A Travellerspoint blog

Santorini

....... the perfect setting for a nautical adventure

sunny 10 °C

Summer hadn't quite arrived when we did late April and it wasn't 'high season' so not everything was available or open on the island. As it turned out, it was just PERFECT for us. We stayed at Imerovigli as against choosing Oia or Fira. Imerovigli is rightfully called “The Balcony to Santorini” for wherever you are on this part of the island, there is no escaping that view. The entire island is dotted with houses that have whitewashed walls and beautiful blue doors that overlook the Aegean and every single time you open your eyes and look out over the Caldera it never fails to bring on a smile.

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You know you are living a dream when the door to your suite opens up to one of the most breathtaking natural views in the world - a volcano outside your front door in the middle of the Mediterranean for goodness sake! I've not come to terms with that memory yet. During sunset its a common ritual for people to gather on their balconies or terraces all over the island with a glass of wine to take in one of the most magnificent sunsets in the entire world.

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When you are not lazing around and drinking in the endless view I recommend you try and explore the island a bit. We particularly enjoyed the cliff top walk to Fira one morning, which took approximately 2 hours. Fira is a port town, where all the cruise ships come in to dock and it gets very busy when they do. In my opinion - Fira, although interesting and fun to visit felt more touristy with a lot more hustle and bustle and way too many people to squeeze past in the busy narrow streets. I guess it all depends on what each person is seeking while on a holiday. Fira is a great place to explore with loads of pedestrianised alleys, lots of nice shops and taverns. I met an Australian artist who lives and paints in Santorini for 300 days in a year and goes back to Australia to exhibit her work once a year.

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NOTE OF INTEREST : Wear a pair of good walking shoes or sandals, the paths are often cobbled with very uneven steps and steep paths. Santorini is not a good destination for anyone with mobility issues.

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Spend a day on a boat trip which will take you the volcano and the hotsprings. A visit to the excavations at Akrotiri is a must as so is a visit to the beach at Perissa . You can even scuba dive off the cliffs and most hotels can set you up with diving instructors.

As I turned my head around to breathe in the view one last time during my trip, I remember thinking that this is definitely not going to be my last trip to Santorni. I would return here in a heartbeat and recommend that if you get the chance, you should do so too :)

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Catch the wind in your sails :)
- Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 12:32 Archived in Greece Tagged sunset santorini fira caldera imerovigli Comments (0)

A Greek Escape

A highlight of the few days spent in Athens before we got to the islands....

semi-overcast 9 °C

Monastiraki

An amazingly vibrant and old neighbourhood still in action after a few thousand years! Everywhere you turn from the square, there are wonderful items of every kind to find, to buy, to eat and savour. Spent almost an entire evening walking around this neighbourhood, tasting authentic Greek cuisine and shopping for trinkets and souvenirs. Spending an evening here gave me an insight into the life of a modern day Athens resident which seems to combine a heady mixture of the modern and the traditional with the ever present backdrop of the ancient. Literally!! (The Acropolis looms in the background of this old town).

I attended the evening service at a Greek Orthodox church at the entrance of the Monastiraki square which incidentally seems to be where the name of the town is derived from. It makes you feel like you are in a timeless oasis within the hustle of Athens.

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There are lots of bars and restaurants in the small streets off the square, we however found a picturesque back alley eatery and with a little help from our friends at the adjoining table who happened to be locals, ordered a rustic and delicious Greek meal.

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Acropolis - Athens

THE BIRTH PLACE OF MODERN DEMOCRACY - There are quite a few stairs to get to the top of the hill where the Acropolis is built but, the view once you reach the top is truly humbling. There’s nothing that prepares you for the feeling that comes with the realisation as to how much history lies beneath your feet and all around you. It is a definite journey back in time and is a surreal experience imagining that something of this magnitude was built by hand nearly 5000 years ago.

Visiting the Acropolis took me back to the time when I studied Greek Mythology in school and like me if you are fascinated with Greek history, Greek gods and goddesses, then this is bound to be a surreal experience. There is a lot of restoration work going on at the site and its heartening to see the Greeks doing everything they can to preserve and restore the buildings on the Acropolis.

The Parthenon that stands proud even in its ruins seems to tell stories as to how it shaped up to be the seat of modern day democracy. It must have been an unbelievable sight all those years ago when the structures were still in their original form. Even like it is today, it is an impressive sight. The carefully calculated spaces between columns, the overall symmetry of these huge marble structures built all those years ago just goes to show how advanced the ancient Greeks were. It was cloudy and windy for the greater part of the time I spent here, but just for a minute the clouds parted and bathed the entire Acropolis with bright sunlight, which if you ask me is probably the only way this wonder has to be viewed. Was lucky to get a good picture of the Parthenon before the sunlight disappeared.

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The Porch of Maidens was another sight that was just a treat to the eyes. The statues of 6 women are used as structural pillars are beautiful to say the least. I heard the guide say that the statues on the site are replicas and that 5 of the maidens are housed at the Acropolis Museum and one of them is at the British Museum in London.

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After the long trek back to the bottom of the hill lined with a zillion olive trees and fat lazy pigeons who prefer to walk after a meal instead of fly, I now know for a fact that no matter how familiar with the sight of the Acropolis you are and how much familiarity you may credit to your knowledge owing to your school work or just because you browsed through the internet and read everything possible on the subject, nothing (absolutely nothing!) prepares you for the astonishing scale of such a structure that was built millenniums ago. I strongly advise you make the effort and hike up that hill. It is an experience like no other.

NOTE : Its extremely windy atop the Acropolis. The best time to visit would be in the morning or evening. Wear sensible shoes as the path winds and is uneven.

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As you make you way down from the Acropolis you can see the fully intact Temple of Hephaestus built in honour of the Greek God of Blacksmiths and Metalworking (pictured above). Did not visit it to the Temple of Hephaestus, but instead paid a visit to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus which is at the base of the hill.

On reaching the city square we found ourselves outside the imposing structure of the Academy of Athens. Took a couple of pictures and walked on, only to find out later that that if we had taken ten steps towards the building, we could have also seen the statues of Socrates and Plato near the base of the pillars supporting the statues of Athena and Apollo.

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This city is truly MYTHOLOGICAL.

Safe Travels
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 12:12 Archived in Greece Tagged athens parthenon acropolis monastiraki porch_of_maidens Comments (0)

Malaysia

Truly Asia - (hmmmm …. Still thinking if this is an apt description )

all seasons in one day 28 °C

TOUCHDOWN KualaLampur - Watched the most beautiful sunrise from the plane :) The pilot for the day informed over the intercom , “Ladies and Gentlemen, its sunrise over beautiful Malaysia. If you are visiting us then we welcome you to our country and if you are Malaysian - THEN WELCOME HOME !!!! “(I had tears in my eyes when I heard that). I cannot imagine the times when I have returned back to my homeland and nobody has bothered telling us anything that sounded remotely as wonderful.
Good Morning malaysia

Good Morning malaysia

:)

We caught our transportation and were swiftly driven towards KL. The airport is 60 kilometres away from the city.

Now for everyone who pictures Malaysia in their head - Kuala Lumpur in particular, the first thing that pops into the mind are the Patronas Towers and yes, the towers dominate the city skyline, but does not mean you get to see it from every place in KL. We were lucky to get a room with one of the most beautiful views of the Patronas Towers and the Minara!!!
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Now the fun part of my trip lasted 4 days ,so I will only concentrate on the fun part

Day 1:
We had to pay a visit to CHINATOWN to kick-start the adventure. We did something very local, we hopped onto a bus, bought tickets for 1 Malaysian Ringgit (RM) and got dropped off at Chinatown. Our stomach’s were collectively shouting their displeasure, so we decided to pay heed and put their complaints to rest…. AND HOW!!!
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Note to self - ALWAYS CHOOSE FOOD ON STICKS. Now they come at varying prices, the duck was 2.5RM, Chicken 2RM, OCTOPUS - 5RM. It is served two ways - Barbecued or Steamed. We chose to get them barbequed. We loved it and went back for another round of "food on toothpicks" (as I conveniently chose to call it ) ….Tried Claypot Rice and proclaimed that I could have died and gone to heaven that instant - Love love loved it!

Now that the stomach was put to rest , we kicked of the next important to-do-item on the itenary - SHOP. Now I’ve seen imitation wallets, bags, satchels in Thailand, but the quality of the imitation stuff in Malaysia is far superior.
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Found the coolest hoard of T-shirts ever, including a store that sells vintage T-shirts. Cash is the only accepted mode of payment and as I discovered to my enormous surprise - I loved haggling. Imitation designer shoes, watches, bags, jewellery, belts and trendy clothes - Oh so much to buy!

DAY 2:

Destination : GENTING HIGHLANDS ….
About an hour and a half drive from Kuala Lumpur amidst the drastic change in terrain, climate and skyline I first laid eyes on the highlands. You can reach the place by either of 2 ways - Cable Cars or by Winding Roads. We decided to get to the Genting Highlands by Cable cars. I am scared of heights so it goes without saying that I was freaking out quite a bit when 6 of us piled into the cable car, but then I saw that the view that immediately put all my fears to rest. The sight of the natural valleys and high hills shrouded in mist and as you go higher up and the rain forest beneath your feet, is truly BREATHTAKING.

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We stayed at the World’s Largest Hotel - First World with 6118 rooms. The waiting area has more than 50 counters to help you check in, but be warned, this is a tedious part and it takes anywhere between 2 to 4 hours to get you checked in. The hotel management is quite intelligent and has arranged for live entertainment at the waiting area Clowns, Street dancers etc.

The rooms are not impressive and in the effort to pack as many rooms as possible ended up in making them minuscule. They do not even offer complimentary WATER !!! The 8th floor of the hotel connects to the mall and what a mall it is. Toy Trains, shopping mall , karaoke Bars , Ripleys Believe it or not museum , haunted houses - everything packed into the mall :D
and before I forget - CASINOS TOO. The guys wanted to hit the slots immediately, but we girls went shopping 
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We went back, left our loot in the room and went to the Ripley's Museum and it qualifies as one of the more interesting hours I have ever spent in my lifetime.

Next stop : CASINOS.
It was the first time I ever entered a casino and I think I finally understand the draw that gambling holds. We decided to try the casinos at the other hotel too … We had to take a shuttle to that hotel that runs every half hour between the hotels.

The food in Genting is terrible to say the least. (Trivia : Alcohol is extremely expensive in Malaysia .. A 650ml bottle of Carlsberg costs 20RM.. almost 3 times its original price, so we bought alcohol at duty free stores at the airport and kept it with us through the duration of the trip) If you wake up early enough to watch the sunrise (or in our case, you could stay up late enough to see the sun rise) - The sight is unbelievable. large_IMG-20120407-00383.jpg

DAY 3:
Theme Park in the facility
I've been to Disney so I will not attempt a comparison. But it is if viewed independently and without bias - quite nice.
We drove back to KL almost feeling like we were KL natives who had gone to Genting on vacation. Looked like KL was growing on us.
We got back to KL and had the most lovely Indian dinner at the Grand Seasons. I've usually hated Indian food served outside India, but theThere’s a lovely Indian restaurant at the hotel.

Day 4:

We knew we had to pay a visit to the Patronas Towers atleast once before we leave Malaysia. But a girl somehow looses track when she goes shopping. Anna our lovely Malaysian friend took us to the Central Mall and we girls shopped to our hearts content, brooches, clips, Chinese fans and a gorgeous painting of koi fishes by an artist who had her baby sitting in a high-chair playing with water colours . Interesting fact - This market has been in existence since 1888 - WOW!

Chinatown closes by 3PM on Sundays and we didn't have a clue about that. Our transport arrived and we went to the Minara Tower which has an observation deck built to see the Patronas towers . The observation deck is at a height of 286 meters and has a 360 degree views of Kuala Lampur and the sight is amazing. This is truly a beautiful city.
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In the midst of all this, we never did one thing that we all had wanted to do all along - visit the Patronas Towers … With only 5 hours left to take-off, we had no choice but to scrap the plan and leave for the airport.

I’ve been a life long fan of graffiti, so when Abhay saw a wall full of graffiti at an open car park, we had to stop the van and jump out to make pictures ….. and guess what we saw to our left as we were sprinting towards the graffiti filled wall

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THE PATRONAS TOWERS!!! It was a coincidence like no other and so we did get to take pictures with the towers after all.

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Ofcourse we took pictures with the the backdrop of those graffiti filled walls. What fun, everyone was captured in various stages of flight.

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We were toooo excited even after we boarded …. The girls watched rom-com movies …..while the boys downed 5 whiskeys each …. We spent the remaining flight walking to each others seats and having an unusually mad time. Will never forget A reminding J to check if the parachute was where it was supposed to be and repeating the oxygen mask wearing instructions to him :D

We landed in India and I held my breath as the captain started announcing the descent AND NO …….. Our pilot never said anything remotely sounding like “Welcome Home” :(

Till I get another stamping on my passport … C ya :)

Posted by Ceej 07:24 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Shopped till I dropped

...... THAILAND

sunny 30 °C

First and foremost I was shocked to see how infra structurally sound Thailand is as soon as I landed at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.
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I just fell in love with the various coloured taxis which in a way have become a hallmark in Thailand, they look like car shaped m&m's have been strewn all over the streets. Based on my interactions, I have found that almost every one who visits this country seems find the colourful taxis worth a mention.
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Time and again I've been told by enough number of people that I should have not missed visiting the Chatuchak Weekend Market, especially when I was in Bangkok over the weekend. Personally, I am not someone who is terribly fond of the sun, so shopping at nights when the temperature is not soaring suited me best :) I did make up for it at the various Night Bazaar's.

Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok

: beautifully lit shops that are laid out in strips, which cover the sidewalks. All the old favourites are here: Lovely dresses, silk scarves, T-shirts, pillow cases, toys, silver jewellery, coloured gems and gorgeous lamps and lights or every conceivable colour.
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There are also packaging services and bigger and more fragile products (as I discovered) such as ceramics, furniture, carvings, and lamps (don't forget to take some home - THEY ARE GORGEOUS ). Just because items in Suan Lum are more likely to carry a price tag does not mean that's the last price. There are fabulous imitations of high-end brands available, you might just strike an unbelievable bargain if you buy 2 things instead of one especially, on products such as watches, sunglasses and bags (if that's something you would like. I cannot bring myself to buy imitation watches but I'm all for the sunnies)
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There was this place that sells music too. The shops sells these awesome covers of mainstream songs all the way to jazz/acoustics :) As in all open markets, try to bargain. I know they don't speak English , but they all have calculators with which they convey the price, in Bahts (Thai currency)
Walk around the market before deciding to make a purchase, because you might get a better price at another shop. (Disclaimer : unless you are terribly good with directions you might just end up not finding the first shop you visited, as what happened in my case ) :( :( . I guarantee one thing "You will end up buying interesting things that you had not expected to buy before!!! " :)

I went there on a Friday night , and it was open till 3 AM. I paid a visit again on a Monday and realized that the place is more active on Weekends (might be a no-brainer for the ones reading this but I was surprised at how empty it looked). The place closed before midnight. On our way back...our cab driver said something about the Suan Lum Night Bazaar being closed permanently so that the government can build some fancy hotel there :(. Personally, I hope not. I loved being here.

PATTAYA :

We'll get to my views about the Walking Street in a bit, I am going to start off with an account of what Pattaya has to offer during daylight hours because I got here in the morning and did get to see a bit of the town. During the day you have to visit the beach. There are multiple water sports that you can engage in including jet skiing , para sailing and I think I saw an ad for scuba diving too. You can also find excellent bargains on flip-flops and the likes and some good eateries too. My favourite thing was to get a foot massage sitting under the shade of umbrellas watching the waves. One of my friends with whom I travelled ended up in getting inked by a tattoo artist who has a studio on the beach and after much requesting, the artist agreed to do the entire tattoo on the beach (it took all of 4 hours to complete the work)

I was extremely curious to go to Walking Street in the night . The place does take on a completely different vibe after dark. It is always very busy with hordes of all spectrum of worldly tourists in all manner of states at the night time recording everything on video. We are all well aware that this is the place most men to go 'meet' young Thai girls who spend their evenings enticing any visitor to partake in drinking, eating and dancing. The whole street is lit with neon lights and it is filled with a combination of music, shouting and laughing from from all corners. I just chilled with some friends at a open air pub, smoking from a hookah listening to amazing live music and over-looking a bar with Russian girls at the window. I had fun in this strange place, alight with neon lights.

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If this is not your scene and you find it difficult to digest the sight, it is best you avoid this place at night as it is definitely not for the feint hearted - for sure. However, I will say this, from the point of view of a girl you do feel quite safe. I saw several police officers and most clubs have medics on hand to deal with all the nightly excesses.

Back in Bangkok, I paid a visit to Panthip Plaza : If you are looking for anything electronic - this place is a must visit. You can even buy the best computer games and TV shows - on a pen drive. You can even buy the pen drive at the store and select the content you want transferred on to the drive.

I would like to visit Thailand again and explore what Ko Samui and Phuket have to offer. I dont think I will pay Pattaya a second visit.

Till next time

Khapunkhaap

Posted by Ceej 21:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged shopping thailand bangkok Comments (0)

COORG

An ode to the land of my forefathers

all seasons in one day

Every time anyone meets me and then it is revealed to them that i hail from Coorg, invariably the conversation shifts to discussing the land of my forefathers. Though I was born and raised in Bangalore, the calling that this part of the world map holds is undeniable. People always seem to have so many questions regarding Coorg , the people , what activities they can pursue when they visit the place,etc. So I decided to catalogue some helpful things about Coorg.

Coorgs are a martial race inhabiting Karnataka’s picturesque hill district Kodagu, in the Southern part of India about 250 kilometers from Bangalore, the IT Capital of India. It was nicknamed as "The Scotland Of the East" by some of the officials in the East India Company most notably by Sir Erskine Perry. The history of this race has always been shrouded in mystery and no Coorg is not just about coffee.
Coorgs or Kodavas as we are known in some parts are a different kind of people as compared to others in the country. Unlike other Hindu communities, Brahmins have no role in any of our ceremonies: be it marriage, death or festivals. The birth of a male child is announced by a single gunshot fired in the air, but the death of a family member is made known by firing gun shots in the air. Drawing a parallel between the character of Greeks and Coorgs it is noted that, “Like the Greeks, the Coorgs have an instinctive hatred for servility or being obsequious. A Coorg will never show more than the obligatory respect to a man in the higher orders of officialdom unless he positively respects that man.”

There’s plenty to do and see in this stunning part of the country, but after careful thought I've finally come up with seven particularly interesting or different things to do in Coorg that will add more to your trip.

1. Help an elephant take his daily bath
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Near Kushalnagar there is a natural island with 11 acres of land, covered in trees and surrounded by a wonderful wreath of water. The Dubare Forest is maintained by the forest department, who also run an ‘Elephant Training Camp’. The island is reached by a 20 rupees motorboat ride. Tourists visit to witness the daily routines of tamed elephants. These huge mammals are used to the attention, moving through the river water and lying down while visitors pat and clean them. Tourists enjoy scrubbing the ears and backs as the elephants throw water on themselves through their trunks, if you are in the vicinity you are definitively getting soaked :) Once they are given a bath visitors can serve ‘raagi balls’ made especially for them by the forest department. The cool and gurgling waters of the Cauvery River create a pleasant and refreshing atmosphere.
You can get back to the mainland either by the same motorboat or by following a natural stone path through the river.

2. Visit the biggest Tibetan settlement in southern India
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Did you know there is an 18,000-strong community of Tibetans living in southern India? Bylakuppe, situated 90 kms away from Mysore city on the Mysore-Madikeri highway, is the largest Tibetan refugee camp, housing thousands of Tibetans in exile. Over 45 years ago Tibetans settled here, creating a ‘mini-Tibet’ in one village.
As you get close, you’ll see Buddhist monks – ‘Lamas’- overtaking you on their speeding motor bikes, their maroon robes flapping in the air. In the market they can be seen wearing Raybans and listening to their i-Pods! ;)
The sense of sudden change as you enter this Tibetan enclave is surreal, with its colorful flags, monasteries and modernised Tibetan culture.More than 7000 monks pursue their monastic education in Bylakuppe’s monasteries, with dedicated veneration to his holiness The Dalai Lama, their supreme master. The Golden Temple, with a 60 ft gold plated Buddha statue, and the recent addition of ‘copper colored mountain’ Zandong Palri it’s an attractive tourist destination.

3. Trek the hills

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From easy to arduous treks, Coorg has varying trails for all kinds of adventure seeker. The best season to plan treks in Coorg is between October and February. The three main mountain peaks in Coorg for trekking are Brahmagiri, Pushpagiri and Tadiandamol. You can trek alone or with a guide. Organisations like Coorg Adventure Club (CAC) organise trekking expeditions from time to time and can arrange the necessary facilities for the interested trekkers. The experience has it all: thick forests, sloping hills, waterfalls, incredible views of this area dubbed ‘Scotland of the East’.

4. Watch the hockey festival
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Hockey is a traditional game of the Kodava community, the ethnic group of this region. The Kodava Hockey festival in Coorg has run since 1997. The principal rule of the festival is that a particular team is represented by members of a specific family. Each year, the festival is organised by a different family who give their name to the tournament. It’s for both men and women and is considered to be of great importance. The festival was initiated to bring the people of Kodava community closer. The opening and closing ceremonies are held with spectacle of various dances and a demonstration of the martial arts of the Kodavas.

5. Tuck into Coorg cuisine
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Even though the people of Coorg are mostly non-vegetarian, they are influenced by the South Indian ways of cooking food. The rich cuisine of dishes use pork, chicken or fish but are cooked with coconut, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and spices like pepper and cardamom.
You have to try it to believe it - try some Pandi Curry with Kadambittu, which is Pork Curry with Rice dumplings.
Yummmmmmm!!!!

6. Attend a Coorg wedding
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A Coorg wedding is very different from other South Indian weddings, with the customs followed more familiar to those of North India. The bride wears a red sari, draped in an unusual manner that involves tying pleats in the rear, taking around the back and pinning of small portion of the pallu (end of the sari) securely over the right shoulder.
Men and women of Coorg are known for their beauty, bravery and intelligence. The men look handsome in
their long overcoats, with a silken sash around the waist. They carry a customary dagger called
‘pechekathi’ tucked on to the right side of the sash. And YES alcohol is served as a customary ritual, and its usually on the house with the food ;)

7. Walk the plantations

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Coorg is densely covered with coffee, pepper and cardamom estates. These estates on the lush and steep hills of Coorg make an interesting walk. You can even stay in one of the plantation properties and learn from the estate owner all about the growth of coffee and important local spices. Not to mention enjoy a piping hot coffee made wish fresh beans as you relax and enjoy the wonderful views.
I leave u with the image of perfect serenity, of misty mountains, lush paddy fields, roaring rivers, gurglings streams, beautiful people and the aroma of arabica coffee tickling your nostrils and the songs of the valley long forgotten.

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Until next time
CJ:)

Posted by Ceej 04:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

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