India….. Chapter Four – Returning back North

Saturday 5th September

Our Final day in Ooty , after breakfast we headed South-West from Ooty through some absolutely stunning scenery and small villages , the hills were covered in fields of cabbages , carrots and potatoes and plantation after plantation of tea . Again along the roadside there were an abundance of temples , all beautifully decorated .

(Click on Photos to see full size)

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For this trip Pramod had stayed at the house so Purshotham and Prakash accompanied us this time along with Antony who looked after security at the house . The reason we came down here was to see two of the dam systems in the area , The Avalanche Dam and the Emerald Dam , i didn’t get any photos at the first one but got some at the Emerald…..

The were pretty impressive pieces of engineering !

We really enjoyed our drive around this area , it was really beautiful , the thing that amazed me was the farming , most of it on steep hills and all labour intensive , the amount grown was mind blowing . Seeing the Tea Plantations was breath-taking as well , makes you appreciate your morning brew even more ! We returned to Ooty for our lunch , a lovely vegetable noodle dish .

After lunch and a sit in the sun , we were taken to another garden not far away from the house , this one slightly different in that it was owned by the neighbouring state of Karnataka  , The Fern Hill Gardens also have accomodation for tourists , these gardens were once part of the Maharaja of Mysores Fern Hill Palace , A portion of the land owned by the Maharaja was gifted to the Government of Karnataka and it is now run by the The Karnataka Horticulture Department.

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The Topiaries were fantastic and are ajudged to be the best in the region . It was a very pleasant way to spend the last afternoon in Ooty . After a drive around and one last photo stop……

We headed back to the house where Pramod informed us as it was our last night we would have a camp fire ! Only the Camp fire had other ideas…… After much attention by Pramod , Purshotham and Antony the fire did take off though a few rain shower did try to put their good work out , after much merriment and a few bottles of Kingfisher we retired inside for a lovely final meal by Valli Margreat . As well as being one of lifes great Characters She does cook a pretty Mean Curry ! 

We retired to bed for an early start (6am !) next Morning for our drive back to Bengaluru……

Sunday 6th September

6am on a Sunday Morning at home usually means no public transport , maybe some leftovers from the Saturday night out wandering the streets…… In Ooty it means Buses all over the place , lorries , loads of people , basically a normal day ! There was a bit of low cloud when we bid our farewells to the house and set off down the hill .

We returned the same way we came , down the hairpins and through the National Parks , we caught a glimpse of one of the Elephants being washed at the reserve……..

And there were Monkeys Galore ! 

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On our way back through Mysore we had breakfast in the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel . It was a lovely drive back to Bengaluru in the bright sunhine . After dropping Pramod off at his home , Prakash dropped us off at the Ibis where we would spend our last day in India . We freshened up , had a bite to eat in the restaurant and hit the bar where we found an unusual addition…..

The observant amongst you will have noticed that Fusion is bottled at 46% in India , this is due to local Government laws , infact most whisky in India is rarely bottled at higher that 42.8% due to State laws .

After an Amrut Nightcap it was time for bed…….

Monday 7th September

Our last day Bengaluru and India ! We awoke earlyish to a phonecall from Pramod saying that Rick (Jagdale) would be calling in to see us and oh , by the way there will be an interview with an Indian Newspaper later in the morning…… OMG ! So after a shower and some breakfast we met up with Rick in The Hub for a catch up , i hadn’t seen Rick since last October when he paid a flying visit to Newcastle (Rick was at Newcastle University with Ashok ) , Pramod arrived and for a meeting we also got to meet the lovely Malavika Pai who is better known as @AmrutMalt on Twitter . She told us i would be doing an interview over the phone with  Suruchi Kapur who writes for the Deccan Chronicle . Just after Rick went off for a meeting , Ashok arrived ( felt like Amrut Grand Central !) and we got to chat a bit before the phonecall came through….. Though this wasn’t my first telephone interview with a Journalist it was definitely nerve wrecking ! It seemed to go on for ages (probably only lasted about 20 mins…..) , she caught me out with a couple of questions but hopefully i did alright , will have to wait and see ! After a bit more of a natter everyone started departing but not before a few photos……

We bid farewell to Ashok and had some lunch before returning to our room to do the final packing and getting picked up by Prakash to get taken to the Airport .

The drive out was just as manic as all the other drives around Bengaluru , we really miss all the beep-beeps…..

The security at the Airport entrance is certainly strict (as is the security at all the hotels after the attacks a few years ago ) but once in the lounges Bengaluru is one pretty relaxed Airport , we found a nice bar not far away from our gate to relax with a few drinks and watch the lightning storm pass by ! At 20.45 we departed India…….

With Time differences it would be after 11pm when we arrived at Dubai , it was going to be a long night as our flight back to Newcastle didn’t depart till 7.25am . Now a lot of people rave about Dubai Airport , yup if you want to spend a fortune it’s good but i will say one thing , for comfortableness Toronto Pearson can’t be beat ! (yes Paul i mean it!)

We arrived home in Newcastle just before Midday on the  8th , our Indian Adventure over ! 

We would like to thank all at Amrut for their hospitality and generosity on this trip .

Surrinder for such a great tour of the distillery and his infectous enthusiasm ! 

Pramod for being the perfect guide around his country.

Prakash for driving us everywhere .

Purshotham and ‘Aunty’ Valli Margreat for their hospitality and cooking at Ooty .

And finally Ashok for…. well being Ashok and looking after us and being a very good Friend ! Cheers Marra !!!

Appendix…..

Finally uploaded Melanies Holiday Photos…..

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You can view them all at Melanies Flickr Account

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India….. Chapter Three – Queen of the Hills

Thursday 3rd September

After a wonderful night in the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel , we were picked up by Pramod and Prakash to head South to the Hills !

There was some stunning scenery on the drive south , loads of paddy fields , Banana and Coconut plantations but nothing compared with what awaited us as we approached the Border between the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu States  . We were about to pass through Two National Parks , The Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve in Karnataka and the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary & National Park in Tamil Nadu . 

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We didn’t get to see any Tigers but we did get to see Spotted Deer , Mongoose , Hanuman Langur Monkeys , Bonnet Macaque Monkeys and Indian Elephants.

We managed to get up close to a 2yo Baby Elephant at the Elephant Sanctuary…..  

Pramod after receiving a trunk call !

This Baby Elephant…..

Was chasing these Wild boars……

I have to say it was a fantastic drive through both Parks !

Interesting fact – from 9pm to 6am they actually shut the road for the benefit of the animals .

Just after exiting the parks we stopped for a Coffee at a branch of the Cafe Coffee Shop chain , where we had a refreshing ice cold Coffee shake , Melanie was slightly distracted by a load of donkeys on the ajoining plot ! 

There was also a herd of goats wandering around on the other side of the road

We resumed our journey upwards ,  anyone who has done the climb up Bealach Na Ba would appreciate the climb up to Ooty , to get up to the 7,350 feet above Sea Level you have to negotiate 36 Hairpin bends ! Scary and exciting at the same time !!!

Facts about Ooty……

  • Full name – Udhagamandalam
  • Capital of the Nilgiris district in the state of Tamil Nadu
  • Population 88,430
  • Known as “The Queen of the Hill Stations” , it was where the British Governor of Madras and his Officials ‘retired’ to in the heat of the Summer

The Temperature was a lot cooler than down in Bengaluru , a bit like a very pleasant British Summer , after a slight drive through the town we arrived at our accomodation , The Amrut Distillery Guest House on the shores of Ooty Lake . After meeting the Housekeeper Purshotham and his Wife/Cook/’Aunty’ Valli Margreat , settling down in our room and having a stunning Chicken Curry for lunch we went along the road to the Deer Park on the Lake .

We returned to the house to have one of the first of a many of outstanding Biryanis , tonights was Chicken , i have to say it is one of the best one’s i’ve ever had . After a few drinks we retired to bed…..

Friday 4th September

Today was sightseeing around the Ooty area , first off was a visit to Doddabetta , the highest peak in the Nilgiri Hills at 8,652 feet above Sea Level , when we first arrived it was quite cloudy but cleared a bit after a while , it was a very busy place , lots of vendors on the way up to the top from the Car Park . 

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Prakash and Purshotham at the Summit

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On the way back down to Ooty we stopped at the Doddabetta Tea Factory , it was an interesting little tour of the factory

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View from the Factory

There were some stunning views across Ooty from the factory , we came away with some tins of Tea and it is totally different to your normal brews . We headed back to the house for lunch , a lovely spicy Chicken noodles this time . After lunch our first port of call was the Government Botanical Gardens , this was the first place we noticed there was a charge for taking a camera in , very strange ! I think it’s best just to let the pictures do the talking as it was such a beautiful place…..

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These were as good as any Gardens we’ve seen anywhere , the staff obviously love their job the way they look after the place .

For our last place of visit today we headed to the lake next to the house . We did the boat cruise of the lake and the Train Ride .

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We returned to the house to sit out in the evening sunshine…..

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One of the local residents……

Tonights delight from ‘Aunty’ was a fabulously delightful Mutton Biryani , a superb way to end the night…..

 

To be continued…….

India…… Chapter Two

Tuesday 1st September

Today was a bit of a quiet day after the excitement of yesterday , it was spent around the City Centre of Bengaluru , After Breakfast at the hotel we were picked up by Pramod and Prakash for a look around and a bit shopping . The City has quite a diverse range of buildings , from old Colonial built by the British through to Modern Malls . After a bit of a drive around we ended up at Barbeque Nation for lunch . It’s a popular place with the IT crowd , the Starters consist of a selection of meat, seafood or vegetarian delicacies  on skewers on an actual live grill in the middle of your table , They were absolutely delicious ! Not content with that you get to raid a buffet of lots of Indian delicacies .

On the way out i spotted this little Beaut….. 

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Only a 350 but later on in the holidays a 500 went passed us and it sounded great !

First up shopping wise was a clothes shop where Melanie picked up a few items at very reasonable prices , then it was off to a craft shop where we went a little bit wild and picked up a few Indian momentos . After the retail therapy we returned to the hotel for a quiet night , a meal and a few drinks………

Wednesday 2nd September

Today we headed out of Bengaluru ! Our destination was Mysore , Pramods hometown , heading down the main Bangalore-Mysore Road we once again passed the Amrut Distillery , We also passed a lorry full of items for the up and coming Ganesh Chaturthi Festival (this year happening on the 17th September ).

We stopped at a Services  for a cup of coffee and found this Turkey wandering about the place !

Arriving at the outskirts of Srirangapatna we crossed the Kaveri River which Pramod informed us was a very sacred river to the Hindus .

We turned off the road to visit the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple , it is one of the five sacred sites of worship of the god Ranganatha .

Pramod took us inside and i have to say it is a truely impressive temple , we had to remove our shoes a little bit away from the entrance and boy was the ground hot ! Warmest my feet have been for a long time !! The Craftmanship on the temple was mind blowing , we respected their wishes and didn’t photograph inside the temple . 

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Have to say it was an incredible experience inside the temple , gives you a greater appreciation of the Indian peoples main religion .

We continued on our journey to Mysore which wasn’t too far away , as we were approaching , Pramod pointed out a building above the City and said that’s where we were staying , we thought he was joking…..  he wasn’t……..

They’d booked us in to the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel , it was built originally built by the Maharaja of Mysore to host his most important guest, the Viceroy of India. To say we were Gobsmacked is a bit of an understatement ! After dropping us off Pramod headed off to his parents with Prakash . We Settled in , had a bite to eat and went for an exploration…..

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Later on the Guys returned to take us to visit the Historic Palace of Mysore , It is the official residence and seat of the Wodeyars , The Maharajas of Mysore . It was late afternoon when we visited and managed to get a look around the outside .

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The Elephants were there to take part in the upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi Festival , it was a beautiful Palace , just wish we’d been there on a Sunday night to see it all lit up ! We returned to the Hotel after a drive around the city to have a few drinks in the bar .

The bar had the original snooker table in from the late 19th Century

The bar had the original snooker table in from the late 19th Century

 

Melanie got to try the Local Wine , very nice with loads of Grapefruit on the nose and palate

 

I had a couple of the local whiskies by McDowells

To be Continued……

India , Land of the Amrut…. and beep-beep!

Chapter One .   A Passage to India……

This year we’ve been doing a bit of travelling and not to islay for once ! Earlier in 2015 we headed west to Toronto again and at the end of the Summer we travelled just as far east to India . This time we could fly from our local airport rather than have to travel elsewhere .

Saturday 29th August

So we headed off to Newcastle International Airport to take the early afternoon flight to Dubai , as most people know i’m not the greatest admirers of Airports (give me Kennacraig Ferry Terminal anytime!) but at least Newcastles staff are a bit friendlier that the other UK Airport we’ve used…..

Our flight was at 1.45pm so having arrived early we settled in at the bar for a pre-flight drink and got to see our Emirates plane arrive……

(Click on the photos to see full size version)

It was going to be a long day(or two) , it was a 7 hour flight with a 3 hour time difference , i got to watch the Toon playing on the on board entertainment and watched a couple of movies , Melanie was engrossed in her Kindle . We have to say Emirates is a great airline to fly with , the staff are fantastic and the food was superb , the main meal consisted of a starter of Smoked Salmon with Pesto Potato salad , the main meal was Roast Chicken with Creamy Mash , roasted Veg with a Cranberry gravy and finished with Chocolate Pudding with a caramel sauce , rather yummy!  We arrived at Midnight to temperatures of 38 degrees C , it was like stepping off into a sauna !

Sunday 30th August

Now it was a 3 and a half hour wait for the connecting flight to Bengaluru (Bangalore ) , again not the best place to hang around for me , too busy , unless you want to shop not a lot else to do . So at 3.30am we left Dubai , it was a 4 hour flight and another 1 and a half hour time difference . We set down at Bengaluru Airport just after 9am , first thing i noticed out of the window was rows of Coconut Palm trees lining the airport perimeter , very exotic , funny what you first pick up on….. To get into India from the UK you have to go through quite a lengthy process of getting a visa , it was actually easier to get my passport ! The Bureaucracy didn’t stop there , we had 2 more forms to fill in at the airport oh and a photograph taken , eventually we got through security and exited the Airport to a first for us , someone standing at the Entrance with a sign saying “Amrut Distilleries Welcomes Gordon and Melanie Homer” , wish i’d had my Camera out , a great welcome ! Pramod (who works with Ashok and we’d met in Paris last year) was standing beside the driver , Pramod was going to be our guide over the stay . The road leading away from the Airport is beautifully landscaped , even though it was Sunday morning the roads were very busy and we got our first glimpse of Bengaluru driving , it’s very hard to describe , stock car racing without the dunching (look up dunch….) , not so much as who has right of way but ‘Who dares Wins!’ It was a very colourful drive to our hotel in the centre of the city !

Interesting Fact No.1 -The Hotel we stopped in is built on the site of the original Amrut Distillery , the land is still owned by the family , the office block is called the ‘JNR City Centre’ ( JNR – J.N. Radhakrishna , founder of the distillery) and will shortly house – (or if you’re reading this in the future) now houses – the head office of the distillery .

After getting dropped off we grabbed a bit of a nap, freshened up and went downstairs to the bar to wait for Ashok to pick us up , enjoying our first Amrut in it’s home town while watching Black Kites (the feathered variety) flying over nearby housing . Fusion !

Ashok took us to his new abode to meet up with Viji and their kids Asitha and Jeeva , after a coffee and a catch up we headed back into the centre of town for a meal ,  he took us to the Vivanta by Taj Hotel on the MG Road , where we dined poolside……

I have to say it was a wonderful experience , a lovely setting with good friends and wonderful food……..

Starters

Mixed Tandoori

Lentil Dal

Mint Chutney

Kulcha

Mains

Lamb Bhuna

Chicken Andhra

Travancore Fish Curry

Paratha Bread

My mouth is starting to water thinking about it again…….  what a great way to start a holiday off !

The Chokalingams dropped us back off at the hotel and we went to bed knowing the next day we were going to sample the nectar at it’s home .

Monday 31st August

So after a bit of a lie in and Breakfast , Ashok along with Prakash (our driver through this adventure) picked us up to take us to the Distillery , i’ve done a few tours in my time but i knew this was going to be something special . We didn’t actually go straight to the Distillery , Ashok was going to take us to somewhere special first , somewhere not a lot of people get to see . The Journey out was once again busy and very colourful , there were an amazing amount of temples along the roadside , none of them dull !

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  After turning off the main Bengaluru – Mysore Road we headed along a small road littered with fruit and veg stalls , eventually we stopped at a farm which turned out to be owned by Amrut , it had a wonderful view …….

There were quite a few people employed on the farm , they had their own cattle and grew there own veg

There were Fig Trees and Coconut Palms growing , the Coconut Palms all had a number on them , so they knew if one went ‘missing’…….

They had there own temple

And we were shown the ‘Alternative Boardroom’ by Ashok , apparently they retreat here sometimes to get away from the hussle of the distillery and enjoy a nice cup of fresh Coconut Water , which we did , and boy it doesn’t half quench your thirst !

Of course the true purpose of the farm was revealed , it is the source of the water for the production of Amrut Single Malts ! It is extracted from a 300ft deep bore hole and then tankered to the distillery….. 

After a lovely time exploring the farm , we headed to the distillery stopping at one of the roadside fruit stalls for Ashok to give us a try of the local produce , including Jackfruit , Bananas and Custard Apples . The Bananas were smaller and sweeter – and i have to say better –  than the normal ones we were used to but the real surprise were the custard apples , they actually tasted like custard . 

The Distillery…….

It may not look as pretty as some of the Scottish variety but they aren’t surrounded by Coconut palms !  On arrival we were greeted by a familiar face , the Master Distiller and Vice President (Production) of Amrut , Surrinder Kumar , we met Surrinder at Ashoks house in Newcastle a couple of years ago and spent a pleasant evening in his company . Surrinder was going to guide us around his ‘baby’ , after all he was involved with the building of the current plant in the 1980’s and has been overseeing production ever since . I’ve met some passionate people in the industry about their job and product but Surrinder tops the lot ! After a coffee to catch up we set off around the distillery…….

They’ve only had to contact the manufacturer of the mill once in nearly 30 years ! The Mash Tun has a capacity of 1 tonne.

they have 6 wash backs each with a capacity of 10,000 litres , the wash backs are water cooled to keep the fermentation temperature down .

They have 3 stills , 1 wash and 2 spirit , each has a charge of 5,000 litres .

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(Left Picture above) Front right is the wash still , centre is the original spirit and the newest Spirit is at the rear.

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They don’t use both of the Spirit stills together .

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As well as Whisky production they are do Brandy here , using the original tiled containers and it’s own Column still .

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Straight from the Stillroom we went into Maturation Warehouse 1 , Amrut have 8 warehouses around the distillery , in each warehouse they have a board stating the temperature and humidity , it was cooler in the warehouses than outside , a balmy 26 degrees C ! The humidity seemed to average about 56%…….

In Warehouse 1 we were shown Cask No.1 , Amrut only put numbers on the casks and not the year like the Scottish Distillers , they do know when each cask was filled ! If you look hard you can also see other indicators on the cask, a ‘ I ‘ indicates how many times it has been filled (one ‘ I ‘ = First filling , etc etc) and a ‘P’ indicates Peated Spirit . There is also a permanent reminder of when the first cask was put in to the warehouse .

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There was also a strange cask in this warehouse , the pupose of this was to prove how much they lost through evaporation…….

While moving between warehouses we were shown the 3 bottling plants  , the first one contained the single malt line , all the work is done by hand and the people who work on this line don’t work on any other , The filling in the bottles are hand measured , an on off switch rather than an automatic measure . Anyone wearing a green outfit in the photos is a permanent member of staff .

 

At this point we took a break to have a spot of lunch in the offices . I have to say i could get used to their lunches  ! We then returned to the warehouses to sample a selection of Amruts finest !

For some reason i didn’t take notes of the first cask (probably the excitement !) , No.3742 , 1st fill Bourbon aged 4 Years 4 months .

The 2nd was Cask 3775 , another 4 year old 1st fill Bourbon  , this was very creamy with Millionaires Shortbread and vanilla , water brought out more creaminess and marzipan .

For the 3rd cask we moved into Peated territory , 3527 was a 3rd fill Barrel , 4 and a half year old , not an overwhelming peatiness on the nose but the usual Millionaires shortbread . there was more peat on the palate along with the shortbread .

We moved on to the Port casks next  , Port Pipe No.3877 , the spirit was 4yo but it had only been in the pipe for 1.5 years having previously been in a bourbon barrel , on the nose it was fruity and spicy , the palate was very fruity with the Amrut Liquorice , with water there were more spices ,  chocolate and shortbread .

Finally we hit the sherry ! Cask 3892 , Oloroso First Fill , The spirit again was 4yo but had only been in the Oloroso cask a year and a half , What can you say , Christmas Cake ! The Full Cake….. once again Liquorice and spices . What can you say about the one’s we sampled ? Sheer quality spirit ! Surrinder is doing a cracking Job !

We once more headed back to the offices to partake of a few more samples which i can’t talk about…….. 

Before we left Surrinder gave us a momento of our visit…. 

What a fantastic day ! Surrinder and Ashok made it very special , Thanks Guys !!!

We headed off with Ashok for a meal picking up Pramod on the way , he took us to a place at the South west side of Bengaluru on the Hosur Sarjapur Road Layout called Kanua , an absolutely stunning place

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The food Ashok ordered was so good i only wrote down one….. Chicken Ghee Roast but his selection certainly went down well with us . Melanie also got to try her first Indian Wine , a Sula Sauvignon Blanc , it was rather nice ! Loads of lovely Grapefruit and not like any other Sauvignon Blanc i’ve ever tried . It was a great way to end a rather special day , Ashok returned us to our hotel and we headed off to bed to dream of Future Amruts…….

To be Continued…….