You are the Christmas Tree

It’s Christmas. Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God. In these time when hate, suspicion, greed and violence prevail let the spirit of Christmas help us in overcoming the negative forces. To all my friends celebrating Christmas I offer this message delivered by my master years back at the German Ashram on A Christmas Eve as my Christmas gift.

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You are the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is pointing upwards and its branches grow on all sides. It is orderly. At the time of year when no tree bears anything, it has many gifts to offer. And it is green throughout the year. A Christmas tree bears the gifts and the lights not for itself. All the gifts you are carrying in your life are for others. Anyone who comes to you, you offer them your gifts.
There were lots of gifts around Sri Sri’s couch. John asked Sri Sri, “Are you going to open the gifts?” Sri Sri winked and pointed at the people and said, “I am always opening the gifts.” (Laughter)

Your life is a gift. And you have come to unwrap the gift. In the process of unwrapping, you also save the wrappers. Your whole environment, situations, circumstances and body are the wrapping papers. When we unwrap, we destroy the wrapping paper. We are in such a hurry at times that we even destroy the gifts. With patience and endurance, open your gifts and save the wrapping papers.

The Farewell Song

Bidding farewell from one’s school or college in the final year after spending most lively and memorable moments of lifetime is one of the most painful times in ones life. The pain of parting that engulfs us is inexpressible.We will be leaving our routine and entering a new world. It is the time when even the worst student is blessed and hugged by classmates and teachers. It is the time we thank everyone for their support and say sorry for our mistakes. It is the time when we try to smile when our heart weeps. It is the time when foes turn to friends and fear of leaving our friends dawn on us. A time of last celebration in the school!

Farewell song by final year students

Farewell song by final year students

Yesterday it was such an occasion on the 14 th annual day celebrations of Green Hills Public School, Wayanad; The final year students bid farewell to the school rendering a touching farewell song. This was the most touching event i have ever witnessed at a school. Tears rolling down, choked threats and sobs while expressing gratitude and the well composed and choreographed farewell song moved parents, teachers and students who had gathered at the venue.

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I could see students crying, teachers sobbing and i felt a strange heaviness in my heart. How terrible the children would be feeling of missing all those fun, pranks, and their friends and teachers who are like the air they breathe. Being close teaches us the message of love but parting gives us the hope of new beginning.

The Green Hills Public school wore a festive look on 14th annual day celebrations

The Green Hills Public school wore a festive look on 14th annual day celebrations

No doubt these kids were lucky to be a part of this wonderful institution. I personally wish each one of the wonderful ones in the 12th standard all success in your future and express my heart full gratitude and appreciation to each and every member of management and staff for providing our children such an excellent ambiance and support thus helping them to mould their future.

Special guests@The Treasure Trove

A couple of weeks back I received a casual message from my friend in US inquiring about my home stay in Wayanad, Kerala. My friend Ansu who is settled in US after her marriage wanted to recommend my home stay to a American couple from
San Francisco who were planning to visit India. They were on a short vacation and wanted to have a feel of Kerala.

I furnished Ansu with the details and within a week I received a mail from Ashley who was planning to come to my place confirming the booking.

Ashley and Suarez

Ashley and Suarez

Ashley and Suarez after a spending a couple of days in Mysore moved into our place. They ditched the usual tourist circuit of backwaters in South Kerala and choose Wayanad.

During their stay in Wayanad they visited Edakkal Caves and Wildlife sanctuary and rest of the time preferred to relax in our cottages and spent time with my family in our house.

On Ansus request we provided them the Onam feast which was served in plantain leaves.

Onam Feast served in plantain leaves

Onam Feast served in plantain leaves

They were really thrilled and Suarez was with his camcorder was shooting the dishes being served in plantain leaf.

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Suarez recording the feast being served

It was really nice to see Ashley and Suarez helping themselves with different dishes served in the plantain leaves using their hand.

A nod of appreciation from Suarez

A nod of appreciation from Suarez

They enjoyed every dish served,

Waiting in excitement for the dishes to be served

Waiting in excitement for the dishes to be served

Before leaving they promised to come back the next year.

Ashley

Ashley

More than the monetary gains it is the wonderful moments spent with such friendly people that gives us great satisfaction and the feeling running a homestay is worth the effort we put in.

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Thanks a lot Ansu for referring such wonderful people to our place.

Final click before leaving

Final click before leaving

The Bridge to Bliss

This bridge I clicked evoked a strange feeling inside me when I sighted it first. It looked like a bridge to nowhere. Running across verdant grasslands and lined with rubber trees towards its end, the bridge looked a bit spooky. The clouded sky and faint light of the setting sun added to the spookiness. The  same night I had a strange dream; where this bridge was the centre stage. My attempt to recall my dream ended up in this piece; it is a poem or pose, I am not sure. But this was how it was for me on that night of 30th August 2014.

The Bridge

The Bridge

There I stood at the start of the bridge

In a golden chariot, with an angel draped in white.

The angel said this path is tough,

Walk with vigil, For you might be tricked.

Again said the Angel, Once you cross the bridge, It is full of bliss! It is full of bliss!

If you don’t cross alive, How can you cross when you’re dead?

Once gone there is no returning, Think again before you cross.

The voice was sweet and full of care, I felt the voice dear and familiar

Before I crossed, it flashed in my mind, all the toil I underwent all these days

I had wandered at home and abroad

Through scores of alleys from town to town

Met quite a lot, some warm some hostile

And all of them helped me to shape this living

Then I met a lot, who claimed aloud, “Join us for you can reach the promised land.”

They said there is a bridge, cross it and you are in the promised land.

The path is not too stretched join us, for we have the means to cross the bridge.

 I toiled in the midst of them, with a lot of pant and puff, but I never reached the bridge to the promised land.

Their words were deep but deeds very shallow, and their acts I felt were for momentary gains.

Their means to cross the bridge and reach the promised land, Seems to me all hollow and sham.

Turn back and see before you cross

Said the angel in a tone so firm but calm.

Through the pristine flowing white robes, I saw the wind, ruffling long locks of hair

Oh! Now I know whom the angel was, for I knew HIM all these years

Then I saw HIS witty grin and HIS usual naughty wink.

HIM

HIM

“It is not yet time for you to cross the bridge, since there are a lot for whom you mean a lot.”

When the time is right HE said, I will steer you to bliss, swift as a wind, across the bridge

I look back and there stood all my dear and near

Waving at me, they say “For God’s sake never cross the bridge.”

Then I recognize they were never a twinge in my life, for they lit up my living with those little squabbles

And sprinkled around colors of Joy, with those sporadic acts

A cold breeze flow across my face, spraying my cheeks with drops of  rain.

Then I wake up from my dreams, realize they were not rain drops but tears rolling down.

God i was fast asleep tucked all inside, in the comfort of my blanket

The night was cold and it is pouring, The night was silent and it is pouring, Since the rain allows no sound, but peacefulness

Now I get up and switch on the lights, Oh! the bridge in my dreams looked so known.

I flip through those clicks in my camera, Oh! the bridge was there, that came in my dreams

In real I had crossed the bridge and returned at ease without any hitch.

My heart, now, soar like an eagle, above all the sorrow and pain.

For HIS grace guides me above these sorrow and pain.

More storms may come to shake me, to shock and put me askew

But I know HIS love is unfailing,  and connects us all — me, you and HIM.

A night by the woods

It is said that the purpose of going to a resort is re-sort one’s mind which gets scrappy in the rat race for existence. We spent a fortune going to posh resorts with swimming pools, wellness centre, and scads of non-natural amenities. But there exist some veiled gems where you can re-sort your mind naturally. You can live amidst wilderness, swim in babbling brooks, detoxify feasting on organic meals, trek through the woods, hurry past wild elephants, listen to chirping birds and finally emerge rejuvenated. Illathu Homestay is such a place. 2 days spent here will linger for ever in my memories. Illathu Homestay is located at Thirunelly, a small village in North Wayanad. The homestay is located one kilometer from the famous Thirunelly Temple.

Y Junction

Y Junction

On the Manathavady-Mysore road drive down 10 kilometers and you are at Kattikulam..About 10km from Kattikullam, you will reach a Y junction. The straight road (main road) goes to Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala-Karnataka border and Kutta. Take the left road called Thetturoad, which finally ends at Thirunelli,

View from appapaara

Appapara a view

The road is narrow, full or curves and bends and there are ups and downs on the road. Beware of elephant herds on this road. Keep away from them because they are the most ferocious and mischievous lots found in Wayanad; they usually drift away from you. (Hopefully!).

Hosts At Illath Homestay

Hosts At Illath Homestay

From Thirunelly Temple you drive down south west pass tribal settlements, and you are at Illathu Homestay You will be welcomed by a friendly couple – Sukumaranunni , and his wife Saraswathi.

Scenic Illath Organic farm

With the Brahmagiri hills on the North, the Narinirangi hills on the South, the Udayagiri hills on the East and the Karimala hills on the West, and located by the gurgling river Kalindi, originating from the Brahmagiri hills you are in one of the exotic location in Wayanad.

The cottage amidst wilderness

The cottage amidst wilderness

The cottage located amidst a plantation, is a bit away from the hosts residence thus providing you complete privacy. After spending a major chunk of time in the asphalt jungle of Cochin it was delightful to plunge into this endless verdure, feel the breath of fresh air on face, have a walk on winding forest paths, bask along the scenic organic farm, all the time listening to the sounds of singing birds and bubbling river.

River Kalindi meandering by

River Kalindi meandering by

Here you are away from the maddening crowd away from the constant ringing of your cell phones, emails, Internet and newspapers. You can live your dreams, of a peaceful life, close to nature, close to God, and above all close to yourself. This place is surely inspired by nature and its charismatic beauty ensures your comfort.

From the cottage balcony

From the cottage balcony

The view from the balcony can be described as “simply out of the world “. It offers the perfect view of the surrounding organic farm, forest and mist clad hills.

View from the cottage

View from the cottage

After visiting the Thirunelly temple and an adventurous night drive through the forest path as a pillion on my host’s motorbike, I sat alone in the balcony overlooking the deep jungles listening to the bewitching sounds of dark night forest and the murmuring sound of river Kalindhi. Though it was creepy i was terribly curious and happy.

The pristine waters are tempting

The pristine waters of Kalindhi river is tempting

Crickets, owl screech, dog or real wolf howls, elephants, tigers and leopards– all this you can find here. I closed my eyes and let my imagination work. Lucky are all those departed souls who attained liberation in this holy land, because of the obeisance performed by their dear ones at Thirunelli. I could feel them around blessing me to free my soul from all its sins.These are the interesting and captivating moments of life.

Misty Morning - A view from the balcony

Misty Morning – A view from the balcony

Nothing to do and it is time to hit the bed. Next day early morning I have to be at the temple for performing ancestral rites.Call it nyctophobia, sceleropobia orphasmophobia,  I preferred to leave one light switched on.Every sound made me start, causing me to curl up further under my blankets. I cocooned myself in the blanket, pulling it up over my head and drifted off to sleep, to be awakened early morning by the sound of trumpeting elephants.

Woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promise to keep

And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep

Robert Frost

Running The Treasure Trove – Reality behind

Starting your own business in the hospitality industry is always a huge decision which is prone to lots of risks. No doubt the decision is rewarding when you succeed.

Running a hospitality business successfully doesn’t mean your guests are always nice, accommodating, less demanding, generous and well behaved. We have been involved in the industry for approx 4 years running our home-stay cottages The Treasure Trove, I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I’d like to voice my observations.

The Treasure Trove (www.treasuretrovewayanad.com)

The Treasure Trove (www.treasuretrovewayanad.com)

Many are of the wrong notion that scores of excellent reviews in leading travel portals means that things are rosy-rosy and we are having a great time with the guests and things can be taken for granted. The photos of our guests that we post in our Facebook page with comments and likes from our guests further fuel the thought this business is glitter-glitter everywhere!

With Shivya Nath acclaimed worldwide as on of the best travel blogger. Shivya a glob trotter played a significant role in our success through her social enterprise India Untravelled. Shivya currently is exploring the country sides of Romania

With Shivya Nath acclaimed worldwide as on of the best travel blogger. Shivya a glob trotter played a significant role in our success through her social enterprise India Untravelled. Shivya currently is exploring the country sides of Romania

On the other hand the truth is that right from the time of arrival to departure of the guest we are under constant pressure and sometime the pressure is so intense that we get thoroughly stressed. Many times putting aside our personal problems, commitments and setbacks we had to be cheerful and make our guests comfortable. Our family commitments and responsibilities takes a back seat and many occasions we had face the wrath of our close rellies. It’s a very serious business behind the scenes.

Wonderful family of Fyonna Margaret, Freya, Heidi and Paul Howard from United Kindom. They were the most accommodating and generous guests we ever had. Though we messed up with their bookings they readily accepted our arrangements happily.

Wonderful family of Fyonna Margaret, Freya, Heidi and Paul Howard from United Kindom. They were the most accommodating and generous guests we ever had. Though we messed up with their bookings they readily accepted our arrangements happily.

Occasionally we had to handle everything from housekeeping to serving the food to cleaning the cottages and toilets. In fact, taking multiple roles we experienced a steep learning curve that we enjoyed thoroughly.

Anoop V Kartha and family from Cochin

Anoop V Kartha and family from Cochin

The cleanliness of the cottages, the quality of food we serve, having amenities guests want, and our business model took us so far. In the hospitality business, such things are the decisive factors. If you don’t have them, you won’t survive for very long. The fact that a minute flaw on our part can throw the guest awry is always intimidating.

With Vijay Venugopal and Aswathy Vijay from Trivandrum

With Vijay Venugopal and Aswathy Vijay from Trivandrum

We have been hosting guests of different nationality, religion, race, caste, creed and profess.  Most of them are really ardent travelers who have stayed in different hotels, resorts and B&B’ all over the world. A major chunk of them were really nice people who appreciated our business model and were generous enough to post excellent positive reviews in leading travel portals and lovely piece of writings in their blogs. Their feedback’s and comments helped us in improving the quality of our service.

John Darlington, Chairman National Trust, UK and Sophia Darlington wildlife cinematographer who do freelances for BBC and Animal Planet with their family.

John Darlington, Chairman National Trust, UK and Sophia Darlington wildlife cinematographer who do freelances for BBC and Animal Planet with their family.

Some of them were generous enough to forgive our slip-up of messing up with the bookings during peak seasons and readily accepted the alternate arrangement we made for them.

Paayal Sethi of FilmKaaravan

Paayal Sethi of FilmKaaravan

We always put an emphasis on personal relationships. We successfully built strong relationships with international and domestic guests with staying in touch with them throughout the year, sending Christmas wishes, and emails to guests just to see how they were doing and fill them in on what was going on in our lives.  This helped us in getting repeat customers. The coming weekend we would be hosting a couple from Bangalore, who had stayed at our place two years back.

With Leslie Klein and family from Tel Aviv

With Leslie Klein and family from Tel Aviv

More than 50% of our  new customers was through referrals. As we built a relationship with each guest, they referred their relatives and friends to our place.

GVK Senior Correspondent, The Times of India, popularized us through his blog and short videos uploaded in Youtube

GVK Senior Correspondent, The Times of India, popularized us through his blog and short videos uploaded in Youtube

But we have had to handle occasionally an irate or down-right rude guest or two.

Some guests are reputed to be troublesome, nasty or arrogant. Their inconvenient behavior can really undermine our moral and even put an end to our enthusiasm! In this business the need to be skilled in dealing with angry guests is of utmost importance, as they are probably the worst part of this business.

We have been running this business for almost 4 years and this is how we have been dealing with nasty customer.

  • Always remain calm, before an angry guest! Be patient and listen to him.
  • To become argumentative and confront them, will not sort out the problem, it will definitely make things worse and make other guests uncomfortable.
  • When dealing with a rude or angry customer never resort to a word war.
  • Some guests can get very nasty with throwing insults at you. It can be very tempting to begin throwing insults right back at them. No matter what it takes, resist this temptation. If you are the owner, you could forever ruin your reputation and more business, especially if the customer has lots of friends and influence.

None of this works if you are not genuine. People can tell when you care, are serious about building relationships, and you are giving your best.

Reena Sunil the hostess at The Treasure Trove with Henia Goldberg a clinical psychologist and Shafi a business consultant from Tel Aviv.

Reena Sunil the hostess at The Treasure Trove with Henia Goldberg a clinical psychologist and Shafi a business consultant from Tel Aviv.

The real success in Hospitality host industry is the ability to deal with unsatisfied, rude and arrogant customers.

Pertii Salmi and family from Finland.

Pertii Salmi and family from Finland.

These lessons are among the many we have learned from running this business. I hope that in sharing them, they will help you grow as an individual and a successful hospitality entrepreneur as much as they have helped us.

Team Treasure Trove

Team Treasure Trove

The World From the Lens of Ladakhi Nuns.

One of the best posts by Shivya Nath. Spend a few moments to read this.

The Shooting Star

When I went to live at a nunnery in the high Himalayas of Ladakh, I didn’t imagine that I would be interacting with nuns as young as six years! Living with these Ladakhi nuns for a fortnight was beautiful, insightful, heartbreaking and introspective, in that order. But that’s a story for another post. Today, I want to show you the world from their lens, in photos taken by them with my Sony Cybershot camera.

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1. THEY COLOR THEIR LIVES ON PAPER
because in the real world, maroon is the color on them, and brown and white are the colors of the mountains they live in.

Ladakh nuns, Ladakh people

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2. SELFIE, ATTEMPT ONE
; I loved the innocence in their eyes, but knowing that their families have decided the course of their lives at such a young age almost broke my heart.

Ladakh people, Ladakh photos

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3. POSSIBLY THE YOUNGEST NUN IN LADAKH
at 6 years old. She came…

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