The Tiger

Right then, under fed conditions, we were on a predetermined glide path through the jungle to the exit gate. Our pace, gentle; the wander through the thicket, therapeutic. Zenlike was our ride out, when the guide (born and bred to be a spotter) shatters the humdrum with top drama, he shrieks Tiger on the road!!!

Was this it? Was the epiphanic moment finally here? I recall seeing a giant tail swaying, followed by watching orange and black stripes gracefully stepping on the tan. An epithet in the flesh, barely 20 meters from us. She was Sunainah, a young tigress on her territorial patrol.

I will never forget when she turned around and looked at us straight in the eye, paused ephemerally and in the very next moment, with such elegant disdain, completely dismissed our presence. We were awestruck.

Startled, delirious and ecstatic, I could instantly recall the umpteen mentions of how “a tiger in the wild was incomparable” and of all those times when pug marks were the closest we ever got.

Through the trees, the rays of the sun made for such beautiful light; with the noise of the jungle as the background score, this was a centerstage unravelling of the most dramatic.

We followed it, keeping a sure distance, amazed at every move she made. She decided to saunter into the woods and all of us sighed. This is when our naturalist ever so confidently said let us manage this and he drove past her and turned off the vehicle; just as he had predicted she came back on the unpaved tan and this time we were the ones being followed. What a move by our accompanying naturalist, Yaju you Rockstar.

We kept on moving and watching her as she continued on her patrol, unperturbed by our presence. After a while, another car came by and this is when the tigress went in the forest and finally, we saw her cross a stream into the dense.

We could not have asked more of this day. Working in perfect harmony, our guide and our naturalist had provided us with incredible viewing opportunities. We went back feeling contended, maybe a tad bit victorious, but most of all, humbled. Yes; the jungle was surreal and an epitome of harmonious thriving beauty and seeing the tiger was enigmatic, but the narrative was so much more. A speck suspended in a sunbeam had more life than we could ever fathom. Such vastness deserves nothing but utmost respect, especially from its custodians – the Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise men”). 

Next post on the way…

The Jungle

5 in the am and two things happen simultaneously; first, the alarm in the phone goes off and second, someone on the outside knocks at the door trying to wake us up. I could also hear something slide behind the hinged panel covering a square hollow in the wall next to the entryway. I pull open the panel and there sits a kettle of piping hot tea, some coffee and cookies. A cheerful voice greets and tells me this is your 5 am wake up call, good luck today.

I take the breakfast tray and place it on the table at the outdoor patio in the balcony. It is still dark out and pretty brisk. I can hear the circuitous and indefatigable vocalisations from birds and animals and thats when it dawns upon me in a most euphoric way that I was in the middle of a jungle! To be precise, by a river at the edge of the core zone of the Kanha forest.

Sitting at the patio, My wife and I, sipped on our beverages. The night had started to wear off ever so slightly; the fireflies over the still waters of the river were still rampant. It was a surreal start to our day. Soon, we rounded up the kids, got into our cold gear, grabbed our cameras and and rushed out – couldn’t be late for our safari drive! We got to the porch where our naturalist was waiting for us in his 4 x 4 vehicle. It was pretty cold but the blankets and the hot water bags placed at our seats were exceptionally comforting.

We hit the road and a few minutes later, we were at one of the entry gates to the Kanha Tiger Reserve. As we entered the jungle, we were as anxious as a hen with one chick. We had been on a lookout for a tiger since the past decade and it had managed to elude us every time. As our vehicle continued to make its way through the sinuous routes of the forest, the more definite was the flora and the fauna and the resonance of the calls from the wild. The route led us to an endless picturesque landscape enshrouded in mist; the cool air and the smell of the lush green forest coalesced into something so audaciously refreshing, you could almost taste it. There was life everywhere, the forest was so alive, so invigorating.

Our guide had just heard a warning call from a barking deer and gestured that the tiger could be around, we were amped. While we were fervently looking out, we saw a troop of langurs sitting ever so calmly by a tree. Ah, the winter sun! It seemed like they were observing our movements. Makes one wonder, who is amusing who?

As we kept on driving, astoundingly dense the forest grew and more wild life started coming our way. The sun rays passing through the the tall and thick trees were heavenly, true to its christening as God rays.

THE DEER

Perhaps the most prominent residents here, the deer are truly graceful creatures that can be found effervescently jumping in virtually every corner of the park. The spotted deer, the sambar and the endangered Barasingha are some of the species of deer that native to the park.

The Barasingha clicked by Rayan K

THE JACKAL

From the families of the wolf and the dogs, this omnivorous creature seemed to be always on the hunt. We saw a pack of them try to hunt a spotted deer. The hunt was unsuccessful but from the looks of it, they are very agile and lithe hunters.

Photos by Rayan K

THE BIRDS

Kanha is home to tons of beautiful residential birds and also a lot of migratory birds. The rich flora and fauna make this an ideal habitat for the winged. Look towards the skies here and besides hearing all kinds of chirps and bird songs, you’d be amazed at the myriad of hues on display – a birdwatchers’ paradise.

THE BIRDS OF PREY

They are apex predators. The biodiversity and abundance of life in the forest naturally draws these raptors in. It is quite a sight to see a bird of prey stoop and then fly off with its prey in its talons. We could always spot them poised on tree tops tenaciously observing and searching, optimally using their instinctively heightened senses to track the most camouflaged prey. We saw a convocation of three eagles attempt to hunt a ground peacock. What a sight!

Crested Hawk Eagle clicked by Rayan K
Crested Serpent Eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle Juvenile as clicked by Rayan K

THE BEAR

Another endangered species. Tracking the Bear in a forest of this magnitude was something only experts could do. We were on a route when our naturalist stopped the vehicle and yelled BEAR! It was sitting quite far from us. It was an expert track.

As we approached a pit stop, we suddenly realised that we were absolutely famished. While our naturalist had fully stocked breakfast basket, the local guide had mentioned that the samosas along with the chutney available at the rest house were legendary.

While the breakfast was being laid on the front part of the the car, I went and grabbed some samosas and chutney from the rest house canteen.

Hot samosas and chutney with a cup of Earl Grey in the middle of a thick green forest under the soft winter sun. Fancy that…

To be concluded…

Viva La Goa

After being tied to one end of a string for the better part of the year passed, we finally saw ourselves hail a cab to the airport. But of course, it had to be to our most loved Goa. What followed when we got there was a catharsis of sweet emotions. It had just been just so long since we were by a beach, strolled through the misty greens early in the morning with the gentle breeze from the sea caressing your face, play a game of frisbee in a tiny pool amidst perfect giggles.

It rained so hard on one of the days and we had to jump in the pool. It was reminiscent of childhood when it was such a thrill to go swimming as heavy droplets from the skies discombobulated the still surface of the water. Or go cycling…

Was it because we were indoors for a long time, was it because we tend to deeply appreciate when circumstances deem something to be elusive; I don’t know, all I know is that morning when we were walking through the gardens, we felt so connected and were extremely grateful for everything around us.

It was all so pretty. Precious memories.

Thank you @ Taj Exotica

Across Jordan – The Dead Sea (Days 3-5)

 

A 90 minute drive to the south of Amman, past the revered baptismal site of Christ “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” gets you to a land-locked lake called the dead sea. At 417m below the sea level, it is the lowest point on earth. Albeit the lowest point elevation wise; of tremendous magnitude, is the conspiracy of nature and history presented here.

Aside from the Dead Sea’s dramatic and gorgeous setting; its waters have been known throughout history for their therapeutic properties. Legend has it that Queen of Sheba was the first to believe in their healing powers. This was followed by Cleopatra who travelled from Egypt to built world’s first spa here. From Aristotle to the Roman emperor Marcus Antonious, there have been many that were enthralled by the mystery of the dead sea.

Owing to its low elevation, the water gets trapped and evaporates at a very high rate ergo the most mineral rich water in the world is left behind. The salinity of the water is about 33% compared to 3% in seawater; high salinity coupled with a high mineral balance of the water give you the most therapeutic water in the world with tremendous healing capabilities.

As you approach the site, the ocean side of the road is laced with luxury hotels. Here, in a serene corner, is the grand hotel of Kempinski Ishtar Dead Sea. Inspired by Babylonian architecture, the hotel is an immaculate ode to luxury and serenity that is brilliantly complemented with an exceptional service standard.  Designed as a tribute to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the hotel is essentially a conglomeration of grand Arabesque monumental buildings made from local stones. As you get to the entrance, you can really appreciate that it has grandeur and flair ingrained into its very core

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The majestic entrance

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The oldest resident here – a 700 year old olive tree

The Lobby

Laced with fresh flowers, the refreshing grand lobby opens up to a terrace with a spectacular view

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The Rooms 

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A beautiful waterfall right outside out room

 The rooms had an an Arabian theme which, seamlessly blended with modern décor. Very tastefully done up indeed. Right outside our room was a temperature controlled  moon shaped celestial pool. It was gorgeous and had a beautiful backdrop of the dead sea. During the evenings the sunsets were magnificent and with the night time illumination it was absolutely stunning.

The dead sea

We walked through this fantastic hotel to the beach. Truly amazed as how humongous the property was and every corner was so immaculately designed.

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On our way to the beach

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The beautiful sun kissed mountains

As the beach got closer, the higher was the temptation was to run in. The guards sensed that and advised us to walk in, it is really different than running into the sea. Two things happen simultaneously when you enter the water; it stings (especially on the first dip but it dies out soon) and you realise that you are floating. You feel discombobulated and amazed at the same time; just be sure not to drift away.

The staff is always there to assist you and they are ready with soft salts and mud collected of the shores which you can apply on yourself after the dip.

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Famished after our first dip we went to nearby restaurant – an exquisite Italian grill called the Akkad Bar. There are a couple of pools and a heli pad there. The kids loved the helicopters coming in.

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The Spa

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The Spa, the biggest in Arabia, is brilliant, an epitome luxury. Housed in its own building, it has a massive indoor pool, jacuzzis, steam baths, salt water and hydro therapy pools and a plethora of therapies. It is state of the art

We had completely lost the sense of time; enchanted, I guess. The riveting dead sea was perfectly complemented by the serenity, flair and magnanimity our hotel here. Two days here had just zipped by, but it was one our most invigorating and enchanting experiences. Wonderful memories; a von of the fantastic!

    Next Stop – Wadi Rum, stay with us

 

Across Jordan – Amman (Days 1-3)

I was standing outside of Jabal Al-Qalaa – the highest vantage point to the rolling hilled city of Amman. Open your eyes here and in the heart of the city below, you’d see the large buff-colored stones of the roman theatre, look to your right and standing tall are the formidable pillars of the temple of Hercules, close your eyes and you’d hear the muezzin’s calls to prayer reverberating through the countless minarets of the city.

Inhabited by humans since the Paleolethic period, the country of Jordan was occupied by the Babylonian and Mesopotamian empires, the Nabateans, the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Ottoman; at various points in its history. All that have ruled here have left their distinctive mark on the country’s culture, design and architecture and this has culminated in one the most harmonious juxtapositions of the modern era.

Out trip to Jordan commenced with Amman as our port of entry. While being the capital of Jordan, it is the political, cultural and commercial centre and of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Prior to our trip, we had purchased a Jordan pass which is essentially a super pass for your stay in Jordan – it not only provides entry to many tourist sites but also includes a visitor visa for the adults. As for the children’s visas, it was a visa on arrival, the fees can be paid through a credit card at the airport immigration counter; rented a car at the airport and drove to our hotel.

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A view from the window of our room

Day 1 – After breakfast we visited the old town. The narrow streets of the old town were clogged with selfie-snapping tourists and there was not a corner spared. We made our way through the most populous city in Jordan and reached King Faisal street in the heart of the downtown; here tucked away in a very unassuming by lane is perhaps the most famous name in Amman – the Hashem Restaurant. One of the oldest restaurants and an indisputable icon of Amman; it is a very humble street side joint but the best meal of Falafel, Hummus and Mint tea you’d ever treat yourself to.

After the meal we started walking towards the Roman Theatre. On the way we stopped at an Arabic sweet shop called the Habbineh – the kunafa and the baklava here are a must.

The Roman Theatre

Built into a hillside, the 6000 seat theatre was constructed during the time of the Roman emperor Antonius Pius (138-161 CE) and was oriented north to keep sun off the spectators.

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The columns outside the Roman Theatre

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Center stage

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It is steep

The roman theatre with its steep seating has an excellent acoustics design (You can stand at the center of the stage and your voice will echo. The person sitting on top of the last row would be able to hear you clearly). It has an unbeatable vantage from the higher seats (the steps leading to the top are steep and the climb is tiresome but worth the effort). It is not happenstance that the theatre is hugely popular for hosting host various events even today.

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A view from the top

The top seats of the amphitheatre were the revered ones. As against being closest to the performances, the royalty and other important dignitaries would sit in the top rows to get an unobstructed view of the performances, not to mention the incredible acoustics.

After visiting the roman theatre, we visited one of the popular malls in the city – the Abdali Mall. We then returned to our hotel and called it a day – a special mention for our hotel, the Amman Marriott, an exceptional property with superlative dining options.

Day 2:

Following breakfast we strolled through the old town again. Over the years, it has managed to retain its character reminiscent of an old Arabic Bazaar; many shops, however, have now been replaced by currency exchanges. The city also has its fair share of museums and art galleries. Another exquisite offering are the cafes here; the city is adorned with exquisite cafes. After a quick coffee at the Jafra Cafe we made a mandatory pit stop at the ice cream place outside the cafe and were on our way to the Amman Citadel.

The Amman Citadel

Atop the highest of the seven hills of the city is the Amman Citadel. It houses the ruins of the Temple of Hercules – the formidable towers of which are visible from almost any corner of Amman. Here, at the Citadel, you can get a bird’s eye view of the dramatic contrast in the architecture of the city below. It is absolutely mesmerising.

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The Temple of Hercules

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The Roman Theatre

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Serious talk! with a view

The entire area is surrounded by a 1,700 feet long wall which has been here since the bronze and iron ages. There’s plenty to see here, but the most striking are the temple of Hercules and the Ummayad palace.

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A view of the stone towers at sunset

After out visit to the Citadel , we went to one of the roof top restaurants. Amman has its surplus of quality roof top restaurants with breathtaking views of the the city that looks insistently graceful during the day time and surreal when illuminated under the night skies.

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and called it a day.

 

Stay with us to the dead sea

The Petra Marriott

Travel is in the dreaming, anticipating and in the manifesting of a journey. It is in the allure, the premonition and the mysticism that defines the experience much before it actually takes shape.

If you are are a fan of the mystique then its greatest incarnation is the city of Petra. The crown jewel of Jordan is maddeningly dramatic, to say the least.

The city has always enjoyed a heightened popularity and it is no happenstance that it has been conferred as a wonder of the world. Innumerable tourists visit everyday and share their experiences. A little research and you would know exactly what to do here. When visiting a place as popular, there is very slim chance that something unexpected would come your way. In a city that has an unparalleled offering that overshadows almost everything by far, we managed to find something that stood tall, a true gem, it was our hotel here, a really pleasant surprise.

A ten-minute drive through a winding uphill road from the city centre gets you to the Petra Marriott. Perched atop a mountain, the hotel overlooks the Petra valley and offers a stunning view of the mountains.

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The facade

As you approach the hotel, the middle-eastern architecture is reminiscent of a fort from the bygone era. The interiors, while chic, modern and grand do not fail to aver its middle-eastern roots.

The lobby lead to a lounge and this was the first time we got a glimpse of the jaw dropping view of the valley. With our eyes firmly glued to the view, we entered the elevator to our rooms with our backs towards it.

The room was all you would expect from a Marriott. The view, however, was beyond words, all we did when we entered the room was run straight to the windows.

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The view from our room

In the evening we went to the terrace to view the sunset. Adjacent to the pool, there is a beautiful mini garden that opens up to the valley. The gentle breeze brushing your face, the valley turning orange with the sun descending and the golden lights from the town below turning bright; the transition all so perfectly synchronised. The calm here was dichotomous to the bustle of the city below.

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The sunset

As the night set in, it got brisk and we went to the lounge and grabbed us a pot of bedouin tea. The lounge connects the lobby to the terrace and restaurants. The hotel houses a contemporary bar and two restaurants and an out door barbecue.

We dined at the middle-eastern restaurant called Dushara. The food was exquisite – we were served supremely crafted delicacies from the regions around. Cooked to perfection and expertly presented, we could not have asked for more; when it comes to fine middle-eastern cuisine, this restaurant certainly tops our list. It was simply outstanding.

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Dushara

The next morning, when we opened the curtains and looked out of the window, it took us a while to grasp onto what was happening outside. The valley had patches of white. It was snowing! It had snowed the entire night.

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Snowing

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The view after the snowfall

Snow in Petra! you could read the thesaurus twice over and still would fail to find a word to describe the heightened joy and thrill on the kids’ faces. We geared up and stormed to the deck.

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While our younger one was still baffled and acclimatising to the cold, our older one couldn’t stop smiling.

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After an intense hour of finding innovative ways of hitting each other with the fresh snow around, we went to the restaurant adjacent to the pool for our breakfast. “Breakfast with a view” in the flesh; an incredible early morning view of the valley is complemented with an elaborated breakfast spread.

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Breakfast with a view

Given the weather, we had to stall our plans of visiting the city today and decided to stay indoors. The hotel also houses an incredible Hamam, Godsent on a cold day. We were so glad that we chose this hotel.

The next morning was considerably bright. At sunrise, as first light hit the valley, it magnificently illuminated the peak of the tallest mountain there. The mountain is called Jabal Harun and at its summit stands a white domed mosque that was built in the 14th century to commemorate Prophet Aaron (Prophet Moses’ younger brother). Every morning at sunrise, as the light hits the peak, it looks absolutely surreal.

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Break of dawn

We visited the city today and came back totally mesmerised.

The following morning after breakfast, we went to deck one last time to bid adieu.

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Sure, the charisma of the old city of Petra is unmistakable and visiting it was an unforgettable experience, but I will also, with the same conviction and without an iota of a doubt say that whenever there is mention of Petra, the first memory that would come to us would be the look on the children’s faces when they discovered that it was snowing in valley.

 

Thank you for the memories

 

The Taj Lands End, Mumbai

Analogous to its name, the Taj Lands end sits at the edge of one of the most pulsating suburbs of Mumbai. Almost at a vertex to the island of Bandra, it enjoys uninterrupted views of the Indian ocean on one hand and an incredible view of the skyline of a hyper metropolis on the other.

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The lobby

An elaborate use of flowers and vibrant colors in the decor amplifies the fresh vibe of the hotel. In fact it is a distinct feature of the hotel that you’d notice as soon as you enter; Welcomed with the flowers! and they are with you everywhere, till you get to your room.

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If you are looking through the lens of a camera from a window of the room here, the difference between calm to insane is just a few degrees. The dichotomy presented, albeit appalling, is insanely beautiful.

It is impossible to fathom that you’d be so close to one of the most pulsating cities of the world. As you cozy up with a drink by the pool, it almost instantly you are taken to a sea-side resort. You’d feel like you are so far from it all when at the back of your mind you’d realise that a 20 minute drive and you are in the bull pit!

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The warm and contemporary interiors of the hotel are plush to their very core and the rooms, pool, spa, et cetera are all you’d expect from a luxury hotel. As for the grub, on offer are incredible dining experiences curated by the best chefs of the city coupled with an uncompromising and impeccable service standard. If you are a fan of retro cocktails and live music, nothing beats the Sloan at the Atrium Bar & Lounge.

At dusk, the colorful the skies over the ocean are beautiful and as the night draws in, the the skyline of the city look magnificent as cars, like fire flies stream off the sea link.

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With the night time illumination which includes a lot of flickering candles and oil lamps; the hotel looks gorgeous.

All in all, for travellers to the city, it is an excellent hotel in the heart of Mumbai and for fellow city dwellers, it is a perfect spot to get away from it all and unwind over a weekend. With an uncompromising attention to service, this place raises the bar high.

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Cheers!

Maldives III – The Ocean’s Call

South Ari Atoll is located at the core of Maldives’ largest marine protected areas and is a residential ground for the gentle and graceful Whale Shark. The Whale Shark is the largest fish on the planet and can weigh up to 60 tons. While they can grow upto the size of a school bus, unlike sharks, these gentle giants are not predatory. A juvenile male population of whale sharks proved to reside in the warm waters surrounding the resort and can be spotted year-round; humans, it seems, are not the only ones that come to Maldives to get some sun.

The resort’s marine biology center conducts daily guided boat trips along the southern reef of the atoll to search and swim with the whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and we had booked one of tours today tour today. It was a perfectly sunny day with shimmering silver seas. Eager and anxious we hopped on to a dhoni and began our quest to see the whale shark. Ten minutes into our trip and we could spot sea turtles and dolphins. It was magical to watch pods of dolphins jump, flip and play in their natural habitat. Pure happiness!

Dolphins playing in the sea

We made our way top deck where the marine biologist gave us a very informative briefing on the whale shark. He patiently answered to the brigade of questions that followed form the curious kids.

After the presentation, we sat by the side of the upper deck, with our eager eyes hunting for a glimpse of the whale shark across the seas. It was beautifully calm when suddenly something broke off the surface of the water. A Flying Fish! shrieked the child, muddled in amusement. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a school of flying fish sailed past us. We were awe struck. It was amazing to see the fishes with highly specialised wings in action. Unbelievable!

As our boat sailed deeper in the ocean, the calls for spotting the whale shark started and we were told to get ready with the snorkelling gear. By the time, we got to the area where the giant fish was last spotted; it had already dived. These creatures are very shy and unlike whales they do not need to get to the surface for air, making them extremely elusive. We circled the water around the spot for a while but couldn’t get a glimpse of it; the biologist conceded that it was unlikely that the whale shark would resurface and led us to a snorkelling site with plenty colorful fishes and sea turtles. We spent sometime snorkelling and marvelled at extraordinary life under the water.

Whale Shark, Maldives

The Whale Shark as document by the Marine Biologists at South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Although we could find what we were looking for but the snorkelling in the ocean at the end of our expedition was really special. Triumphantly, we made our way back to the resort.

More often, while at the sea, we get so focused at the horizon that we forget about the world that lay beneath the waters. We got to see it today and it was one of the best things that we did in Maldives. The vivid colors, the synchronised movement of the  fish, the swaying of the seaweed, the corals, the energy; it is incredible

When we got to the hotel lobby, they invited to a Disney themed Christmas party that was scheduled at the western end of the island in the evening. We were greeted by Mickey and Minnie when we reached the party.

When Mickey and Minnie greet you to a party

There were carol singers, music, drinks, cotton candy, pop corn. Basically everything a kid could ask for. This was followed by a spectacular show performed by fire jugglers . Set against a backdrop of pristine seas with of hues of orange, purple and pink lingering in the evening sky, it was stunning to its core.

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The fire jugglers

After the evening celebrations, we went to the jetty point to get a view of the skies. With close to no light pollution and its equatorial location, Maldives offers some of the most spectacular skyscapes visible from Earth. The had set up a telescope for the star gazing. It was also a full moon and the entire area glow in soft silver light.

Moonlit

We, now made our way went to Allegria. Allegria, in our opinion is the gem of the restaurants here. It is set in an incredible spot on the island. There is a huge tree that sits in the middle of the restaurant and outdoor seating is laid all around it. They serve an authentic Italian fare and have an impressive wine list. The lights, the live music and the sound of the sea elevated the magnificent ambience.

From Allegria, there is a corridor that leads to a chocolate room. As the name suggests, it is exactly that – a room made of chocolate and candy with a toy train that passes through chocolate structures. It is extremely tempting and the kids, well, try keeping them from tearing the walls down of this one!

The next day we were up bright and early and out on our cycles to get some early morning pictures.

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The Library

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The Board Walk

The rest of the day was by the sea. Chest bumps and cheers, jet skiing, parasailing and paddle boating – it was funday in the sun.

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After a quick lunch we went to our room, en route, we stopped at the wishing tree to put in our wishes and then grabbed an ice pop from the ici shop candyman. We grabbed our bags from the room and waited at the lobby for our departure as the time to bid adieu had arrived.

Maldives is definitely one of prettiest places that we have visited and South Ari Atoll was absolutely gorgeous; as most would agree Maldives is definitely a bucket list destination and a once in a lifetime experience; but I reckon it was so much more, TRAVEL is so much more. It’s not only about visiting a destination or ticking it off a list; it is in emotions and enlightenment that the smallest of the shared moments reward us with. It is in the chance to feel your best and to celebrate life.

“TRAVEL CHANGES YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL, NOT NECESSARILY BECAUSE OF THE EXPERIENCE, BUT BECAUSE EACH NEW PLACE YOU VISIT BECOMES A PART OF YOU” as said by Gareth Pon.

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Thank you Maldives for the memories

Maldives II – At the Beach

So, off we were on our bikes. As soon as we got off the stilted on-water wooden platform on to the island, amidst the trees, stood a red phone booth. It looked like it had stepped of Dicken’s London and was now by a beach. The phone home as they call it, looked stunning by the beach and it lets you make free calls to anyone across the globe. Next to it stood a huge display of #SMILE ALL THE STAY. These little touches were just brilliant.

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At the Westernmost tip of the island

On with our bikes through the narrow sandy lanes of the island. It took us a long time to bike as at every corner we would stop and marvel at the view. We had now passed the lobby and here, surrounded by silver sands and gorgeous sandbanks was a glittering lagoon. Adjacent to the lagoon was the Veli Bar – a colorful, fun and lively all day casual eatery, a perfect spot to spend an afternoon. They serve more of an American fare with burgers and hotdogs.

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The colorful Veli Bar

We grabbed ourselves something off the menu and sat at the beanbags here. The kids went paddle boating in the lagoon. The ripples of the rudder of the paddle boat disoriented the little fishes that were swimming around and they scattered like a splash of color dissipating in the water.

The kids were now famished. They came to us, quickly ordered for some food. After, hard paddling for almost an hour where they had virtually paddled across the entire lagoon area, we were pretty sure there were going to be quieter times but surprise surprise. They had regained all their expended energy and wanted to go to PLAY – the resort’s indoor kids play area. With a humongous pirate ship, a mini pool and an extensive list of offerings including many supervised outdoor activities; PLAY is a dedicated corner for the kids on the island. It is huge and there are loads of things to do for the kids.

With the kids busy, we biked across the island. It’s very slow and pretty difficult to ride a bike here as at every 50 meters you end up stopping to look at the stunning view and are left mesmerised. While you are on the bike, you are looking at whats around you more than looking ahead. Be it spotting a lone stork by waters on the east-side, the sunset at the westernmost corner or the white beach stretch in the middle of the island; extraordinary, to say the least.

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Our dinner was at Senses. Set by the beach, under open skies, the restaurant serves authentic Indian, Maldivian, Sri Lankan and Middle Eastern cuisine. If you are a fan of  seafood, the Maldivian cuisine here is most recommended

The following morning we went to Mixe – a thatched roof buffet restaurant for breakfast. As the festival season was around the corner, the restaurant was beautifully draped in Christmas colors. With jingles playing, there was a festive feeling in the air. It was magical. The breakfast spread was elaborate. Loved the  fruit corner where they would customise and serve the freshest fruit bowls, juices, smoothies as per your preference.

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Photo by Rayan K

Off to the pool…The resort offers two exceptional infinity pools that overlook the Indian Ocean. Great fun

After a swim,  we went to the kid’s favourite spot on the island – the ICI shop. It is the resorts very own ice cream shop. Need not say more. Spent some time at the beach with the ice-lollies in our hand.

Nest to the ICI Shop and by the beach is Beach Rouge. With a bright, lively decor and mesmerising views, Beach Rouge is Lux’s Maldivian incarnation of a beach club. It offers jaw-dropping sunset views. The restaurant boasts of exquisite grills and delectable ceviche, they also have the best pizza on the island.

After an eventful day, a relaxing sunset cruise was in order. We went on a Dhoni – a traditional Maldivian wooden boat for a slow paced boat ride across the reef. The boat has a top deck where you can stretch and enjoy the astounding view.

Upon returning, we went to the East Market for some Asian cuisine and then to the East Bar, an over water hangout. Soon, we called it a day and started walking to our room. As we approached the stilted platform, we spotted an eagle ray in the water.

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The Eagle  ray

This really got us excited. We grabbed on to a search light and waited at the overwater hammock in our room, anticipating that something would pass by. We couldn’t spot the eagle ray again but just as we were about to stop our quest, a huge STINGRAY passed by and till we we could pull out our cameras, it had eluded us.

We weren’t able to get a picture but seeing a sting ray was amazing. This was a perfect end to our day as we geared up for a Whale Shark expedition the following morning.

 

Our trip continues…stay with us

Maldives I – To the Beach

When a landing strip mysteriously appears form a turquoise blue coloured abyss, when you land at an international airport with beach sand all around, when you step out in the sun and hear a call from the beach even though you don’t see it; you would know that you have landed at a serious island destination.

The moment we touched down and stepped in the Maldivian Sun, everything around seemed to shout out “TO THE BEACH“. Even the folk at the immigration counter wanted the paperwork to be dealt with as soon as possible and set us on our way. Almost in an instant, we were able to march out of the tiny airport. We hopped onto our transfer and scooted towards our hotel in Male.

Next morning, bright and early, we got transferred to the Lux South Ari Atoll kiosk at the airport for our seaplane transfer checkin and then to the adjoining seaplane terminal.

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It was incredibly captivating to see the seaplanes land, dock and take off, while we sipped on the most delectable coffee of Café Lux at the plush Lux lounge. Restlessly, we waited for our call to board.

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When the epiphanic moment arrived, the kids charged and almost tackled the guy giving the call. We were led to a seaplane and as we entered the tiny cabin, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the lead pilot’s footgear –  Havaianas!

being led to seaplane

The kids jumped onto window seats. Once everybody was settled in, the pilot throttled up, the churn of propeller blades intensified and in an almost frictionless lift, we were airborne.

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The view from the window was beyond incredible, as we glided over islands, canyons, sandbanks and resorts.

After a twenty minute journey, the pilot commenced the descent. A long island emerged from the silver sea below and upon touchdown, as the water sprayed by the pontoons dissipated, we could spot a string of over water cottages and people waving at us from an on water platform. We had arrived at Lux South Ari Atoll, Maldives.

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The welcome party greeted us and led us to the lobby. The fresh spirited vibe at the bright and airy lobby was unmistakable . We sipped on our welcome drink while the kids nibbled on their ice-lollies.

Soon, we boarded a buggy and headed west of the two kilometer island. As we made our way through lush gardens laced with snowy white beaches, we got glimpses of the stunning ocean peeking from the spaces between the trees.

At the westernmost point of the island, on stilts over a glittering lagoon, are the over water villas. Away from the land, the overwater villas command a breathtaking view of the cerulean sea.

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The boys spotted a black tip baby shark in the lagoon and went ballistic.

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As we opened the door to our room, the glorious view left us stunned.

The bright interiors of the magnificent room blended in perfectly with the glorious view. While we were busy checking out our room, the the lack of any noise got us a little curious; the excited duo had sneaked out of the room on to deck, slung off their t-shirts and were quietly walking down the stairs of the villa that led to the lagoon. They were about to plunge in when they were interrupted; imagine the angst. Getting them in their swimming gear was perhaps the most challenging task of our trip.

rushing to take a dip

A little dip, a little chill, on to our bikes and off we were…

Our stay continues…

Please visit our next blog on Lux South Ari Atoll

 

Taj Bentota Resort and Spa – Surfed!

A scenic 90 km drive from Colombo to the south west of Sri Lanka will get you to the seaside resort town of Bentota. In addition to the golden sand beaches and best dive sites the island nation has to offer, Bentota is also the home to some of the most heroic beach resorts in Sri Lanka.

Located on the golden mile of the Bentota beach and sitting on a headland overlooking the Indian Ocean was our hotel – the Taj Bentota Resort and Spa. On reaching the hotel, we were warmly greeted “Ayubowan” by everyone that was around and welcomed in the resort.

The European themed interiors of the lobby with the wooden ceilings seemed to make a seamless connect with an imposing vantage of the Indian Ocean. We sipped on Ceylon ice tea and admired a picture perfect postcard view.

On the way to our room, we passed by a beautiful open to air atrium laced with a lush green garden and cascading Koi ponds. Absolutely unique and magnificent; we stopped to marvel while the kids were trying to find a way to feed the fishes.

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The Atrium

Checked in in to our room. In addition to chic interiors and  an impressive layout, our room had an exquisite sit out area opening to the sea and overlooking the tropical gardens of the hotel. Talk about a backdrop for an afternoon tea!

Soon we were at the resort pool. The pool area is just spectacular. While the the hotel itself is set on a large headland, the pool area is at a further elevation; at-least two floors higher than the beach and this makes for extraordinary vantage views of the lush tropical hotel gardens and the beautiful sea, from every corner. A drink by the pool chairs while you gaze at the Indian ocean and you would understand the sheer lack of pace here. It is hauntingly relaxing.

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The Pool

One corner of the pool is laced with mini stone elephants that sprinkle water from their trunks; adding a dash of playfulness to the relaxing ambience

Lunched at the PALMS; a multi cuisine restaurant adjacent to the pool.

Our next stop was the beach. The resort has direct access to a golden sandy beach. With perfect waves it is ideal for surfing and safe for sea swimming, especially for the kids. Surf lessons were underway and we could see the children looking at the surfers and processing some permutations like tiny bots. After a couple of minutes of silence, we were provided with an elaborate schedule for the next two days. Talk about role reversals!

Sipped on some fresh coconut water and watched the children play at the beach for rest of the evening.

We had reserved a spot at the in-resort seafood restaurant called the SHACK. Rated as one of the top seafood restaurants, the Shack is simply brilliant. The chef curates gastronomic masterpieces from the freshest ingredients that are chosen by you from the display counter. The finale, a crème brulee, was exceptional.

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The Shack

Live music coupled with a soft spray of the sea brought in by a gentle breeze, the ambience of the restaurant is exceptional. At the beginning of dusk, as the sun dips and the nighttime illumination comes into play is perhaps the best time to get here.

The following morning things got pretty intense; the children had spotted a monitor lizard in the lawns and the wife was freaking out. They quickly ran with their camera to get a picture of the little guy.

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Photo by Rayan K

We hit the beach early and after spending some time creating sand castles, we commenced with the surf lessons. The instructors were pretty good. In the next ten minutes the kids were leaping and balancing the board perfectly.

This day, I could relate to the phrase “Life is a lot like surfing”, the entire was day was dedicated to it.

In the evening we visited the Induruwa Sea Turtle Conservation Centre. We saw different turtle species viz. Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and the Albino sea turtle. We were explained the life cycle of the turtles, the current challenges facing their existence and the rescue and rehabilitation operations of the conservation centre; it was very informative, especially for the children. We saw turtle eggs, a video of their hatching and newborn baby turtles in a massive water tank. We concluded the tour with the kids releasing baby turtles in the ocean. It was fantastic.

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Releasing baby turtles in the sea

After dining at a popular local joint, we got back to our hotel. As per our guide at the conservation centre, at night-time many turtles would swim ashore at our hotel beach. So we grabbed on to a searchlight and hit the beach. We could not find any turtles but saw tons of crabs that ran into the sea as we turned our searchlight towards them. With absolutely clear starlit skies coupled with the rhythmic sound of the waves hitting the rocks, the beach at night was spectacular. There was a private dining tent set up on the beach by a hotel, it looked like a must do here. For us, it was a long shot on this trip, given the schedule charted by our children.

With kids bust playing pingpong at the table next to the swimming pool, we went to TEASE – a lively bar with tropical décor. They have both inside and outside seating overlooking the SHACK and the beach. At the bar, they serve exquisite cocktails, authentic shisha, an elaborate collection of fine wines and an impressive food menu.

 

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Tease

The hotel also houses an incredible Asian restaurant called the Oriental Pavilion. It is rated as one o the best Chinese restaurants in Sri Lanka.

The following day our surf lessons continued and I had mastered the art of falling off the board. The children, after their runs, used to look back in anticipation and at the epiphany moment burst into a hysterical laughter. The wife had joined in the fun as well. My instructor very subtly conveyed to me that it was much easier for the children and looks like your wife has surfed before. Ah, fun fun, well in my defence, it’s the things that you do to make your children laugh.

With a unique setting on a large headland along the Golden Mile of the Bentota beach, exquisite dining options, modern rooms, a state of art spa and most importantly the legendary Taj hospitality, a stay at the Taj Bentota is a wholesome family experience and most naturally, it becomes one of favourites in Sri Lanka.

Thank you for the memories Taj Bentota