Category Archives: Beachlife

Exploring South Goa-Part-5-The Rough Trek to The Private Secret Beach-Cola

This is a series on exploring South Goa keeping Agonda as the base. Part-1 talks about arriving at the village of Agonda, Part-2 talks about ‘The Space’ and RajBaga Beach. Part-3  talks about the little village of Sadolxem (where a scene from the Bollywood Movie ‘Dear Zindagi’ was filmed) and Galjibaga. In Part 4, we explored the nearby Cabo-De Rama Fort. In Part-5 we explore the secret private beach of Cola hidden in by the hills in South Goa.

Eavesdropping on Trails

I was mixing the butter and jam on either sides of my bread toast, when I heard a conversation, that Cola Beach was nearby. I proceeded to ask them if it was walkable from here. The staff of Manveer’s kitchen got into a conversation on some trails from here. The first trail they spoke about was a forest trail to Butterfly Island (which could have leapoards for company) and it seemed like a day long trip. I anyway did not have so much time. I had a train to catch back to Mangalore at 4 pm, and my window was a 2 hour window when Nandu would go to sleep post the heavy brunch. The other option was to trek to Cola Beach, but the challenge was to get past a swelling lagoon at high tide to the other side, and trek from there. Option 2 sounded better, but the challenge was in mapping my legs properly across the swelling sea-meeting-lagoon place as high tide was fast approaching.

Crossing over at high tide [South Goa-India]
Crossing over at high tide [South Goa-India]
Crossing the Sea-Lagoon at while the high tide swells

I took one of the staff for company to the point near the sea meeting the lagoon, after Nandu fell asleep with my mother. I needed the staff to make sure, I was able to pick the right angle to walk in the water, and I had some help just incase the water level went too high. The locals know this place and the right path across 2 landmasses based on the time of the day [and the tide]. I had to diagonally walk with my camera bag on the top of my head, which also had my phone. I only wore my swimming trunks and had a towel on my head to give the camera bag some more height above the water. Its scary to try this alone, and its advisable to do it in the lowest of tides and not during the high tide OR get the help of a local to know how to cross the path.

The little beach at the end after the Agonda Lagoon has a series of steps, that are tough to spot. Its a very dry part of the forest that needs you to patiently trek up for about 10 minutes. You will see Chattai Beach huts on your left as the jungle path merges with a dry plateau on the top of the hill.

Forest roads to reach a plateau on top [South Goa-India]
Forest roads to reach a plateau on top [South Goa-India]
Leaving behind Agonda

Agonda Beach’s huts and Manveer’s kitchen were small midgets as seen from the top. I proceeded to dry myself and find the path to Cola.

 

 

30 minutes later, I leave behind Agonda Beach from the forest leading to Cola [South Goa-India]
As I keep walking along, I am not quite sure on the route to be taken. These are not roads, but just mud paths on a mountain. I follow my instructions to the tee, by keeping an eye out on the directional west, where the sea has to be there.  I wander for about 15 minutes, which feels like 45 because I dont carrry a water bottle, and its very warm at this time of the day, burning my skin. It feels like a binary chart where I encounter 2 paths and I take the one I think feels right, with the hope that I can trace my path back like in the fable ‘Hansel and Gretel’

After 20 minutes, the sights are still the same [South Goa-India]
After 20 minutes, the sights are still the same [South Goa-India]
The Trek to Nowhere

The arid landscape can make you doubt your path taken, and it feels uncomfortable since there are no humans on this path. Atleast if there was a dog, I can trust it and follow it. I was wondering if this was the problem of city dwellers that we need re-affirmation and clear directions when we are in an exploration mode. The locals who stay here, somehow find their path without too much of fuss. Their estimate of ‘half-hour’ can be very different for people not from this place.

Searing heat, Mud Paths and wild outgrowth on a trek! [South Goa-India]
Searing heat, Mud Paths and wild outgrowth on a trek! [South Goa-India]
After a lot of binary decisions on which path to take, I felt the need for drinking water. I had none, and there was no shop around for the limited horizon that I could see. I was trying to see, if some music or sounds of humans talking could help lead me, but I found no one for company. I gave myself another 15 minutes, before I will wind up this exploration, and go back to the hotel for lunch.

Left or Right? No signs or humans here [Agonda to Cola Trek-South Goa-India]
Left or Right? No signs or humans here [Agonda to Cola Trek-South Goa-India]
In about 10 minutes, I found the plateau giving way to views of the sea. I was happy that the sea was around. In the distance, I saw what seemed like a Maruti 800. I went closer and found out that vehicles including autos manage to come uptil this place for dropping guests who stay on Cola Beach. The guests have to trek their way down to finding paradise. I found a car with a bottle of water, and I literally felt the water going down my parched throat right inside my body. I was viewing that in slow motion, as the water rejuvenated every strand of my food pipe right into my burgeoning belly.

Finally signs of the sea start to come in [South Goa-India]
Finally signs of the sea start to come in [South Goa-India]
I figured out from the taxi driver, that I need not have laboured so much with the high tide, as there was another walking path into the forest from Agonda Beach. Google Maps also points to that path, but Agonda having very little Airtel signals meant that I was not really using my phone in this place.

The alternate route from Agonda to Cola by Walk [South Goa-India]
The alternate route from Agonda to Cola by Walk [South Goa-India]
Paradise Found- Cola Beach

Fe Fi Fo Fum- Is that a Beach? [Cola Village-South Goa-India]
Fe Fi Fo Fum- Is that a Beach? [Cola Village-South Goa-India]
As soon as I saw the beach from above, there was excitement brewing up in my body. The wind from the sea on the hill top, the colour of the sea that was stretching the hazy horizon, and the anticipation of being part of paradise, made me take in the sights and feel happy for having made the little trek. The sea and I have our conversations, and I was ready for yet another patch of sand seen differently.

Cola felt like Paradise. The Paradise that stalks you on Facebook and Travel magazines, seductively drawing you by its palms and waterbodies. As a photographer-traveller, this sight of a patch of sand that would qualify as a badly moulded quadrilateral having water on its either long sides, surrounded by the green palms slanting in the distance. The trees were leaning and wanting to stretch out to you, welcoming you to the place. You wonder many things at that very moment. You see yourself in the fresh water lagoon, as a respite from the searing sun, you see yourself frolicking by the Arabian sea, as each wave brings with it an energy that you willingly surrender to as it pushes you to the coast. You are not there yet, but mentally you are already in the water. The body craves for being in sync with the mind, and I rush, pacing my steps down the hill faster.

First Visions of Cola Beach- Paradise Found [South Goa-India]
First Visions of Cola Beach- Paradise Found [South Goa-India]
A clearer vision of the beauty of Cola Beach from the hills [South Goa-India]
A clearer vision of the beauty of Cola Beach from the hills [South Goa-India]
A small beach shack on the hill in Cola Beach [South Goa-India]
A small beach shack on the hill in Cola Beach [South Goa-India]
I spot a beautiful shack, as I make my way down, and I pause a bit to feel what kind of a view that would be to wake up to. In off-season this patch of paradise could be lesser than the money I pay in surge-pricing on my Uber commute for a week. I mentally make the math and make a note to come back here in that precise cottage. Desire has a strange way to come back later in your life!

I leave you with some images of the beach, the lagoon that runs deep into the woods. I was not able to click any more inside the resort as its a private resort, and most day-trippers are rudely turned away by the staff of the resort. The scenes inside the resort as the lagoon meanders its way is even more beautiful, but sadly its a view that only people who opt to stay here can have. But till then, have a look at a slice of paradise.

Pick Your Blues in Cola [South Goa-India]
Pick Your Blues in Cola [South Goa-India]
I feel like jumping right into the lagoon! [Cola beach in South Goa-India]
I feel like jumping right into the lagoon! [Cola beach in South Goa-India]

The thin patch of sand between the sea and the lagoon at Cola Beach [South Goa-India]
The thin patch of sand between the sea and the lagoon at Cola Beach [South Goa-India]
Canoeing in the meandering lagoons of Cola [South Goa-India]
Canoeing in the meandering lagoons of Cola [South Goa-India]

The meandering lagoon at Cola Beach [South Goa-India]
The meandering lagoon at Cola Beach [South Goa-India]

The beautiful Cola Village with the lagoon running deep inside the village [South Goa-India]
The beautiful Cola Village with the lagoon running deep inside the village [South Goa-India]
As they say 'Its better in Goa'- View of the Cola Lagoon in South Goa[India]
As they say ‘Its better in Goa’- View of the Cola Lagoon in South Goa[India]
Just the right place to sway in a hammock to the afternoon breeze [Cola Village in South Goa-India]
Just the right place to sway in a hammock to the afternoon breeze [Cola Village in South Goa-India]

Staying in Cola Beach

Cola Beach has a few beach huts facing the sea, on the hill. The two most noted ones are Cola Beach Resort and Blue Lagoon Resort. Most prices are above 6000 INR a night. It’s seen as a place for couples who come here to mate in the anonymity that a few places like this in Goa can offer. If you are looking for private stretches of sand to sunbathe or to just lie down without being troubled by hawkers or gawkers, this is the place to be. While Goa has seen lesser nude beaches since the 60’s, this place could allow you to not worry about inhibitions of buttoning up, since outsiders are not allowed inside the resort with their prying cameras.

The Dwarka Eco Beach Resort is a good option to stay, apart from the Blue Lagoon Resort and the Cola Beach Resort (which also has exclusive tented properties). You can rest of the smaller properties on Cola here

Do keep in mind that unless you are staying here, you cannot have access by the sides of the palms inside the resort area. The folks here who run these huts are haughty and rude, and it can leave behind a trace of anger in paradise. I hear that this area has a lot of insects at night, but this is paradise so there are some compromises to be made.

Getting to Cola Beach

If you are coming from north Goa or Panjim or Majorda, all roads converge at Assolna and then to Betul, where you pass the Mayfair resort and you stop at Khola/Cola Village. Its a bumpy kilometre of walking from there after leaving your Car/Bike at the village in some of the open spaces there. Its necessary to have fit people in your group, otherwise it might be tough to get here. The trek by itself is not very steep, but its more exertion than a normal city walk in the plains.

If you are coming from Agonda, Palolem or even more south Goa, you need to come to the lagoon near Agonda to Cola’s hill top where you keep your vehicles and come down in a mountain trek to the beach, like I did

Other Media on Cola Beach

Sankara Subramaniam talks about how one jump from the little sandbar could take you either in the lagoon or the Arabian Sea.

Rachel Jones, from the popular blog ‘Hippie in Heels’ talks about her experience as a digital nomad, who heard about snakes in the vicinity, and also the fact that Wifi and Air conditioning are non-working entities, which can kind of put a huge road block for digital nomads looking to work from a location.

A blogger mentions that day-trippers can see the place, by opting for the INR 300 per hour paddling in the canoe. I wish I had known that.

 

Exploring South Goa-Part- 4-Cabo De Rama Fort

This is a series on exploring South Goa keeping Agonda as the base. Part-1 talks about arriving at the village of Agonda, Part-2 talks about ‘The Space’ and RajBaga Beach. Part-3  talks about the little village of Sadolxem (where a scene from the Bollywood Movie ‘Dear Zindagi’ was filmed) and Galjibaga. In Part 4, we explore the nearby Cabo-De Rama Fort

The Route Map of the trip. From Manveer's Kitchen to Cabo De Rama Fort (South Goa-India)
The Route Map of the trip. From Manveer’s Kitchen to Cabo De Rama Fort (South Goa-India)

I woke up early, and spent some time by the sea collecting some shells, and asked Nandu if he would be interested in joining me for a 2 wheeler ride across to an old fort.

High-5 with the shells! Agonda Beach at Sunrise!
High-5 with the shells! Agonda Beach at Sunrise!

After an early breakfast at ‘Manveer’s Kitchen’, I started at about 8 am to find my way to the Cabo De Rama Fort. From Part-2 and 3, the only thing I had learnt is to not hope for 3G or 4G signals in the forests leading to my destination. I was back to finding humans and asking them the route. The only hitch was that it was winter in Goa, and there would be very few people up at 8 am on the road, and the place where I was going to was even more sparse, so there was a little challenge.

The morning most still hanging around at Agonda
The morning most still hanging around at Agonda

Round and Round in Agonda!

It was about 20 minutes since we started, and we felt that we must maybe be nearing Cabo De Rama, when we saw the sceneries unfolding in front of me with tall trees interrupting the misty view of the sleepy village on my right. I turned to my left and saw a little patch that seemed like a lagoon and sweet water lake. The patch was beautiful, but it triggered a little feeling that seemed to suggest that this was familiar. I saw a man and a boat that I remembered from a walk I did to Agonda’s northern part of the beach which ended in a similar lagoon. I realised that I had biked my way through Agonda’s villages to come back to the same beach. I realised that the road, where Manveer’s kitchen was, it leads right to this point. There was no need to follow the route that I had to taken. Point noted.

Back to Agonda beach after half an hour?
Back to Agonda beach after half an hour?
The round about to avoid at Agonda Beach (South Goa-India)
The round about to avoid at Agonda Beach (South Goa-India)- Courtesy Google Maps.

Right Road? Check Again and Again

I started to observe where we were, asked a person for help, and he said just go straight. I was starting to hit the hills, and the roads were really narrow for a hill route, and that meant I had to go slow on the rented 2 wheeler. The roads had this white marker on the sides of the road, surrounded by the green cover, which seemed magical (owing to the colour contrast) to stare at while driving. The forest was quiet and our vehicle was the only noise in this landscape, as the greens gave way to a more barren brown in a matter of 5 minutes, as the hills undulated to plains that swerved and curved on the road to nowhere.

The barren landscapes of dried grass were reflecting off the morning sun, making the place look very bright, and very surreal owing to the nature of the place. There were 2 more humans, apart from us each walking along the road. I wondered, if their lives involved walking through these plains every day, due to the lack of public transport. There was only a single house in the distance, and it seemed like a very nice place to go for a quiet holiday, but alas I don’t seem to know enough friends who have their homes in the Konkan hinterlands. As much as the place made me feel good, I was hoping that no bear or leopard was around to take a walk since no humans were around.

I kept a watch on my left every now and then to see if a beach view or the sea was visible, just to be sure that I was following the right path. You could not go wrong if there was just this single road, but I always have this feeling that I need to check every few minutes on the road. Having to check every few minutes, was more out of a fear psychosis that I had, and that meant a host of things. I had to get down from the bike, hold on tight to my 5 year old to prevent any sudden run on the road, hope for a human nearby to arrive as I walk a bit to check which side to go.

 

The curvy road into the woods enroute to Cabo De Rama [South Goa-India]
The curvy road into the woods enroute to Cabo De Rama [South Goa-India]

The Barren Landscapes beyond Agonda leading to Khola Village[South Goa-India]
The Barren Landscapes beyond Agonda leading to Khola Village[South Goa-India]
The road in a while, opened out on the left to a huge valley view, but there was no sign of a beach, or the sea. I wondered looking at the green expanse, if a road even existed here. I remember seeing on Google Maps, that there would be a beach through the woods down called ‘Kakolem’ but I did not find any road going down on the road, except the one I came on. Maybe I did not see it clearly. I followed the road curving to the left.

Trees, Endless Greenery in Cola Village [South Goa-India]
Trees, Endless Greenery in Cola Village [South Goa-India]
The small road was dotted with similar looking tiled houses that had a banana tree and a little gutter running on the sides, with a special laterite red brick partially forming a wall. it seemed to say, ‘you are always welcome, these walls are only a formality to make it look like a border’.

 

The slow and idyllic pace of life in South Goa's villages near Cabo De Rama [South India-Goa]
The slow and idyllic pace of life in South Goa’s villages near Cabo De Rama [South India-Goa]
The rugged landscape leading to Cabo-De-Rama Fort (South Goa-India)
The rugged landscape leading to Cabo-De-Rama Fort (South Goa-India)

After 20 minutes of ambling, we passed a school and came to a point where it looked like plains, when you see the mist-covered mountain in the distance, but the truth was that this was also a hill, but a plain on the top of the hill. There was one house and a hotel that seemed to be closed over the entire expanse. My son was questioning me if we were anywhere near to the fort, and I had no answer on where we were. I off-roaded the bike on the last patch of the road, to see if I could meet some human in the fields and ask them if there was a fort nearby. I was told that this area was indeed Cabo-De-Rama. If I went to my left, the fort would show up in a while, and if I went right and if my knees had the energy to trek down the mountain it would lead to the Cabo-De-Rama Beach.

Morning Mist, Sunrise and Quiet Goan Villages! [Cola Village near Cabo De Rama Beach(South Goa-India]
Morning Mist, Sunrise and Quiet Goan Villages! [Cola Village near Cabo De Rama Beach(South Goa-India]
Off-roading for Directions at Cola Village near Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]
Off-roading for Directions at Cola Village near Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]

Wires? Civilisation must be close by. Cabo-De-Rama Fort was probably nearing (South Goa-India)
Wires? Civilisation must be close by. Cabo-De-Rama Fort was probably nearing (South Goa-India)

After 10 more minutes of fervently on the look out for a fort, I finally struck gold, and found the fort to my right. The fort had an iron turnstile, that seemed to stare at me saying “I have no clue why I am needed here”,  as the place by itself had no visitors and there would probably never be crowds in what seemed a quiet and sleepy village on a hill adjoining the Arabian sea.

Outside the entrance of the Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]
Outside the entrance of the Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]
It had become a little past 9, when I entered, but there was no guard at the place. I wondered if the place was a neglected site, which lovers and people with spurious chemicals frequented to be away from the prying eye of the local community. For now, I only saw a huge door that had a small opening through which I had to pass, and the fort seemed a little trek away, before which I had a church in the path leading to the fort.

The gates of Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]
The gates of Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]
A church inside a fort- It happens Only in Goa [St Anthony's Church in Cabo De Rama Fort-South Goa-India]
A church inside a fort- It happens Only in Goa [St Anthony’s Church in Cabo De Rama Fort-South Goa-India]

Inside Cabo De Rama Fort (South Goa-India)
Inside Cabo De Rama Fort (South Goa-India)

The Legend of Cabo De Rama

The place that I was standing on, had changed enough hands. Legend says that King Rama and Queen Sita had made it here during their 14 year exile from Ayodhya. I am not quite sure a fort was there then, but that’s the little bit about Rama’s little legacy here.

The Portugese came here and then fought with a Hindu ruler called Soonda in 1763, and then took over the place. Wikipedia has an artist’s rendition of the fort They put cannons and guns inside the place, and also established a little chapel inside the place, which is why probably there was a church on my way in.

Back in the times the British or the Portugese were very focussed on their life’s goals. Travel and explore a new land, kill the ruling kings and destroy peace and occupy the area and make money off the local people and resources, father a few kids on the coast to forget about them, and then build a church to forcibly convert people to Christianity.

The good part about them, is that they leave behind some very nicely constructed colorful buildings, which we Indians lap up in the name of tourism. There is a sense of disappointment that I had that the place I was in, had seen so much bloodshed. Maybe not just this place, but every other place which was part of the colonial rule of the West has probably seen it.

 

The Cabo De Rama Fort is home to some wild growth due to neglect-[South Goa-India]
The Cabo De Rama Fort is home to some wild growth due to neglect-[South Goa-India]

We walked through the bushy outgrown twigs and creepers, and reached the top of the fort, where apart from us, there was only a swan, which was perched over the fort. Any time, ready to fly away. What a nomadic life they lead, I thought.

Their sense of home is a few twigs and nest, and they perigrinate from one place to another, trusting mother earth to provide. I sometimes feel we humans have gone a little ahead down the road, mother earth wanted them to. I for one, feel I have lost the connect to the planet with work in the big cities, that I keep travelling to. Maybe I need to slow down and observe how much of the environment am I observing.

The only living person at the Cabo De Rama fort this morning!
The only living person at the Cabo De Rama fort this morning!

Nandu was still energetic and posing for my pictures at the fort. He looked at the beach far away, and sat on the cannon which was positioned in the centre of the upper reaches of the fort.

There was a little hole through which you could see the beach from there. I earmarked that beach and the beach I never found (Kakolem) for a separate trip with Nandu, where we come camp, and try to cook food for ourselves at the beach, having a local assist us. I saw it as some way of connecting with nature, instead of taking a selfie and rushing through a trip. I’ve got a 3-man and a 2-man tent, which I hopefully can use.

Maybe some plans later for 2018. But till then, I look wide and far at the horizon between the merging blues of the sky and the sea, as the wind gently brushes me. It’s a beautiful sight and a very calming effect to stare the Arabian sea.

I leave you with some more images of the fort, and we meet again for part 5, where I take you to Cola Beach, which is one of those pristine places, hidden by mountains and has a calming view of a lagoon and sea separated by stretches of sand, overlooking chopped away mountains.

Till then, if you liked what you saw, do spread the word and share it.

Other Literature on the Fort

Navhind Times carries a lovely article, which is a historian’s attempt to tell you more about the fort

Wikipedia has an interesting art caricature of the fort from 1886

Staying near Cabo-De-Rama

‘The Cape’ is an option that costs anywhere between INR 12,000 to 18,000 a night, and looks breathtakingly beautiful to spend lazy days by the sea.

Agonda/Betul- 24 Kilometres Away- You could choose this as the base and do a day trip to Cabo-De-Rama. I have stayed in Manveer’s Kitchen and Jardim-a-Mar on Agonda, and both places are beautiful havens in the woods by the beach (for about 3,000-4500 INR a night during peak season and lesser in other seasons)

Nandu is never shy of posing at places
Nandu is never shy of posing at places

 

So did Rama camp here with Sita? Cabo De Rama Fort in South Goa-India
So did Rama camp here with Sita? Cabo De Rama Fort in South Goa-India

 

No Swings and Merry Go Rounds at this fort? [Cabo De Rama in South Goa-India]
No Swings and Merry Go Rounds at this fort? [Cabo De Rama in South Goa-India]
The view of Arabian Sea from the Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]

The view of Arabian Sea from the Cabo De Rama Fort [South Goa-India]

Fe Fi Fo Fum- Is that a secret beach? Cabo De Rama Beach as seen from Cabo De Rama Fort's hole (South Goa-India)
Fe Fi Fo Fum- Is that a secret beach? Cabo De Rama Beach as seen from Cabo De Rama Fort’s hole (South Goa-India)

 

Cabo De Rama Beach in the distance [South Goa-India]
Cabo De Rama Beach in the distance [South Goa-India]
 
Cabo De Rama Beach looks like Paradise [South Goa-India]
Cabo De Rama Beach looks like Paradise [South Goa-India]

Nandu starting to indicate that its maybe time to head back (Cabo De Rama Fort in South Goa-India)
Nandu starting to indicate that its maybe time to head back (Cabo De Rama Fort in South Goa-India) 
And the trip is over! Back to Agonda!
And the trip is over! Back to Agonda!
All happy endings must have a Chocolate Milkshake [Fatima's in Agonda-(South Goa)]
All happy endings must have a Chocolate Milkshake [Fatima’s in Agonda-(South Goa)]

Exploring South Goa-Part 3-Sadolxem AND Galjibaga

This is a series on exploring South Goa keeping Agonda as the base. Part-1 talks about arriving at the village of Agonda, Part-2 talks about ‘The Space’ and RajBaga Beach. Welcome to Part-3 which talks about Sadolxem and Galjibaga

One last look at Rajbaga beach, and we proceeded to the parking lot of the beach, and it took a while to find our bike, since most of the rental bikes look similar and it turned out that someone had moved our bikes to a different spot. We started out asking people, the road to Talpona and set off.

Leaving the Huts at Rajbaga (South Goa)
Leaving the Huts at Rajbaga (South Goa)

The lawns of the Lalit-Intercontinental hotel was on our left and we saw a bunch of swans/white birds on the golf course. The image of the gold course, next to the sea made it look perfect. Sculpted greens by the sea has a relaxing effect on our humankind. While the beach was quiet, it did not have a vibe of its own like Arambol, but the beach had people coming due to the Lalit Hotel by the beach.

Swan on the lawns of the Lalit-Intercontinental Golf Course. We passed them on a bike parallel to the course!
Swan on the lawns of the Lalit-Intercontinental Golf Course. We passed them on a bike parallel to the course!

We set off on the 2 wheeler, driving at a speed of 30 km/hr, cruising slowly on the mud roads, stopping every now and then to ask for directions. We came by a beautiful lagoon that had a meandering river flanked on the sides by the Konkan image of trees slanting and in a dancing pose by the river. Slanting Coconut Trees, Greens, pristine beaches- All of them subliminally talk to our brain asking them to slow down. I got down near a small bridge in Sadolxem village to stare at the lagoon.

The Galjibag river that opens out into the Arabian Sea (South Goa-India)
The Talpona river that opens out into the Arabian Sea (South Goa-India)

The Sadolxem village was split into 2 parts by the bridge over the Talpona river and it looked like the Goan grapevine that passes over to other parts of the world had missed this place in their update and I hoped this part of Goa would stay as pristine as it is.

As we looked further at the bridge, there was something it did to draw my attention. It looked similar to a place that I had seen in a recent movie. It looked like the place in the title song of “Dear Zindagi” that comes between seconds 37-43 when Alia Bhatt crosses a bridge on a cycle waving off to kids on a boat beneath the bridge. How did I connect that scene to this place? Well, I am biased towards Goa. This was my 26th trip, and whenever I see an Indian movie shot in Goa, the only thing my mind tries to decipher is where was that place and that has stayed on. I figured out I was right, when I came back to better bandwith at the end of the trip. Here is the video of the same.

After sitting and looking at the views of the talpona lagoon, we looked over the bridge to find that the place was dilapitated and the bridge was rusty and looked old. It created a vintage charm, but it also made it look a little scary, as it was uncared for. There is place only for one 4-wheeler at a time. There are mini traffic jams created when a few cars come this side, but that is the only semblance this place may have to city life.

The Greens and Blues of Sadolxem, by the sides of the Talpona River (South Goa-India)
The Greens and Blues of Sadolxem, by the sides of the Talpona River (South Goa-India)

On the end of the bridge towards the Talpona side, we noticed that there was a small shack serving lunch and possibly having rooms also. I am not sure these rooms are online, but if ever you land up in the season, I am sure you will have some place to rest or have a lunch by the lagoon (This place does not show in Google Maps though)

The Sadolxem Bridge- One of the shooting spots of 'Dear Zindagi'
The Sadolxem Bridge- One of the shooting spots of ‘Dear Zindagi’

From there we crossed the bridge and turned right and slowly went along and saw a beautiful view of a beach jutting out on the sea. We stopped by and went and saw the view, and we noticed that it was someone’s house at the end of the river emptying the sea. They asked us if we wanted some water, and we sat at their porch asking them about this place and drinking water. I told them, that they were blessed to be waking up to such views, and smiled and requested them that I’d like to spend a few minutes at their porch.

The end stretches of Rajbaga Beach (South Goa-India)
The end stretches of Rajbaga Beach (South Goa-India)

In conversations with them, I was told that the stretch was actually Rajbaga beach only. It looked like it was a very long stretch, but I had travelled so much of a distance from the middle of Rajbaga only to find that the beach I had left was just next to me.

Rajbag Beach to Talpona Beach
Rajbag Beach to Talpona Beach

Nandu and I decided, to play a little game. I told Nandu that he should aim to throw stones in the sea and aim for the landmass. After many misses Nandu gave up, realising that what may seem near is not always near.

Nandu trying to throw stones from Talpona to the little piece of sand in Rajbaga (South Goa-India)
Nandu trying to throw stones from Talpona to the little piece of sand in Rajbaga (South Goa-India)

The local’s house was also the ferry point, for getting to the Rajbaga side. There was no boat around, but we recognised that it was a ferry point and moved on skimming Talpona beach on a road parallel to the beach.

Ambling at the porch of a Goan Home in Talpona (South Goa-India)
Ambling at the porch of a Goan Home in Talpona (South Goa-India)

Galjibaga was a little tough to find, because the route is not straight but through a series of turns which always causes you to ponder, if you are on the right track. Another thing I learnt is that if a local says its 5 minutes away, its probably thrice as far. After some questioning and idling around we arrived at Galjibaga. A few vehicles were parked near a small shack that was serving food. The beach had a few goverment officials who were here on duty as this was a beach for turtle hatching. I asked them, if we could see the turtles at some spot, and he looked at me, as if I was gleefully waiting to eat up the turtles. He said that the turtles come in the early morning and go back. I was disappointed to know that, since I was leaving back tomorrow, and it maybe another 6-12 months before I come back. I had brought Nandu to this beach to make him see turtles. The lack of any research on the internet also meant, I could not find out the exact time of when to come and see turtles. I decided to walk to the point where I saw from the train,across the river meeting sea. I knew the point was around somewhere.

The tall trees at the entrance of Galjibaga Beach (South Goa-India)
The tall trees at the entrance of Galjibaga Beach (South Goa-India)

The beach was in its low-tide avatar which meant endless metres of clean sand and very less people on the beach. The beach for the first 200 metres did not have much of a wave, since the water was retreating. Nandu wanted to collect shells and run on the beach. I said we would play ‘running and catching’ right after he has enough shells. The beach also had life guards, who were spottable by their red-yellow uniform on the beach.

Endless sands with no disturbance! Galjibag Beach-Goa
Endless sands with no disturbance! Galjibag Beach-Goa
Nandu spending time collecting shells at Galjibag beach (South-Goa in India)
Nandu spending time collecting shells at Galjibag beach (South-Goa in India)

There was a sense of freedom that Nandu had once he had collected enough shells as he proceeded to run. Today’s kids have lesser open spaces to run and play, and I loved it that Nandu was running around. I was curious if he would be able to run the full length of the beach.

The joy of finding space to run at Galjibag Beach-Goa
The joy of finding space to run at Galjibag Beach-Goa

As we were running we came to the point on the beach, where the river meets the sea, and we saw in the distance the Konkan Railway line, from which I had seen this point a day back. The place opened out to a lagoon-beach of sorts with receding waters, and it was perfect to lay out your beach umbrella and get lost in your book. I bookmarked this place to come back with my tent. I have this little fantasy of opening up a tent at the most beautiful places on the planet and telling my son, that the world is yours, you dont need to waste your money on EMI’s for land/house when you can pitch a tent and make that place yours for a few hours/days. The world has far too many spots to see, rather than being stuck to a single home.

That point where I saw from the train. I was back to the same point-Galjibaga Beach
That point where I saw from the train. I was back to the same point-Galjibaga Beach

After playing around and exploring Galjibaga by walk, we decided to get started to our hotel in Agonda. This time it took us less than half an hour to get back without any stoppages. We lay on the sand back at Agonda, to savour a beautiful sunset. Nandu found Manny to play with, and he had a great-but-tiring day.

Nandu and Manny [Kid of Manveer] at Agonda Beach
Nandu and Manny [Kid of Manveer] at Agonda Beach
Coming home to a beautiful sunset at Manveer's Kitchen in Agonda
Coming home to a beautiful sunset at Manveer’s Kitchen in Agonda

Exploring South Goa-Part 2- The Space And The Road to Talpona

This is a series on exploring South Goa, and continues from Part-1

After a slow and heavy breakfast, I proceeded to the beach bed, to ponder on where should I drive to today. Agonda’s palms had a great breeze but the internet signals were yet to make its inroads into this village. Like most remote places, it has a BSNL internet connection which was probably 1 MBPS shared between the whole community of guests, so I gave up on the internet especially at a time when everyone was awake.

By the time, I got ready filling in fuel and buying sun-cream for the trip, Nandu was as usual running amok within the home we were staying. He had taken a liking to Manny’s toys and was running all over the sand, and falling and jumping in the sand. Whichever advert person said ‘Daag Achhe Hain’

Nandu running about in 'Manveer's Kitchen'
Nandu running about in ‘Manveer’s Kitchen’

I roughly knew that from Agonda, I had to get to a state highway that would connect me to Rajbaga, Talpona and then Galjibaga. It was not more than 15-20 kilometres on what would be part road-part mud path.

It felt good to not depend on technology and ask humans to explore a part of Goa, I had not previously been to. I decided that I had almost the whole of the day, and I was in no hurry to rush through my trip.

The options I had were to go right from the resort and head to the sweet water lake in Agonda, Go left and reach the little hill on the left, Go north to Cabo De Rama and Majorda, or Go south and explore. I had heard about turtle hatching in Galjibaga, but found nothing on my internet research so decided that it piqued me enough to just go and land up there.

I started driving through the little road that connects to the Agonda church where one has to turn left to follow the palms all the way to the entrance of Leopard Valley (South Goa’s niche open air party destination apart from Palolem’s Neptune Point).  I passed through Fatima’s shop, which I earmarked from my previous trip to Agonda, telling my family that we must come here for our lunch.

The road that I was driving through had the late morning sun shine down, making me sweat more as I drove ahead. After ambling slowly for about 5 kilometres, we stopped at a place that exuded hippy vibes and looked colourful. I thought it may be okay to fill in on a little brunch, as we end up relaxing a bit and looking around the place.

Brunch at ‘The Space’

It looked like it was an artsy place, with a higher price point for their vegan brunch dishes. The place had an aura of a close knit community that held classes in a rustic but chic old Goan home. The place welcomed people with an art installation, that had water flowing, and the sound of water flowing has a very calming effect on the vibes of a place. Nandu, was attracted to the water fountain almost immideately after we ordered our food, which came about 45 minutes later. Goan service is pretty Sussegaad and laid back as expected.

Nandu playing around with the water fountain at 'The Space' in Goa
Nandu playing around with the water fountain at ‘The Space’ in Goa
The Space(Devbag) has an Old-Goa rustic and chic look to it
The Space(Devbag) has an Old-Goa rustic and chic look to it
Flea Market like items at 'The Space'-Goa
Flea Market like items at ‘The Space’-Goa

We waited for our brunch and desert to dig in slowly, until the bill came. I still did not have any Airtel signal, and proceeded to ask people on Galjibaga which very few people had probably heard of. I revised my next statement to which is the road that takes me into south of Palolem, to which I had a long winded answer. I assumed I understood what I heard and discarded whatever was said, since a minute later I was more confused than I was clear.

Nandu 'brunching' at 'The-Space(Goa)'
Nandu ‘brunching’ at ‘The-Space(Goa)’

After meandering a bit, I finally found the mud road, which I presumed was the path. I had on my plans the following beaches. Rajbaga, Talpona and Galjibaga

The Mudpath to South Goa
The Mudpath to South Goa

Why Talpona?

Why this route you may ask? When I had come from the passenger train that stopped at Cancona, an image of a beautiful place passed me when Goa had been entered. This view stayed in my mind. I later figured out that this was the Galjibag river that cuts across the turtle beach. I did not see any tourist on the beach from about 200 metres, when the train passes this view. I wanted to see if such pristine beaches exist, and if so can Nandu and I play running and catching on the whole beach. So a beach had been spotted from the train. The point now was to be able to get between the trees and see the train track from there. Would it be possible to locate? Lets find out.

Gajjibaga as seen from the Passenger train to Cancona
Gajjibaga as seen from the Passenger train to Cancona
Galjibaga Beach-Google Map
Galjibaga Beach-Google Map

Finding Rajbaga

I started driving, though a little unsure about where I was heading, and after a couple of wrong routes, I found the road to Rajbaga beach. The beach looked like it had some height between the point where the beach was and the point where the waters started, since the beach sloped down. There were shacks at the centre of the beach serving food and having beach toys for children. It looked like a beach that was meant for the guests of the ‘Lalit Hotel’ as there were very little people on the beach. There are only some 4-5 other hotels/homestays nearby, so this was not a beach on the popular circuit.

The road between Rajbaga beach and 'The Lalit' Hotel
The road between Rajbaga beach and ‘The Lalit’ Hotel

The greens on the sides, were so beautiful. The greens get amplified by the winter sun into a greenish yellow tinge, and when there is some morning chill still left in the air, the mind percieves this as the ‘promised land’ that the travel magazines left you to find for yourself.

The road to Rajbaga Beach (South Goa-India)
The road to Rajbaga Beach (South Goa-India)
Opposite the beach are the lawns of the 'Lalit Golf and Spa Resort'
Opposite the beach are the lawns of the ‘Lalit Golf and Spa Resort’

We had some french fries, spent some time in the beach, bought some baloons and beach toys for Nandu before we checked his energy levels for the remaining part of the trip. He seemed exuberant and all ready to get on the road to Galjibaga. More coming up in Part-3

If you have directly landed here, please check Part-1

As with any beach, Nandu keeps jumping around!
As with any beach, Nandu keeps jumping around!

So far we have driven from Agonda to Rajbag beach. The following part will have the drive through Talpona to Galjibaga.

Rajbagh Beach in South Goa- Map
Rajbagh Beach in South Goa- Map picked from Google Maps

 

Exploring South Goa-Part 1- Manveer’s Kitchen

Since the moment, I looked  up a beach place in South Goa, on AirBnb, my son was excited that we were going to be spending a weekend in Goa by the beach. I went over to the nearby Decathlon store to buy a swimming trunk and a float for my son, who quite loves spending time in the water. I had wanted a place that would be on the beach, and still be a little world cocooned from the honks and noise of Goa’s streets. After a lot of research, Google Maps and speaking to hotels, I arrived at Manveer’s kitchen, a place mid-way between a little homestay and a beach shack- in Agonda Beach.

Agonda is a place that still is not yet on the tourist’s radar. Crowds throng Calangue in the north, Baina and Colva in the center and Palolem in the South. Agonda is a couple of beaches above Palolem and comes with its own anonymity and village life, far removed from the tourist traps. It has a few beautiful beaches, if you care to explore on a 2 wheeler on its Northern (Cabo De Rama) and Southern sides (Talpona, Galjibaga, Rajbaga)

The streets of Agonda Village in South Goa (India)
The streets of Agonda Village in South Goa (India)

We arrived at Manveer’s place, after haggling with an auto driver from Cancona railway station over how much we should give him. The extra few metres that the auto drove were measured in an imaginary meter before an exorbitant number was put in front of me. Not wanting to spoil my holiday, I smiled and paid him an amount that was midway between what he quoted and what I felt was the price. I went mid-way on the price because of the 4 bags of lugagge that stared at me. Luggage is often the last resort of a taxi/auto to increase fares.

The house opens out on the road, which has a small backyard meant for parking vehicles. It leads into a narrow lane which has a couple of rooms and a store room, after which it leads to the beach, going through a little nursery.

View of Agonda beach from our door at Manveer's Kitchen (South Goa-India)
View of Agonda beach from our door at Manveer’s Kitchen (South Goa-India)

The little place, exuded a sense of Goan calm that only palm trees by the beach can give, and we proceeded to pack our luggage into our room and head out to the reception which was on the beach. Manveer and his wife Vinnie manage the place, while their son Manny keeps adorably crawling around. My little son, found his wingman in Manny as they started playing with the sand and toys. I rested on the beach easy-chair and ordered french fries with cheese and Lasagne, to slowly transition into a late afternoon.

The rooms were simple, but comfortable and the fact that there was so much greenery around made it a great pick for me. I am told that this is one of the few permanent structures in the monsoons as most resorts close down.

Greenzone at Manveer's in Agonda (Goa-India)
Greenzone at Manveer’s in Agonda (Goa-India)

Sleeping to the sound of the waves by the beach in Goa is an activity, and I was enjoying till the sunset, post which I went in to my room, and organised my items. On any trip one of the first things that make me comfortable is to make sure all devices are charged, and most of my items that I intend to use are in my see-able vicinity, and are easy to pack it back in when I intend to leave the place. I breathed easy post the sunset, and walked in to a halogen lit reception eating area, which was looking beautiful in the night. I met one of the hotel staffs, who helped me speak to a local bike renting shop, where I got a 2 wheeler the next day for trips to Galjibaga and Cabo De Rama.

The eating area at Manveer's Kitchen
The eating area at Manveer’s Kitchen

I woke up the next day, and took Nandu along the expanse of the beach, where he would stop every few metres and collect shells. He felt the water was still a little on the colder side to get in.

Winter morning hues in Agonda Beach (Goa-India)
Winter morning hues in Agonda Beach (Goa-India)

We waited for the morning sun to warm up the beach a little before we got in. In between Nandu decided to warm up by jumping around and loosening up on the beach. Our morning had well and truly begun and we dunked into the morning waves, shedding our inhibitions and fears that the winter can create when you need to take a bath in cold water!

Read more in Parts-2 and 3 coming up soon.

Nandu posing at Agonda Beach
Nandu posing at Agonda Beach
Nandu jumping around at Agonda
Nandu jumping around at Agonda

Reaching Manveer’s Kitchen

From Chennai– Board the Lalbagh express at 1535 hours and reach Krishnarajapuram in Bangalore by 9 pm. Uber your way to Hebbal to board the 22:00 Udupi bound private bus, which goes through Mangalore. The passenger train at Mangalore starts at 6:10 am, and arrives in Udupi at 7:30 am. So get off accordingly to go and board the train to arrive at Cancona

From Bangalore– If possible get on the 2015 KSRTC bus from Majestic Bus stand, and get down in Udupi at 5 in the morning. You would have enough time to refresh and board the train at 7:30 am to arrive at Cancona

From Hyderabad– Board the bus to Panjim and then take a taxi to Agonda, which is about 100 kilometres. If you want to cut down costs, you could board the local train at Karmali (Near Panjim) that goes via Madgaon to Canacona.

Your other chance is to board the bus from Hyderabad to Gokarna and then catch the train from Gokarna Road railway station, where a significant part of the journey is missed on the Konkan Railway route.

The only reason I am reccomending a train to reach Canacona is due to the bewitching Konkan lagoons and landscapes

From Canacona railway station, its about 10-12 kilometres and about 200-250 by Auto from the railway station. You could instead also walk up a kilometre to the Chaudi bus stand, visible from the railway station and board the local bus to the Agona Church, from where Manveer’s is a half kilomere jaunt away.

If you are travelling by Air to Goa’s airport, its an hour from there by a taxi, or if you want to cut costs, you could board a train from the nearby Vasco/Dabolim railway station to Madgaon and from there to Canacona. Train tickets come at 1/100th the cost of your taxi ride

 

New Trailer Out- ‘The Surf Trail’

Our little documentary on the Covelong Surf Festival is all set to release in November. The festival was conducted in August, and was getting sewn up in the edit room all this long. Here’s a little trailer and a couple of images. Let us know how you found it!

Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong
Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong

Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil NaduJonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu

Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfing has its hits and misses
Surfing has its hits and misses

 

The Surf Trail- A Sneek Peak

Earlier this year, I had travelled to the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga festival to Covelong(A small town between Chennai and Mahabalipuram), to cover the festival. I have covered the festival previously writing on this blog and on Cafe Chennai of the 2016 festival. I thought travelling to the 2017 festival, I should experiment with video for my story telling. I leave you with some images and a small trailer on what to expect

Here is a trailer of the documentary that is about to release in November 2017.

Wet Weather and Swelling Surfs
Wet Weather and Swelling Surfs
Water, Water, Not Me
Water, Water, Not Me
Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu
Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu
Surfing has its hits and misses
Surfing has its hits and misses
Yoga, Music and discussions by the Yogashala at Covelong
Yoga, Music and discussions by the Yogashala at Covelong

 

Exploring Andamans-Part 11-Wrapping Up Havelock

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check out the previous parts at Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  ,Part-5 ,  Part-6 , Part-7  Part-8 , Part 9 and Part 10

No Snooze Required

Sleeping at 9 pm amidst the sound of nature usually means, you wake up refreshed when nature needs you to wake up. To add to this, I don’t stare at my mobile, when I wake up, since there are no mobile signals to invade my phone. It’s just a brick, that I don’t need to see, since there are beautiful sights to wake up to. It’s a very different feeling coming from the city to get accustomed to.

Today was our last day at Kalapathar Beach. We had formed a bond with the sea and the beach and it was going to be a little tough to not wake up to stunning scenery. We would leave by the evening private ferry to Port Blair and spend the night there, before boarding our air plane to Chennai the next afternoon.

It was as if nature had programmed me, that I almost sleepwalked over to the beach, through the little forest roads. The light had started to set in, though the sun was probably yet to rise (which I would find out later).

Sunrise at Kalapathar Beach-Havelock Islands(India)
Sunrise at Kalapathar Beach-Havelock Islands(India)

Getting Philosophical staring at Sunrises at Kalapathar

The one remarkable thing that I got about the sunrise, was that it rarely defines itself to be a function of the previous day’s sunset. The sunrise and sunset are independent events, and that’s probably the little lesson I take back this morning, starting at yet another golden light formation in the waters that stretch to the make-believe horizon.

Also another thought that crossed my mind was that sunrises are not yet commoditized like religion [Pay per view or pay for faster line], in the sense that it is for everyone, and it is for us mortals to make best use of the time between the 2 golden hours in the day. Nature does not differentiate and gives the same feeling to every soul, irrespective of the financial worth of the person.

Sunrise at Kalapathar Beach-Havelock Islands [Andamans-India]
Sunrise at Kalapathar Beach-Havelock Islands [Andamans-India]
Throwback to the 1990’s

I came back on the little jungle path to Parvati’s petty shop for morning tea, after lounging on the wet yet fine morning sand on the beach. The sun was out, and I heard a little radio set playing ” Jaane Jigar Jaane Mann” belting out Kumar Sanu numbers one by one. It added to that virtual 1990’s feel about the place. There was no hurry for people to get where they were. People were smiling and ambled about slowly and with the radio music playing, I felt a strange sense of relaxation of a content world. I was in paradise this moment, but I was about to get out of it and it was a tough pill to swallow, just as Kumar Sanu gave way to Kishore Kumar on the radio.

A cyclist ambling down the road inside Kalapathar Village
A cyclist ambling down the road inside Kalapathar Village

A little while later, I walked down to the beach with Nandu, and I saw the most beautiful colours of the sea. Kalapathar beach has magic in it and somewhere within it is an ‘Asian Paints Blue shade card’ that keeps changing.

Feeling The Blues- Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island (Andamans-India)
Feeling The Blues- Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island (Andamans-India)

Quite the perfect place to send out some emails and follow ups that would eventually be sent when I am able to get connected to a 4G/Wifi connection back on the mainland, but I could get used to working with such a view.

Nandu sat next to me with his usual drill of reading books by the sea, just like the previous day.

We spotted a fisherman in a perfectly coloured blue sea, by the Kalapathar Beach. The sea creates a sort of longing that makes you make ‘one final dunk’ where you think you will end up being part of that blue, and take it back with you. It’s thankfully enough we take back memories, only to come back again.

There was a little moment when the laptop was reflecting the sea behind, and I sensed that we really dont need a screensaver on a laptop. It was a surreal moment for me, trying to capture it.

I checked out from the hotel, and bade goodbye to the hotel staff, who were part of my life for the last couple of days. I could stay back here for a day, but the hotel staff and Kumar-my driver from the first day in Port Blair, advised me to come to Port Blair a day in advance, since the sea can turn grumpy and its always good to have buffer.

One Last Look at Flying Elephants
One Last Look at Flying Elephants

G E T T I N G   T H E R E

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 10-Sunset at Radhanagar Beach

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out.  Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  ,Part-5 , Part-6 , Part-7 , Part 8 and Part-9

Wandering Around The Forests

I sat on the beach to stare at the beauty that was around me. The beach at Radhanagar has 2 worlds. One world is the beach and the other world is the Mahua tress adjoining the beach that leads into a forest of sorts, within which the ‘Barefoot Resort’ is situated. I look from left to right, and its full of greenery all around interspersed with shades of tall brown.

It felt like being in the first row of a cinema theatre as my neck strained at an obtuse angle to look at the tall trees inviting my awe. I could choose to get lost in the woods, but we are too close to civilisation. Nevertherless with no humans around, I try to feel like Forrest Gump and go walk through the forest like it is some paradise that I have discovered.

The Mahua Forests of Radhanagar Beach-7 in Havelock Island (Andamans-India)
The Mahua Forests of Radhanagar Beach-7 in Havelock Island (Andamans-India)

I could chose any path to go through the woods, as there were no right paths to wander.  The only restriction I had was for to be right there for the sunset, as I had some lessons about the sunset to tell my little son.

Wandering into the forests can be fun at Radhanagar Beach
Wandering into the forests can be fun at Radhanagar Beach

As I wandered through the forest, I came to the entrance of the beach where my family was waiting for me. This part of the beach has been modified and enroached upon by the local authorities over the course of the last 10 years since my last visit in 2008. It looks like some trees have been cut down, but the good part is that the beach has not commercially been used like in Baga/Calangute [Goa], but more beautifully blended into its natural environment.

There are facilities for the tourists to come and change clothes, sit down, play in a swing, lights on trees, rest houses for some respite from the sun. These are made from the trees and have a beautiful/rustic feel about it, without any compromise on the quality

Radhanagar Beach- Commoditized beautifully for Tourists
Radhanagar Beach- Commoditized beautifully for Tourists

The beach has a dense cover of green, which acts as a great backdrop to lunge back to if you have made a beeline to the sea. The beaches, despite being the most populated beach in the Andaman Islands, are clean and have well maintained facilities, which is quite the departure from any of the beaches on the mainland. Lets help Andamans stay that way.

A game of volleyball by the beach for burning calories in Paradise [Radhanagar Beach in Havelock Island-Andamans in India]
A game of volleyball by the beach for burning calories in Paradise [Radhanagar Beach in Havelock Island-Andamans in India]
The beautiful and serene Radhanagar Beach in Havelock Island [Andamans-India]
The beautiful and serene Radhanagar Beach in Havelock Island [Andamans-India]
Chasing Sunsets

Moving over to the next most important event this evening, I take my son to wet his legs in the sea, and sit there observing the disappearing sun over the course of the evening.

Nandu’s Lesson #1: Whenever you feel disappointed, go and observe the skies change colours in the evening. The skies change colour to show you how to find beauty in the hum-drum of life. A place that was boring by afternoon is now lit up and decked up. Sunset’s are nature’s own way to connect make us connect to their rythm and then getting back to working on our dreams.

It was a wonderful world where infinitely many things seem possible, when the sun is casting its spell. A moment when anything can happen and where possibilities come out to lay within the dreams of a common man.

 

The whole place was covered in a shade of gold. Maybe this is the gold we humans should chase instead of the metal. The world would probably be a far more peaceful place. The sun coloured the whole place with its pallete and then chose to silently dissapear behind the hills.

My son understands that the sun will set here, and not near our cottage on the eastern side of the island. I was expecting him to say lets catch the sunset at our cottage, but he did not.

It was beautiful to watch children run about in glee, trying to unconsciously get into the frame of the setting sun’s reflection which was now a straight line of orange in a an area where darkness had started to dominate.

It was 5:30 pm and it was time to head back to catch some dinner and get some sleep. I bought some Jhal-Mudi and samosas on the beach, apart from some tea from the local stalls, before we boarded our 2 wheeler to get back home. The last bus was slowly gathering people, including my Jhal-Mudi vendor to scurry in time to get on the last bus.  There is a beautiful sense of orderliness that shows up in the Andamans.

Radhanagar beach retains its sense of beauty and isolation post sunset, when the world that descends here find their way back to their resorts.

G E T T I N G   T H E R E

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 9- Two Wheeler Ride to Radhanagar Beach

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out.  Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  ,Part-5 , Part-6 , Part-7 and Part-8

After a day spent playing at the beach, we ate our lunch and rested at our cottage. At about 3 pm, I decided to look out for the reception person, who I then realized was in the restaurant, based on the little sign that I saw at the reception. The restaurant and reception are about 100-150 metres away in the route to the village at this side of the island. The reception person was from the island of Rangat, further north in the Andaman Islands, and had come to Havelock Island in search of work. I wanted to check with him, if there was any bus service to the jetty, from where I could take another bus to Radhanagar Beach. I had seen the jeep service, which functions like a share-auto service every 45 minutes from Kalapathar Village. Buses/Public transport are the best ways of integrating with the local people, without the airs of being an outsider. The joys of slow rides, with stops in surreal places, helps you understand and assimilate what life in these place could be. It’s a series of jigsaw puzzles that only travelling in public transport can unlock about a place.

I was told, renting a scooty would be a better option owing to the less frequent bus timings and with a couple of hours left for sunset the best option to go and come back would be a scooty. In a while, I had walked over to Beach Number-3 which is a couple of kilometres away. As I walked there, I saw that Airtel’s signals were still not active till the place where I found the 2-wheeler rental shop. My phone was coming to life, and the SMS’s were starting to flood in impatiently to the point when my phone was confused on how to ping and notify me at that instant when the sound can be for one message, but 2 messages decided to come in at that instant.

Reception of Flying Elephants(Andamans-India)
Reception of Flying Elephants(Andamans-India)

After I got the vehicle, I quickly went and packed my beach kit for the evening, and at 3 pm it started to look like 5:30 pm and I thought it was already dark, and I should rush. We walked across the lush expanse of our pathway in our resort and set off on a journey on our 2-wheeler to Havelock Island.

Walking the beautiful paths to the reception-Flying Elephants Resort at Kalapathar(Havelock Island-Andamans-India)
Walking the beautiful paths to the reception-Flying Elephants Resort at Kalapathar(Havelock Island-Andamans-India)

As we started to drive on the 2 wheeler, we did not realize that the route to Radhanagar Beach was actually quite long. 16 kilometres on a route dotted with little hills, mud paved roads, little roads and some roads right through scenic beaches and hills for company.

Rented a 2 wheeler to drive around Havelock Island (Andamans-India)
Rented a 2 wheeler to drive around Havelock Island (Andamans-India)

As I started out on my 2 wheeler, I felt a sense of inclusiveness that the little village had towards me. It felt as if the little patch of sand, the trees flanking the hills, the black roads were traveling with me with a hospitable look, trying to tell me that I was about to have a great experience driving through the woods. The roads leading till Vijaynagar had very few people on either sides of the road, and I happen to see people only in the stretch between Vijaynagar and Govind Nagar, as a clutch of resorts passed by. I went inside a Dive Resort (Doongi Dives) to check, if there were slots for a dive the day after. I found that the rooms in the resort had a Television and the resort had Wifi. It actually felt like, I had been transported back to the rigors of civilisation, and I was feeling like I had just woken up after a beautiful dream. After 15 minutes of wait, I realised that there were no slots on the next days’ morning rides to the nearby islands for dives. I also realised that I had started to take a liking for the quiet life of the forest, away from telephone signals, Wi-fi, People, Television and Air-conditioning. I was waiting to get back to my ‘dream state’ post the trip to Radhanagar, which was probably going to be the most crowded place on this island.

Driving through the Woods-Havelock Island
Driving through the Woods-Havelock Island

The roads are modest, are there are bends and curves as the road meanders its way part into the jungle and suddenly opens out on the right with vistas of a beautiful blue sea by a white sand beach, often interrupted by huge broken roots of trees. Can a ‘Castaway’ type patch of sand co-exist with all the modern trappings of civilisation? It seemed so.

The forests thinned after a while, with open fields on my left. On these fields every few metres were small tea-shops. The coconut trees and the betel trees were lying in unison, creating a surreal green cover that you drive through. The sun was playing hide and seek, every now and then prompting me to drive faster to be in time for the evening sun-set show, but the bad roads ahead slowed me down.

The beautiful fields of Havelock near Beach number 3
The beautiful fields of Havelock near Beach number 3

As I was driving like a little speck on a giant green canvas, I felt so connected to the place, curious at every turn on what my senses would take in. I was driving along the only patch of road on my way to Radhanagar, and beyond a point I just trusted the open road to take me to some place magical. The thing with such soul stirring scenery is that you start discovering a new-younger-at-heart side of you. I was not afraid of getting lost, since the possibility of getting something new as an experience was also there and what’s the point of coming to a pristine island and not being able to explore at your own pace. All that really matters is you leave the place with a smile, being able to be transported to the place, when you are back in the constipated city lives, stuck in a traffic jam and lost in thoughts. Driving through pristine scenery has some kind of therapeutic powers and the more the roads became rugged and difficult to ride with the muddy paths, I knew that nature would compensate me with something more surreal and visceral. How right I was!

I arrived at Radhanagar Beach Number 7 (That’s how beaches in the Andamans are called for some reason, by a number), and the giant Mahua forests greeted me. The sky was not visible from the normal line of sight, since the trees were tall and you only saw the greenery around and the beautiful complementing colour of the blue sea in the background. Such a view immideately has music playing in your ears, your body feels pregnant with excitement of connecting to something as primal as nature. You wish you were part of this place, and this place is part of you. There is so much of love and vibes between your mind and the environment that takes place, if you can observe in silence. Since I had been here in 2008, I knew that I could choose to walk right into the forests that open out into the beach, avoiding the crowds that throng the fringes of the beach, just to get back to connecting with the pristine environment.

The Mahua woods of Radhanagar Beach
The Mahua woods of Radhanagar Beach

As I came out of the forest, I showed my son some games that were going on, and I am glad that he observed something about how nice it is to be playing in a place that has so many colors. The beach cricket was doused in a background of an impending sunset layer of light pink, while the beach volleyball was bathed in a army of green leaves and white sand. Nandu saw new colors that his set of sketch pens could not produce. I felt that being one with nature and seeing such surreal scenery has a way of calming your mind down, and you are just curious to know how so much beauty is around us and we still choose the life that gets clogged in polluted roads, traffic jams and ugly waste lying around (all for some percieved pot of gold at the end of the rainbow)

Children playing cricket at Radhanagar Beach-Havelock Island (Andamans-India)
Children playing cricket at Radhanagar Beach-Havelock Island (Andamans-India)

I spent the next few minutes just basking the silence in the woods and looking at that shade of green. There was something magical about staring into the shades of green. It looked like the brighter green was doing the marketing and was doing it very well. It had ‘acquired a lead’ and I was going through their ‘sales funnel’

Paradise-Beach Number 7-Havelock Island
Paradise-Beach Number 7-Havelock Island

 

G E T T I N G   T H E R E

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair yet.

Exploring Andamans-Part 8-Nandu’s Day Out

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  ,Part-5 , Part-6 and Part-7

Nandu and I enjoyed our time on the beach. Time was passing by slowly looking at the open sea, admiring the freshness of the experience by the sea. We ran on the beach, choosing which pebble to pick and throw into the sea, and observed that some pebbles were smoother than the shells that lay washed ashore. Before we went off for lunch, we stared at the sea, and I was telling Nandu that we are in many ways tied to the ocean and that is probably why we keep getting so attracted to the sea and that is where we will go once the eternity of a lifetime passes. I am not sure, he understood anything, but kids have a way to process information and retrieve it contextually on demand.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- For a calming day out, always trust the sea, and some time by the beach is always fun

Nandu was fascinated by the Go-Pro Camera that I was using, and I thought its a good idea to hand over the camera to him, since it was easy to photograph. I told Nandu to use the voice function that just required some one to say ‘Go-Pro Take a Photo’. Nandu lapped it up and went about clicking photos. I gave him a little task to get a peep into what he observes, and asked him to click upto 10 pictures of the things he likes.

These are a few of what Nandu came up with

  1. There was a little dog at the restaurant and at Parvati’s house that Nandu used to play with. It looked like he was on Nandu’s ‘LIKE LIST’.
The little dog at Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)
The little dog at Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)

Nandu’s Lesson #2- In a new place, mix with the villagers and the local and understand their life. Nandu made himself comfortable in Parvati’s shop by relaxing on the hammock and playing with their dog.

Nandu chilling in a hammock at Parvati's store near Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)
Nandu chilling in a hammock at Parvati’s store near Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)

2) Kaushik from the Flying Elephants Team made us our breakfast and lunch. Nandu spent time sitting in the kitchen with him observing him make food. Since he fed Nandu well, Kaushik made it to Nandu’s ‘LIKE LIST’

Nandu developed an attachment to Kaushik-who cooked for us at Flying Elephants (Andaman Islands-India)
Nandu developed an attachment to Kaushik-who cooked for us at Flying Elephants (Andaman Islands-India)

3) Our Hotel room had some bird art made with paint. Nandu seemed to like it.

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

4) Nandu liked the portico where we were sitting and spending most of our time at the resort.

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

5) Nandu loved running, and he liked the pathway that connected our hut to the reception. So that made it to his ‘Like List’

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

6) I am not quite sure, if I influenced Nandu, but he seemed to also like this view of the open greenery from our windows.

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

7) And as a last item, he loved his little beach kit

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

Nandu’s Lesson #3- If you have a camera in hand, and an easy one at that, its very rewarding trying to document what captures his fancy. A camera helps you freeze moments that you can take back home [Despite daddy doing that for a living]

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 7-Beach Bumming at Kalapathar

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  ,Part-5 and Part-6

The sun had made its way, by the time my monologue with the greens around had ended. The little world at Kalapathar was now the shared responsibility of other people and I. I woke up in the dawn, with a powerful feeling that darkness has that makes you feel that you own the trees, twigs, paths and nature. The sun had found its way through the crevices that the leaves and trees had hidden the beach from, and the golden hour was looking beautiful. The rain brought happiness, and the sunshine too brought happiness, and the transition was never noticed as the focus was just on the beautiful. It was like 2 people standing on a rug, and the rug was pulled without either of the legs getting affected. Rain or Shine, the beauty of nature was something I was sold on.

The sun cometh! The monsoon makes way for the sun-Kalapathar Village in Havelock Island( Andamans-India)
The sun cometh! The monsoon makes way for the sun-Kalapathar Village in Havelock Island( Andamans-India)

I sat on the beach, and kept my eye frame of reference as one of the sea shells and kept staring at it, while the waves kept crashing nearby. I read somewhere that sea shells bring good luck, and I only wished that I have a peaceful holiday and looked at the waves going in and out, leading to a rythm. I did this for a few minutes before the sun’s rays on my body got a little too warm for my city bred comfort. Every time I stare at the sea, I am in a state of trance trying to comprehend the world and the way it was created.

The sea shells out to sun bathing-Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island (Andamans-India)
The sea shells out to sun bathing-Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island (Andamans-India)

The leaves were welcoming the morning sun, and the golden shade on the sea confirmed that today was out to be a sunny start to the day despite the seemingly monsoon laced dawn. The dewy freshness of the morning was replaced by the sun’s healing warmth. If ever the plants were depressed by the rains, they were washing themselves in the bath of the earliest sunshine. The Andamans anyway has sunlight coming much earlier than the mainland, so the plants get to get light on their body earlier and quicker.

The sun's rays illuminate the plants on Kalapathar Beach(Havelock Islands in Andamans-India)
The sun’s rays illuminate the plants on Kalapathar Beach(Havelock Islands in Andamans-India)

I went back to my room to read a book on my kindle cloud reader on my mac. I was relaxing by the room, staring at the forest that the end of the hotel path opened out to. I went to the nearby petty shop run by a localite and sat on her mud floor trying to make conversations with Parvati who runs the shop. It was almost an hour of conversations as I sipped 2 glasses of tea. I figured out that Parvati’s parents had come here in 1961/71 when India moved all of the Bangladeshi immigrants from Kolkata to the Andaman Islands, giving them land. Parvati has grown in Havelock, and speaks Bengali which is the dominant language in the Andaman Islands. The ‘modified modern natives’ of the islands are bengali speaking Bangladeshi’s who have been living here for over 6 decades. The local tribes of the Andamans now live in North Sentinel Islands, which still remains out of tourist bounds.

I bought some chocolates for Nandu, who by then had woken up and walked over to the shop. Nandu quickly took the chocolates and asked me to come to the beach.  We went with our beach bucket and found a spot to perch ourselves.

'Working from Home'-View out from my room at Flying Elephants-Andamans
‘Working from Home’-View out from my room at Flying Elephants-Andamans

Nandu’s Lesson #1- The sea is a beautiful place to spend time, even though its warm, and we never do this in the city. Whenever it feels warm, apply sun cream lotion and take a dunk into the sea.

Nandu’s Lesson #2- Youtube is a great place to learn art, but there’s no place quite like the beach and mother nature to pick random twigs, sand. shells and the sea water to learn about elements and art work. There is life beyond Youtube and a 100 MBPS internet connection!

Nandu’s Lesson #3- Life is always better with Sandy shoes. He had no restriction on how dirty he could be while he was playing.

This part of the beach had very less waves, and one could walk into the water for quite a distance. I was anyway following Nandu wherever we went, so there was no danger from the sea. We decided to try our hand at carving some sand art from some of the templates we had. I seemed to have made an airplane and a car from the template we had. Nandu screamed in joy and appreciated that I had done it so well. I was gleaming in joy. My day had been made, since my little son came over and hugged me around the beach art. I took him for an extra ride in the water doing ‘Uppu Mootai’ where i would act like a crawling tortoise and Nandu would sit on my back and we would walk on the ocean floor. A few more flip flops in water, and our stomachs became empty enough.We just had enough energy to walk across to the restaurant at Flying Elephants.

 

Beach Therapy making sand art at Kalapathar Beach-Havelock Island in Andamans-India
Beach Therapy making sand art at Kalapathar Beach-Havelock Island in Andamans-India

There was no clock or watch needed at the Andaman Islands since we were in sync with nature. We thought it must be about 3 pm, but we realised that it was just about 12:30. There was something about the Andamans that made you start early and feel very productive with a lot of time still lying to use. For some reason, if you lose an hour in the morning  you keep searching for that the whole day and never seem to find that extra one hour.  But now that we were at sea, it seemed like planet Earth’s most potent way to remedy for stress. Being connected to nature in these couple of days, made me cringe and feel a little immature for needing a mobile alarm clock for me to wake up to.

Motion on the Beach-Sand art for an airplane and car-Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island-India
Motion on the Beach-Sand art for an airplane and car-Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island-India

G E T T I N G   T H E R E

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 6-Monologue With Monsoon

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  and Part-5 so far.

I stood outside our hut for about 15 minutes, waiting for the dawn light to crawl inside the forest. This post is about those 15 minutes and the little walk thereafter. This post is about my monologue with nature before my little son wakes up.

There is something about the monsoons or the first rains, that leaves you spellbound or attracted to the world outside. It’s like the feeling of the world around you has been bathed and is singing joyously, while you explore the trees, the leaves, the pathways have its own morning monsoon glow, even as the earthy Petrichor fills your senses. Travelling to the Andamans from the mainland can be a little like time travel as you go catch the monsoon before it hits the mainland. You revel in the future by taking a piece of it, and then head back to the sweltering humid climate of Chennai and the world beyond it.

The morning walk across to the reception at Flying Elephants Retreat in Havelock Island-Andaman Islands (India)
The morning walk across to the reception at Flying Elephants Retreat in Havelock Island-Andaman Islands (India)
Reception of Flying Elephants Retreat in Havelock-Andaman Islands(India)
Reception of Flying Elephants Retreat in Havelock-Andaman Islands(India)

It looked like the rain had abated, and there was a sense of the wind and the buzz from the weather settling down. I actually wished it rained a bit more. There is something about a rainy day where you want droplets of water all around where you live. A blanket around you, a pot of tea and a book to lazily be transported mentally and physically into a different world of the book. The rain continuously falling could even be a GIF image that makes you feel bubbling with energy in the world that your book takes you to. I wanted to live within a book’s world, within the world that this green forest in Kalapathar Village was.  It was if there was a inner belief that rain has a way to heal the battered soul from the fast lives of the city. Rain has a way of making life pause, and take you on a different track for a new trip. It was like the movie ‘Inception’-Dream within a dream within a dream. Since it was not raining I walked out of the resort to the main road that curves its way amidst the chaperoning woods that would take me to the beach.

'Tip Tip Tip Baarish'- Kalapathar Village in Havelock-Andaman Islands(India)
‘Tip Tip Tip Baarish’- Kalapathar Village in Havelock-Andaman Islands(India)

As I walked outside, I saw the leaves had an extra layer of green and maybe a spring in their step. The heavens had within a few hours revived the beauty and done make up on its subjects below. The leaves and moss around were greener than usual, and the roads were beautifully filled with little brown puddles. I thought rain has its own art form, reflected on the grand canvas that earth’s layers were. It could be the sea, which could have a thousand ripples breaking into it, it could be badly made roads where the bitumen peals off drop by drop, it could be the mud on the roads, which has now become a chocolate ‘milk-shakish’ brown. Monsoon was art, and I was its connoisseur this morning.

That fresh feel of the monsoons- Kalapathar Village in Havelock-Andaman Islands(India)
That fresh feel of the monsoons- Kalapathar Village in Havelock-Andaman Islands(India)

The leaves around the betelnut trees, were up in arms, literally begging me to look at them. There was so much green around, that you felt like meditating into its gaze. Life was slow, Life was green and the world for a few moments was just me and nature. Mobile signals could not discover me here. Whatsapp’s carefully crafted ‘NASA predicts cyclone’ messages would not reach me. Arnab’s full throated voice or any kind of negative vibe could not find me. There was fun in this kind of hide and seek from media. Have you ever felt this?

Wet, Green and the Rains are around- Kalapathar Village in Andaman Islands(India)
Wet, Green and the Rains are around- Kalapathar Village in Havelock- Andaman Islands(India)

Click here to read the previous part, and the next part

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 5-Reaching Kalapathar Village

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 and Part-4 so far.

Entering Kalapathar

It was about 10 am, when I had come to the Kalapathar side of the island. The island seemed breathtakingly beautiful as we made our way with the sea opening out on one side and the tall trees by a hill on the other side. The road was patchy, as the population decreased along the 10 kilometre stretch from the market at Beach number 3 to Kalapathar Village. There was something very inclusive about the village, as soon as we saw the board that Kalapathar village welcomes us. The beach had a small road which had about 7 shops, selling food and beach wear, and 10 metres from it was one of the most pristine patches of sand that I have seen. In between was a shelter made out of tree logs, as seen in Munda Pahar, dotting the beach sands.

Nandu loved the beach, and made it a point to get right to the beach, and open his book and spend the day by telling us Spiderman tales, and by immersing himself in the turquoise waters of Kalapathar Beach.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- Its possible to spend a day just reading a book by a beach. The sea is calming and is always a source of energy for every session spent playing in the water.

Nandu's day out at Kalapathar Village Beach shelter-Andaman Islands(India)
Nandu’s day out at Kalapathar Village Beach shelter-Andaman Islands(India)

We went and checked in to the Flying Elephants Resort, and quickly came out to the restaurant that lies a 100 metres away from the resort on the village road, with an easy ambience inside. Our food affairs were limited as we mostly ordered bread toasts for breakfast and usually had the Dal-Chawal-Roti combo for lunch in the couple of days that we were there.

At the Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar(Andaman Islands-India)
At the Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar(Andaman Islands-India)

 

The resort had 2 types of huts. One type of huts was having a ground and a first floor through steps within the house, and the other type of hut had a front area as a balcony and a room right inside, all made of wood and bamboo, and that too very tastefully by the founders Lynda and Benny (who we did not meet during our stay, as they were traveling to Neil Island around the same time)

The houses have a pathway connecting the main part of the resort, which also houses a yoga centre. This resort has NO Air conditioners, NO Internet, NO telephone signals. You have chickens walking across the grass on either sides, and you are in exactly the kind of surrounding that mankind was meant to be. Waking up to the sounds of birds at 4 am, talking with fellow humans, sleeping at 9 pm, go for long walks in the forests and use the moon’s light for navigation, See sunrises and sunsets by a calm sea. Nature can help us re-discover that side of us, only when we blank out digital noises around us. It was beautiful and surreal being in a almost zero night pollution zone and our bodies were slowly getting synced to nature. Our mobiles were stashed in a corner safe, as they were of no use. No GPS, No Internet, No Signals.

Nandu’s Lesson #2- It’s possible to stay in the forest without air-conditioning and without television, and to follow a healthy sleeping routine in sync with the environment

The Long Pathway to our room at Flying Elephant Resort (Kalapathar Village in Havelock Island-Andamans)
The Long Pathway to our room at Flying Elephant Resort (Kalapathar Village in Havelock Island-Andamans)

 

Rotis for Lunch at Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village in Andaman Islands-India)
Rotis for Lunch at Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village in Andaman Islands-India)

Monsoon and Siesta

After a little siesta we headed out to the beach again, and it started to get very overcast. I knew that I was missing a sunset this evening owing to the cloudy nature. It then occured to me that this was the eastern direction, and the beach to be seeing a sunset was actually on the western side at Radhanagar. I could do nothing about it this evening, as that would mean, I would need to travel all the way to the market and take another bus from there to Radhanagar, which was easily an hour of public transport. Maybe I could do with a rental vehicle, but for today, I was content watching the pregnant monsoon in the Andamans, since the Indian mainland was having a scorching summer.

Monsoon laced evening at Kalapathar Beach
Monsoon laced evening at Kalapathar Beach

The rains came about slowly. The clouds were slowly building up giving people enough indications that a downpour was imminent and with the gathering of clouds, most of the people packed up early. Nandu and I were in the outer fringes of the sea, and we were enjoying lazing in the water and splashing each other. When it started raining Nandu was still in the water, and he realised that the water felt warmer while being in the sea, and he felt chill as soon as he came to the shelter where new clothes and towels were waiting.

Nandu enjoying the chill reaches of the sea in KalaPathar VillageNandu enjoying the chill reaches of the sea in KalaPathar Village

Monsoons! Yay!Monsoons! Yay!

Nandu and I were brushing ourselves dry, when we noticed a fisherman walk into the sea to cast his net. He did not seem to go far. He was at the fringes and spent some time before coming out. On days like these fishermen, who live by the coastal villages are far more cognizant of nature’s fury (which has probably denied them business for the day), than tourists who come to the island. We city dwellers dont quite understand the slow pace of life, and always plan packed itineraries even when the sea is part of the equation. The locals respect the sea, and the un-predictability that comes with sea life (rough weather, high seas with swelling tides), while we city dwellers cant quite react or manage un-predictability so easily. The city dweller that I am talking about is people like you and me, who find the change in the pace of life so different from the mainland to the Andaman islands.

A fisherman finding his catch in Kalapathar for the evening!
A fisherman finding his catch in Kalapathar for the evening!

Meanwhile, I could smell Maggi in the air. The shop on the beach road was closing down soon, and he was belting out Omlettes, Maggi and Pakodas to the remaining few people, who wanted to savour the smell of monsoon along with some tea and hot tasty snacks. With some Maggi for the night, I walked across the forest path to the resort, to stare into the night sky and tell my little son over stars.

Fresh Maggi for the rains!
Fresh Maggi for the rains!

We had an early start to our bed time, and it was pleasant to watch Nandu sleep before me and that too around 9 pm. 9 pm in the Andamans feels like midnight on the mainland, since the darkness starts to creep in from 5 pm. The next morning, I woke up rejuvenated and energetic at 4:15 am, and noticed that there was light rain outside. The place looked beautiful. I waited to go watch the greens outside the resort in the path leading to the beach. There was a sense of excitement that last probably came during Childhood when you wake up to a cloudy morning, visualizing that there could be no school that day. Today’s feeling was similar, except that there was no element of school coming in here. I grabbed at my rain bag which had my camera, and proceeded across the pathway, waiting to be part of the surreal scenery that would unfold.

Dawn View of our pathway at Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar Village (Havelock Island-Andaman Islands(India)
Dawn View of our pathway at Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar Village (Havelock Island-Andaman Islands(India)

 

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes. There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 4-On the High Sea to Havelock Island

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 and Part-3 here

 

I had booked myself on the 0645 am ‘Green Ocean’ Ferry, which I knew was from the Phoenix Bay Jetty. Our hotel, was also in the Phoenix Bay area, so I figured out that a quick auto ride would help us get to the Jetty to find our cruise ferry. I woke up at 4:20 am, and it felt completely normal to wake up at this time, since that is the time the light starts seeping in, and that’s when you realize that your body has a connection with the outside environment. Our hotel serves free breakfast, and they got some nice dosas packed for us with chutney [They usually order for cheap from the army canteen nearby for which they have access].

Nandu was woken up again earlier than his usual time, and he was surprised that it was 5:30 am and really bright. This was his first brush with how the world and timezones work (though the Andaman Islands is wrongly tagged as part of Indian Standard Time as it seems to be ahead of when the light comes and goes). He was waiting to get into the ship and see how a ship moves in water. I had told him that we will do dolphin spotting possibly later today from the ship.

Nandu on his first ship journey
Nandu on his first ship journey

One of his first lessons at day break, was that places where we start our journeys are always loaded with muck and waste [Rail, Bus, Ships]. He saw that the jetty’s calm waters had many water bottles and plastic floating. It’s as if no one cared about places outside their home. People had thrown wrappers and plastic bottles into the sea, since it was not in their interest to keep any place outside their home clean. A lot of us humans are intrinsically selfish and false people. Our sense of cleanliness can reach fashionably reach OCD Levels when it comes to our home, but the same sense of cleanliness is found wanting when we go out of our home. We are completely okay to throw wrappers or waste on the road, all because we did not make efforts to find a bin.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- The definition of home, extends beyond the walls where we live in and the whole earth is our home. We cannot pollute the very place where others/we sit and live. Always carry a spare bag to put all used plastic contents, so that you can put it in a bin as soon as you find one.

Muck floating around in the Bay of Bengal-Andaman Islands [Phoenix Bay Jetty]
Muck floating around in the Bay of Bengal-Andaman Islands [Phoenix Bay Jetty]
Kishore Da and Magic on the Ferry

We set off our journey, by quickly finishing our breakfast as the ferry started to leave. One of the pitfalls of these private ferry providers is that they don’t allow you on the deck, when the ferry starts from the port or nears a port. The ‘Green Ocean’ nevertherless allows you on the deck in all of the time in between, saving the first and last 10 minutes when you need to be inside your cabin. At one point mid-sea they also play popular music which includes Hindi, Tamil and Bengali songs on the deck. It was beautiful when they played Kishore da’s ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani’ and ‘Chalo Jaata Hun Kisi Ki Dhun Me’, as the ferry slowly made its way across the vast expanse of the sea. That moment has magic in the air all around. Magic in Kishore Da’s voice and magic with views of random islands popping out of Bluish-Green sea.

The ‘Green Ocean’ is the best bet if you need the comforts of air-conditioned travel and the pleasure of an open deck. If you are someone like me, who is here for vitamin-sea and staring outside at the sceneries, get a local/agent and book the government ferry. It’s not as clean as the private ferries, but it more than compensates with the views and no rules as the private ferries. The ‘Makruzz’ is the other private provider, with very comfortable seating and lighting, but it allows no time on the deck and it can be quite the bummer. My recommendation is to land up at the ‘Directorate of Shipping Services’ early in the morning or the previous day to enquire about tickets. The locals have a quota, and as a result outsiders have very few tickets on the government ferry.  The ‘Green Ocean’ ferry play a documentary on Andamans, featuring Tom Alter. This can be found on Youtube here

The Air-Conditioned cabin of the Green Ocean ferry from Portbair to Havelock Islands [Andaman Islands-India]
The Air-Conditioned cabin of the Green Ocean ferry from Portbair to Havelock Islands [Andaman Islands-India]
Jetty Blues

Usually it is said that, being on sea causes some kind of nausea or sickness. The only blues that were getting to us on the sea, were the colours on the sea. It was various shades of blue on a paint card. Looking at the sea, as you lean in against the railing, and look at, is when you get an appointment with yourself. Nature manages to do that every time you are following a sunrise, sunset or the vast expanse of the sea.

Resting on the Rails of the Ferry, looking at the vast expanse of the sea
Resting on the Rails of the Ferry, looking at the vast expanse of the sea

There are islands in the horizon, and I wonder how these islands were formed, and whether people can drift off their for picnics there. If I had a genie, I’d ask for a boat or a helicopter that can take me to my island of choice and whims. Nandu was like a cop, coming by my side every few minutes to ask where the dolphins were. I waited for the dolphins to show up, but they did not. He soon found his entertainment in the deck, where people played music and some of the popular music included Nandu’s favourite songs. I meanwhile saw a moment there, out at sea, that reminded me of ‘I am the King of the World’ moment from the movie Titanic, where its only you and the sea, and there is nothing between the both of you. That moment where you feel connected in all vibes to the huge canvas that plays out in front of you. That moment when you are the sea, and the sea is you. It’s a fleeting moment and the moment fades away after a minute as a loud bollywood track on the deck, cuts through my moment.

'I am the King of the World' at sea- Between Port Blair and Havelock Island
‘I am the King of the World’ at sea- Between Port Blair and Havelock Island

In about a hour and a half, we were receiving instructions from the staff on the ferry to get back inside. Our brush with the sea was ending. Havelock Islands were approaching and one part of the island started showing up as a forest lined up against the calm azure waters of the sea.

Havelock Island Approaching [Andaman Islands-India]
Havelock Island Approaching [Andaman Islands-India]

Arriving at Havelock

The ship slowed down near the jetty, and it looked like a dream like sequence, even in a place like the jetty. We slowly got out, waited for our luggage to be pulled out. Airtel’s telephone signals were non-existent. I was given a number by Kumar to call for our taxi needs in Havelock, but due to poor signals, I could not call. Since our hotel at the Flying Elephants Resort was on the side with least populated traffic, we had very few buses directly heading that side, relative to Radhanagar Beach (which is a more populated area).

Arrival at Havelock Jetty [Andaman Islands-India]
Arrival at Havelock Jetty [Andaman Islands-India]
I fixed a taxi, and while the taxi driver was loading the luggage, I noticed that there was a water re-filling station near the Havelock Jetty. I asked Nandu to take our water-bottle and head to the water filling station to re-fill our bottles. This was part of the lessons for him on the island to make sure we never buy plastic water in bottles, and to also drive home the message to others seeing this to avoid plastic and bottled water. The Andaman islands, especially Havelock, encourages travelers to come and refill water at either the water refilling station or at their resort, instead of buying bottled water. It basically means lesser plastic to deal with on an island’s fragile eco system that is already threatened by burgeoning population.

Nandu’s Lesson #2- Always Refill water at re-filling station or the resort in Andamans. Never buy bottled water in the Andamans. Lesser plastic means helping the environment and eco-system survive.

Nandu about to go to the water-refilling station in Havelock Jetty
Nandu about to go to the water-refilling station in Havelock Jetty

Our resort too had a water re-filler at the reception area, which Nandu would frequent to fill water for us. It was convenient and hassle-free instead of being snooty about 2 plastic bottles at your disposal. We were part of the outdoors and nature, and were thrilled that we are privileged enough to be able to explore the world outside our home, which we were also calling home!

Water Refiller at our Resort-Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village-Havelock Island) [Andaman Islands-India]
Water Refiller at our Resort-Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village-Havelock Island) [Andaman Islands-India]
Check out the previous part OR the next part

 

 

#TheBeachTrail2017-Featured in Media

One of the purpose of travel is to be able to transport people visually and sensorily to a place they have not been before. You first travel in the mind, before you get to the actual place and then you start merging the place in your mind to the reality and the concoction can be quite heady and awe-inspiring when you do that.

#TheBeachTrail2017 was a great journey for us, and its a great honour to be able to tell this story to out to a wider audience. This post talks about the places where we were able to reach out to a larger set of people to tell our stories on #TheBeachTrail2017

  • The folks at Musafir Stories featured us on their long form-content story telling podcast show. The ‘Musafir Stories’ are India’s only Travel Podcast show focussed on listening to traveller tales.

You can listen to it here.

 

Exploring Andamans-Part 1-PortBlair to Wandoor

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 and Part-2 here

 

Once we landed in Port Blair, I waited for our luggage at the conveyor belt. The airport was small, and I spent some time at the Andamans Tourism desk, while waiting for the bags to arrive. The trip, as among other trips, despite the fact that I was with family, was only partially planned. For now, I had told the folks at Flying Elephants, that I was coming to Havelock the next day, but the whole of day-1 had to be spent in Port Blair, since my father was coming by a different flight in the afternoon, meaning that I had to wait in Port Blair, and I could not be on the afternoon ferry to Havelock that day.

 

Bandwith Bummer

I thought I’d wait to check for rooms on a travel app, and I strangely found that the internet was virtually non existent in Port Blair. First bummer on the trip. Andamans has very slow 2G, and the only 3G signals are that of BSNL, which again is sporadic. Reliance Jio was yet to come here as of April-May 2017. I went out and decided to take a taxi to find a hotel and also be able to book tickets on the ferry between Port Blair and Havelock, since the online ticket booking websites of Green Ocean and Makruzz did not work at the time, I was traveling. I met a taxi driver called Kumar (who can be reached at +91-9933283384) from the pre-paid taxi centre. I told him in Hindi to help me find an air-conditioned room for a family of 4, and also help me with booking tickets for the ferry to Havelock. I reccomend using Kumar’s services, as he is aware of each place that can be reached by car on the island, and can tell you stories of places. Andamans does not have self-drive car rentals, since there are very few service centres on the island.

Ferry Blues

Port Blair has 3 ferries to Havelock Island, up from the single Goverment ferry it had, when I had been there in 2008 April. The other 2 ferries added were Green Ocean and Makruzz. Kumar helped me to go each of these centres and help me book tickets. Green Ocean accepted only cash, while Makruzz accepted Credit Card payments. If I were to reccomend these ferries, here are my observations.

I go on a ferry to feel the wind on my face and hair, and stare at the sea and the mountains by the sea. I would not really look beyond this. I hate to have restrictions of any kind on my strolling on the ship to photograph. The Government ferry works the best for such travel. The ticket window usually opens 3-4 days before, and is not online for non-islanders to book. So you need to either have a local go and spend time in a queue and book it, or come here with enough time in hand to go and book it. That’s what makes it tough. Most of us city dwellers, love predictability and our air-conditioning, and there are 2 private services to cater for it. The Makruzz is very comfortable and comes with 3 levels of seats, with the highest costing about 1500 Rs per seat. You cant get on the deck, as the Makruzz is small, and has a rule that makes all people, be inside the air-conditioned area. The Green Ocean combines best of both the worlds. While ‘take off’ and ‘landing’ you are not supposed to be on the deck, but you can be on the deck in the time between that, apart from enjoying the air-conditioning inside the ship’s closed seat areas. There is a little documentary that plays from the TV’s inside the seating area where Tom Alter takes you through the beauty of the Andaman. This is also found in Youtube here.

I signed up with Kumar on 2 driving assignments. He would first drive us to Wandoor, we would spend some time on the beach, and then come back to the airport, pick up my dad, have lunch at Annapurna and then head out to catch the sunset at Munda Pahad Beach (Chidiya Tapu). 1300 Rs, each way for each of the trips. Nandu’s lessons were ripe and ready to be learnt. As a first, we quickly settled on a basic air-conditioned room in Phoenix Bay Jetty near the Tamil and Malayalam association at a place called the Ritz Hotel. Not a great place to stay, but very functional. Small pathways, but reasonably okay rooms with air conditioning, heater and television, if you are looking to stay just to board the next day’s ferry.

Missing Mainland

Wandoor is a little beach town around 25 kilometres from Port Blair in a South West Direction. As we were on the drive to Wandoor, Kumar pointed out on my left to little pools of water, which were actually created during the 2004 Tsunami and the water has since then stayed on these fields. We passed via scores of betel nut plantations which seemed to stretch across the length of the journey even as the music that played on the car shifted from Kumar Sanu to Illayaraja. The island seems to have 2 major languages (Bengali and Tamil) spoken, representative of the migrants who have shifted here from the mainland, and has little communities with a similar name as in the mainland. We passed Ranchi Basti and Mallapuram, as we made our way into Wandoor (also a name inspired from a town in Kerala).

Nandu’s Lessons

Cat by the beach at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Cat by the beach at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Nandu spotted a little cat by the beach, which came around us as we sat there to drink some water from our water bottle. We sensed that cat was thirsty and offered it some water. Nandu was sitting next to the cat and was playing with it. He also offered it water to drink and then let some of his bread on the floor for the cat to eat. The summer was about to end. The lesson here was to let Nandu know that, if the cat stayed there for longer than usual, we should not do anything to drive it away, since this is a forest and these are the homes of animals, and we are here to visit and then go away. I asked him to look at whether the cat had the food offered, and if it left the bread an hour later, we should throw the food into the litter bin. One of the biggest problems with virgin places are that people bring food and plastic, and then throw them away, asking “who’s watching?”. Nature is always watching, and knows the problems such behaviour entails.

 

Birds welcoming us at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Birds welcoming us at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Nandu saw very tall trees around, and loved the whole sense of space around him. He was happy and started to loudly exclaim with excitement and run around. I looked at him, and asked him to be joyful, but not shout so loudly so as to disturb the environment. He had a look at the birds and observed the surroundings for a whole 15 seconds (a sense of achievment to make kids observe silence), listening to the chirping of birds and the leaves covering the sun’s light coming inside the forest.

Nandu wonderstruck by the tall trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Nandu wonderstruck by the tall trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Since it was our first day of our holiday, and we were spending the day on the road, I was worried if Nandu would get tired and sleep off or he would start to ask for Cartoons on TV. So far so good. I had not brought his colouring books

 

 

Clear Sky between the Trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Clear Sky between the Trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Postcards from Wandoor

As the first part of this series ends, I leave you with a few postcards from the serene beach of Wandoor, which is the alighting point for trips to the Mahatma Gandhi National Park and Jolly Buoy Island (snorkelling). One needs to go to the tourism office, a day prior to get permission slips to visit Jolly Buoy Island or find a travel agent to do all the paper work for you. Since our trip was just planned on the go, we were not able to find our way to either of the places, where a little ferry leaves at fixed timings. If I had more time on the island, I would have probably taken a bus which would have cost less than 20 Rs from Port Blair to Wandoor. Maybe that’s for later this year. There are a couple of small restaurants near the beach, which we did not go to. We were getting ready for our lunch at Annapurna which was very expensive for a simple Thali meal. Most meals are expensive in the Andamans, because the food is brought from the mainland.

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Made for quiet afternoon siesta
Made for quiet afternoon siesta-Wandoor in Andaman Islands

 

Silhouttes at Wandoor
Silhouttes at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

 

Our Host-Kumar resting by the woods at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Our Host-Kumar resting by the woods at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

 

Check out the previous part OR the next part

 

 

 

Exploring Andamans- Part 0

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series.

Summer Holidays-The 90’s– Back when I was in school, it was that time when I used to sit at home and watch Prime Sports for its live cricket feed of the ending New Zealand season from 3 am to 10 am, the matches in Sharjah from 11 am to 7 pm, and the beginning of the Carribean Cricket season from 7 pm to late night. Whenever possible, I used to find my sleep in between, because the privilege of watching cricket live and very clearly (as DD’s coverage back then in the early 90’s was poor), was too much to resist. I did this from 1994 to 1996, where the English county season also got added to the mix with Shaun Pollock taking a hat trick on debut.  I was completely addicted to watching Cricket on TV. Those were my luxuries. My world was the little room in our house in Adyar in Chennai, adorned on the 4 walls with posters of cricketers, pulled and cut out from the Sportstar Magazines.

It changed from 1997. On February 18th 1997, my school’s travel/nature club announced that they were having a nature camp trek in the summer holidays in Himachal Pradesh for about a little over 2 weeks in the Bara Bangal range, and it was priced at Rs 3800. My parents felt, I am better off going away on travelling rather than gorging on cricket in front of the television. I was also interested, since it involved going to New Delhi after 7 years. I used to previously live in New Delhi, and it felt like a trip back home, and I knew I had a love affair with staring out of the train windows looking at the scenery changing slowly. On that trip in May, I realised how important practical knowledge of first aid is since I injured myself when I fell off a mountain. I also realised that you need to respect nature and understood the importance of responsible travel where you dont throw plastic wrappers into the wild and dont play loud music in the woods. It got me interested about travel, and about the importance of maintaining our environment around us. That was the clear focus, as the cricket clearly went to the background. I still would borrow transistors from the camp’s cooks to listen to bits of hindi commentary of the on going Independence Cup back then. But Nathan Astle, Saeed Anwar, Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya remained figments of imagination when the transistor would boom to life, as my primary points of interest were the tall trees and the flowing Uhl river, in the lap of nature, disconnected for most parts from the world.

Cut back to 2016

I was with my son on a beach in Goa for New Year. My 4 year old son was happy staying inside the air-conditioned place, and was asking for POGO channel to entertain himself. He would not feel like walking on the beaches, and stayed away from the sun, and would shy away from enjoying nature or even observing it. I decided that I needed to take him to a place which was cut away from telephone networks, television, air-conditioning and the usual things he would find at home. A place that would shake his senses up about what his definition of the world was. After a bit of search and deciding between Lakshadweep and Andamans, I decided on the latter based on the costs of flying to and staying there. After a couple of friends reccomended a place, I looked up the Flying Elephants resort tucked away in the woods of arguably the most beautiful, but under-rated beach of Kalapathar

It’s often the easier path taken, when you take a 5 year old to a world of luxury and holidays. Watching cartoons on TV, staying in air con rooms all day guzzling the hotel’s wifi. There is a whole generation at risk that could just miss the beauty of nature because as parents we choose the easier path. I decided to take my son to parts of India to mingle socially with people on holiday, and understand responsible travel. 

We had an early morning flight from Chennai which strangely got pre-poned from 8:30 am to 6:30 am. I had chosen the 8:30 am flight purely because it becomes very tough to wake a 5 year old at 4 am to get him ready for such an early flight. There was no way I could cancel the air plane due to very limited flights between Chennai and Port Blair. We chose Go-Air and Jet Airways for our flights which ideally be flights landing in Port Blair before noon and leaving Port Blair as the last flight out in the afternoon. That works best if you plan to head over to the islands of Neil and Havelock right after/before your flights.

Flying across the Indian Ocean
Flying across the Indian Ocean

We chose to spend a day in Port-Blair and just go walking around, since our tickets to Havelock Island (Kalapathar Beach) were for the next morning. More on that coming up in the subsequent posts.

Monsoon Weather in Port Blair
Monsoon Weather in Port Blair

Do stay tuned to the upcoming parts all through July. If you have a young kid, you should come back for more on how you can entertain a kid and teach them early lessons on sustainable and responsible travel. Here are the themes I agreed upon for Nandu to be learnt

When you go into the forest, you are going into the homes of animals. We should respect them and peacefully-co exist without harming or driving them away. Be a traveller and not a tourist who thinks he/she is the ‘privileged one’.

 

Re-fill your water in a water bottle, and do not buy plastic bottled water. Helps any place do away with the problem of waste and helps kid develop immunity by drinking water the way the locals of a place drink it.

 

 Throw plastic out of the sea, when you see it, and collect them and put them in a dust bin

 

Nature can be the best way to entertain yourself. Observe the trees and plants around and ask questions on why things are the way they are

 

Go stay with the locals who cook for you, or who run shops to get an idea of their lives. It helps you appreciate what they have in their world, and what you have in your world.

 

Develop patience, by sitting a full day out at the beach, and knowing that the mind can be entertained by just reading a book by the sea, making castles,playing in the sea and just resting on the sand.

Here’s a sneak preview on what to expect in 3 images in the next few parts!

Nandu enjoying with glee abandon at Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island.
Nandu enjoying with glee abandon at Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island.

 

Paradise at Flying Elephant Resort in Kalapathar-Havelock Islands
Paradise at Flying Elephant Resort in Kalapathar-Havelock Islands

 

 

Reading books by the beach can be fun!
Reading books by the beach can be fun!

Check out the next part

 

#TheBeachTrail2017- Part-IV-Discovering Angthong and Songkaran in Koh Tao

The Beach’ was a Danny Boyle movie based on a novel by Alex Garland set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand.Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’. This is the fourth and final post in the series. Click here for Part-0, Part-1, Part-2Part-3

Once we had folded up our all night vigil at the Full Moon Party (Watch this video to see how it went), we had a van waiting to transport us back to the sea. Back to the blissfulness of staring at the vast expanse of the sea, but this time, we would see a lot more islands jutting out, and infact 42 of them surrounding the Angthong Marine National Park. Each of those 42 islands resemble a virgin paradise, with limestone cliffs, white sands on the periphery and lagoons around some of them.

The 42 islands of the Angthong Marine National Park
The 42 islands of the Angthong Marine National Park
Sailing in the Gulf of Thailand
Sailing in the Gulf of Thailand

It’s fascinating to be on this trip, since its like a slice out of your dreams as you keep staring at the wonders around you, and the wonders beneath you, as your little ferry’s motor slowly switches off  signifying that its time for some snorkelling!

While you snorkel under the surface of the water, a whole new world opens up. It seems very peaceful, and is interrupted only by the humans swimming besides me. Every time a human swam beside me, a whole new series of bubbles would impair my vision of this perfect life with the beautiful colours of the aqua marine world. If I ever get to be God, I would maybe create a world a-new that would just be so colourful and beautiful. As I settled into that thought, it occurred to me that we are humans for a reason and our world is chaotic, since its an option that we humans have. You could either be in the peaceful underwater world but be ready to be eaten any time of the day. Every day survived, is every day lived. You could be a human, live in a complex and chaotic world, without being worried about being eaten, but its a slow death in the concrete jungles of life, where you spend a life time trying to just commute and earn your bread, let alone eating. Such is life!

Our next spot was the Angthong Marine National Park, which has a steep jungle hike on the hill, that opens up beautiful panoramic vistas of the 42 islands. It was searing heat that we had to climb up the hill, and being a tropical place we were sweating heavily in the climb up.

A walk too far? Climbing on the hill trail in Angthong
A walk too far? Climbing on the hill trail in Angthong

There are resting points every 100 metres for you to contemplate if you have the energies to get up to the next point. If you cant quite climb up any further, each of these resting points make for great selfie spots for the young -at-heart. There are totally around 6 such points The entire ascend takes about an hour for people who are not used to any physical activity.This park has basic tented accommodations and a bungalow with 2 rooms. If you have time, you should probably camp here.

Tenting and Camping at Angthong Marine Park
Tenting and Camping at Angthong Marine Park

It’s a beautiful feeling trying to stay here, away from the crowded paradises of Ko-Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Phangan. You may need to bring some ready-to-eat foods, and cans of water, as there may not be too many resources if you plan to stay here for a day or two.  Adjoining the park/island are beautiful beaches that have coral reefs around them, making it hot beds for snorkelling. Inside the park is a beatiful green-emerald lake that is believed to have an underground connection to the sea, which probably still does not explain how does it get its greens.

At the base of the hills, Vikram perched himself to help himself with a couple of soft drink cans to beat the heat. These soft drinks are given on the boat, as part of your boat charges.There is also a little pool of water which people can use on themselves to freshen up with a mug, right after the sweaty trek and trail.

Chilling by the Bay at Angthong Marine Park-Thailand
Chilling by the Bay at Angthong Marine Park-Thailand

After our day out at Angthong, we got back to our boat, having a minimal Watermelon lunch by a cove/island. The speedboat has a way it cuts across the sea, and you need to hold on to dear life if you are sitting like us on the front deck. In choppy weather, be aware of finding a seat inside the closed door of the speedboats, as you are likely to rupture a muscle or two. It works well for the Thai Tourism industry as they would have sold you a tour on a speed boat and a Thai massage in the evening, to work on your body sores.

Watermelons and Noodles for Lunch
Watermelons and Noodles for Lunch

Our hostel, wore a deserted look. Haad-Rin had morphed into a sleepy town over night, after the full-moon party. We chose to hit bed early so that we had more energy leading up to playing Songkaran over the next 3 days. Since there were lesser people in our hostel, we ended up getting closer to the air-conditioner and slept like a log, before I woke up to alert the rest that our ‘Songthaew’ was waiting for us to be dropped to the port. Our next ferry trip was to Koh Tao, to celebrate Songkaran by a beach town, before we would take a train to Bangkok to continue the Thai New Year celebrations.

We had to board the ‘Songserm’ ferry operator’s morning ferry, and these were air conditioned seats, and we were glad to pick up some snooze time in the A.C. It was a short ferry ride of about an hour from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao, before we got off. Usually there is confusion between the staff on what luggages to offload, and while we were searching for our luggage, we noticed that it had already been offloaded and it stayed abandoned in a corner. So much so for safety!

We move our luggage, and find a cafe to spend the rest of the day, since we have our ferry to Chumphon from Koh Tao only at 3 pm and its about 9 am in the morning. Most of the cafe’s near the port are expensive, and I really don’t need their Wifi to spend the day. We spot a quiet cafe a little distance away from the port, and keep our luggage there, and Vikram decides that he wants to maybe rest by the beach, that adorns the cafe’s outer fringes. We then decide to find a cheaper breakfast place, and no better place on the little island than these Banana pancake shops.

Breakfast over Nutella Pancakes in Koh Tao
Breakfast over Nutella Pancakes in Koh Tao

I help myself to a couple of Banana pancakes, with Mango, Nutella and Peanut butter. It goes down, melting and warming the inner tubes of my food pipe, letting the stomach know that energy is arriving. As we wrap up our breakfast, a sudden jet of water is thrown in by an expat, that made my vest completely wet. He was spraying all over taking giant steps on the road, and there was a huge tanker coming with local people who had bigger guns. The games needed to start, to welcoming the new year!

Let the games begin! Songkaran in Koh Tao
Let the games begin! Songkaran in Koh Tao

We boarded a little van, that said that the festival was being celebrated in a grander manner at Sairee Beach in Koh-Tao, and off we went with little cash, a Go Pro and an iPhone in boot. The next couple of hours were spent like a child, trying to stave off requests from people who wanted to spray water on us, forming secret guerilla groups to target unsuspecting people and having water from 4 directions, which would stop when the person smiled and walked away.

 

That feeling when you get suddenly hit by a wave of ice chill water
That feeling when you get suddenly hit by a wave of ice chill water

 

Firing water on people from an open jeep in Koh Tao celebrating Songkaran
Firing water on people from an open jeep in Koh Tao celebrating Songkaran

 

Boarding the train at Chumphon

After all the celebrations in Koh Tao, as we proceeded to Koh Tao’s port, we were leaving behind memories of an amazing trail, and the only part missing as in the movie ‘The Beach’ was the train ride, which was up next. A train ride to Bangkok from Chumphon(The closest railway line from Koh Tao).  #TheBeachTrail2017 was a wrap! Thanks Thailand for all the memories!

If you want to watch what happened between the photos, do watch the 4th episode of our #TheBeachTrail2017 documentary

 

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

Look out for cheap flights to Bangkok which starts at about 10,000 INR from Chennai to Bangkok. From Bangkok you could directly fly to Koh Samui through Bangkok Airways, but since its a private airport, fares are usually high. You could alternatively fly to Surat Thani from Bangkok, which has direct connections from the airport to the pier and to Koh Phangan/Ko Samui.You could take the train from Bangkok (Hualamphong Station) to Chumphon or Surat Thani, and head to the respective piers in those cities to catch a ferry to Koh Phangan . Alternatively you could fly to Bangkok, and book a Lomprayah Bus + Ferry ticket directly from Bangkok to Koh Phangan

#TheBeachTrail2017- Part-III-Discovering Chaloklum, Mae Haad and the Full Moon Party

The Beach’ was a Danny Boyle movie based on a novel by Alex Garland set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand.Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’. This is the third post in the series. Click here for Part-0, Part-1, Part-2, and Part-4

After our adventures the previous day, we discovered we had a lot of fuel still left in our bikes, so we decided to drive a lot more on our next trip. We could go east or go extreme North. As we were choosing Abhi told us that he wanted to be closer to the waterfall trail, so that he could go for a quick dip, so we decided on 2 other beaches called Chaloklum and Mae Haad.

I preferred to play pillion to do all the filming and be ready to focus on places to capture/experience from the road and also be the one coordinating between Vikram over the directions. The 4G signals were very good in Thailand, so most of our communication would be over Whatsapp video calling, as we would frequently lose each other, blame it on having different interests in gazing at nature’s bounty every few kilometres.

 

2 wheelers for rental in Koh Phangan
2 wheelers for rental in Koh Phangan

As we made our way down the valley from Haad-Rin, we chanced upon a cafe on the hill, which had a beautiful view. The place, by itself had a greek feel to it, with white and blue paint, resembling Santorini, and having a few chairs for guests. The view of the sea changing colours as the day went by is quite an activity to occupy yourself. We had done that a couple of days back in Coco Huts, so we were itching to go back to the beaches, after the previous day was spent with waterfalls.

Viewpoint Cafe- True To its Name
Viewpoint Cafe- True To its Name

We were back on the scenic highway, that had a few more miles to clock, post Paradise Waterfalls, and this highway was starting to look beautiful at a point, when we had the green canopy of the trees on either sides, and in the distance the sea emerged on the top. The wind hitting our hair, music in our ears made us part of a new world, to which we had just gained entry. This whole island of Koh Phangan, was famous only for the Full-Moon-Party, and there were so many sides to this beautiful island, if only people cared to explore beyond the ‘Songserm Buckets’. This scene reminded us of the famous yesteryear classic “Country Roads, Take Me Home”, where heaven was waiting for us at the end of the road, and our new home for the day was the beach life that was awaiting us at Chaloklum

Country Roads- Take Me Home
Country Roads- Take Me Home

The heat during the day reduced, thanks to an involuntary gathering of some Cumulo-Nimbus clouds over the island, and the weather turned overcast and love was in the air, due to the cool winds. We decided to survey the place, after parking our bikes to wander around the bay. The only choices our brains had to make, was to go left or right. We went right, because it curved and something exciting looked like being around the corner.

Overcast Day at Chaloklum Bay
Overcast Day at Chaloklum Bay

I hoped we will find some desolate beach, where I could be ‘ship wrecked’ for a couple of hours. The good thing which such stress free exploratory trips, is that fantasy can run wild, and that means that brain is all in order and corporate life has not had any adverse impact on it.

The Wide expanse of Chaloklum Bay
The Wide expanse of Chaloklum Bay

Once we were at Chaloklum bay, we looked around, and wanted to explore the right end of the beach. The beach was having a long curve, and we realised that we had a lot of distance to cover. Each of us ambled at our own pace, before we perched at a corner of the beach, which ended in a lagoon, which got deeper as you set your legs further with soft soil. Every time you took a step, inside the water, a fish would probably see an explosion of sand particles. I decided to lay on my back, with the water covering me till my neck, while I paddled about, feeling the sun on my watered back. It was a strange feeling of heat and cool at the same time. I wondered what next. Should I go to the other side? It was glowing in green from the afternoon heat, and since there was a port of sorts there (where you get the boats to Bottle Beach, which you could also go via a forest trek), we thought there would be too many people.

The Greens of Chaloklum Bay
The Greens of Chaloklum Bay

We saw a tyre partially buried in sand, and saw a little paradise on the other side of the lagoon. Endless trees dotting the foothills of a little mountain, having a little patch of sand, not having any human settlement or commerce. It seemed like our ‘Robinson Crusoe’ moment at finding a patch of paradise, to spend an afternoon. The lagoon was deep, and could not be navigated by our limited knowledge of swimming. My friends, said they wanted to go back and maybe explore the other side. I could not quite resist the option of getting to the other side, but I had to do it safely. As Paulo Coelho says in the Alchemist-When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” and so, I find a boat coming my way. Since the lagoon is not really far to cross over, the boat-man is confused, as to why I wanted to go over to the other side. He says there is nothing that side, and he wont come back. I would have to walk 5 kilometres through the hilly path down to the Chaloklum village. I say yes, looking at the oppurtunity to be ‘quasi-marooned’ for a while.

 

A tyre buried in the sand at Chaloklum-Koh Phangan
A tyre buried in the sand at Chaloklum-Koh Phangan

A minute later, I find myself on the other side of the lagoon. My friends wave away, and one heads for the Paradise waterfall, while the other just wants lunch somewhere by the sea. I go and find myself on a remote part of the bay, and enjoy my silence. I lay on the water as, small waves come and go in a rythmic motion, lulling me into a peaceful mid-day siesta with my head in water. For a good part of the next 45 minutes, I was in a blissful sense of peace, closing my eyes, and while head got gently massaged by the movement of waters in a rythm. I wake up after, closing my eyes for a long time, and look at the beautiful blue skies, and its a wonderful feeling of happiness as you transition from a dark background to a bluish sky. It’s a kind of a visual orgamic high that lasts for a few fleeting seconds, and its gone, as your eyes adjust to the new light.It is a working day in India, and I chose to send this photo to my friends who are at work, right after lunch. I am reasonably succesful in transmitting ‘Vitamin-J’ to the rest of the world, connected virtually on Whatsapp (Note- 4G in Thailand is present in the remotest parts of the country),

Shaking a leg to the sound of water's music
Shaking a leg to the sound of water’s music

I woke up, and trudge through the forest to find a lady and her son, who are there in a car to meet a therapist. They are done with their work, and they were heading back, so I manage to get a lift uptil the local 7/11 store, from where I hop over to the local food store, where I gorge quickly on a bowl of Pad Thai, waiting for Vikram to turn up, while a mellifluos tune from an old lady singing a Thai tune catches my ears.

I hop over to the next beach on our 2 wheeler, and go there to catch a beautiful sunset. The sunset always works like an agony aunt of sorts, as there is something in the orangish sky and sea changing colours to blue over a sunset, as the stillness of the sea, makes me ask the questions to myself, that usually get lost in the hum-drum of daily life. A sunset makes me notionally wiser, as long as I can jot down what my mind tells me.

A beautiful sunset at Mae Haad-Koh Ma (Koh Phangan)
A beautiful sunset at Mae Haad-Koh Ma (Koh Phangan)

Post the sunset, we were heading to the full moon party, back near our hostel. To know how our day went and our time at the Full Moon Party, do catch the documentary which traces what we did in detail between the photos. Here’s- Part 3 of our documentary

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

Look out for cheap flights to Bangkok which starts at about 10,000 INR from Chennai to Bangkok. From Bangkok you could directly fly to Koh Samui through Bangkok Airways, but since its a private airport, fares are usually high. You could alternatively fly to Surat Thani from Bangkok, which has direct connections from the airport to the pier and to Koh Phangan/Ko Samui.You could take the train from Bangkok (Hualamphong Station) to Chumphon or Surat Thani, and head to the respective piers in those cities to catch a ferry to Koh Phangan . Alternatively you could fly to Bangkok, and book a Lomprayah Bus + Ferry ticket directly from Bangkok to Koh Phangan