+ Magistrate's House, No 1 Thackeray Road

The Magistrate’s House, No. 1 Thackeray Road | Alipore, Kolkata

The entrance to the Magistrate's House

I started on my education very young. It started much before my enrollment into the best schools that I studied in. It was unique and very different. I have to thank my dad and his brilliant tenure in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for this. He indulged us to be a part of his whirlwind tours while he served various positions in the various government departments. Quite obviously both my brother and I learnt beyond what was being taught within the four walls of our classrooms. We travelled a lot with our dad and accompanied his official entourage like two small excess baggage! We did pay a bit of price for availing this kind of exclusive academic environment – we had to study harder to get clean chits at the end of term examinations from school in order to make up for the weekly class tests that we kept on missing on such a regular basis! The schools of today perhaps wouldn’t have encouraged this kind of ‘extra-tution’ from life, or may be I would have had to trudge along project sheets to incorporate all my observations.

Lots of volumes in my memory card store these adventures of my unusual childhood. If I have to pin-point the period from where I could effortlessly download these memories onto my laptop, it would be the time when I was in the sixth or the seventh standard. We had just moved into Kolkata for the first time after moving from one district to another. The ‘Magistrate’s House’ on No 1, Thackeray Road, Alipore became our home for the next four years. My dad was the last District Magistrate (DM) of the undivided 24-Parganas – and the first DM of South 24 Parganas, hence his tenure was quite a momentous one. Though we were staying in Kolkata, the urban flavors of which were absolutely new to me, effectively we were still leading a life that only living in a district can give.

That we were privileged to be staying in such a heritage house dawns upon me only now when I try to convince my two girls that we stayed in a heritage house with wooden staircases and wooden beams in the ceiling – like prince and princesses in our very own royal castle!

As soon as I began writing this article, I felt that I had to visit my childhood home. And I ended up visiting this historical house today morning, this time with my girls. I had lot of mixed feelings – was it right to disturb the present residents? Would I be able to cross the high-security of the present District Magistrate without any appropriate appointment? It is not in my character to wait for my thoughts to blur my impulses and soon I was inside the car with my girls, heading towards No 1 Thackeray Road, Alipore. Yes, I was stopped by the security. Yes, there were curious staff staring at me in disbelief as they tried to believe that the lady holding a huge camera with 2 girls (one aged 7 and the other aged 2) was a little girl scampering in the same compounds, many many years ago! The present District Magistrate was absolutely gracious. He not only gave me a cool chit to roam around the gardens but also the entire house, informing his wife to let us into their private residence upstairs. I am indebted to them for life. For letting me re-visit my childhood.

My camera started clicking. It clicked every little detail that had faded away. This was like a ‘deja-vu’ – I had seen everything before, yet wanted to see them once more just so as to tell my adult self that ‘Yes, this was all REAL, a long time back!’ We walked and walked – the three of us (my two little girls and I) in descending order of heights. We walked through the corridors that were once my secret hide-outs as we played ‘I Spy’; we ran around the garden – I knew everything about this garden and I was ready to face my little quiz-master. My elder daughter was incorrigible. ‘If you were staying in this awesome house, what happened later?’ ‘Was Dadu (Grand-pa) so rich?’, ‘Why did you require so many policemen guarding your house, did you have lots of treasure?’, ‘What was the need for so many cars?’, ‘Which was your favorite corner in the garden?’ And ultimately, ‘Oh I feel like a princess!’

Reeking of the colonial pastSir Phillip Francis resided in the Magistrate's House

The Magistrate’s House was not only a historical evidence of the bygone British period but is also enlisted as a heritage building by the Kolkata Muncipality. Built in 1763, the Magistrate’s House was initially known as The Lodge. This was perhaps the oldest and the earliest residential/office bungalow built in colonial Kolkata. Instead of a typical plaque bearing the residents’ surname, two unusual plaque greeted any visitor. The plaque to the left of the huge arch of the main doorway proclaimed ‘Sir Phillip Francis, member of Warren Hastings’ Council, resided in this house from 1774 to 1780′ while the other one to the right proclaimed ‘William Makepeace Thackeray, the novelist, also lived during his infancy – from 1812 to 1815’. William Thackeray, is best known for his novel ‘Vanity Fair’. The halls of the Magistrate’s House, even to this day, resonates with traces of various mysterious and romantic historical gossips – the strongest one being the romance between Phillip Francis and the beautiful 16 year-old Madam Grand. The thick walls probably hold all the secrets to their romantic interludes. The spacious office chamber of the collector, once my Dad’s office, used to be the ball room of Phillip Francis. Gossip, mystery, stench of jealousy and betrayal -all emotional ingredients for a best-selling historical script could be dug out amidst the wide brick walls and columns of this heritage house. There were secret underground passages that acted as emergency exit and secret escape route, tunneling out to the National Library, another heritage building. It is rumoured that there were such escape routes tunelling out to Fort Williams. I have seen part of this secret corridor but haven’t ventured out till the end to check out the authenticity of this data.

Lot of my creative spirit and quench for adventure bloomed here and were nurtured by this house. The DM’s office chambers were on the ground floor and housed a full-fledged Magistrate’s office. The first floor was the DM’s private residence. There were huge bedrooms with full-length french windows overlooking well-kept lush green gardens and the bank of the Adi-Ganga, the poor off-shoot of the main Ganga river. Open outdoor spaces beckoned us, even though the sprawling grounds were gradually being encroached by various walls – the jails, the courts and even other government offices. The adjoining bathrooms were as big as the bedrooms. There were huge terraces running all around the 2 sides of the bungalow with very big private terraces attached to two of the several bedrooms on the remaining 2 sides. I had obviously opted for the bedroom, farthest to my parents’ bedroom. I was in my tweens (not teens!) – a rebel, wanting to do and learn everything my own way. I had to be fearless, and stubborn, as if by choice – being the designer of my own destiny. A huge wooden staircase ran upto the roof above and would transport me to the open skies. Similar staircase crept down to the ground floor and even beneath that to the underground onto the secret escape tunnel. I would sleep with the huge french windows dangling open that made creaking sounds as the panes dangled to and fro to the first onset of the monsoon winds. I wasn’t scared. I mean these are the background music that I was meant to defy! Today, almost 2 decades later, I am scared to sleep alone in my own room, leave alone in such a room of such an old house. I would study in my room and then in the middle of the night walk upto the roof above to revise what I had learnt – all alone in the mighty 20,000 square feet expanse! I would be all alone, looking up to the sky with my hands pretending to touch the sky. The clouds, flirting with the moon would cast a dreamy spell on the huge terrace at times. Other times it seemed like a stark dark space with various shades and depths – and I would strain myself to see everything – even the shadows of the swaying trees! I would put myself to challenge the absolute black colour test where each object would seem ‘more black’ or ‘less black’ in comparison to the other object.

The old armchairs from the colonial periodThe grand wooden staircase leading to the Magistrate's private residential area

I had painted the walls of my room. I exactly do not recall whether we were permitted to do so by our parents or we defied them! Whatever it is, my creativity surged. Deep forest and woods were recreated on the huge walls of my room. It was  a ‘live’ painting – evolving daily and organically. I would sit on the ledge of my window and come back inspired and make some hurried additions to the painting on my wall – wild flowers in the grass or some dried up leaves swaying to the ground. When the rains would hit the pebbles on my private terrace, I would soak up Mother Earth’s fresh energy by standing in the rain – be it the middle of the night! I do not even recall whether my mum was aware of my impulses or she let me be – just myself!

As far as I remember, the creativity of both my brother and mine crossed the boundaries of our own respective rooms to the main verandah of the house which adjoined the living room. My dad even turned one of those wall scribblings to form the backdrop to his impromptu bar cabinet as he placed a marble shelf on the painted wall to keep his drinks. And then our scribblings would turn into the focal discussion point among the many dignitaries who visited our home from time to time. At various gatherings – formal or informal, I would pry all our guests from the various nooks and corners and the huge pillars that dotted the verandah – no, I wasn’t shy at all – I would jabber non-stop to every one who had graced our home. I would peep from hidden location to get my imaginary perspectives.

From the many guests we have had in our home, a very frequent but a very renowned guest was perhaps the late Kanika Bandopadhyay, or Mohormashi as we would call her. She was a legendary exponent of RabindraSangeet or Tagore songs and had been named ‘Kanika’ by Rabindranath Tagore himself. She would stay with us whenever she was in Kolkata for her radio recordings. Mum has been trained by Mohormashi herself and she would tell me to learn a few songs from her. Mohormashi would cite examples of so many of her students who were coming from far and wide, just to have a glimpse of her or learn a few lines from her. I was busy running around, collecting pebbles for my own creative project. It was impossible for me to sit down and learn a song. Eventually, Mohormashi taught me a tiny Tagore song which had only four lines. Today, I do regret that I had been fortunate to have seen her from so close, yet I realise that each person has their own calling. Painting, designing, seeing the world through my lenses and writing about them is my calling. I love humming to myself, but not to the world.

Apart from Mohormashi, another exponent of Tagore songs – the legendary Nilima Sen had also graced our home. There were countless eminent personalities. Alas, I remember only a few of them. Mr Sunil Dutt, the photographer, once took a black and white picture of my grandmother, my beloved thakuma in the veranda of this house – a photograph which is the only evidence of a person who gave us only love. Today, she is no more and though it’s been a long time but everytime I see this beautiful photograph, it engulfs me with emotions and memories that only ‘thakumas’ can bring in – the bedtime stories, the hand-made coconut ‘laddoos’, the coins that she gifted us and the magical days and nights that she brought in with her.

I do not whether it was the enigma of the Magistrate’s House or of the nature of a happy childhood, everything that I have experienced in this house seemed more than real. The Holi get-togethers, our birthday parties, the various musical soirees etc. The guest lists were really remarkable and long – I remember Mr Nurul Hassan, the then Governor of West Bengal having graced our home. He was among many politicians whom I wasn’t aware of at that time, being so young. Many actors and actresses have frequented the Magistrate’s House, some from Tollywood and also from Bollywood. I remember Mr Shatrughan Sinha, Moonmoon Sen, Mr Dipankar Dey, the late comedian Mr Robi Ghosh. Once a brigade of actors from Bollywood arrived when Mr Gautam Ghosh, the well known director and who had become a very good friend of my parents, had invited them over. He was making his Bengali film ‘Antarjali Jatra’ in the Sagar Islands which happen to fall under the territory of 24-Parganas.

The names of all the Magistrates of South 24-Parganas

Image Source: My own. Please don’t use them without permission.

The years spent in Thackeray Road were the golden years of my childhood. I was beginning to know myself, realised that I day-dreamt a lot! I met a variety of people as we travelled to the interiors. I began to understand that people were plagued with various kind of problems – some basic, some major but for each individual his/her problem surmounted to the adjective ‘massive’. My dad had to create possibilities for them or re-orient the possibilities inorder to solve their problems. I grew up studying for my geography and mathematics tests while sipping tea in a ‘ control room’. These control rooms made me realise that there were different types of problems which were present in people’s lives and needed to be ‘controlled’, be it floods or draughts or elections etc. An each moment in a ‘control room’ was an emergency situation.

We would visit various places in Sundarbans – some of them were absolutely interiors where there were no jetties for the District Magistrate’s launch to anchor. We would spent nights on the rivers in the Sundarbans in the District Magistrate’s official launch. Of all the places that we had visited, my personal favourite was the Sagar Islands. Sagar Island is quite a large island on the Bay of Bengal, about 150 km south of Kolkata. Rich in mangrove swamps, waterways and small rivers, this island was our almost like our own personal island. Excepting on the day of Makar Sankranti (a day in the Hindu calendar which falls on the mid of January) when thousands of Hindus pounded on the island to take a holy dip in the confluence where river Ganges or the Ganga immersed herself into the Bay of Bengal. Thousands gathered at this confluence and offered puja in the Kapil Muni Temple. The GangaSagar Mela (fair) is the second largest congregation of mankind after the holy Kumbha Mela. It is held annually on the Sagar Island’s southern tip. The Hindus believe that a single dip during this Mela would bring them salvation. I have taken more than a 50 dips in this spot in my lifetime – so I take Nirvana for granted!

My education was as varied as the people I met or the places that we visited. It was also as profound as the emotions that we felt when we would accompany our dad on the Republic Day parades or the Indian flag hoisting for the Indian Independence day or hearing stories of him welcoming the Indian Prime Minister. Or when he handed over prizes to little children when he attended a school function as the Chief Guest. The various cultural evenings at very exclusive locales like the Victoria Memorial or the Governor’s House, or having sailed along the Ganges upstream from the Bay of Bengal to Naihati – a town situated on the river Ganga from where my dad actually hailed – the journeys were long and my experiences were priceless.

Though we were used to living in a different set of environment and exclusivity at the Magistrate’s House it didn’t make us snooty or pompous. We were not only enriched by our rendez-vous with the various personalities and special people that we hob-nobbed with under the roof of our heritage home but we also grew up amidst the chaos of the control rooms and visiting places which dared us to re-think or re-evaluate our own lives. We absorbed everything from every unspoken word and learnt from every unseen things. We grew up amidst conviction that was echoed in the District Magistrate’s voice ‘No Problem’!

Today when I re-visted my childhood home, I feel thankful that I could give my girls a glimpse of my childhood. Their childhood is not like ours. I donot give her the creative freedom to do a ‘live’ painting in their walls. Neither do I let them run into the rains. But I do compensate these by traveling with them, taking them everywhere, meeting people and answering to all their crazy queries. I have gifted my elder one a small digi-cam as I wouldn’t allow her to touch my Nikon. She has the freedom to click whatever she wants. But, most importantly she has doesn’t get embarrassed when I am perpetually clicking pictures with my lense peeping out of the car like a periscope! I click hoardings, billboards, traffic jams, people’s faces, roads, auto-rickshaws, the taxi-driver or even the ceilings of the car we are sitting inside! She doesn’t get embarrassed when I stop the car to click photographs. I am so glad that my girls don’t cry as we drive through the narrow lanes of Howrah or when we are stuck in the traffic on the Howrah bridge as I aspire to click some different shots of the Howrah station and the Bridge. While I can do these only when I am on a holiday, I will be lying if I said that I don’t do all these when I am in Dubai. So what, if I have taken 100 snaps of individual footstep on the sand near Starbucks at the JBR Walk? So what If I have climbed up the footbridges over Sheikh Zayed Road, with my camera and my girls in tow to click pictures of motion trails of cars? I have also made them pose in the burning sun for hours to take some shot of a shadow on their cheeks? But I have ‘mostly’ done these for some design project , not ‘just like that’!

And all these creative impulses were born at that magical moment when I started collecting pebbles and dried leaves from my private terrace as I grew up in the shadow of history, and touched the magical brick walls of the Magistrate’s House on No 1, Thackeray Road, Alipore.

Unblogging it all… Ishita

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Rainbows, Violins & Disney Castle | Bavaria, Germany

Mittenwald, The Disney Castle & The Bavarian Alps, Image Source: IshitaPhotoIdeasMittenwald: Mittenwald is voted as one of the 10 most beautiful villages in Europe. Situated on the northern foothills of the Bavarian Alps in the valley of the River Isar, it is indeed beautiful. And almost surreal… Rainbows sliding down straight from the sky onto the greenest meadows and painted houses where in fairy-tales seem to unfold by themselves. Mittenwald also manufactures the world’s best Violins, Violas & Cellos. One can almost hear someone playing them when the breeze touches you by…

‘We are going to a village?’ asked my little guest. He had come all the way from Kolkata for his European vacation. And taking him back to a village which he had ‘seen so many times in India’ was definitely not a good vacation option.

But then, all villages are not fortunate enough to be Mittenwald.

Mittenwald, is absolutely breathtaking. Nestled snuggly in the German – Austrian border, one can almost see the Rainbows sliding down from the sky onto the yellow daffodil-scattered alpine pastures. The Rainbows seem so near and so real that one can almost touch them. And they seem to be everywhere! We would see them when we stepped out into our balconies, we would see them when we looked out of the windows, we would see them wherever we drove… Could we actually drive through a Rainbow? In Mittenwald, the answer would probably be YES!

Our guests and us – we stayed in a beautiful holiday cottage, the ‘Ferienwohnung’ as the Germans would call them. It belonged to a very old couple, who seemed so very kind and so very gentle. As if they were elves and their small little cottage matched the description of ‘Once upon a time there was a little cottage in the forest’! Just out of a fairy-tale book.

Each morning we would wake up in our fairy-tale cottage, step out into our balcony and touch the Rainbow! Oh, did I forget to mention the butterflies in the garden? Or, the clouds floating into the garden? And, the trains whistling by?

We were living in a beautiful German Postcard! And when we drove, we drove through another beautiful German Postcard!

The local history of Mittenwald is woven inseparably into violin making and the development of instrument making. The world’s best violins, violas and the cellos are manufactured here. The village is hence rightly called ‘the Village of a Thousand Violins‘ because of the stringed instruments that are made here. The ‘Geigenbaumuseum’ or the Violin-making Museum houses about 200 instruments from renowned Mittenwald workshops; high quality master violins and children violins as well as the simple instruments for trading companies. It also houses guitars, cisterns and zithers! Besides this, innumerable illustrative materials, pictures, maps and tools of musical instruments are on display. The Museum is complete with a separate room for concerts, lectures and different exhibitions.

Mathias Klotz, the founder of the industry, is commemorated by a statue next to the church. And this important statue is in the centre of Mittenwald, where the main pot of the Rainbows lie!

Our little 6 year-old guest, has been learning the violin from the age of three. He is supposed to be a gifted violin player. This is also an excuse that I cite to include Mittenwald in our travel itinerary! Modern kids cannot live without demanding. Their parents complain that they always want to buy ‘something’ (a trait passed on from their mothers, I suppose but which the mothers refuse to accept. This trait is also sometimes referred to as a Woman’s Necessity! People generally look down upon or look up to this trait, depending upon the expenditure. An alternative coinage to this trait is called ‘Retail Therapy’!).

In our case our little guest goes about ranting and moaning about his need for a world-class violin. I befriend him and assure him that I am going to convince his mum to buy his new toy. But before that he must tell me how he manages to learn and play the violin at such an early age? ‘With extreme difficulty really and do I have much of a choice?’ he asks. Oh parents, when will you learn to be a bit more subtle?

Mittenwald is dotted with magnificently decorated houses with painted facades and ornately carved gables. This form of art is popularly called Luftmalerei and dates back to the mid-17th century. Luftmalerei literally means ‘air paintings’ and painted as frescoes decorating the walls of houses, as if they are part of the architecture. As we wander through the old lanes of Mittenwald and amidst the decorated houses, we breathe in dollops of fantasy as our eyes are tricked into illusion. We fail to differentiate between the actual architectural facade from the frescoed ones.

Oberammergau, another village/town, where the practice originated, is situated very close by. It is an illusionist’s paradise. Luftmalerei – I realise that I have to venture once again into this art form and the place where it originates. Oberammergau really demands an entire writing space of its own. Probably in my next article…

The location of Mittenwald turns out to be absolutely ideal for us as we travel along with wailing and ranting kids strapped in the back seats of our car. A lot of typical tourist destinations are close by. We drive down everyday to one of these ‘have-to-tick-Places to visit‘ and before the two kids start their daily rantings and wailings and moanings we are back to our fairy-tale cottage, just when the darkness is about to set in!

One of our excursions from Mittenwald was to the Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein). It dates back to the 19th-century and situated on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria. This is the castle that inspired Walt Disney to create his Sleeping Beauty’s famous Castle. The tall turrets could be seen again and again in the other castles depicted in Disney’s other famous fairy-tale stories.Fussen, Bavaria

Why did Schloss Neuschwanstein inspire Walt Disney? The reasons are many…

Romantic, mysterious, enormous and almost dream-like – these are the simplest of adjectives I can find to describe Schloss Neuschwanstein. The giant turrets rise up to the sky piercing through the clouds. The turquoise blue water of the Lake Schwansee and the Alpine foothills form a breathtaking backdrop.The castle seems precariously perched on an elevation of 800m. When we approach the castle it seems to be hanging from the cliff. Again, sometimes it seems to float amidst the fleeting clouds.
The ultimate mystery lies probably in the person who visualised this castle – King Ludwig II of bavaria himself.

King Ludwig II was allegedly mad and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mad King Ludwig’. The circumstances of Ludwig’s death remain unexplained; some say he committed suicide, others believe he was murdered. All this probably adds up to the dark mystery of the palace.

The palace was commissioned by King Ludwig II and was intended to be a personal refuge for the reclusive king. It was also to serve as an homage to Richard Wagner, the famous German composer that King Ludwig II so admired. Infact many a scene of Wagner’s operas are actually depicted in the interiors of the castle. Concerts (Schlosskonzerte) are still held each September in the Singers’ Hall (Sängersaal) of the castle!

In the Middle Ages three castles overlooked the village. Schwanstein Castle was one of them. Ludwig’s father bought its ruins to replace them by the comfortable neo-Gothic palace, the Hohenschwangau Castle. Finished in 1837, the palace became his family’s summer residence where his elder son Ludwig spent a large part of his childhood. The ruins above the family palace were all too known to young Ludwig, the crown prince. He already had sketches of his dream fairy-tale castle in his diary. When the young king came to power, he started constructing this fairy tale castle, with the help of a stage designer! He built it to feed his creative needs and pleasure. Unfortunately, he never enjoyed his dream castle. King Ludwig II  died before Neuschwanstein was completely finished. He was supposedly drowned in a lake nearby and his death is shrouded in mystery.

Some interesting facts about Schloss Neuschwanstein –

  • Despite the castle’s medieval appearance, Ludwig built in modern technologies of the day, such as flush toilets, running hot and cold water, and heating!
  •  It was opened to the public only after King Ludwig II’s death in 1886. Today, statistics indicate that more than 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer!
  • I am in love with King Ludwig II, only because of his famous quote – “I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.” And I do empathise with him. All great creative minds do seem to have some unusual twists and bends. I seem to be blessed. I seem to have only a ‘creative mind’ and not a ‘great creative mind’!
  • Neuschwanstein symbolises the German term ‘Castle Romanticism’. In spite of having a dramatic visual treat when we visited the castle, all the ‘castle romanticism’ went kaput for us. Our two year old girl fell asleep. And my poor husband carried her throughout our trip. Up the narrow staircases, along the medieval halls, jostling along the curious onlookers and hiding away in the dark corridors lest the bright alpine sunshine filtering in through the medieval windows wake up our little princess and transform her into a sleepy but a very fiery wailing monster.

According to the notices hanging outside –

  • Prams, large rucksacks and similar bulky objects may not be taken into the palace: Our pram was hence parked outside. Obviously, my king had to carry my princess!
  • There is only very limited space for depositing these items: Our princess did require a bit of a more space than the limited space available!
  • No liability can be accepted for any objects that have been deposited: But I am a typical Mum. I believe that everyone ought to be liable for our princess!

So, throughout the entire 2-hour long castle visit I kept on asking my husband – ’Darling, are you alright? Shall I carry her instead?’ As if I would immediately turn into a Super-woman if he had said ‘Yes’!

Why did we not stop somewhere, you may ask. We absolutely could’n STOP. Our little princess needed the rocking motion going!

Everybody says that King Ludwig had built in all the modern technologies of the day when he built his dream castle such as flush toilets, running hot and cold water, and heating… Remarkable indeed. He could have been the ‘Mad King Ludwig’ but what would he know of a two-year old whose age is also famously described as ‘Terrible Twos’? If he did, then he would have surely included an ELEVATOR and an ESCALATOR or an automatic ROCKING CHAIR and a REFLEXOLOGY CENTRE!
UnBlogging it all… Ishita

 

Related articles in this site –

The unlikely twins – Oberammergau & Kolkata

 

PS: You may also visit the following links (that is my way of saying indirectly that ‘I Insist’!) –
King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Richard Wagner, Schlosskonzerte

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+ Lorelei, Germany; Image: IshitaPhotoIdeas

Lorelei, My Ship Has Passed You By | Germany

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Image Source: IshitaPhotoIdeas

Suggested Starter: Click below to listen to the beautiful ‘Lorelei’ sung by the Scorpions…

Lorelei, the mystical rock, soaring more than 120m above the Rhine still stands in the midst of the swirling currents, near St. Goarhausen, Germany. The mystery & the myth still float in the mist. Lorelei, the maiden singing the most beautiful song may perhaps lure the hapless sailor to his death, even now. And so goes the German folklore…

The legendary Lorelei still captivates & intrigues the minds of the the thousands of visitors who visit this place everyday. The Rhine is well known for its romantic interludes. But, it is here that the Rhine loses its romanticism. It curves itself to form the steepest ‘U’, as if to desperately defy the ‘Romantic’ tag that has been conferred on it. As if like a rebellious teenager. There is no denying that the Rhine is absolutely dangerous adorned with rapids & reefs & more than a few boats & vessels must have been capsized at the spot where Lorelei Rock stand!

Situated in the the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the Romantic Rhine Region between the city of Bingen and Koblenz, has been declared a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. In this stretch of 65 kms there are more than 40 ruined castles & palaces, all along the Rhine. Each ruin has its own story & each castle has its own legends – some happy & pleasant, while others are laden with heavy grief.

As we drive along the Rhine, the castles & palaces dotting the entire route pop up almost as we inhale! The quaintness, the decay & dilapidation, the rumbles & the remnants – everything add to this region’s charm. This indeed is Heritage. A heritage that is rightly preserved against the test of time. Reeking of the strife & strength, battles & betrayals of the various rulers, one can sense the importance of this trade route. The castles had strategic positions and were used for the collection of tolls – each ruler contended for power & supremacy in this region. Each castle reflected it’s owner’s status.

Today, the castles stand as silent reminders & important witnesses to the history of the region.

Let’s get back to the present – the Romantic Rhine in the Rheingau Region & let’s get back to Romance.

The connotations of Romance here are many –

WINE & ROMANCE
RIVER CRUISES & ROMANCE
RUINS & ROMANCE
CANDLELIGHT DINNERS & ROMANCE
SUNSET & ROMANCE

AND LASTLY,
ROMANS & ROMANCE

Originally,the Romans were responsible for growing vineyards around this region. The Romans brought their culture and, most important of all, their wine to the Rhine. At present, the Germans are doing a fine job so that Rheingau can boast itself to be the best wine – producing region in Germany. This is also the Reisling Paradise. It also boasts of Eiswein, the most expensive & the most famous among wines.

I am most certain that the sailors at Lorelei didn’t get lured to their deaths just by listening to Lorelei singing. They must have also been drunk from the delicious wines that are produced on the vines scattered over the beautiful Valley of Lorelei. Eiswein is a dessert wine & just like desserts, the sweet taste of each sip that we took long back still lingers on – in our memories & in our senses!

We had become absolute Rheingau addicts. We drove along this route many a time, at many a mood & many a season. We drove in Winter when the trees were barren, covered with crispy snow flakes. We drove in Spring when the small pink flowers were about to bud. We drove in Summer when the vibrant greens dotted all the slopes. And we drove in Autumn when the leaves turned brown & dry & were about to blow off the branches.

Again, we drove the next Winter, the next Spring, the next Summer & the next Autumn.

And again, the next Winter, the next Spring, the next Summer & the next Autumn…

We saw the apple trees, the cherry trees, the fig trees, other fruit trees & a whole lot of grape trees. We saw grapes in various shades of green. We also saw the Rhine. And finally the Rhine saw us.

The Rhine saw us the first time I ventured out of our new german home, with my little girl in the pram & I was brave enough to go out for a Rhine Day Trip from Frankfurt with a close friend visiting us. The colour of the surrounding valleys that day was brownish white as Autumn had just passed its mantle to Winter.

The Rhine saw us when we bought our car & my husband got his german driving license. We strapped our screaming little brat in the car-seat at the back & drove straight to the region. It was our first drive away from the city. The Rhine was murmuring gently at the shores while the little brat was screaming! The colour of the surrounding valleys that day was absolutely white.

The Rhine saw us when we had a fight & drove along it to get our emotions sorted out. We drove along the Rhine, into the sunset & into the silence. The colour of the surrounding valleys that day was flame red. The cherry trees were in flames form the setting orange sun.

The Rhine saw us again & again as we brought with us each friend who would visit us. We would only drive along the Rhine… drive into the sunsets, into the cloudy nights, into the pale early mornings… The colour of the surrounding valleys would change from green to brown to orange to pink to yellow and then to complete emptiness!

We drove along Rüdesheim, Assmannshausen, Lorch, Lorchhausen, Kaub, St. Goarshausen, Lahn – all small quaint towns with half-timbered houses and dating back to the Middle Ages. Their narrow alleys would burst with tourists. Rüdesheim was the first historic city at this stretch as we would drive from Frankfurt. The famous Drosselgasse would come alive with live band entertainment with tourists would dance their nights away. In November, Rüdesheim would come alive in a different form – with it’s famous Christmas market.

Each town had a twin town across the river. There was not a single bridge over the Rhine in this entire stretch of 65 kms. At some towns there would be huge ferries where we would cross the Rhine sitting in our cars, while our car would be on the ferry! An Audi perched on a ferry like a medieval cargo. Trans-era Transportation, I would say!

On our night-out in the Romantic Region, we chose a town called Boppard. Bopard was also an ancient, quiet town. We chose Boppard as it was located on the western bank of the Rhine (we were familiar only with the eastern bank). We chose Boppard for another reason, the most important one -to arrive at Boppard we had to cross the Rhine on a ferry, sitting in our cars!

Boppard was once a Roman fort. Our hotel had a beautiful balcony overlooking the Rhine. Along with the murmurs of the gentle flowing Rhine, we would hear the trains shuttling by, on rail tracks running parallel to the shores. The cobbled, quiet lanes, the tourist filled lively squares, the tunes from the accordion floating by – we were transported to an era which had passed by. And transported back to the current era only by the reality of our little brat screaming in her pram!

When night unveils itself on Boppard, new adjectives are born. Dark as the alleys in Boppard. Heavy as the silence that engulfs the medieval town. What could we keep as a souvenir from Boppard? Memories, for sure, but we were longing to buy something that would transport us to the medieval ages!

And that we did. We invested a fortune on a huge, heavy, cast-iron plate which would would guard the fire in the fireplace. On the plate were etched the various coat of arms of some powerful family from the past. I was to be the queen of our ‘own’ medieval palace & was thinking of actually inscribing our family name on it. Our status, our glory, our power – everything was to be showcased by the plate & would adorn our fireplace along with the other ancient family heirlooms…

However, we immediately got a transfer to Dubai. A far-away cry from the quaint German towns, Dubai is the epitome of modern urban glitz. Here, we use fire only to light up our cigarettes. And fireplace, we don’t even have one. The family heirlooms are parked in garages and shown off as the latest acquisition of cars… I love Dubai, though. But Lorelei here seems like an unreal place in our little girls’ fairy-tale books.

And with that comes the realisation that we have been to Lorelei so many times & have come back alive. Lorelei didn’t lure us with her song… but the mystery does & will always take us back, whenever possible. And I hum out to Lorelei – ‘My ship has passed you by…’  along with the Scorpions belting out the Lorelei song –

Lorelei
My ship has passed you by/ Now there’s a light that shines on the river/ 
Blinding my eyes from so far away 
Shot through the heart but now I know better
 As hard as it is to resist the song that you play/ Lorelei…

UnBlogging it all… Ishita

The Kolkata Konnektion: This region is famous for it’s spectacular Rhine in Flames/ Night of Bengal Fire. I wonder whether such a fire spectacle on the Rhine has its association with Bengal because of the firebrand image that Bengali women are associated with? Red fluoroscent Bengali Fire Lights the way for a stretch of 26 kms for a fleet of more than 60 illuminated ships. I can never write enough about Lorelei, the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the Riesling or the Eiswein! Neither can I adequately describe the spectacular Rhine in Flames. But, the thought that Bengal Fire lights can put Rhine on flames is enough to put my imagination ablaze.

Lorelei & the Romantic Rhine, Germany

Lorelei & the Romantic Rhine, Germany, Image Source: IshitaPhotoIdeas

Suggested Reads –
Lorelei, Riesling, Eiswein, Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Rhine in Flames, Night of Bengal Fire, Bengali Fire Lights, Unesco World Heritage Sites
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Autos In Kolkata – My Ultimate Road Crush… And Autos All over The World!

+ Bright coloured tuk-tuks on Srilankan roads

Red Tuk-Tuks & Triumphant Rides in Colombo… Our Very Own Auto-Rickshaws In Kolkata

Lose or Win, We love Srilanka... at the time when Srilanka was hosting the 2011 World Cup Cricket

Tuk-tuks in Srilanka
Tuk-tuk, as it’s lovingly called, is our very well known auto-rickshaw! Tuk-tuk is a beautiful name, absolutely lyrical & musical. The heroine (I refuse to believe that the tuk-tuk is male!) of today’s post is very significant. Why the tuk-tuk? Because it reminds me of situations which are extreme deviations from the world that is flashing across the television screen right in front of my eyes – The Royal Wedding! The royal guests are all pouring in and the royal relatives arriving from the Buckingham Palace in their fleet of royal cars – the Rolls Royces, the Jaguars, the Range Rovers, the Maybachs etc. The bells of Westminster Abbey are ringing incessantly. I get the first glimpse of the royal bride through the misty veil, the screaming of the over-excited crowd and suddenly crkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk – I am transported back to the crowded streets of Srilanka where our beautiful red tuk-tuk screeches to a dead stop.Bright coloured tuk-tuks on Srilankan roads

‘I asked for Rs 50 because I thought you are a Srilankan, Mahatya‘, argued the tuk-tuk driver who was now demanding Rs 150 for a 50 yards drive from the hotel that we were staying in to the main road which was a very very short destination. A huge verbal fiasco broke out between the tuk-tuk driver and my husband. The crowd around and us got split up into two hoodlum gangs – one gang supporting us and the other supporting the tuk-tuk driver. The Z-SISTERS were completely zapped by the new avatar of their dear Papa! Politics, recession, global warming, zero carbon footprint etc – all got wiped out as our huge debate continues. Why, we asked again, why should we be paying more at the end of our journey than what we had been asked for at the beginning of our journey?

Agitated and hassled, this incident took us to our memory lanes a decade back. How could we forget our own history of histrionics with the tuk-tuk driver every time we would ride a tuk-tuk? After-all, it used to happen almost on a daily basis.

A bright red tuk-tuk on Srilankan roads

We started our married life in Srilanka and I always associate wonderful memories with this country, a country where we built our first home – metaphorically and almost literally. My husband was always mistaken to be a Srilankan! We used to live in a place called Rosmead Place.

This was a high security area because of lot of dignitaries staying there. For example, Mrs. Bandaranaike, the wife of the ex-Srilankan President Mr. Bandaranaike and the mother of Mrs. Chandrika Kumartunga, the former President of Srilanka. Their house was almost in the next lane. Plus, a few embassies thrown here and there. It was also a locality where each bungalow had 2 to 3 cars parked in their garage. And 2 more small cars parked outside on the road per bungalow, belonging to the various staff employed in each bungalow!The house at Rosmead Place with dreamy spiral wooden staircase

We too lived in a luxurious bungalow. However, minus the frills. Our bungalow was an exquisite one with a dreamy and beautiful spiral wooden staircase (above). But, we were an exception. Neither did we have any staff to look after our home (forget about driving in their own cars). Nor did we have a fleet of cars ourselves. The tuk-tuks were our only trust-worthy carriers. We would sneak out of our bungalow and cheekily end up at a distant crossroad just to hire a tuk-tuk. Not because of embarrassment I suppose (staying in Rosmead Place and travelling by tuk-tuk? OMG!) but to avoid paying a higher tuk-tuk fare! There was not so much of a negotiation in the payment for our journey out and would be charged the normal ongoing tuk-tuk fare as my husband was always conveniently mistaken as a Srilankan! But, our return journey was invariably always full of excitement and adventure. As we would approach our bungalow in Rosmead Place, perhaps a few illusion bubbles for the tuk-tuk driver would be burst.

One: We were not Srilankans!

Two: We stayed in Rosmead Place!

There was always an unceremonious hike in the tuk-tuk fare followed by a BIG EXPLOSION with non-stop verbal exchange of missiles.

‘I didn’t realize that you were not a Srilankan, Sir’!
‘But both of you stay in Rosmead Place, Mahatya’! Etc Etc Etc…
And a decade later nothing had changed. ‘I asked for Rs 50 because I thought you are a Srilankan, Sir’!

◊—————————————————————◊'Mother's Blessings' written on the back of an Auto in Kolkata

Autos in Kolkata
Coming back to the tuk-tuks – we also have tuk-tuks in Kolkata, the city where I have grown up. I have travelled by tuk-tuks most of my college life. But tuk-tuks in Kolkata are different. Firstly, they are not called tuk-tuks. Though similar word exists in the Bengali dictionary. The word tuk-tuké is used to describe a cute little kid and tuk-tuki is a very common pet name/nickname for sweet little Bengali girls. A pet name is also called daaknaam in Bengali, a term that has been popularised by Jhumpa Lahiri in her book The Namesake. As the tuk-tuk in Bengal is stripped off it’s sweet name and is just called the ’Auto’, with it goes away all the sweetness of the tuk-tuk.

There might have been an on-going battle of verses with the tuk-tuk driver in the streets of Srilanka, but the tuk-tuk in itself is a very cute little vehicle. They come in different colours. It’s also a challenge to sit inside a Srilankan tuk-tuk for long when the tuk-tuk driver must have taken an oath not to ever drive beyond 20kms/hr!

Autos stuck in a traffic jam in Gariahat - the famous market area in Kolkata

The case is very different with the Autos in Kolkata. When one wants to hire an Auto, he/she screams the word – ‘AAAAEEEIIIIIII AUUUUTOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO’ and with that powerful reference the Auto is empowered with a strange heavenly power and responsibility. An Auto screeches to a halt and honours a person by letting him/her in. At this point I must stress the need that you might have to be privileged enough to be selected by the Auto driver. If you are not selected then, Sorry! A huge apology, your ride in this particular Auto is not destined to be yours.An Auto speeding through night-traffic

The other difference is that the Auto drivers in Kolkata are intrinsically different. They believe that they are the worthy avatars of Michael Schumacher. So, if you happen to be privileged enough to be inside a Kolkata Auto, imagine yourself to be in a Formula One Racing Car without the seat belts and without the safety of knowing that you are being driven in between the race tracks. You are in the open streets of Kolkata, jostling for some space amongst the speeding bikes, the nosy and the real noisy buses, the ‘oh-I-am-scared-please-don’t-scratch-me’ sedan cars along with the taxis, the hand-pulled rickshaws, the pedestrians… and then with gradual realisation you thank your stars. You thank for being in the Auto as you whirr past (actually way past) the traffic and reaching your destination sweat-free because of the  open ‘tornado’ mode of ventilation that came free with your Auto package.The eternal wait inside an Auto during a traffic jam

Another thing comes free with the package – the cool hair-styling done by God’s natural Hair-blower!

Now its time to pay for your dream ride. ‘Dada, I said Rs 50 because I thought that you stay in Kolkata, but it seems you are a NRI (non-resident Indian). Please Dada, give me some dollar. Okay, okay I’ll give a NRI discount and make it Rs 150 for you!’

History repeats itself. And, it doesn’t care about Geography – whether it’s Srilanka or Kolkata!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Glossary – Mahatya: Sinhalese equivalent to ‘Sir’
Dada: Elder brother in Bengali, again equivalent to ‘Sir’
Both terms are used  to address a man with respect

An auto squeezes itself through traffic

Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

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Other articles you make like reading on Kolkata or Colombo:
Auto, My Ultimate Road Crush – Kolkata
Getting Started, Rather Re-started – Kitugala, Srilanka
Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya,
SrilankaLiving By The Water With Sunset As Prop – Colombo & the Indian Ocean
Living By The Water With Sunset As Prop – Kolkata & the Ganges
Terraces and Beyond – Kolkata

+

Heritance Tea Factory Hotel – Nuwara Eliya, Srilanka

Heritance Tea Factory Hotel - from far away

Nuwara Eliya, Srilanka: Nuwara Eliya means City of Lights. It is also called the Little England of Srilanka. Situated at 2000 m above sea-level, the old colonial hill retreat still smells of the delicate perfumes that the young, poised English ladies used to adorn themselves with as they strutted along in their white laces and pearls, roaming around in horse carriages as their men tried to replicate their homeland by building golf courses and leisure clubs or the beautiful colonial-styled bungalows in the cool climate of Nuwara Eliya – a far far escape from the sweltering heat of the plains!

Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, Srilanka

Unique Hotel; Luxurious Eco-lodging; On the mountains (Has won 26 Awards for its architecture, heritage, environmental policies)

Official Website of Heritance Tea Factory HotelTraditional welcome by the hotel staff wearing traditional Kandyan costume

The Stay
After an elaborate traditional welcome by the hotel staff wearing traditional Kandyan costume (heralding from the famous hill town Kandy) we sat down in the comfortable sofas in the hotel reception lounge, sipping in delicious organic tea grown in the hotel’s tea estates. The welcoming garland made us feel like modern day royals. We stepped out to see where exactly were we. We referring to S, my husband and I, with our baggage of 2 little brats – the Z-SISTERS.

‘Attention! You may encounter the wild buffalo and the boar after 8 pm!’ cried the writing on a milestone just outside the Tea Factory Hotel. The hotel was indeed situated at ‘the top of the world’, exactly as advertised and I would say, in the midst of dancing clouds. We did find out later that the clouds did have their performance timings – 3pm: The Pale Blue Clouds; 4pm: The Orange Clouds; 5pm: The Grey Clouds; 5:30pm: The last show with the very deep, almost invisible black and grey clouds!

Needless to say that all the performances were absolutely breath-taking!The Dancing Clouds

There were milestones all around us where the distances of Nuwara Eliya from the various cities/towns in Srilanka were written. While one proclaimed ‘Bentota 258 kms’ (from where we came), the other proclaimed ‘Colombo 180 kms’ (to where we shall have to go to take a plane back home!)… suddenly a fast slideshow of flashes of visions a la Danny Boyle’s cinematography popped in-front – Trincomalee, Sirigiya, Ratnapura, Galle etc were all hundreds and hundreds of miles away.

Then I saw the last mile stone.

We were standing, staying & going to be sleeping for the next 2 nights in a ‘Silent Zone’! I pressed the panic button.

We are absolutely unfamiliar with the word ‘silence’. Hence, I was really not sure whether we were in the right place.  Amidst palpitation, we entered the most elegant and an unique hotel, which was once upon a time an actual tea factory.

The drier room of the earlier tea factory greeted us as the Reception Area, the green leaves’ withering lofts hosted us as bedrooms, the sifting room was served us as a restaurant, the rolling rooms engulfed us as bars!

Even today the factory equipment inside the hotel are still intact – all polished and perfectly working. It might sound unbelievable but these machines are switched on from time to time. Switching on the equipments may have been a treat for the other guests of the hotel but definitely it wasn’t for my children. So with every ‘switching on’ session our little brats would also ‘switch on’ their screaming gears and scream their lungs out, conveniently adding to the toot-toot & the whirr-whirr of the tea factory machinery! I now wonder why we hadn’t been rewarded at that time for all the add-on gimmicks that our brats provided – that too for free! As the proud Mum, I can really vouch for the fact that their screams transported us to the Hethersett Tea Plantation of the yesteryears when trains would toot (Li’l Z’s screams) and whistles would blow (Big Z’s animated excitement) as the daily work went on in the tea factory!

The actual factory equipments that are still switched on from time to timeTea BarTea BarThe stark white sofas against the dark factory walls

The History
We were living and playing and screaming and walking on a ground reeking of history. In the early 18th century, the Hethersett Tea Factory was the first to fetch the highest price in the tea world and the Hethersett mark had become synonymous with quality Pure Ceylon Tea. In the mid-1930s a new factory was built, which stands as the hotel today. When the new factory was built it boasted of a lot of technological feat. By 1968, the Hethersett factory had passed its heyday and was closed down in 1973. It’s only in the recent years that the Tea Factory Hotel was born.

When I told the brats that we were standing on history, they asked me ‘Oh, so this is history? Its beautiful. And so cold’! Well, their concerns were real. How are the schools in Dubai going to teach history if it history was something so cold? After all, in Dubai the summer temperatures soared to as high as 50 degress C!

‘Thank God! We have the Air-conditioning in Dubai!’… So there was still a chance for my little brats to learn about some history.

Here’s our journey into the hotel’s history with some old historical photographs donning the hotel walls…

Evidence of history hanging on the Hotel Walls

The Food

Kenmare Restaurant
The sifting room of yesteryear has now been converted to Kenmare Restaurant. The interior of the restaurant still reflects the old British Colonial atmosphere amidst the the architectural features of the original tea factory. Being served the most exotic food by a personal white-gloved butler, was definitely a first for us. The wooden tea cartons hold the buffet area, serving both authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, Eastern as well as Western delicacies. The Butter Chicken was the best that we have ever tasted. Also the Beef Curry. And the Chilli Squids. Or, the Potato Sambal. And did I forget the desserts? All dishes had garnishing of fresh tea leaves – just in case we forgot that we were still living in a tea estate!

Incidentally, we had our first meal at Kenmare Restaurant on the Valentine’s night. The restaurant was lit up with dim lights, the tables were set up elegantly with candles with more than the usual dose of Valentine red. Our only concern was the Z-Sisters – lest they pull the table cloth or make much noise disturbing the couples dining on candles, romance, red wine and surrounded by live jazz performance!

The special Valentine Night's dinnerThe wooden tea cartons hold the buffet areaTraditional Srilankan food served in wooden claypotsGrilled Lamb ShankA trolley-platter of food Butter ChickenTiramisu MousseIcecream Sundae for Desserts

TCK 6685 (Railway Carriage) Restaurant
This is an authentic theme restaurant of the 1930’s. The full-size replica of the actual train’s restaurant, sitting on its small-gauge rails, this restaurant offers an unique fine dining experience complete with a shrill whistle and toot-toot. The experience begins when the Chef personally visits the ‘passengers’ to discuss their personal culinary preferences. No menu is available at this unique restaurant, and the Chef discusses each meal with every guest!

The main course is brought in with great pageantry, and ‘whistle blowing’. Everything is served elegantly served by white-glove clad ‘attendants’ in railway uniform! A novel experience indeed accompanied by a very hefty price tag.

The original sign board of Hethersett Railway StationThe original railway carriage which now houses the theme restaurant

The Green Stay
The hotel adheres to all parameters of responsible tourism – starting from their water management system to waste reduction; organic farming to local employment. Near the sink there are white placards telling you how many litres are running out as you brush your teeth or take a shower. It is really interesting to read how the hotel is incorporating various aspects of green tourism. This hotel embodies a luxurious green stay thus breaking the myth that many seem to have – luxury and eco-friendliness don’t go hand in hand!

The Sign Off
Our guide, Mr Bandulla, had given us a list of places to visit while we stayed in Nuwara Eliya. We  gave him a break and didn’t even wish to venture out of the tea plantation during our whole stay. Throughout the day, we walked through the dancing clouds, seeped in all the green that we could, enjoyed the 360 degree view of the tea gardens all around us and committed a few mistakes –

Mistakes like –

– Screaming our names out in the open and hear them echo back to us
– I wore fit-flops to the prim and propah restaurant boasting of the glory of the colonial past and strict adherence to ‘formal attire’ (my other option was my sneakers!)
– We ate the most brilliant food, served and also cooked perhaps in clay pots, served by white-gloved Butler. Big Z, the elder brat, for once was so charmed that she behaved like the most elegant lady on earth
– We had organic tea brewed in different aromas and most importantly, grown on the very plantation that we stayed in
– We woke up to the morning sun-rays sifting through the white sheers of the window and stared at crystal clear blue skies with layers of floating clouds & changing shades of green all around us

Well, the list is pretty much endless… the hot and spicy food that lingered on our tongues were the only reminder that Nuwara Eliya belonged to the hot tropical Srilanka!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Other articles on my Srilankan journey
Rafters Retreat, Kitugala, Srilanka… Getting Started!
Red Tuk-Tuks & Triumphant Rides – Colombo 
Living by the water with sunset as prop – Colombo

+ The empty bench by the Kelani River - beckoning me to unblog it all!

Rafters Retreat in Kitulgala, Srilanka | Getting Started!

The empty bench by the Kelani River - beckoning me to unblog it all!

Rafters Retreat – Kitulgala, Srilanka: Many scenes in the ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ were shot in Srilanka. Most of them were at Kitulgala including the last scene where the bridge explodes. Rafters Retreat takes us dangerously close to the water. The surrounding greens, the multiple shades of green reflected on the Kelani river, the empty bench beckoning me – this was predestined to be the first post of ‘IshitaUnblogged’!

Welcome to my blog!

More than a decade back we – my husband and I, set up our first home in Srilanka. Albums stacked with those good-old memories fill up our book shelves even today. It was time that we showed our two little girls, the Z-Sisters, the country which had become our second home. Re-visiting Srilanka was more than just a vacation. It was as if, we were searching for our own roots. A decade back we had stood by the banks of the Kelani river, letting our eyes wander into the woods. Now a decade later, the four of us were standing at the same spot. As if one circle of life just got completed.

The empty bench seemed symbolic. With the beginning of the second circle (with the four of us now) I had to unblog them all!Kelani River

Getting Started
A mosaic of pictures – some in colour, others in sepia, some lucky to have been printed on paper, others still crammed in the hard disc… and the rest? May the BLOG SAVE THEM! The images float around in light dreamy bubbles for a long, long time. I step outside in the open, catching the bubbles and penning them down as thoughts and capturing them as images before they delicately burst out on my palms.

Our bags are packed. My camera is charged. The Z-Sisters are getting impatient. Big Z’s own trolley bag is bursting at the zips. Li’l Z is jumping non-stop. S is fretting – we are all set to leave for our vacation. The hotel bookings are in our names but feel free to jump onto our blog bandwagon. And secretly hoping that we can do the same. This is really a good deal, trust me. A deluge of travel escapades for you and me, all for free!

My Nikon and my Mac are totally geared up. Here’s hoping that I will be addicting you with my Travel & Road & Food  Banters.

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Rafter's Retreat by the banks of Kelani riverThe stony walk down to the edge of the river

Rafters Retreat, Kitulgala, Srilanka

Basic Eco-lodging; By the river; In the forest

The Stay
Kitulgala is 90 Km from Colombo. Officially, it should take a bit more than 2 hrs drive. But it might take much longer as Srilankans are very polite drivers and wouldn’t even overtake a pedestrian. It is also 2 hrs drive from the airport or from Kandy, another well-known hill retreat of Srilanka. Staying at Rafters Retreat is an experience. Nestled amidst lush green, tropical foliage the lodge is perched at the edge of the Kelani river. The swimming pool too, looks like an extension of the river and simply merges into the background scenery.

It starting off as an experiment by the owner Channa who built 10 wooden lodges all by himself on his family estate. These are tree-houses and follow all the principles of eco-lodging. Long wooden balconies overlook the Kelani river through the lush green foliage. Wooden ladders serve as stairs. White mosquito nets swirling over the beds are not only to make the rooms look romantic but to actually keep the mosquitoes at bay! Modern toilets are available though you may opt for the ‘experimental versions’ where the bathroom is down a ladder into a ‘dungy’.

Nature lovers, particularly ornithologists and adventurous tourists would find this place as an ultimate heaven. River rafting, Mountain biking, trekking and hiking are just a few of the things that one can do here. Channa himself welcomes the visitor into his Rafters Retreat as he plans the adventure programs that are exclusively designed for his guests. Even the faint-hearted like us found this to be the ultimate paradise on earth. Not from the adventurous point of view. But from the visual and sensory point of view. Seeing others on an adrenaline overdrive did boost up our levels of adrenaline as well.

The best time to stay in this lush green hide-out is during April to November.Rafters' Retreat, Kitugala, Srilanka

The Food
Breakfast and lunch menus are fixed – Western or Srilankan breakfast. Everything served is organic. Simple rice and curry (spicy to mild in order to cater to all taste-buds) are served for lunch and uses locally produced organic vegetables (a check list on the current topic of Locavorism vs Organic, or both?) Meat or fish is bought from Colombo markets. Freshly cut Pineapples and bunch of fresh Bananas along with cold Green Coconut water served with a straw – a far cry from the buffet spreads of city hotels. But nevertheless very tempting. And rejuvenating.

The Sign Off
Apart from the amazing views from the long running balconies and the fact that we were dangerously close to the water and equally close to nature, we will also never forget the pain in our backs from sitting on hard wooden chairs made from the local wood. Also the chance to ‘officially’ smack the bottoms of the Z-Sisters every now and then on the pretext that their soreness would be gone with our MAGIC SMACKS!

I thought this line from official website was really funny and brutally honest – ‘The water is directly from natural springs but sadly, so is the temperature.’ Well, a point that proves that some hotel websites don’t exaggerate!

Enjoy the images. We have never been to a place greener and calmer than this. And what an amazing and a memorable experience we had!

Official Website: http://www.raftersretreat.com/

The long balcony of the Rafters' Retreat serving as the restaurantThe swimming Pool seems to merge with the backgroundWooden sculptures, wooden walls adding to the rustic charmLush green bamboo plantsTaking a bath at Kelani riverTaking a bath at Kelani river

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

◊—————————————————————◊

Other articles on my Srilankan journey
Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya
Red Tuk-Tuks & Triumphant Rides – Colombo 
Living by the water with sunset as prop – Colombo & the Indian Ocean

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