Visit Lakeside for Diwali – at discount prices

OK, so this breaks with tradition and is an unashamed advert for our Lakeside Guesthouse. Why? you may ask. The answer is that Diwali is approaching, a time for family, friends and fun. We thought ‘Where better to share such times than at Lakeside?’

If you don’t like adverts then please skip this post. I promise that such adverts will be few and far between, and you will get adequate notice at the beginning (like this one!)

For those who would like to spend their Diwali holiday with us at Lakeside, why not take a look at our offer.

We hope to meet some of you at Lakeside for Diwali, or any other time!

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Visions Global Empowerment – empowering the youth of India

Visions Global Empowerment

We are lucky at Lakeside to meet an amazing variety of people. From former British Cabinet Ministers to families on a round the world tour, from local Indians to people from the other side of the world, from the young to the not so young!

We have recently had a second visit from a group called Visions Global Empowerment. VGE works with projects in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia; their vision is to help create ‘a world where all youth, teachers and communities are educated, empowered and uplifted.’ Their aim is to help achieve this by seeking to change patterns of inequality by supporting educational initiatives for youth affected by poverty, conflict, and disability.’

Greg Buie,  who has worked with this organisation since 2004, brought a group of college students from the US, Canada and Switzerland, to work on local projects in India. The Indian projects  aim to empower young people and women to better themselves. The project this group were working with is aimed at helping tribal children from the local hill areas to receive a better education, and so a better life for themselves and their families.

Please do take a look at the Visions Global Empowerment website.  It is uplifting to see young people set up such projects, and other young people spend part of their summer vacation volunteering to help those less fortunate than themselves. We are privileged to meet many such people at Lakeside.

VGE teacher training programme

VGE teacher training programme

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014!

Great news!

Lakeside has been awarded TripAdvisor’s ‘Certificate of Excellence 2014’.

It is good to know that all our hard work is paying off.

We would like to thank our staff who work so hard, and without whom we would not have been able to achieve the high standards that we do.

Also, many thanks to our reviewers for their kind comments, it is these that keep us informed of where we are, and help us to constantly improve our services.

Many thanks,

Dorinda and Peter

 

Mid-life crisis to successful business!

As I said in my last post, we recently had a visit from a young man who researches tours for Kuoni, the holiday tour company. We spent a very nice two days together, and he has now featured us in this months magazine which is sent to their business contacts and tour companies. It is really exciting to get a great recommendation from such a prestigious company.

If you want to see the newsletter please click here, choose your language, then click newsletter at the bottom left and choose current issue (for the month of December 2013).

In the meantime you may like to read another of the three articles about us here. I hope it encourages you to pay us a visit!

A Story of an Expat Couple Settled in India

Peter and Dorinda in Lakeside gardens

Peter and Dorinda in Lakeside gardens

Lakeside is hidden away in a remote valley just one hour’s drive from Madurai. It is unexpected to find a guest-house here. But even more surprising in this rural location is the fact that it is run by an English couple, Peter and Dorinda Balchin. Dorinda laughed when I asked her about this. “We’re just as surprised as anyone else!” she told me. “When we stayed at Lakeside during our first visit to India in 2007, we both had good jobs in the UK and had no intentions of running our own business, certainly not in India! But when the owner told us that the property was for sale, Peter asked me if I’d like to wake up here every morning or back in the UK? It was no contest, really. We returned to England and set the wheels in motion so that, by the end of 2008, and after spending less than twenty days in India, we left our old lives behind us and found ourselves the proud owners of what has now become this beautiful resort.”

The couple have enjoyed their first five years at Lakeside, finding the experience interesting and exciting, although they readily admit that moving to India has involved a steep learning curve for them both. Everything from finding the right staff to coping with bureaucracy has involved new ways of thinking and doing things – and endless patience!

They certainly seem to have adapted well to their new life, although some things have been more difficult to adjust to than others. Take shopping, for instance. “Visiting a whole range of shops when buying groceries, instead of one supermarket, took me back to my childhood days,” says Dorinda. “Although having one person scan the goods, paying another, and then a third checking and packaging my purchases was a whole new experience.” Peter agreed. He has a background in the building trade in the UK, and is responsible for renovations and maintenance. “The choices available for the task of upgrading Lakeside were limited when we first arrived. I suppose I had been spoilt by the range of items available in England. But it’s surprising how things have changed over the last five years. Many western items, from bathroom appliances to tools, are more readily available now, and more affordable. There are supermarkets and malls opening in Madurai as well, so that the shopping experience for both of us is much closer to that in the west. And the differences are getting smaller all the time.”

Life in many western countries, including the UK, can be very stressful. The opportunity to live a more relaxed lifestyle closer to nature was one of the things which helped Peter and Dorinda to make their decision to move to Tamil Nadu. Dorinda loves the early mornings, watching the sun rise and nature come to life. It is especially enjoyable if she is riding her horse down by the lakeside, with the chance of seeing deer or wild-boar, and with the ever present birdlife for company. For Peter, the best part of the day is sitting on the veranda in the early evening, watching the sun go down over the mountains. Sipping a cold beer as he watches the goats and water buffalo make their slow way homewards is something he would never have been able to do in his previous life.

The couple obviously love the seclusion at Lakeside, but have also taken the opportunity to explore further afield. “We have visited most of the tourist sites in south India,” explains Peter. “Each place has its own attractions but, for us, one of our favourite places is the remote area of Wayanad.  Here you can have a great wildlife experience, and are more or less guaranteed to see animals from small deer to huge gaur and elephants. The really lucky also get to see leopard, and the occasional tiger.”

“We’ve enjoyed travelling here in the south,” agrees Dorinda, “but India has so much more to offer. The next places on our ‘to visit’ list are all in the north – the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, Darjeeling. We could spend a whole life-time in India and not see it all!”

One thing people love about a stay at Lakeside is the fund of stories that the owners are able to tell of their experiences. For example, the couple brought their pet Alaskan Malamute with them when they came to India; an enormous animal affectionately known by the locals as ‘the wolf dog’. He is, sadly, no longer with them, but the story of him travelling in the back of the car with his head out of the window still raises a smile – except with the motorbike riders who were so surprised by what they saw that they fell off of their bikes! Another memorable moment was during one conversation over dinner. Peter asked the question ‘if you could invite anyone from any period of history to dinner who would it be?’ and gave the example that President Obama has said that he would invite Nelson Mandela. You can imagine the surprise around the table when one of the guests said “I have had dinner with him, and Nelson phoned Queen Elizabeth II during our meal”. As you can imagine, no one could beat that!

The guests I met at Lakeside said that they enjoyed the peace and seclusion of the property. The buildings are spread out in the landscaped gardens in a way that offers space for people to ‘do their own thing’ whilst enjoying the fantastic views. The owner’s plans for the future are to keep that unique ambience. The property needed a lot of work doing to it when they bought it, and during the last five years they have fully renovated the buildings, and built a swimming pool. But no further building is planned. “What we want to do is continue to upgrade our facilities for our guests” Peter told me. “We aren’t looking to provide ultra-luxurious accommodation, but can guarantee a warm welcome and comfortable stay. What we do want to do is provide more unique experiences and opportunities, particularly for foreign guests to experience real life in rural Tamil Nadu, which is something they don’t find on the average tour. With my ‘hands on’ skills, and Dorinda’s focus on the needs of the guests we feel we have an ideal partnership to do this.”

Peter and Dorinda have two children, and a grandson, living in England. They readily admit that it is family and friends that they miss most in their new life, and so take the opportunity to return to England once a year.  Their family and friends have also visited Lakeside, and realized that the couple’s unexpected decision to move to India was not so crazy after-all!

“The phrase ‘Incredible India’ is so true, and we’ve certainly fallen in love with life here”, Dorinda told me. “The friendly people, the fantastic food, the scenery, the amazing temples, the colours, the wildlife – the list is endless. We feel privileged to live here. And privileged to be able to share our home with like-minded people who choose to stay with us during their Indian adventures.”

Distant Frontiers – great holiday ideas

We recently had a visit from a young man who researches tours for Kuoni, the holiday tour company. We spent a very nice two days together, and he has now featured us in this months magazine which is sent to their business contacts and tour companies. It is really exciting to get a great recommendation from such a prestigious company.

If you want to see the newsletter please click here, choose your language, then click newsletter at the bottom left and choose current issue (for the month of December 2013).

In the meantime you may like to read one of the three articles about us here.

6 things we liked about Lakeside

View at Lakeside, Tammil Nadu

1. Amazing View: Visit Lakeside and you realise what made Dorinda and Pete leave behind their old lives, to become the proud owners of this beautiful guesthouse. It is surprising to find a guest-house here, yet even more unexpected is the fact that it is run by an English couple. As soon as you check into the property, bougainvillea’s in full bloom greet you and beyond the periphery is a  beautiful lake surrounded by coconut plantations.

2. Wonderful hosts: The hands-on approach of Dorinda and Pete makes your stay memorable. Lakeside guarantees a warm welcome and comfortable stay with the couple working hard to provide unique experiences and opportunities, particularly for foreign guests to experience, real life in rural Tamil Nadu, which is something they don’t find on the average tour. Kennedy, the caretaker and the other locals who have been trained to look after the guests, always have a smile on their face and are helpful without being obtrusive.

Sari weaving as a cottage industry

3. Village Tour: One of the highlights of my Tamil Nadu trip was the Village Tour I did at the Lakeside Guesthouse.  I have done a lot of tours like this before. But the tour with Dorinda was excellent. I could see that a lot of time had gone into planning the tour and identifying the experiences that would interest clients. While on the tour, you visit a local brick making factory, a village school, a weaver’s family, a potter, a coconut de-husking unit and few other interesting people. Since the local community also benefits from these tours, everyone is very happy to see us. It is an unhurried experience where you decide how much you want to spend interacting at the various places. At the school the children recited poems for us that they had been learning which was wonderful. Dorinda and Kennedy, both accompany the guests on the tour and are excellent at explaining all that we see. The tour starts around nine o’clock in the morning and it is almost lunch time by the time we come back.

4. Accessibility:  Lakeside is hidden away in a remote valley, just a two hour drive from Madurai and around a three hour drive from Chettinad. Its excellent location makes it an ideal way to end a hectic Tamil Nadu itinerary or rest for a few days before entering Kerala.

Brahminy kite with turtle for breakfast

Brahminy kite with turtle for breakfast

5. Peace and Relaxation: To mirror Dorinda’s words, Lakeside provides you the opportunity to unwind close to nature. You will love the early mornings, watching the sunrise and nature come to life. It is especially enjoyable to do a morning walk down by the lakeside, with the chance of seeing deer or wild-boar and with the ever present birdlife for company. Or sitting on the veranda in the early evening, watching the sun go down over the mountains, sipping a cold beer as you watch the goats and water buffalo make their slow way homewards. The well-stocked library entices you to pick up a book that you have been meaning to read, but never got around to because of all the distraction of everyday life.

Guests enjoying a dip in our pool!6. The Room and Pool:  Lakeside does not provide ultra-luxurious accommodation, but you can be sure of a very comfortable stay. The main bungalow has four rooms (2 air-conditioned) with magnificent views of the lake. The rooms are ample in size although smaller than those of the individual cottages. The six individual cottages are spread around the property and are very spacious with an extra bed for the third person (2 air-conditioned). You also have the option to choose air-conditioning just for the night ( 8pm to 8am) – Ideal if you are a budget traveller but still want your comfort. The buildings are spread out in the landscaped gardens in a way that offers space for people to ‘do their own thing’ whilst enjoying the fantastic views. I don’t know why, but I was not accepting to find a pool here. But the presence of a beautiful clean pool was like the icing on the cake.

I hope you enjoyed reading – and maybe it has whet your appetite for a visit to Lakeside.

Sunrise at Lakeside

Birdwatching in South India

Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Travel and Tour World have had a great article this week about migratory birds in Tamil Nadu, but there is one mistake in it – they seem to have missed out Lakeside!

Seriously though, although our valley may not be a bird sanctuary and does not have the huge flocks of birds that you will see elsewhere, what we do have is variety.

A few years ago students from the nearby Gandhigram University came to the valley each weekend for a whole year to catalogue the species which they could see.  Some birds were obviously local residents and here all the time, whilst others were migratory and changed with the changing seasons.  All in all, they identified over 200 species!

What makes our valley so unique is the variety of habitats within a small area.  Behind our property are steeply rising hills which create perfect thermals for raptors.  The hills are Reserve Forest which means that they are protected and so we have many forest birds in the area.  Moving down we have more open brush/woodland; then there are our gardens which attract even more species.  There is, of course, the lake with the types of birds that attracts, and as water levels fall we get the waders which like a more marshy environment.  To add to that there are the cultivated areas of coconut, mango, paddy fields etc.  If that is not enough we can take a short drive up into the hills and see more birds which like a slightly higher altitude and cooler environment.

If you are thinking of doing a ‘birdwatching’ holiday in South India then you must visit the sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu, but don’t forget the unique environment of Lakeside as well!

And if you are not a confirmed birdwatcher?  The majority of our guests say that they enjoy seeing the amazing variety, colours and sounds of the local birdlife, creating many memories to take home at the end of a relaxing stay in a unique, secluded rural environment.

Why not come and stay to see for yourself!

Life-saving camouflage for ground-nesting birds

I recently read an article in The Hindu newspaper about threats to ground nesting birds from a variety of causes ranging from shrinking habitat to feral dogs and grazing animals. Over the last few years we have had red-wattled lapwing and Indian nightjar nesting at Lakeside so I found the article very interesting. I agree with the article that we need to plan how to preserve the habitat of such birds whilst also fulfilling the needs of the human population – not an easy task!

If you would like to read the article you can find it here.

The following photos of ground nesting birds were all taken at Lakeside.

red-wattled lapwing eggs

red-wattled lapwing eggs

Young red-wattled lapwing

Young red-wattled lapwing

Indian Nightjar eggs

Indian Nightjar eggs

Indian Nightjar on nest - great camouflage!

Indian Nightjar on nest – great camouflage!

Indian nightjar chick within minutes of hatching

Indian nightjar chick within minutes of hatching

Drag net fishing in southern India

The lake from which Lakeside gets its name is fed by monsoon rains which fall onto the foothills of the Western Ghats – and onto us! Once the lake is full the water goes over the overspill to fill other lakes in the area, water that is used for irrigation of some fields but is predominantly drinking water for Dindigul.

When it is full the lake is more than 20 feet deep at the centre, and as it covers more than 500 acres this is a lot of water! Each year the local government puts the fishing rights for the lake up for auction – one man will bid to stock the lake and to harvest the fish. This man will then employ locals to fish the lake, and most days you can see them out in their little coracles.

As the level of the lake falls the fishermen are able to utilise huge nets which are set in a semi-circle and then pulled in to shore. This can guarantee a large catch of fish in a relatively small space of time.

The nets are laid by the boats . You can see a line of floats cutting across the foreground of the picture.

The men in the boats follow the net in, making sure that it doesn’t catch on any obstacles – and scaring the fish away so that they don’t try to jump out.

The scene from Lakeside.

In this picture you can also see some men in the water helping the net to move more freely.

Once the net gets closer to the shore the men in the water help to drive the fish further into the shallows.

One or two splashes can be seen as the fish start jumping…

…then it becomes quite chaotic as they all try to escape. You can see how big some of these fish are!

After a successful afternoon fishing it’s time to lay out the nets to dry before heading home.

And so ends another fascinating afternoon at Lakeside – all without leaving the comfort of my chair!

The United Nations at Lakeside

One of the things I love about living at Lakeside is meeting people from all over the world.  We have some great conversations and many a friendship has been made over the dinner table on the roof!

We currently have 10 guests – 2 English, 2 Belgian, 2 Indian and 4 Dutch – with careers ranging through teacher, physiotherapist, PA for a senior executive in a well known airline, professional driver, engineer and steel producer, T shirt manufacturer and someone developing the use of drama with teenagers in India.

All of the guests speak English to a greater or lesser degree and, regardless of the difference in nationality, career or leisure interests (or perhaps because of it!), the group get on very well and have enjoyed some great times together.

We will certainly be sad to see them go as they leave us one by one, but we can be consoled with the knowledge that new guests will be joining us with equally varied, exciting and interesting lives and stories to tell!

united nations

The Brahminy Kite

In Hindu mythology all gods have their special vehicles. Vishnu is carried by Garuda, the white headed Brahminy Kite.  It is considered to be very auspicious to see one of these birds so we are incredibly lucky that they are frequent visitors to the lake and we, and our guests, can sit on the veranda and watch the kites riding the thermals or wheeling and diving when they find something to eat.

This kite has discovered a dead turtle which he is enjoying for breakfast!

Brahminy kite with turtle for breakfast