Author: Lisa

walterre-featured

Watching Marvelous Birds  in Dehradun – Uttarakhand

FANTASTIC BIRDS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Since it was first described in 1991, the wren-babbler was thought to be endemic to Nepal. So, you can imagine the surprise (and delight) of Indian ornithologists when, in 2003, this diminutive, stub­tailed, weak-voiced little thing was seen in the forests of Dehradun. Perhaps it was only fair that it be spotted in Walterre, Bikram Grewal’s four-bedroom villa resort, along the banks on the Tons River. Bikram had, after all, chosen his backyard with great care. Now the ‘establishment’ might consider him an upstart, but he sure knows his birds. Having authored many books on the subject, including the immensely popular Birds of India, he also knows a thing or two about their habitat and distribution.

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Laughingthrushes are just one of the stunning species that abound here

So, Walterre is located perfectly: the Himalayan foothills ensure the presence of the north and northeast species, and, at 2,200ft, the climate remains gentle enough through the year. The Nepal wren-babblers seem to concur, and have since taken up residence in the garden.

Spread over three acres, it’s not a very large area – a fact birders used to trudging for miles on end will surely appreciate- but the bird life is spectacular. You might be joined by crimson sunbirds for breakfast on the terrace, the extremely garrulous white-crested laughingthrushes will descend in droves every evening, and red-billed leiothrixes can be found gambolling in the undergrowth through the day. But that’s just the start of it. This resort has a birding checklist of 350 species, so you’ll find little reason to leave the property. But it’s not just the birding that’ll keep you back.

The well-maintained gardens are another. Spread over many levels, they’re bursting with flowers: geranium, petunia, heliconia and begonia, to name a few. These bedeck the area around the house, while kachnar trees (phanera variegata) tower above the entrance to the property.

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The start of summer means you get to see many flowers in bloom

Step into the house, and you’ll find treasures of another kind. There’s period furniture, rare lithographs, and a parlour crowded with curios including, for some odd reason, about a hundred paperweights. The library boasts a wide and eclectic collection, and comes with a super-comfy single seater right next to the shelves. Being 14km away from Dehradun city, there’s plenty of quietude, so you can really catch up on your reading. The terrace offers great views of the Himalayas during the day, and the lights of Mussoorie shimmer in the distance at night. The bedrooms have comfy four-poster beds and some strange inclusions, like a full-sized easy chair inside one of the bathrooms.

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You’ll find a different bird in almost every corner in the garden

Should you decide to venture into the city, a heritage walk with Been There Doon That (BTDT) is an interesting way to spend a morning. Dehradun has a rich history, and the intrepid folks at BTDT are helping people discover the interesting back stories of structures you normally wouldn’t give a second glance; every Sun morning; free). You’ll hear about the freebooter and British army deserter, Fredrick ‘pahadi‘ Wilson, the sad tale of an Afghan king in exile, and the supposedly rare hexagonal clock tower. Back at the property, a stroll along the banks of the Tons River is worth your time. You’ll almost certainly spot yellow-billed blue magpies along the sides of the road.

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Try and have many meals as you can on the picturesque terrace

But it won’t be long before the thrushes, flycatchers, scimitars and other summer denizens start calling you back to the villa, and that’s one invitation you’re well advised to accept.

 

GETTING AROUND

Walterre can arrange for a transfer from the airport or the railway station. The property is 14km from Dehradun, and local transport isn’t available easily, so it’s best to hire a car to get around.

WHERE TO STAY

Walterre: As expected, all four rooms in the hotel are named after birds. The ones on the first floor are a better bet as they offer easier access to the large terrace. The Peacock Suite also has a small TV room. Asian Adventures handles reservations for this property.

WHERE TO EAT

Each meal is an elaborate affair here, with some of the ingredients sourced from the backyard. While there’s no menu to choose from, the staff is particularly accommodating of special requests. Alpana Grewal’s signature mutton curry comes recommended.

The terrace is a great setting for meals – the passion flower vines snaking across the sides are bird magnets, and spotting five different species of sunbirds over lunch can be an unforgettable experience.

 

honnemardu-karnataka

Having Some Outdoor Fun – Honnemardu, Karnataka

WATER BABY

You’re floating on the Sharavathi River and the winter sun is lulling you to close your eyes and enjoy bobbing on the gentle waves with the mountains rising up from all sides. What makes the moment even more perfect is when Nomito Kamdar of the Indian Institute of Adventure Applications (IIAA) tells you that the pied hornbill, which just flew past, is slowly returning to the Sharavathi Valley. This sweet spot where watersports meets conservation makes even a couple of days in Honnemardu time well spent.

The campus is your base, so you eat, sleep and do all the activities around here. But before you start packing your bags, you should know that the facilities here are very basic. You have to be the grown-up that you are and, except for cooking your meals, do everything on your own. That means cleaning up after yourself as well as roughing it out. Welcome to adulthood; you’ll love it here!

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Apart from canoeing, you can also kayak, windsurf, sail and go on coracle rides

IIAA was started 25 years ago with the goal of conserving the biodiversity of the Western Ghats and using the outdoors as a platform for learning.

Run by The Adventurers, ‘a wilderness school’ and managed by Dr SLN Swamy and Nomito Kamdar, the activities push you and demand more of you.

The unpolluted waters of the Sharavathi River host many activities.

Pick from coracling, kayaking, wind surfing and sailing and spend the better part of the day in the water. You’re likely to experience a range of emotions – some for the first time here. It could be anxiety: will the coracle topple and ruin your expensive camera? Uncertainty: can you kayak on your own; exhilaration: yes, you can! And an ‘Aha!’ moment when you realise that few things compare to the joy of being outdoors.

But, if the water doesn’t excite you at that moment, take a rain check and head for the hills. There are several guided treks you can take, the closest one being to the Bhimanahejje Hill, which offers beautiful views of the Sharavathi River’s backwaters (2.5 hours). En route, you learn about how banning plastic and taking back any trash you generate has meant that this tiny corner of the Western Ghats can truly be described as pristine.

As you’re here to enjoy everything that nature has to offer, you spend the night camping out on an island.

The staff packs your dinner and you’re off in a coracle. With the sun setting in the background, pitching the tents feels less like a task and more like a fun activity. When you set out to collect firewood, beginning with twigs and moving up to thick branches, you realise the exercise is a survival guide that would make Bear Grylls proud. He’d love it even more as there’s no glamping here and you’re truly one with the elements.

More surprises await in this region, like the 16th-century Aghoreshvara Temple, which is a lesson in the Nayaka style of architecture (6km from Sagar, lkkeri;free). If you have a few extra hours, learn the basics of the local chittara art. While it can be confused for Warli art, chittara places more of an emphasises on geometry.

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Aghoreshvara Temple

Chandrashekhar Gowrichandrashekhar runs Chitrasiri from his home and exhibits and sells paintings too (00-91-94496 98979; chitrasiri@gmaii.com). Who knew the little village of Honnemardu hid such a fount of art, adventure and architecture?

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

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Karnataka is one of the major producers of betel nuts, so, en route to Honnemardu, you’ll come across many village homes drying this nut on their roofs

Closest city: Bangalore (418km) is the closest metro, it’s an eight-hour drive through some of Karnataka’s smaller towns.
Closest airports: Mangalore’s Bajpe Airport is the closest (230km). Spicejet and Jet Airways fly here from Bangalore. Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport (435km) is a longer drive, but better connected to Indian metros and cities.
Closest railhead: Bangalore Cityjunction is the major train station (SBC; 415km). The nearest railway station is Talguppa (TLGP; 10km). Take the 16227 Talguppa Express (leaves SBC 11pm, arrives TLGP 7.15am;) and return by the 16228 Bangalore Express (leaves TLGP 8.15pm, arrives SBC 4.30am;).

WHERE TO STAY

Indian Institute of Adventure Applications

Indian Institute of Adventure Applications

Indian Institute of Adventure Applications: Once you’ve reached the IIAA campus, you’re in their able hand.

Sagar (28km) is the town closest to Honnemardu and has some decent hotels if you want to check out theAghoreshvara Temple and surrounds.
Green Embassy: This is a three-star hotel with free wi-fi, car parking and a good restaurant.
Tip-Top Residency: This three-star hotel is another decent option, with room service and an all-day bar.

WHERE TO EAT

The food served at the IIAA campus is extremely simple vegetarian fare. Expect upma and pongal for breakfast; sambhar, rice, a locally-grown vegetable and buttermilk for lunch; and chapattis, rice, sambhar or rasam, and a vegetable again for dinner. And, of course, tea or coffee along with breakfast and in the evening. Remember, you have to wash your own dishes.

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New York and Two of its Museums

You can’t spend too much time in New York without noticing that New Yorkers are… well, hard to sum up in one short, snappy phrase. New York is, after all, the most American of cities, founded by the earliest colonials, and the landing pad for wave after wave of immigrants. Two idiosyncratic museums provide a glimpse into this cosmopolitan and complex world and may add a bit of perspective to what you observe on the city streets.

At the Jewish Museum, you will encounter plenty of weighty artifacts, such as a stone from a 1st-century wall erected in Jerusalem to repel Roman invaders, alongside sound and video clips from the great Jewish comedians, most of whom got their start in New York.

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Jewish Museum – New York

At the New-York Historical Society, you’ll see fascinating bits and pieces of Old New York, including 132 lamps by the city’s Tiffany Studios. Also on view are a selection of poignant exhibits from the aftermath of 9/11, including a piece of one of the planes, masks and hats used by rescue workers, and candles used during vigils when the city came together. Few mementoes of that terrible day are sadder, or more important a part of the recent history of this great city.

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Inside of New-York Historical Society

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Shopping on Madison Avenue, NY

Madison Avenue, especially around 65th and 66th streets, is a patch of designer heaven. In shop after shop you will mingle with wafer-thin fashionistas decked out in fabulously chic garb. We mere mortals may feel like country mice scurrying from one glamorous boutique to another, but a short walk is a fascinating foray into the world of high fashion, and you may even emerge with a new look.

Valentino should be your first stop if you expect to find yourself on a red carpet and wish to look your best for the paparazzi. Even if you don’t have a premiere on the agenda, the glamorous gowns and tuxes will make you feel like a star.

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Valentino Shop – Madison Avenue, New York

Madison Avenue makes a sharp turn east to Milan at Armani, where sumptuous limestone walls, dark wood floors and elegant staircases are as much a testament to Italian chic as the sparsely elegant attire for men and women. Attentive staffers who look like models will help you choose formal and casual designs that will ensure you fit into the surroundings.

The name says it all. BCBG stands for Bon Chic, Bon Genre, French for Good Style, Good Attitude. Designer Max Azria creates sexy dresses and shoes for women who have plenty of both.

A short walk north to 72nd Street, the former Rhinelander mansion is a prepster’s heaven. One of the city’s great Gilded Age palaces is now filled with enough Ralph Lauren tweed and plaid to clothe armies of country gents and ladies. Even if your tastes don’t run to duck-emblazoned khakis, stop by for an amusing look-see: to borrow a term from the country club set, the over-the-top horse and houndish environs are ‘an absolute hoot.’

The department store for style slaves of all ages, Barney’s stocks all the latest top designer lines, from traditional to trendy to trashy.

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Fin de Siècle Art and Sacher Torte in New York

New York often seems to have more in common with the continent across the Atlantic than it does with the one that stretches for almost 3,000 miles from the western banks of the Hudson River. European ambience is especially pervasive in the Neue Galerie, a 1914 Beaux-Arts mansion that would fit right in on Vienna’s Ringstrasse.

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Neue Galerie mansion – New York

Early 20th-century socialites Cornelius and Grace Vanderbilt lived and entertained in the paneled salons overlooking Central Park, and they would probably be pleased to see them now filled with stunning early 20th-century German and Austrian paintings and decorative arts. Few enclaves in New York are more transporting, and all that slightly decadent Germanic art is especially warming on a rainy New York afternoon.

Sky view of Central Park

Sky view of Central Park – New York

A shimmering gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt is the gallery’s Mona Lisa, an ornate dazzler that evokes fin de siècle Vienna and carries a dramatic provenance to match – the early death from meningitis of the wealthy subject, confiscation by the Nazis in World War II, a protracted court battle to return the painting to the rightful heirs, and a price tag of $135 million; this sum makes the piece the most expensive painting ever sold – to billionaire Ronald Lauder, who assembled this stunning collection with famed art dealer Serge Sabarsky.

Should Adele and works by Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and other devotees of Art Nouveau and the Bauhaus leave you in the mood to linger over a coffee and sacher torte, sink into a plush banquet in the Café Sabarsky.

 

Museum of Natural History New York

See Enthralling Dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History New York

Just looking at the American Museum of Natural History, a sprawling expanse of pink granite towers and turrets with a huge crystal cube attached, you can tell that amazing things are going on inside. And they are, from stars shooting across the night sky to giant squid floating through the depths of the ocean. No need to feel like an explorer in uncharted territory as you try to find your way through the four blocks of galleries – free Highlights Tours depart hourly to show off such prizes as the 21,000-carat Princess Topaz, a 63ft-long canoe crafted by Pacific Northwest Indians from a single cedar tree, a 34-ton fragment of a meteorite that careened into the Greenland ice sheets.

In enormous and elaborate dioramas created by taxidermists and painters in the 1940s, gorillas, lions, and other magnificent beasts range across the African rainforests and veldts; in the dinosaur halls, Tyrannosaurus rex strikes a rather terrifying stalking pose, surrounded by prehistoric companions.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Museum of Natural History

Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Museum of Natural History

One of the world’s oldest natural history museums also finds flashy new ways to capture the excitement of the natural world. More than 500 butterflies flutter freely through the Butterfly Conservatory, undisturbed by us spectators watching from a glass tunnel (Oct–May). Cosmic collisions and other stunning extraterrestrial phenomena are earthshakingly recreated in the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

If you have little ones in tow, sign them up for a Night at the Museum (selected Friday and Saturday nights); kids 7 to 13 see an IMAX movie, tour the spookily dark galleries by flashlight, and tuck into sleeping bags beneath a 94ft-long blue whale.

 

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Get Delicious Gourmet Food on Broadway

Upper West Siders aren’t noticeably larger than other New Yorkers, though by rights they should be, surrounded as they are by the city’s most tempting delis and food markets. A culinary walk begins at Fairway (2131 Broadway at W. 74th St, tel: 212-595-1888), a 1930s-era fruit-and-vegetable stand turned exotic food emporium.

 

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Fairway Market – Broadway

New Yorkers, not known for saintly patience, tolerate long lines to select from 650 kinds of cheeses, 36 drums of olives, shelves stacked with store-baked bread and babka, and aisles piled dangerously high with fresh fruit and vegetables. Climb the stairs to the cafe and steakhouse for the best Reuben in town by day and aged prime rib by night.

‘Like no other bagel in the world’ claims H&H (526 Columbus Ave at W. 86th St, tel: 800-692-2435), and ‘We agree,’ say aficionados, citing such merits as chewiness and freshness; you can buy just one, but you’ll wish you’d ordered a dozen.

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H&H Bagels

Zabar’s (2245 Broadway at W. 80th St, tel: 212-496-1234) has prided itself on selling the finest smoked fish for 80 years, and still does – along with everything from 8,000lbs of coffee a week, fresh-baked knishes, smoked meats, and an astonishingly large and well-priced array of pots, pans, and other gizmos for the kitchen. The next-door self-service cafe is short on decor, but lobster salad on a croissant and other offerings are so satisfying you won’t mind bumping elbows with the patron on the stool next to yours.

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Zabars specialty food store

One block east from Broadway is Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Ave at 87th St, tel: 212-724-4707), ‘the Sturgeon King.’ At the city’s shrine to smoked fish (and other deli classics) you can order over the counter or take a seat at a Formica table beneath dingy murals – clearly, his highness puts the emphasis on freshness, not ambience, and that’s just as it should be.

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Having a meal at Barney Greengrass

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Have a Cocktail at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

More than 3 million paintings and other artifacts, housed in galleries that stretch for a quarter of a mile, may not figure in your plans for a big night out on the town. But climb the monumental steps from Fifth Avenue, step into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you’ll discover that one of the world’s greatest art galleries is also one of the best places in the city to begin a weekend evening (the museum is open until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays). Quartets play classical music, cocktails are served in romantic hideaways, and the galleries are much more navigable in the evening than they are during the day, when they can be as chaotic as Grand Central Terminal.

The Temple of Dendur, transposed from the banks of the Nile to a stunning glass atrium overlooking Central Park, is especially atmospheric as soft twilight turns the 2,000-year-old stones golden and the trees just outside darken against the sky.

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The European galleries are unhurried on these evenings, so take your time to stand in front of El Greco’s View of Toledo, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, and dozens of other masterpieces so famous that they are comfortingly familiar even to first-time visitors to the museum. Make your final stop the Chinese Garden Court, where the gurgle of water, graceful plantings, and an aura of serenity will restore you for whatever you’re planning to do for the rest of the evening.

The Met puts on a lively roster of concerts and lectures on Friday and Saturday evenings. Check the museum’s website or go to the information desk to find out what’s on. Lectures are about $23, and concerts start at $45. And on a less lofty note: it’s hard to resist the Met Store, a glitzy two-floor emporium near the main entrance with an enticing array of prints, books, and distinctive jewelry and knickknacks based on the museum collections.

 

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New York City’s Neighborhoods

Upper East Side and Upper West Side. Central Park is the Great Divide, separating the East Side and the West Side, and this swath of greenery may as well be an ocean, so different are these two enclaves. In a nutshell, Upper Eastsiders step in and out of designer boutiques and Upper Westsiders load up on knishes at a string of delicatessens. Whatever side of the park you find yourself on, you will be surrounded by some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions.

Upper East Side

Upper East Side

Harlem and Upper Manhattan. While Manhattan took root at the southern tip of the island, much of the city’s history played out north of 110th Street, and the homes of some colonial New Yorkers still stand. Uptown is bisected by 125th Street, the main street of Harlem, and is also home to one of the world’s largest churches, the Cathedral of St John the Divine, and one of its greatest universities, Columbia.

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Harlem – New York

Midtown. The busy commercial hub of New York also displays the city’s most theatrical side – literally so, on dozens of Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, and also in the neon display of Times Square and many ostentatious displays of wealth in shop windows. With its busy avenues and skyscrapers, Midtown is the essence of urbanity.

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Midtown – New York

Chelsea, Flatiron, and Gramercy. In relatively small geographic confines between 34th and 14th streets, New York’s most schizophrenic neighborhood incorporates Little Korea, a busy gay stretch of Eighth Avenue, grimy warehouse blocks near the Hudson River, animated Union Square, a contemporary art gallery scene to the west, and a slice of Old New York in the east around Gramercy Park. Above it all floats the High Line, a railroad trestle transformed into an aerial park.

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View of Gramcery and Flatiron

Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. New York exudes plenty of small-town charm on the tree-shaded streets of Greenwich Village, once home to writers, musicians, and bohemians, and now a place to sip lattes in welcoming coffee houses and walk down quaint lanes. The riverside Meatpacking District is the hip haunt of fashionistas, and the surrounding piers and shoreline have been reclaimed as a stunning park.

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MacDougal Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Soho, Tribeca, and Chinatown. In New York, Downtown refers to a large swath of Manhattan beneath 14th Street. It also implies a certain level of chic style, best experienced on the cobblestone streets of Soho and Tribeca, where warehouses now house high-end boutiques and places to see and be seen. A stroll east into Chinatown propels you into one of the city’s thriving ethnic enclaves, yet another New York experience.

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Chinatown – New York

East Village, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg. Time was, floods of immigrants settled on these mean streets, and they left behind synagogues, delicatessens, Russian baths, and other remnants of a way of life fondly evoked in the Tenement Museum. In their wake a new breed of immigrant has recently arrived – young hipsters who’ve brought with them a hopping music and club scene.

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East Village – New York

Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. While Wall Streeters busy themselves with bailouts and sell-offs, the rest of us can board historic vessels at South Street Seaport, catch stunning sunset views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park, and take a skinflint’s cruise on the Staten Island Ferry. More diversions await in Brooklyn, and the walk there across the Brooklyn Bridge is memorable.

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Brooklyn Bridge

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A Night Out in New York City

So many choices, so little time… The fashion crowd gravitates to the Meatpacking District, for drinks and dinner at the Standard Hotel, a Parisian experience at Pastis or, in warm weather, a drink on the outdoor terrace of the Maritime Hotel. The ultimate in downtown sophistication, for the moment at least, is a cocktail in the lounge of the Gramercy Park Hotel followed by dinner at the refined and relaxed Gramercy Tavern.

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Gramercy Tavern

The Lower East Side is the place for an evening of indie-rock, folk, or American roots music, and top venues are the Bowery Ballroom and the Living Room, where singer Norah Jones got her start.

Theatergoers who would like to see a work a little more stimulating than the latest blockbuster musical should step off Broadway to Theatre Row, home to a dozen or so small stages hosting some especially innovative drama on 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Three Lower Manhattan theaters are also noted for ground-breaking work: The Public Theater, LaMaMa, and the Wooster Group. Across the East River, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and St Ann’s Warehouse are standard bearers of creative originality.