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

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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!

De-silting at the dam

As you know, the monsoon rains were a dismal failure last year.

Kamarajar Lake is used as drinking water for our local town of Dindigul and so the level is falling rapidly as more and more water is pumped out. This always happens during the summer, but this year the levels are exceptionally low.

The local government has ordered that all reservoirs should be de-silted, and work began here on 10th May. The photos were all taken on 16th and show just what a serious situation we face – and the levels are even lower than that now!

The south west monsoon should be with us soon, and we hope that that will bring some respite. Forecasts are that the rains should hit the coast of Kerala on or around 3rd June. The western ghats should get some good rain although we will get much less as we are in their shadow – but we do take some of the river water which flows in this direction from the hills so we are hoping to see a rise in the levels for a time. Of course, the water level will still continue to fall as water goes to Dindigul and it won’t be until November or December that the lake is full again. Let us hope that the monsoon doesn’t let us down this time.

Kamaraj Dam Athoor

This shows just how much silt has built up over the last 50 years.  It will take a lot of work to get back to original levels. (Dam and overflow on the left, lake on the right!)

De-silting Athoor lake

Photo taken on the lake bed.

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Looking towards the dam.

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When the lake is full the tree roots are under water.

10a

There is probably 10 feet or more of silt here.

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12a

Fishing the Kerala backwaters

Kerala backwaters, south India-crop

I recently took as group of guests to the Backwaters of Kerala.  These backwaters are part of Lake Vembanand, the longest lake in India at 96.5km long and 14km wide.  It is a major tourist attraction in Kerala with people cruising in converted rice barges to get a closer look at life by the waterside.  There are many boats cruising around, but surprisingly you do not really  notice them as you train your binoculars on the wonderful bird life or watch the local people going about their everyday lives.

MIsty water Kerala backwaters

Fishing is a major part of life in the Backwaters and on a misty early morning you are able to see the fishermen at work.

towing fishing boats, Kerala, India

Sometimes they take the easy route to their fishing ground with a larger boat towing a number of the small fishing boats.

fishing, Kerala backwaters

Many of the fishermen use nets or lines to catch fish which taste wonderful when freshly cooked.  These men however are fishing for cockles (shell fish).

fishing on the backwaters

shell fish, Kerala backwaters

If you want somewhere to relax and enjoy nature, the Backwaters of Kerala are a great place to visit.  There will be more posts about life there in the future!

Kerala fishing boats

Failed monsoon

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You may have read my previous post about how pleased we were to see the monsoon rains.  Sad to say, the rains did not last and we have had very little water.  Although the lake still looks beautiful in the above picture appearances can be deceptive and it is at least 6 feet lower than it should be at this time of year.  We should only be seeing the very tips of some of the bushes ( as in my header photo), and no exposed islands or land at the lake edge at all.  We have even started watering our gardens 6 weeks earlier than usual.

It is going to be long hard summer for everyone, epecially the farmers, this year.  We are eagerly looking forward to the next hoped for rain in July or August.

A light by any other name…

Deepawali light

Sorry I’ve been away for so long but I have been experiencing issues with internet connection – one of the joys of living in rural southern India!

Last week saw the whole of India caught up in the four day celebration of Deepawali (shortened to Diwali), the biggest Hindu festival. It is the festival of lights (deep meaning light and avail meaning a row i.e., a row of lights).

The origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival although there are many different legends about how it began. Some believe it is the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Vishnu. In Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali. Most people worship Ganesh at home during Diwali as he is a symbol of wisdom and good fortune. Diwali also commemorates the return of Rama with his wife Sita after Rama had been in exile for 14 years. It also remembers how Rama killed the demon-king Ravana, so is a celebration of good overcoming evil. It is said that, to celebrate the safe return of their king, the people of Ayodhya lit the whole kingdom with little clay lamps and set of fireworks.

The first day of the festival, Naraka Chaturdasi, celebrates how Krishna killed the demon king Naraka.

On the second day of the festival, Amavasya, people worship Lakshmi the goddess of wealth. Amavasya also tells the story of Vishnu who defeated the tyrant Bali and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel ignorance and darkness and to spread love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami – that Bali steps out of hell and lights the lamps to signify good defeating evil.

The fourth day, Yama Dvitiya, is a family day where sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

So, for four days, all of India (including Athoor village!) celebrated Diwali with lamps and fireworks which are said to be an expression of thanks to the gods for health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity; some say that the sound of the fireworks lets the gods know how thankful people are for the goodness they have received.

So, in all of the stories connected with Diwali, we see good overcoming evil, and there is the hope that this will continue through the next year. There is an expectation that humans have a part to play in this, committing ourselves to doing good deeds to bring us closer to divinity.

During the celebration of Diwali there are lights everywhere, the scent of incense and candles, a feeling of togetherness, hope and joy. And at this time, all around the world there are other people getting ready to celebrate their ‘festival of lights’. The Jews are looking forward to Channukha whilst Advent and Christmas will soon been here for Christians.

All over the world people of different faiths are celebrating together the triumph of good over evil; light dispelling ignorance and darkness; the coming of joy and hope. As a turbulent 2012 draws to a close perhaps we should take time to reflect on all the things which we share in common rather than all the things which divide us.

Diwali lights

Monsoon in Kamarajar Valley

When I used to live in England rain was something we put up with grudgingly, but now that I am living in India I appreciate the value of the life giving rains.  All living things, man or beast, look forward to the monsoon and welcome its arrival.  The first rains of the north east monsoon have arrived turning everything green and allowing the farmers to prepare their land ready to sow their next crops.

Monsoon in Kamarajar Valley

Monsoon in Kamarajar Valley

Monsoon in Kamaraj Valley

A gentle breeze from the west swirls, changes direction.

Blowing harder now, from the east.

Leaves fly from the trees;

Whirlwinds rise, dust whipped into life by the growing wind.

In the air the scent of rain.

 

Lake reflections shatter, broken by the growing waves

into a million pieces.

Lone egret takes flight.

Sambar lifts his head, questing the wind.  Turns silently

Into the forest, is gone.

 

Dark clouds billow, climbing high into the threatening sky.

The wind drops, eerie stillness descends.

Blinding flash of light.

Thunder rolls around the valley, echoes from the hills.

The sun shrouded, darkness descends.

 

The first drops raise dust, disappear into the parched earth.

Silence reigns, then thunderous roar

Of heavy rain on leaves.

Lake and mountains disappear, grey curtain hiding all.

Senses succumb to the rain.

 

Raindrops bounce, sparkling, shinning; consuming sunburned earth.

Roots reach out, greedily seeking;

Flowers raise their heads.

Verdant green revealed; leaves long hidden by yellow dust

Washed clean by the longed for rain.

Monsoon in India

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

Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Cochin

 

Recent clients on one of our South Indian Tours spent a couple of nights in fort Cochin, Kerala.  As with all tourists they spent time watching the Chinese fishing nets in use.  These nets seem to be found only in China and Fort Cochin!  It is thought that traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan introduced the nets here, but no-one is sure why they were set up along the coast here at Fort Cochin and Vypeen.

The nets are fixed to the shoreline and are operated from there by a massive cantilever.  The structure is about 10 meters high and operated by five or six men.  The individual length of the boom means that the net can only work in a specific depth of water so there are different sized structures to enable the fishermen to work in different depths of water in this tidal area.

Bamboo and teak poles hold the nets which have large rocks as counter-weights.  A man will walk out along the arm of the mechanism and his weight is enough to lower it down into the water.   The net is only left in the water for about four or five minutes before it is raised by the team of fishermen hauling on the ropes.  The rocks, each about 30 cm in diameter, are suspended from ropes of different lengths so that as the net is raised they  come to rest on the ground in sequence which keeps everything nicely balanced.

They nets rarely catch much – just a fish or two and maybe the odd crab or a few shrimps, but they can be lowered a great many times during the day which can lead to a sizeable catch.  The fish are often sold immediately to local passers-by who take them home for dinner – or by tourists who will get their hotel to cook them – no need for a middle-man in the market here!

It is not difficult to see why these nets are such a tourist attraction.  Large and elegant they line the shore like giant herons intent on fishing for their supper; their movemnet is strangely mesmeric and, along with the creaking of the rope and the splashing of the water, seems to wash away any stresses and cares.  Under the cloudless sky, watching the sun reflecting from the water in a mryiad rays, seeing the fish, leap and turn so that the sun reflects off their scales in rainbow shades – what a wonderful way to spend some time!

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How green is my valley?

At Lakeside we take our environmental responsibilities seriously.  We live in a beautiful place and want to keep it that way for ourselves, for our guests, for the locals and for the next generation.

Soma Basu of the prestigious Hindu newspaper recognises the work done by ourselves and the other ex-pats who live in the valley in a recent article.  She also describes beautifully just what a wonderful place this is.  I hope her words inspire you to take a holiday at Lakeside sometime!