Jungle Retreat

This post should’ve seen the light of day a long time back, but here it is, 8 months later. I HAD to put the bits and pieces down somewhere, before I lost them in the depths of my unreliable memory.

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Last October, we decided to spend our vacation in Jungle Retreat, a resort nestling in the foothills of Nilgiri (Blue Mountains), in close proximity to Mudumalai Wilidlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu.

Prasad covered the whole distance (more than 800kms between Hyderabad and Masinagudi, where the resort is situated) driving  in our car. To make the drive and a long journey with a couple of kids manageable, we stopped in Mysore for the night.

Mysore, during the festival of Dasara, sadly, is a bad place to stay in. I wanted us to visit the Palace where the famous procession with the Elephants happen. I thought walking around a real palace would bring joy to Medha, who is fascinated with Princes and Princesses. But the roads had been made one-way for the occasion, and they were crowded too. We feared we might lose the kids in all that hullabaloo. Even getting to a restaurant was such a hassle! As our car inched along, we took in the Glittery-gold beauty of the Mysore Palace, without getting out.

We were anxious to get away from the crowd and noise that is Mysore and into the lap of nature. There are quite a few resorts in Masinagudi, but we chose the Jungle Retreat, as they were offering us a good deal for the stay.

On our way to the resort, we visited an ancient temple of Lord Krishna, built by the Hoysala King, Ballala, during 1315 AD (according to wikipedia) at the top of Gopalaswamy Betta. Thank Goodness we were driving an SUV; I don’t know how we would have managed driving on a narrow, 2-way unpaved road.

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There was no place to make a U-turn and return to safety. At one point, we had to stop for a while, to let the cars returning, pass us. When my in-laws became nervous about what we’d gotten ourselves into, Medha panicked too. It was difficult to calm her down.

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Our efforts weren’t worthless as the views at the top were breath-taking. I found myself singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music”, a soundtrack from the movie The Sound of Music. The hills were so unspoiled, so green, I thought we were in Austria or somewhere else…

We still had a lot of distance to cover but we had to make our way down slowly…

The road got narrow and muddy towards the entrance of the resort. Again, we were glad to be driving an SUV. The weather was perfect, cloudy and cool. We were beyond thrilled as we walked towards the “lobby”, which is an outdoor dining area/ lounge.

Jungle Retreat is “tranquility” personified. Everything, the rooms, the swimming pool, just blended into the surrounding Forest. We heard nothing but Birdsong and saw only greenery and wildlife around.

And the staff… we’d never felt so welcomed in all our travels. Mr. Mathias, along with his crew of passionate people went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. One of them, Rhea, told me how she used to visit the retreat as a kid every year. She looked happy to be working there now. I imagined Medha working there and saying the same things to their future customers.

Their Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner spreads included dishes that were mostly Indian but palatable for people from different parts of the World as there were Foreigners all around, lounging as if there was nothing else to do or nowhere else to be. Time seemed to stand still here. The food was healthy and tasted good too. I looked forward to their desserts. One, Biscuit Pudding, still makes my mouth water.

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Unless you book a Dorm room, Meals are not included with the Accommodation. But the folks that run the resort assume that you will dine with them unless specified otherwise. Make sure you let them know if you’re planning to skip a meal, to avoid charges.

The lobby was a fun place to hang out and meet people. Even the House-pets hung out there, providing entertainment to the kids. Every evening the hosts organized a presentation to bring the guests up to speed with the Retreat, its rules, its inhabitants and the surrounding Forest. Knowledge-Junkie that I am, I attended them both the nights that we stayed there.

The rooms we chose were comfortable and clean with a rustic feel to them. And they came without TVs, thank god! The noise would have driven away the wildlife, I suppose. We were not allowed to walk outside after dark. The guards led us to and from our rooms.

There’s much to do in the area apart from just enjoying stunning views of the Nilgiri mountains, sipping Coffee. You can watch a herd of Deer grazing beside your room or dip into the swimming pool that transforms into a watering hole for the beasts at night or get a Thai massage done.

We went on a Bird Tour with a well-informed Ornithologist who set up his spotting scope to show us a host of birds, like the White-cheeked Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Spotted Dove, Plum-headed Parakeet, Long-tailed Shrike, White-bellied Drongo, Brahminy Starling, Purple-rumped Sunbird and many more within the resort. Even the kids enjoyed watching the birds and catching insects!

We watched a herd of Elephants being fed at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp.

We went on a Safari by bus into the neighboring Bandipur Forest. Although we didn’t spot anything wilder than a Tusker, a lone male Elephant, the excitement of making our way into the thick of a forest and waiting in anticipation of finding a beast was enough. The open Jeep Safari was even better.

On our last day, at the break of dawn, Prasad and I went for a walk to the temple at the top of Vibudhimalai. It was an hour and a half’s trek that took us beside farms and a village to the top of a mountain. The walk wasn’t draining at all, just the opposite, the clean air and the breath-taking views at the top, boosted our energy.

Every outing, each activity brought us so much joy, but our fondest memories of the trip remain spending time in the resort itself.

I have promised Mr. Mathias, the owner of Jungle Retreat, that we’ll be back there soon.

Here’s how much we spent for food, accommodation and recreation at the resort:

Accommodation – Rs. 15,996 (approx. 250 dollars for 2 nights and 2 rooms)

Food – Rs. 11,696 ( approx. 183 dollars for breakfast, lunch, coffee+snacks and dinner for 4 adults)

Walk+Jeep tour – Rs. 2528 ( approx. 40 dollars)

Total – Rs. 30,220 (approx. 472 dollars)

I hope you visit them too…

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I loved reading it. It is not a thriller or a mystery, yet I found myself speeding through it, yearning to know what happens to the central characters in the end.

It is about a girl, Cather, a year in her life, starting College, her family, her new friends and her love for writing fan-fiction…. just the very sort of book I love to read, and hopefully, write someday.

I wonder why I’m hooked on YA (Young Adult) Fiction these days. In my young-adult years I was full of disdain towards them. I probably thought I was beyond their level, never having been told what was appropriate to read for my age. As my sister and I were growing up, we read what we found at home, and they were books written by Sidney Sheldon, Arthur Hailey and John Grisham. But now I’m always found hovering around the Children’s or Teens’ sections of my library (Justbooks)! Still not age-appropriate… But who cares!

Coming back to the book… Cather (who likes to be called Cath) has been her twin sister, Wren’s best friend and room-mate all her life. Now , in College, Wren wants new experiences, new friends and even a new room-mate. Cath feels lost without her sister.  Writing Simon/ Baz fan-fiction (I didn’t know anything about fan-fiction until I started reading this book. According to Urban Dictionary, “Fan-fiction is when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, whether it be a novel, TV show, movie, etc, and create their own story based on it”) brings solace to her as she struggles with her fears. Of making new friends. Of not knowing where the canteen is. Of how her dad will manage without the 2 of them at home.

In swaggers Levi, the ever-smiling, helpful, charming, chivalrous Levi, with a razor-sharp memory. I fell in love with him long before Cath did. I kept waiting for their romance to blossom. Will they? Will they not? I wondered. I feared Cath might shut herself off from him. But she doesn’t, Thank God.

I love the falling-in-love part in a story. Any story. There’s such nervous excitement around it. But staying-in-love? I admit I find it boring, listening or reading about it, unless it is super-exciting 🙂 or the 2 people have remained in love for a very long time. I wish the author, Rainbow Rowell, hadn’t spent much time and words on their romance, as she did.

I perked up whenever I came across ‘writing’ or ‘fan-fiction’. Cath is so proficient at taking someone else’s story, here, “Simon Snow” series written by Gemma T Leslie (based on J K Rowling, I suppose), and writing her version, that it is hard for her to write a story of her own. She just doesn’t know where to start. Her Professor helps her come up with a “starting point”. She says “Just start from somewhere in your life and see where it leads you”… But where exactly? Her past is bleak. Her mother abandoned her and her sister, Wren, when they were too young. When they had needed a mother the most. Cath finds it hard to dig into her past. She doesn’t want to face her mother, who now wants to come back into their lives. She has trouble trusting people, even Levi.

Relax, there’s a light at the end of the proverbial “tunnel”. Of course there has to be, when Levi is around. He helps Cath figure out that she doesn’t have to have one thing at the cost of everything else – fan-fiction writing over fiction writing, her family over Levi, Wren over her room-mate Reagan. Only then does she make room for so much more in her life.

We are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

No big life lessons in this book. No wise characters (except, maybe, Levi). Every character had flaws, even my favorite, Levi (You can see how much I adore him), which made them real, endearing. I looked forward to reading it every night just before sleeping. I felt a sense of deep contentment as I read this book.  I felt joy. My dreams felt attainable. My goals, reachable.

Good books have such power over me.