Breaking the mould – brick making in India

For as long as people can remember bricks in India have been made by hand. You can often see a small brick kiln beside the road where a family will make their own mud bricks and sell to locals. The quality of such bricks is not always good as the kiln is too small.

Close to Lakeside is a much lager commercial brick factory. A visit there is always popular with our guests.

The mud is put into the mould by hand…

…then tipped out.

There are about forty families employed at the factory. Couples often work together and are paid by the number of bricks they make.

The bricks are left to dry in the sun for about one week, being turned two or three times so that they dry evenly.

Then they are taken to the kiln. This is the same shape as the amphitheatres the Romans used for their chariot races.

The sun-dried bricks are carefully stacked in sections, each of which will be sealed off for firing.

Once the section is sealed it is covered with bricks and sand. The metal ‘lids’ cover the holes where the fuel is put in.

The fuel is a combination of thorn wood and cashew nut shells. These nuts have been roasted and the kernals removed. The remaining shell is very oily, this helps to create a fierce, consistent heat which creates a good quality brick.

The chimney is an ingenious design. It is on rails so that it can be moved from section to section as they are fired.

The firing lasts for one day, then the bricks are left for a week as they cool down.

The bricks are then removed by hand…

…loaded onto lorries…

…and taken to Dindigul where they are sold. Local people can buy directly from the factory.

As with all things in India, a new machine has recently been brought in to increase production. In this case, however, it has not meant the loss of jobs. The factory still employs the same number of people but produces twice as many bricks. The machine is still very simple and is labour intensive. It is fascinating to watch.

Some of the bricks are still made by hand, but I wonder how long that will last. Regardless of how the bricks are manufactured, it is a fascinating process and our guests always enjoy their visit.

If you come to stay at Lakeside, I’ll be happy to show you around!

 

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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!

The Indian flag – a guide to good politics

indian-flag
On 22 July 1947 the tricolour was approved as the Republic of India’s national flag. Over the years of the fight for independence there had been many suggestions of what the flag of India should look like. The final version incorporated ideas from many sources and was designed by Shri. Pingali Venkayya.

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India’s second President, described its significance as follows:

“Bhagwa… or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work.

The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct.

The green shows our relation to the soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends.

The “Ashoka Chakra” in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag.

Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.”

High ideals are embodied in the Indian flag, but how many people remember what it stands for? Perhaps all politicians in India should have to study the flag and pledge that they will dedicate themselves to their work, allow themselves to be guided by truth, be indifferent to material gains, protect the environment and dedicate themselves to dynamic, peaceful change.

A county with such principles not only embodied in its flag but actually living by them would be a force to be reckoned with!

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

 

The smallest temples in the world?

Somewhere in the jungle in the south of Karnataka are these tiny temples.

They have been here for centuries, if not millennia, used by the local tribal people as part of their animistic religion (believing that all things have a spirit or god in them and worshipping them).

I believe that there are three of these temples in all, one represents rounded hills, the second steep pointed hills and the third a squarer type of hill. The two that we saw are only around 40 – 50cm high and are within a few hundred feet of each other. The third is ‘lost’ as far as our guide knows, but the tribal people are likely to know where it is and still use it.

The small copper pot and stone-carved receptacle which you can see here are thought to be around 1,000 years old and are still used in worship. Our guide asked us not to disclose where these small temples are as the artefacts could be stolen by ‘antique hunters’ who would get a good price for them.

There is a sense of timelessness at these tiny temples, a feeling of being part of something ‘other-wordly’ and unique. People have risked the dangers of the jungle to come here; the wild elephant, leopard and tiger no deterent to their determination  to worship god in their own special way. Long may these places remain a hidden haven for the local people who see them as part of their past, present and future.

Why do Tamils paint their cows?

I’ve just been looking back over this blog and noticed the post about Pongal from 2012. If you want to know why Tamils paint their cows you will need to read this! Today is Day 1 of Pongal, so I would like to wish a happy festival to all of my friends who will be celebrating.

In the previous post I mention the beautiful green rice fields after the monsoon. Sadly, there is less rice in the fields this year after a poor monsoon so everyone is hoping that this year things will get back to normal.

Happy Pongal!

 

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!

Gaur – a natural hazard on the golf course!

Anyone who plays golf will know that there can sometimes be natural hazards on the course which may interfere with play. But I would bet that most people who play golf in the western world have never had to cope with a natural hazard which is found on our local course!

My husband, Pete, is a keen golfer and will occasionally drive up to Kodaikanal for a round. In that area you will find the gaur – a huge bovine that looks like a bull on steroids! Although it is classed as vulnerable the gaur is quite common around Kodai. They like to come onto the golf course at night to graze – and can cause havoc on the greens with their enormous hooves! To combat this the groundsmen erect and maintain a net fence around each green; the holes in the netting are large enough not to interfere with the flight of a golf ball but the net appears as a barrier to the gaur who will walk round it!

Netting surrounding the green on Kodaikanal Golf Course

Netting surrounding the green on Kodaikanal Golf Course

The gaur is the tallest species of wild cattle, a full grown male can easily be 6 feet at the shoulders and some can reach over 7 feet! It is very strong and massively built – they can be almost 11 feet in length (2.5 to 3.5 meters); the average weight is around 650 – 1,000 kg with the occasional big bull reaching up to 1,500 kg; females tend to be about three-quarters the size of the males. Both sexes have huge horns.

Gaur are among the largest living land animals. Only elephants, rhinos, the hippopotamus and the giraffe consistently grow heavier. This is definitely one hazard that you would not want to meet on your local golf course!

This is not my photograph, but it certainly shows the size of these beasts!

This is not my photograph, but it certainly shows the size of these beasts!