As readers of this blog know I enjoy travel, not the strenuous type, but the relaxed version called the “Slow Travel”. I believe, when you travel it is important to be comfortable, go out to observe the places, stop and smell the roses on the way, take a few good pictures for memory and to enjoy the local food and culture. I would like to see this as “Lazy Travel” – not hurrying to finish the items in your checklist – certainly not about camping or long travel – but to plan for spending reasonable time to do justice to a place that you are going.
For me, the travel bug started with my first abroad trip in 1998, which was to the United Kingdom – Scotland’s Edinburgh and England’s York impressed me so much that I want to go around the world seeing places. Being from a generation that had to work all the time, my parents were not enthusiastic about travel. As a family, we travelled mostly for pilgrimages to say Tirupati or Cuddalore or Kumbakonam, or to my mother’s native place in Trichy. The few times we travelled for a vacation or sight-seeing to Ooty, Kodaikanal or Yercaud were with my uncle’s family – they had purchased timeshare memberships with Sterling Holidays – even today, myself and my cousins carry with us wonderful memories as kids from those “carefree” trips.
Impressed with this experience, when I started working and had saved some money, I purchased two timeshares in 1996 from Sterling Holiday Resorts. The cost then was around a lakh of rupees for each membership, with lifetime validity (99 years), and the facility to use any of their resorts for 1 week every year by having only a few hundred rupees towards utility charges for each day of stay. Following years, the idea of the membership going unused, motivated my parents to come for a vacation with me or with one of my sisters’ families. Those days, resorts under Sterling Holidays, used to be functional, nothing fancy, yet had a full kitchenette, which was a big draw for my mother who dislikes eating outside food beyond a day.
In the next decade, the wife and I wanted to go to new places and we stopped using our membership with Sterling. The only time I thought about them was when a friend or a relative asked me to gift my days to them for their vacation. By then as a company, Sterling Holidays was going through tough times and the word on the street was that their properties were ageing with little maintenance being done. Generally, friends who got the gift liked the idea of a vacation stay for (nearly) free, so didn’t worry about the facilities. We had graduated to staying with five-star hotels, with online booking sites spoiling you for choice and discounts. A few years ago, I read in newspapers and maybe in a newsletter from Sterling, that they were taken over by the centuries-old famous travel brand Thomas Cook. I wanted to check them out but never got around to it.
A few weeks ago, when Sterling Holidays invited me to be their guest at the recently renovated Fern Hill resort in Ooty, I agreed as I was curious to see how their resorts look now and what’s been improved. The occasion was an achiever’s unconference being conducted by my friend Kiruba Shankar, who was getting about 9 other leaders from different industries to speak on their travel experiences. I was volunteered by Kiruba (who is known to coax people to do the undoable) to deliver a talk on “Slow Travel”.
The advantage for Sterling, then and now, has been the location of their resorts. Whether it is Ooty or Kodai or Sikkim, their resorts are mostly in locations with the best view in town. And Fern Hill, Ooty was no exception.
The three days I stayed there, I had a great time, met interesting personalities and made new friends. We were there as their invited guests, so the whole team starting from their relationship manager Mr Richard took great care of us, from the time we landed in Kovai airport to back.
(Above video: A musical welcome we received from a “Kota” tribal band)
Even as a regular guest I feel I would’ve been impressed with the first-class infrastructure of the resort and the top-notch eating options in the restaurant that I saw – they were unlike anything I had seen in a Sterling resort in the decade’s past. We were told by the executive team from Sterling, that they are not stopping with completely renovating all their 33+ properties across the country, their goal is to provide an “experience” to their guests, which I certainly experienced first-hand.
(Venkatarangan clumsily joining the dance by the tribal people of Badaga, at Sterling Fern Hill, Ooty)
To remember the trip, I bought a Toda Embroidery piece and framed it.