South India

Nrityagram, Hessaraghatta, Bangalore

Nrityagram 1

‘How does one start when one arrives in the middle of wilderness, armed with dreams’ – Protima Gauri

Nrityagram was established by Odissi dancer and student of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Protima Bedi (aka, Protima Gauri,Gauri Maa, Gauri Amma), in 1990. It is a fully functional residential dance school that holds regular, full day classical dance classes and offers multiple year study courses. It follows a culture similar to ancient gurukul. They focus on holistic living in a self-sufficient, intentional community.

The feel of the place is divine. There is a distinctive calmness and purity hanging around in the air. Everything is beautiful – the architecture, the graceful dancers, the flora, the music, the words that one hears, the décor and the laughter. If you go through their official website and look at various descriptions, you will get carried away by their poetic beauty.

Nrityagram, literally meaning ‘dance village’ was designed by Gerard D’Cunha and is located in Hessaraghatta, 40 km away from Bangalore.

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Nrityagram temple

This temple, which is at the entrance of the dance village, depicts the image of Gauri Maa’s guru, Kelucharan Mohaptra, with a caption that means: Temple at Nrityagram. Fashioned from the raw mud of Nrityagram and fired after it was built, the temple is dedicated to space. It is decorated with panels depicting the elements, dance motifs, mudras and designs from costumes and ghungroos. Inside is a granite rock scooped out to hold water and a flame that stays lit.

It is a wonderful experience if you like art, dance or design. It is worth travelling 45 minutes for. As a dance lover, this was a dreamland for me where you breathe, eat and smell dance the whole day, sweet sounds of ghunghroos and pleasant pitter-patter of feet fill  your days, dance is appreciated an art, a God-send gift, dance is a part of soul.

Visit their Facebook page for wonderful pictures and updates about performances and classes.

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Thank you, M and Ee for the pictures

Categories: India, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

St. Philomena Church, Mysore, India

St. Philomena Church is a gorgeous Neo-Gothic church built in 1941 by a French architect named Daly. Its architecture is inspired by the Cologne Cathedral of Germany. This church was built to fulfil the needs of a growing European population at Mysore at that time. The fact that the church became such an important landmark of the city and is such a popular destination today reflects the secular nature of the King. An old description of the church is ‘A priceless French statue of a celebrated Greek saint in a German cathedral located in the heart of India’.

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Philomena Church 2

An interesting part about the church’s architecture is that its length and height is identical at 175 feet. The 2 spires of the church are made to resemble St. Patrick’s church, New York and are visible from miles away. They give a majestic contribution to the city’s skyline. The 12 feet high crosses on the spires make this church one of the tallest in Asia. There are 3 ornamental doors at the front and several doors on the sides that lead to the prayer hall. All pillars are carved with floral patterns and ceilings depict Biblical events like Birth of Christ, The Last Supper, The Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ in beautiful stained glass. Beneath the altar, there is an underground chapel known as catacomb that houses a priceless statue of St. Philomena in a reclining position. Names of all the donors who helped building this church are engraved on stone tablets on walls of the chapel.

St. Philomena was born to Greek parents in the 3rd Century after they prayed long to God to bless them with a child. Even in childhood, Philomena showed signs of piety. Emperor Diocletion wanted to marry her but she refused, vowing to hand over herself to God. She was tortured and beheaded by the King as a punishment. People’s devotion to her spread and she was given the title of sainthood. The relic of St. Philomena was bought by the then secretary of Maharaja of Mysore to be kept in the church.

Today, the church is not just a famous tourist destination; it is also a renowned religious place.

I would rate this historic monument as a must visit.

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Thank you, M, for the pictures.

A few notes:

– Church timings: 5:00 m to 6:00 pm

– Daily holy mass is held in Kannada, Tamil and English every day in morning and evening. (Updated timings should be available at the church entrance). Special masses are held on Sundays and Holidays.

– An Annual fest is held on 11th August every year.

– The church is all lighted up during Christmas. Special songs and sermons are held on and around Christmas.

– Photography is prohibited inside the church.

– There is no signboard to the effect but many people take their shoes off before entering the church. I don’t think it is compulsory to do so.

– A dress code is not specified but the church expects you to dress decently while in the campus. Inappropriate behavior like casual loitering around, sitting on steps and PDA are condemned.

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Categories: India, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mysore Palace–India

Mysore is known as the City of Palaces. It houses several palaces and temples that have seen decades of changes in the city. The most well known of all these historic structures is the Mysore Place, also known as Amba Vilas Palace and Main Palace. The palace belonged to the Royal family of Mysore, the Wadiyars. Way back in the 14th century this structure was made of wood and mud. It got damaged by various environmental forces several times later. Subsequently in 1897, the job of rebuilding the whole palace was handed over to the British architect, Henry Irwin.

It took 5 years for this palace to build and it uses different architectural styles – Rajput, Hind, Muslim and Gothic. it is built using fine granite and pink marble. Its tallest tower is 145 meters in height.

The palace has now been converted into a museum housing beautiful antiques and artefacts like lamps, mirrors, furniture and statues. Lot of walls of corridors and halls adorned with wonderful paintings of the royal family and scenes of the Royal family from the olden days. Some magnificent rooms like Diwan-E-Khaas (where the king addressed audiences), Diwane-E-Aam (which was used for public gatherings) and Marriage Pavilion (which is a large octagonal room located on the ground floor). All rooms are grandly decorated with ornamental pillars, stunning stained glass roofs, gigantic chandeliers, and geometrical design mosaic marble tiles. It is very sad that photography is not allowed inside the palace; I missed a great photography experience.

The Royal family gets involved with the people during Dusshera (falls in September or October) celebrations which are considered big in the whole of Karnataka. On the 10th day of the festival, a huge procession, consisting of elephants and other floats, is led from the palace. This festival has been celebrated by the Wadiyars since decades and it still celebrated in an extravagant way. The whole palace is lit up using around 97000 lights. Even today, the king himself travels in a traditional way in a silver palanquin form the palace to the Bhuveshwari temple.

The royal family was in news lately for the sad demise of their last king, Srikanta Datta Narsimharaja Wadiyar. He has not left behind any heirs (which the locals blame on a 400 year old curse).

The palace reflects the grandeur and royalty of the regal lineage. Once you are inside the palace, look at the thrones, large paintings of noble women wearing rich silk sarees, ornate railings and visualize the palace in its functional state, it is a rather extraordinary feeling. It totally captivates you. This destination must not be missed if you are touring Bangalore or Karnataka.

A few notes:

– Palace timings are 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Entry fee for Indian Adults is Rs. 40 and for Foreigners is Rs. 200.

– The palace is illuminated on Sundays and Public Holidays. Keep in mind, though, that it gets extremely crowded on holidays.

– Sound and Light show is conducted on all days between 7:00 pm to 7:30 pm.

– Photography is strictly prohibited inside the palace. You can take your time to roam around in front and side and take lots of pictures. Camera has to be deposited at the locker room located immediately after the main entrance.

– You are not allowed to wear shoes inside the palace. There are shelves arranged to keep shoes. You will be given a token in return.

No doubt I loved the palace and found it very impressive. But there are 2 things that upset me. For one, I found the staff pretty rude and rough. It was very crowded the day I went there and maybe they got aggressive trying to control the crowd. But, it completely spoiled the experience. They were almost treating people like cattle. Secondly, you remove your shoes at the entrance and exit the palace towards the back. You then need to take a complete round to reach the front again to collect your shoes. That path is made of cobblestone; so it is very hot. Kids will find this task very difficult. Camel and elephant rides happen on the same path and so, it is dirty too. Walking barefoot on this path was such a downer. It is a better idea to carry your shoes in your bag and wear them immediately after exiting the palace.

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Categories: India, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Boats Through My Lens

I came across this picture recently when I was going through my photo collection looking for a photo to submit to a contest. And I realized, I had so many pictures of boats!

Surat, India

Taken on one early Sunday morning on ONGC bridge, Surat. The full post here.

The picture above and the one below were the first pictures of boats I took (with a simple point and shoot camera. In fact, they were one of the first pictures I ever took for the purpose of blogging). I used to look at these boats everyday while going to and coming back from work. They captivated me. Somehow. I thought they looked lonely, desolate and sad floating all by themselves.

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Two very red boats tied on Tapi River, Surat

Over the years, I clicked a lot of boats. I have no particular attachment to boats or the ocean or boating. It’s just that they make good photography subjects.

So let me show off my boat collection.

These ones were taken at Allepey, Kerala. Allepey was all about boats. There were houseboats, of course. And then there were these fishermen boats that would silently, confidently stroll by the huge houseboats, totally oblivious to their own littleness.

Allepey backwaters

fishermen allepey kerala

One place I have visited a lot in the last one year is Monterey Bay. Monterey is a merry place where families pour in on weekends and feed on clam chowder soup and crab. I have been there several times and am never bored of that place. It is a coastal place and there are all kinds of boats all around. The first picture is my favourite. It is currently my screen wallpaper.

Boat at Monterey

Monterey bay

Yacht parking Monterey

Another coastal place I visit a lot is San Francisco. SFO is always cold and windy. Like Monterey, SFO’s Pier 39 is flocked by families for clam chowder, chips (pigeons flock here for the same reason), street shows and boat rides. The boat in this picture is probably nothing special but the background is. The pier has a lot of history like the rest of SFO. From the pier, one can see (on a clear day) the Alcatraz Jail island and the Golden Gate bridge. This pier is one of the old retained buildings of the city.

SFO pier

My first experience of being surrounded by boats was during Christmas of 2012, 10 days after I landed in the US. This was at Two Harbours, Catalina (near Los Angeles). It is a beautiful, sparsely crowded island with just 1 restaurant and a couple of lodges. It is an adorable place. I should be writing about it soon.

Catalina Island

The next 3 pictures have been taken in Tulum, Mexico. Mexico… ah. Pure ecstasy! The tropical climate soothed my senses and allowed me to take a dip in all its offerings – exotic fruit juices, summer clothes and beautiful blue beaches. I gasped when I had got the first glance of Tulum beach. Its waters are in the prettiest of blues. Take a look yourself.

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Boat at Tulum beach

Neon boat mexico

I loved the color combination of this one. I wish I had better zoom lenses.

And this last one was taken at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Park. The lake enthralled me completely. 4th of July long break crowds were all over the place – swimming, jumping off rocks, picnicking – and yet the lake made the atmosphere look so serene. i could have sat there for hours watching the calm waters and people frolicking around.

Hume lake boating

After looking at the effect of this picture, I am happy for once that I do not have high zoom lenses. The enormousness of the mountains and minuteness of the boats would not have been so apparent.

If you look through your archives, you may discover that you take too many pictures of a particular subject like food or flowers. Or clocks, maybe?!

Share with me!

Categories: Bay Area, California, India, Mexico, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Bangalore’s Culinary Treats

Five days in Bangalore has added some inches to my waist. Being a foodie, it is difficult for me to refuse food, especially when I am in a new city and I know I may not be visiting that place again. I tend to eat greedily like there’s no tomorrow. And this is exactly what happened in Bangalore. M, the perfect host, took advantage of my weakness and stuffed me with lots of wonderful food.

I experienced quite a many restaurants and cafes during this time but the following 4 are my favourites for their uniqueness and history.

Koshy’s, Bangalore

Koshy's Bangalore

 Koshy's Bangalore

 Koshys Bangalore

Koshy’s was founded in 1940. It has retained its old world charm. As such it is a very ordinary place but it is popular because it is more of an institution and a legend than a restaurant. The waiters dress in traditional white uniform to add to the aura. Koshy’s is known to have served Prime Minister J Nehru, Soviet Union dignitary Nikita Khrushchev and Queen Elizabeth II. It is a very laid-back place and I read in reviews that service is usually slow. We went there on Makar Sankranti day for breakfast. We landed there at 9 am sharp when the restaurant just opened and 4-5 tables got occupied quickly. Our waiter moved really slowly and I was half afraid we would miss our flight.

This place is not to be visited in a hurry. You don’t go to this restaurant to eat. You go there to relax, think, ponder, converse and absorb the charming aged air.

They have a huge menu, which makes it difficult to make a decision. Our Veg Spanish Omelet was stuffed with loads of vegetables and cheese giving a very happy feeling. The Chicken Liver Toast was yummy too. I have never had such delicious chicken liver ever. Incidentally, Chicken Liver in various forms is their specialty. Their toasts and omelets have also got good reviews. Complete your meal with their hot or cold coffee (a tad expensive but in Bangalore every meal MUST end with coffee).

CTR, Bangalore

CTR Bangalore

 Benne Dosa CTR

CTR or Central Tiffin Room (erstwhile Shree Sagar) is a very old restaurant located in Malleswaram. The hotel was originally established in 1920s by a family. It passed several hands and changed names several times before being rechristened CTR. It is a small, ordinary place often crowded and messy. The reason why one goes to CTR is their superbly delicious food. Their specialty is the award winning Benne (Butter) Masala Dosa. This thick dosa is crunchy and soft at the same time. One side is crispy and the other is soft, which makes it so unique. I had taken one bite of this heavenly butter laden dosa and then eaten the rest of it in complete blissful silence. Have their Benne Dosa before trying out other dishes for that must not be missed. Their coffee is one of the best I have ever had. Other dishes worth trying are Kharabhath and Mangalore Bhajji.

Our Native Village, Hessaraghatta

Ragi Roti Our Native Village

Our Native Village (ONV) is an eco resort located in the secluded flatland of Hessaraghatta. People primarily go there to spend a quiet weekend with basic forms of living away from all modern interruptions. We ended up at ONV to have lunch after visiting Nrityagram. We were starving by the time we were looking at the menus and hoped the food would do justice to our hunger.

It did. We ordered simple wholesome food like Ragi Roti, Akki Roti with Tomata Palaya & Cabbage Gojju. The Tomato Palya was exceptionally tasty. We were told that the restaurant grinds their own masala (spices) and grows their own vegetables. We also had the option of plucking vegetables ourselves. We were too famished to do that. Lately, they have started serving non vegetarian food but otherwise, their vegetarian food is cooked using less or no oil and feels very light on the stomach.

Their filter coffee was a letdown.

They have a buffet option too. Food is amazing. The ambience is good. They also have some books you can read while waiting around. It was totally worth going there instead of Taj Kuteeram, which is right opposite the dance school.

Kamat Lokaruchi, Mysore Road

Moode Idly Kamat

 Sugarcane Appams Kamat

If you are travelling towards Mysore, you cannot not stop at Kamat. It is located 70 kilometers away from Bangalore and is a perfect lunch / breakfast destination for travelers. Done up simply yet tastefully in traditional ‘hut’ style, the ambience is really cozy. They have lots of seating, most of it is outside. They serve buffet on weekends and holidays. Otherwise, you need to battle your gluttony and order something from their vast menu. They have lot of popular and traditional dishes that are served with very little wait time. Try their Moode Idli (Steamed cylindrical idli wrapped in banana leaf) served with wada, sambhar and coconut chutney, Ghee Rava Dosa, Sugarcane Appams or Ragi Dosa. Dosas are often served with Tomato chutney and Veg Korma. Do not forget their memorable filter coffee in the end. I chose to have a glass of refreshing sugarcane juice. I was denied this tempting drink throughout my India trip for the fear of falling sick. But the Kamat sugarcane juice did me no harm.

For adventurous foodies, there are more ethnic dishes like Akki Rotis, Jawar Rotis and Ragi Mudde meals. Such meals are usually consumed by farmers and locals in interiors of the state.

Kamat concluded my tryst with ethnic South Indian food. And it was totally unforgettable.

These were some memorable food moments of my Bangalore trip. It could not have been better devoured than with M & E.

Any more food recommendations from you hardcore Bangalore foodies?

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Categories: India, Photography, Restaurant Reviews, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Kashi Art Cafe, Fort Kochi

We were really excited to go to Kashi Art Gallery & Cafe. Every time we looked up for good places to go to in Fort Kochi, this name popped up. There were rave reviews everywhere and what wonderful photos of this recently renovated cafe! This was the place to go, for sure.

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kashi art cafe menu

We headed here for a late lunch. Indeed, the place, located at Burgher Street, is beautiful. There is a front gallery that showcases work of local artists.

kashi art cafe decor

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kashi art gallery

The rest of the cafe is also done tastefully. This is a perfect place for enjoying a quiet meal. This is where one can relax and have good conversations with friends. This is one good place where you can study maps and chalk out an itinerary.

kashi art cafe interiors

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kashi art cafe passage

Their menu is pretty small but from what I have read their breakfast dishes is pretty good. That is what this place is known for. Their French Toast-n- Honey and Omelette is supposed to be good. So is their coffee.

I was sadly let down by their food. I found the food very mediocre. Their Homemade Chocolate Cake, which is another speciality, was so sweet it made me giddy. This place may be just a bit overrated.

salmon sandwich at kashi art cafe

No doubt, the ambience is amazing. Totally my kinda place! Kashi Art Cafe is made to suit foreigners and hip, arty people visiting Fort Kochi. It is worth visiting for a small snack and to enjoy the beautiful interiors.

Moreover, it’s fun wandering in Fort Kochi streets to reach this place.

Categories: India, Photography, Restaurant Reviews, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 14 Comments

Fort Kochi’s Old World Charm

Rustic. Quaint. Charming. These are some words that describe Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is a historic area within the city of Cochin. This is one of the hottest tourist spots of Kerala. What makes this place unique is its European flavour. Portuguese, Dutch and British ruled this town at different points of time and left some bit of their respective cultures here. Their influence can be seen in the form of churches, synagogues, museum palaces, English named inns and cemeteries. The town is speckled with lots of old, ornate architecture along with modern fashionable eating joints and boutiques.

fort kochi

A colonial style building at Burgar Street

fort kochi home stays

A homestay – A concept  that is very popular in Fort Kochi

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A typical street in Fort Kochi

When you roam around the streets of Fort Kochi, expect to see lots of bohemian dressed foreigners. Fort Kochi receives lots of foreigners every year. Which is why, they have juxtaposed contemporary facilities with old-India charm. Stylish cafes like Kashi Art Cafe & Tea Pot are new fashioned yet rustic, giving foreigners comfort as well as taste of Indianism.

kashi art cafe fort kochi

kashi art cafe menu

It is very easy to spend 2 days, at the least, in Fort Kochi. There is Mattancherry area that has the Dutch Palace and Jewish Synagogue. Roam around Kunnumpuram, Princess Street or Burgar Street and you will find lots of cute cafes and vintage shops. And then there is Beach Road where one can see Thakur House, St. Francis church, Dutch Cemetery and Chinese Fishing Nets.

It was unfortunate that my friends and I could spend barely one day there.

The whole town is pretty much walkable. That is how you can enjoy the town completely. Walk towards Mattancherry through narrow shopping lanes and the fragrance of fresh spices being ground will overwhelm you. Walk around Mahatma Gandhi Beach and see locals having fun. Walk around St. Francis Church and see huge Dutch bungalows now converted into clubhouses and hotels.

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Jewtown, Mattancherry

Santa Cruz Basilica Fort Kochi

Santa Cruz Basilica

Make a list of famous spots you want to see, for sure, but do spare some time for just loitering around – having a drink or two at a fancy cafe, window shopping at those cute shops or gazing at interesting wall art.

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This post has also been published here.

Categories: India, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

When Girls Decide To Travel

Even before I left for Singapore, M and I had been planning a Kerala trip. Crazy, isn’t it? But that’s how I want to be, travelling all the time. Staying at one place makes me restless. And anxious, like I am missing out on a lot by being at home. I must be out there to see all that is there.

So, how much ever my parents try to domesticize me, I don’t stay still; I wander. If not outside my city, then within. My camera and I want to be out of home, on the streets, among ageing monuments, among ignored ruins, among unexplored corners of the city all the time.

So, M, E and I planned this grand tour of Kerala way back in June. This is going to be our 3rd tour together and the next one after Ahmedabad. I didn’t think it was a necessity informing my poor parents and surprisingly, they took it well. After all, you have to learn to take difficulties in your stride and keep moving!

And how did the planning happen? We started with the intent to go to Munnar. How could we resist the rest of Kerala? And so, we enquired and researched. Searched whole day on internet, ignoring persistent phone calls and impatient peers, for gems of Kerala. It became a mission. The most important mission for us. And so, M found Wayanad. And I found Allepey. And E found Pondicherry. Let’s combine it all!, we said, our zesty female spirit refusing to stay calm. We looked at lavish eco resorts, gorgeous food and bright greenery covered in mist, greed rising within us. How could we miss on any of these? Let’s go! Let’s attack all these places! And why not add Coorg too!

Unable to keep our enthusiasm within ourselves, we decided to approach a local who would guide us on the route. And so, E’s colleague from Cunoor was approached. The gentleman that he is, he agreed to give us tips, without scoffing us, atleast on our faces and politely said Ladies, you are planning a quadrangle, which is impossible to cover in 5 days. When E chalked out the route on Google Maps, our intended route indeed was a quadrangle and I realised that our plan was indeed scoff-worthy. At least we gave him the pleasure of secretly sneering at us and talk about our famed sense of direction (or the lack of it).

We ladies were stuck; choosing has never been our forte, which explains the high number of seemingly similar looking shoes and everything else in our cupboards – we basically want everything! Keeping Cochin as a definite place, how do we choose just 2 out of the rest? Allepey is the true sense of Kerala – the Backwaters! I argued. And look at Wayanad. It is so beeaauuttiful, pointed out M. Pondicherry is a French colony! Which means beautiful architecture. I want to go there too! I confused things further. Munnar was forgotten, Coorg was pitched for.

E, always the mediator, suggested a poll. It is scientific and the most popular method of determining widely-held opinions. Even among 3 people. So we voted. Unfortunately, this method failed. M chose Coorg, I chose Allepey and E chose Pondicherry. Back to square one! Now, who will sacrifice?

All of us did in a way and moved a step further – the places were decided. Cochin, Munnar and Allepey. Feeling relief, we moved further to planning the rest of the trip, the most cumbersome of all, logistics. And could this have been done without further chaos? No way. E looked for budget, M looked for convenience and I looked for comfort. I exploded at the thought of a 26 hours train journey and E tried to fit in everything in 5 days. Our troubles only seemed to be increasing.

At last, we arrived at some common agreements and yay!, we were done with the next stage of our planning! We then spent lot many days looking at hotels – their prices, locations, pictures, and reviews, wore out our keyboards with lot of group chatting and managed to finalize on 3 awesome top class resorts that also fitted in our budget. Girl power, yippie!

Before you think that our planning was all chaos and no system, all confusion and no direction, and you are forever going to be forever entertained by our self-deprecating stories, let me show you how girls also plan. We planned each stage at a time – first the places, then the travel plan, then stay plan followed by travel bookings, hotel payments. The next will be daily itineraries and specifics (ie, what to see, eat, shop and do in each town). Responsibilities were divided – E did the travel bookings and I paid for hotels. A detailed sheet has been made listing payments made by each person for record and settling of accounts later on.

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Ha! You see, girls also do such meticulous work.

So far, so good. It’s time to load our company servers again, look at numerous confusing tourism and travel sites for days at work and decide what we want to do/eat/shop/see there.

Kerala, here we come!

Categories: South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

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