Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Second Update

The Second Update – Welcome to Banavasi!

True to our promise, we did not bombard you with emails telling you what we are doing, our trials and tribulations, our ups and downs. However, it is now time to reach out to you again and proudly announce the launch of Banavasi, among other things.

We are also exploring several destinations with Basix, thanks to the enthusiasm of Mr Vijay Mahajan. To be perfectly honest, when we feel discouraged it is he who has been motivating us. You will be hearing about these destinations in the Updates to come. Melghat is one such – ferret out your maps!

Just a line about ourselves before we move on to Banavasi – Sangeetha Sashindran, an avid trekker, has agreed to give us more time. We look forward to our network growing with more such enthusiastic travellers. Welcome aboard, Sangeetha!

Working with a village community is never easy. Democracy sounds great on paper, but putting it into practice brings out the natural autocrat in me and I have to keep it down forcibly. Banavasi is set in the Malnad region of Karnataka almost exactly in the heart of the state. It is famous as the first capital of the Kannadiga kings in the 2nd century. Its citizens have an active Panchayat which took to the Endogenous Tourism Project of the UNDP quite easily. They formed a Vishwodaya Grameena Pravasodyama Samasthe – Village Tourism Development Committee – in 2005 and have been at it since then.

The Committee has had its fair share of problems – with the State, with the contractor, with themselves and through it all they have managed to retain their strong sense of Democracy in taking forward the tourism project to show off their beautiful little village. Watching them at work is quite fascinating and always leaves me wondering how they actually arrive at a decision. But they do and they move forward all the time.

They now take great pleasure in welcoming you to their haven and will host you in their “Vanavaasika”, a modern building in this traditional village, built a little distant from the main village to give you complete peace. Ten rooms sit around a central square giving views of the trees, paddy fields and the River Varada just beyond. My favourite view point is the dining room from where you can watch the paddy grow and the river flow. You can also sit on the steps outside and watch a bewildering variety of birds and butterflies and listen to the bells of the cows as they go grazing and then come home.

If you chose to move beyond Vanavaasika, (on a bullock cart of cycle) the heart of Banavasi is the Madhukeshwara temple. For the religious it is a congregation of all the temples in India with representation from every major temple. For others it is a beautiful oasis of calm with many stories woven through each part of it. Listen as the Guide or one of the Priests tells you the entire story and you would have had a glimpse of all the major epics of India.

If all that story telling makes you hungry, head to any of the Khanavallis where you will get an excellent Uttara Kannada meal with jowar rotis, rice, fresh vegetables and the endless podis and chutneys. You will definitely need a siesta after that!

Craft abounds in Banavasi – you can visit the crafts persons in their homes, watch them work, buy a souvenir and if you want to, try your hand at some of the crafts. If that doesn’t satisfy the shopaholic in you, wait for the weekly market on Wednesdays!

Towards evening head for the Gudnapur lake, about 5 km away. Visit the Rani Mahal from the 5th century, a study in religious tolerance and then sit by the lake where perhaps, you might get to see a Jogi performance.

The next day you will be spoilt for choices. Do you want to go to the Gudavi Bird Sanctuary famous for its white ibis? Or do you want to head out to see Jog falls, the highest waterfalls in India? Or perhaps a bit of water sport at Honnemarudu? If Jog is too far away, carry a picnic lunch to Unchalli falls or Magodu falls.

For those who are interested in architecture, you can see examples of the Kadamba, Hoysala and Chalukya dynasties at Ikkeri, Keladi, Balligavi, Thalagunda and Kotipura. If nature beckons you try the Yellakundli sacred groves, the forests around Besagaon or the Chandragutti hill. If you are looking for something unexpected, head to the Tibetan settlement at Mundgod – it constantly surprises me to see a slice of Tibet set in these verdant plains.

All trips are a maximum of two hours away with a trained guide who can go with you.

While the kings of yore have left huge temples as a testament of their might, today it is the farmers who show off the beauty of Banavasi at its best. Go and spend time with the “pineapple king”, Mr Rauf Sheikh on his plantation – pineapple, arecanut, cocoa, banana, paddy – all neatly laid out in chequered farms.

All this and more from Rs.2900 per person for a couple – food and transport (within the area) included – for a weekend!

Let us make an itinerary for you based on your interest. Nature? History? Religion? Or a combination of these?

Come… Savour History and Breathe Nature… Banavasi awaits you…

Find more details on or
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We end this Update with further requests for your time:

First, may we continue to send you quarterly updates on our work? (No response will be treated as a resounding YES!) We have been warned that if we don’t get your permission, our domain could be blacklisted for spamming!

Second, are there any of your family or friends who would like to receive updates about Travel Another India – especially about new destinations? Please send us their email ID. We assure you that we will first get their consent before adding them on to our mailing list.

Finally, are there any places that you would like to recommend to us to add to our list of Responsible Destinations? It could be an existing destination, tourism venture or it could be a destination that you visited which you believe has potential or would add to our portfolio. Our criteria are simple and just three:

1. Is the place easily accessible by tourists? And are there tourists nearby? Our definition of “easily accessible” is to be within a two hour drive of an airport or railway station or within 5-6 hours drive of a large city.
2. Is the place safe? No terrorism? Naxalism? Caste, religion, political party violence?
3. And perhaps most important, is there a local host who has a strong sense of ownership and pride in the destination who would be willing to ensure that the guests experience the culture, cuisines and comfort of the destination? The host could be an individual or a group based at the destination.

Do write or call – we are waiting to hear from you.

Gouthami – 9940 559 513 –
Vinay Raj – 9448 829 408 –
Gouthami (with inputs from Vinay)
September 2009

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