was bowled over by the colourful cover, the title and the catch-line, “Work made fun gets done”. To tell you in a gist what the book is about let me quote one of the authors, Ken Blanchard:

“I think this is a marvellous book. The story of the world famous Pike Place Fish market is fantastic. But this book is not just about selling fish; it’s a love story that can happen in your organisation too.”

I highly recommend this book to each one of you. The language is simple and therefore easy to comprehend and offers a lot a wisdom on how best to tackle problems at a workplace and be more productive.

It is after reading this book, that I was inspired to draft “Way To Go”, which are ways that could improve our productivity and achieve great success.

1. Work made fun gets done

This first in this list is from one of my favourite chapters in ‘Fish!’ which is “Choose Your Attitude”. This chapter very eloquently reinforces the catch-line of the book, “Work made fun gets done”.

The chapter starts with these words:

“There is always a choice about
the way you do your work,
even if there is not
a choice about the work itself.”

The authors beautifully elaborate on these words with an anecdote through Lonnie, a fish guy at the Pike Place Fish Market. Lonnie’s grand-mom always brought love and smile to her work. All her grandchildren including Lonnie loved helping her wash the dishes because working with her was so much fun. With the help of her grandchildren, Lonnie’s grandmother managed to get the dishes done that much more quickly. Dishwashing as everyone knows is a mundane task but the old lady brought a lot of love into the task and her spirit was infectious.

What I learnt from this anecdote:  A leader of any team should be able to instill in his or her team the same kind of joy and effervescence as the old lady brought into dishwashing and in the process make work and the workplace more enjoyable. Also work has to be delegated effectively.

2. Discipline is paramount

Discipline plays a significant role in the success of an individual or business. And when I say discipline, it means in every aspect of a job. Every employee should give his or her best to any job that is assigned to them. Avoid being late and taking leave as much as possible. If you are sick try to crawl to office (of course exceptions apply). Awaken the creative side of you and when you conceive an idea, work on it and leave no stone unturned till you get results. Always finish a task in hand before taking up another and more importantly stick to deadlines.

3. Building relationships

In a team setup, it goes without saying that a healthy rapport needs to exist between individual team members. And since everyone needs to work in tandem, personal differences if any should be cast aside. And in case your job requires you to interact with clients hone your public relation skills and exploit them to the maximum. Make good use of the Internet by using social-media networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to promote the company business.

4. Delegate work effectively

For a project to be successfully implemented, every team leader should ensure that the work is equally distributed and monitor the workflow at periodic intervals. Over here, the team leader should refrain from micromanaging. Micromanaging would lead to irritating employees and loss of trust. A good idea would be to have in place a written work distribution plan and schedule. Employees on their part could maintain a daily to-do list and tick off each task once it is completed. Daily tasks can also be prioritised so that at the end of the day important ones are not left out.

5. Keep an eye on competitors

For any company to succeed it is important to keep an eye on competition and competitors. We need to be on par if not ahead of our competitors. If need be, business needs to be re-invented if not re-charged so that we don’t fall back in the rat race.

So my dear employees, I won’t take any more of your time. Get going! Cheers! Do not forget to have a copy of “Way To Go” pasted on your workstation.

When it rained groundnuts!

Till I attended the Kadalekai Parishe (groundnut fair) in Basavanagudi on Monday, I had seen visuals of a typical Indian fair only in movies. A very popular fair in this part of Bangalore, the annual fair has groundnut farmers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu thronging to Basavanagudi to sell various varieties of groundnuts. It is not just groundnut farmers who take part in the fair, vying for attention along with them are vendors selling toys, fruits, candy, dresses, doodads, idols, tablas, masks and more. The atmosphere on the roads surrounding the famous Bull Temple, which is where the fair is held every year, is drowned in the cries of vendors, voices of people, sounds from a variety of whistles, hysteric youngsters, honking of vehicles and more.

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In spite of the huge crowds, I found the experience of visiting this fair exhilarating. There was so much festivity in the air, I hardly felt like I was in Bangalore coming as I was from a rather sleepy corner of the city. I would say the festivity here is not only because of the fair but also the presence of many temples in the area. Almost all of them were super-crowded. Though I badly wanted to visit the Bull Temple, I just couldn’t make it. However, I managed to enter the Karanji Anjaneya Swami Temple which like the Bull Temple was built by Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bangalore. The serene atmosphere inside the temple was a complete contrast to the hullabaloo outside.

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If you are wondering, what the fair is about, there is a lovely story to it. Once upon a time, Basavanagudi [the name of the locality translates to Bull Temple in Kannada], was surrounded by groundnut fields. Every month, on a full moon day, a huge bull would race through the fields and destroy the crops and in the process the livelihood of the farmers. The worried farmers then prayed to Nandi [a bull, who in Hindu mythology is the vehicle of Lord Shiva] asking him to help them. As a token of gratitude the affected farmers promised to offer their first crop to him. From then on the bull stopped ravaging the groundnut crops and the grateful farmers fulfilled their promise. Many years later, Kempe Gowda found an idol of Basava in the vicinity. He constructed a temple to celebrate the Basava idol which is why the name Bull Temple. And with every first harvest which they offer to Basava, the farmers together hold a two-day fair to sell their groundnuts.

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The popular fair is also a great place for camaraderie and oh yes for photography. But be sure to finish off with your pictures by 7pm because later the surging crowds may make it difficult for you to click. Here are some scenes from the fair: