Tag Archives: Travel

Exploring Andamans-Part 12-Philanthropy at Port Blair

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 , Part 10 and Part-11

We  reached the Havelock Jetty at about 3 pm. I had to move my family first to the Jetty, and then go back and hand the bike at Beach Number 3, and walk it back, to be in time for the 4:30 pm Makruzz Ferry. I had enough time to go and make some more sand castles, but Kalapathar the village was a dream away. I was in a state of chaos, near the market, seeing human civilization teeming with complaints and memories of how their trip went. There was a long line of impatient tourists who were eager on boarding the Makkruzz.

We were going to miss playing our sand sculptures
We were going to miss playing our sand sculptures

I showed Nandu the bus, which I had taken him the previous day on a short trip between Radhanagar Beach and Beach Number 3. It is an under-rated mode of transport but easily the least hassle free mode.  Most tickets are priced at less than Rs 10, and you have a beautiful ride through the little villages and towns.

Public Transport in Havelock- Inexpensive and Easy
Public Transport in Havelock- Inexpensive and Easy

Since there were big queues and I had no hurry to stand in the line for the ship, I decided to take Nandu to the beach area below the Havelock Jetty. We were collecting some sea-shells and remarking on how different the colour of the sea was here.

Nandu while waiting at the Pier in Havelock
Nandu while waiting at the Pier in Havelock

Once we got into our ship, Nandu loved the air-conditioning that he was back to after a 4 day break. He was jumping all over the seats and loved the wide seats and table that set me back by about 1500 Rs per person [and you cant get to the deck since its prohibited].Nandu was back to air-conditioning again, when we went back to the Ritz Hotel again in Port Blair on our return there.

Nandu loving his window seat in the AC deck of the Makruzz Private Ferry from Havelock to PortBlair
Nandu loving his window seat in the AC deck of the Makruzz Private Ferry from Havelock to PortBlair
Sun shining on a patch of the Andaman Sea- as seen from the ship
Sun shining on a patch of the Andaman Sea- as seen from the ship

We spent some time outlining history at the Cellular Jail next morning, which was open despite being a Monday [ when its usually closed]. It seems so contrasting that a place with so much bad energy like the Cellular Jail is in the most beautiful of all places. While nature meant this to be a paradise, the humans made this hell for a while when the British were ruling India.

Nandu running around the Cellular Jail
Nandu running around the Cellular Jail

Nandu’s next lessons in the Andamans came around food

Nandu’s Lesson #1- Food in the Andamans is expensive as it costs money to bring vegetables from the mainland. As a random act of kindness, I decided to buy food from a local idli/vada seller on the road, thereby giving him business, and then went ahead to the main market to pick people to give a packet of food. Nandu basically learnt not to waste food, and to be in a position to help the local people by feeding them a meal. Maybe too early for him, but feeding people is a way of thanking the world what it’s bestowed upon you!

Philanthrophy in Port Blair- Feeding underpriveleged at Aberdeen Bazaar
Philanthrophy in Port Blair- Feeding underpriveleged at Aberdeen Bazaar
Feeding underpriveleged people in Port Blair-Aberdeen Bazaar
Feeding underprivileged people in Port Blair-Aberdeen Bazaar
After 5 days, a Responsible Traveller sitting on loads of memories (and memory cards)
After 5 days, a Responsible Traveller sitting on loads of memories (and memory cards)

With that we come to an end of a beautiful trip, made even sweeter for me, since I was able to teach my son the importance of #ResponsibleTravelForKids. I hope to go speak at various schools in Southern India as part of letting children being able to learn more on their next holiday. We have a responsibility in bringing up the next generation of kids aligned to our planet earth, and what better way to do it than to spread the word

We stayed at ‘Hotel Ritz’, a small hotel by the Tamil Sangam in the Phoenix Bay area in Port Blair (Kalapathar Village). Rooms cost about 1500 Rs per night for Air-Conditioned rooms. This is the cheapest Air-Con room hotel that I saw in Phoenix Bay. There are better hotels nearby, but Air-con rooms come at much higher prices, for very little amenities.

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.

KatchuTravels Featured in Media

This little post talks about each of my articles being featured in various media, where they talk about me, and where I get to write on their media.

Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016

 

 

 

 

#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.

 

#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

Of Protecting Landscapes in a Forest

Have you ever thought about protecting and conserving nature, while you peer through your train window? Every new route unearthed means more green cover sacrificed and more animals displaced from their natural homes.

While Indian Railways help mankind transcend time and distances, it often comes at the cost of slicing through the heartland of where animals live in sync with nature. Add to it the railway hooter that rings while the train chugs through. How would it feel if your neighbor made a path through your house and made noise every time he used that path. It must be tough on the animals to find new homes constantly and having their environments being tampered with by mankind. Also the beauty of a landscape suffers, with an industrial flavour to the place, with the original landscape and green covers being affected.

Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-2
Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-2

Or so they that technology is making the world flat. That’s what Friedman and Nandan Nilekani say of Technology. It probably applies to the mountains that are made plateaus through railway line work, cutting through the homes of animals and landscapes. Seeing Industrial infrastructure is good, but we should try our best to preserve the beauty of landscapes and make the focus on increasing green cover for every edit we make to nature. Sounds like a deal?

Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-1
Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-1

Every time a tunnel is dug in India, it also uproots much of our animals and green cover. I wish we are able to help re create more green cover in a creative way so as to not displace landscapes through industrial infrastructure. This is about preserving existing nature and environment by having trains run only at specific times so that animals/environment is minimally affected, and we impose heavy fines on passengers from a train throwing plastic/waste in the fragile ecosystem that we have built trains and tunnels through

Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-3
Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-3

It just occurred to me, that as a traveller, I usually wonder why do people throw stuff when they know that this may never get cleaned. Would they do the same to their garden and pretend that plastics don’t exist? Why are trails littered with waste, tissues, plastic and food items. All it takes while hiking in these woods is to carry a huge plastic bag, and place your dump inside it and wait till you reach civilisation to put this in a garbage bin.

Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-4
Industrial Infrastructure Altering Landscapes in India-4

All of these photos are from a trip done in the monsoons at Goa’s Bhagwan Mahavir National Park, which is home to the beautiful trek in the woods to the Dudhsagar Waterfalls.

#TravellerStories-07- Of Free House-Boat Stays and Other Tales

This edition of the #TravellerStories features Athmanathan , who once took a one way ticket from Singapore to Nepal to take out 4 months to discover himself. Athma is a Banker who lives in Mumbai.

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStories? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

I am from a lot of places! I normally use Y = random (‘Pune’,’Trivandrum’,’Pondicherry’) to answer the question of where I am from. I work in a Bank. I know that seems old school in the world of startups and digital/tech companies. I convince myself to believe that ‘I build forward looking numbers for the most important banking institution in the world, the US FED’

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

‘India is curry country’. While I don’t disagree in total, I believe that people should travel once to form their own opinions . I never travel to any country with a bias.

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

Any South Indian dish at either ‘Madras Cafe’ or ‘Ram Ashray’ in Matunga in Bombay (Now called Mumbai).

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why)?

The Canadian Arctic. Solitude like nowhere else in the world (‘world’ refers to my limited understanding of the places where normal travelers can venture into). I have spent 2-3 days without meeting another human being – that has never happened anywhere else on my travels.

DSC02538

E) Of all your travels on work, which city charmed you the most and why?

Montreal. Beautiful city, Warm hearted French Canadians who enjoy life to the fullest.

F) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling?

Landed in Srinagar at 10PM with no accommodation, no plan and absolutely no research. I was chased by a few travel agents when I got down from the bus. I started walking randomly in some direction. After 15-20 mins, the road got dark. One of the travel agents was persistent – he chased me for almost a km despite my refusals all along. He caught my bluff – I was walking in a direction where there were no hotels. As it turns out, I ended up bunking in a spare bed in his house – a house boat ! I couldnt afford any of his house boat options – so, he just lent me a spare bed in his room. Ashfaq, a nice warm hearted guy, was once of the nicest people I have met in Kashmir.

#TravellerStories-04-Of Binge Drinking and Missed Flights!

This edition of the #TravellerStories features Rohit Das, who teaches students on how to binge drink and miss flights. NO- I was joking! He is into discovering new ventures for his employer in the corporate world, and is a passionate traveller who documents scenery on his camera. Do hop over to his Facebook feed to see some sublime shots.

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStories? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

This is a question that has confused me at many levels for a long time! And here’s why. I am a Bengali who was born in Chennai (with strong roots there) and brought up in Delhi. Growing up, these three axially different elements made for an interesting concoction. The confusion put aside, I was very clear from an early stage that I wanted to get into the corporate world and focus on building new things. I am fortunate to be doing what I like for a living. I currently am the New Ventures Discovery Leader of a large multinational with presence in 120+ countries.  

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

Delhi is my home town. It is interesting to note that whenever outsiders refer to Delhi, they have one of two distinct views depending on what part of the world you’re in. The South Americans, for example, think of Delhi being a really hip and chic place with a splash of the more traditional India thrown in. The second, which is probably a wider view, considers Delhi to be a mix of fast moving madness where the rich and poor seamlessly coexist.

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

If you are a non vegetarian, then you have the try the ‘Mutton Korma‘ at Karim’s in Jama Masjid or the ‘Kosha Mangsho’ at the West Bengal stall in Dilli Haat. For vegetarians, my recommendation would be to try the ‘Chole Bhature’ at Evergreen restaurant in Green Park.

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why)?

There is a small pub in central London called Ye Olde Mitre that I absolutely love. I try to visit that place every time I am there. It is 400+ years old and still has a very traditional English charm to it. Their stout beer on tap is to die for. 

Ye Old Mitre Pub in London. Rohit Das is 2nd from right and 3rd from Left.
Ye Old Mitre Pub in London. Rohit Das is 2nd from right and 3rd from Left.

E) Of all your travels on work, which city charmed you the most and why?

My absolute favorite place in the world is a place just outside of Reykjavik in Iceland called Hafnarfjordur. It’s a small town of about 25,000 people but still one of the top three populated cities of that country! The place is really out of the world! I was so taken aback by the beauty of that place and its breathtaking landscapes that I decided to buy a serious camera after that.

Reykjavik by Rohit Das
Reykjavik by Rohit Das

F) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling? 

Have an insane and totally out of control beer drinking competition with a bunch of Aussie rugby players, land up in a hospital ER and then miss my flight back home the following morning!

For the Love of the Konkan!

I got off the bus, after a rather loud and unpleasant shriek by the conductor. I was in the Konkan railway heartland and “Udipi, Udipi, Udipi” was repeating right in my ear. I got up like the bus was on fire, and quickly swooped down, with my bag and slippers to get out of the bus. The conductor smiled and goaded the driver to move on, while I stood visibly shocked from his way of waking passengers on a sleeper bus. I was lucky that I had my bag all sorted, so I did not leave behind anything in the bus. I stretched my body and looked around the junction. It was morning already. I still had an hour before I boarded the morning passenger train from Mangalore that would stop at Udupi. I proceeded to walk over to the nearby Sri Krishna Temple, and take a walk around the temple town.

Kartik Kannan starting his trip at the Udupi Sri Krishna Temple
Kartik Kannan starting his trip at the Udupi Sri Krishna Temple

The temple had quite a stream of visitors, and the flower sellers were out in full numbers. I was taken in by the old-school throwback to the way place was. I looked around for some small eateries and found none near the temple complex, so walked a bit further back to the bus stand to find some ‘Udupi Restaurant’ that I have seen all along in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. I found one, but it was quite costly to find ‘Udupi Food’ in Udupi. After taking a quick parcel, and charging my phone, I took an auto to the Udupi Railway station which was about a couple of kilometres but since there is no real meter system, the auto person charges surge pricing always. 80 rs from the Udupi Bus stand to the Udupi Railway station, which is 60% more than the overall train ticket, I was about to buy that would traverse 200 kilometres across the Konkan Coast. Drat, That’s the thing with local transport in a tourist town!

Flower Seller at Udupi's Sri Krishna Temple
Flower Seller at Udupi’s Sri Krishna Temple

Once I reached Udupi’s Railway station, I proceeded to wait for the train, that never seemed to come. Then there is always this confusion on which direction I had to go, if the wrong direction train shows up at the right time. I had a train going to Kerala show up on the other platform, and then I realised that its not going towards Mumbai/Goa. I was on a ticket from Udupi to Madgaon, with the freedom of getting off anywhere I chose before Madgaon. That’s the carefree freedom a 50 Rupees ticket buys you.

Waiting at Udupi Railway Station
Waiting at Udupi Railway Station

One thing I noted at Udupi and with other stations on the Konkan Railway was that most stations seem to have a ramp that goes up on both sides, instead of steps. This is inclusive for old people as well as disabled people. I am not sure, if it was designed that way, but I could see these similarities in these small and scenic railway stations on the Konkan coastline.

Sloped walk way all over Konkan Railway Stations- Udupi Railway Station
Sloped walk way all over Konkan Railway Stations- Udupi Railway Station

All of the small stations on this stretch have shelters like the one below. It has a structure that means that each one sits facing each other, and the benches are pretty old school. I find this quite cool over the waiting rooms with power supply. There’s a sense of feeling special in these roofed shelters. Udupi is one of the bigger stations after Mangalore, and is a stop for the Rajdhani express. So planning your holiday works better if you are boarding your train at Mangalore Central/Mangalore Junction/Udipi. For the religiously inclined, the Udupi Sri Krishna Temple and the Kollur Moogambika Temple are your point of calls in this area.

The simplicity of railway shelters at Barkur Railway Station
The simplicity of railway shelters at Barkur Railway Station

 

The passenger trains find my fancy, as it slowly cuts across the length of Karnataka, transitioning into Goa amidst the scenic vistas outside the window. This train, that I board is called the Mangaluru-Madgaon Passenger (56640) and is usually very slow between Mangalore and Udupi, lazing its way around the first 70 kilometres. So if you miss the train at Mangalore(6:10 am), you can still catch a fast bus to Udupi and hope to catch the train there, which usually comes at 8:15 am(scheduled at 7:30 though). The train fills up between Udupi and Kundapura, so if you board at any point after Kundapura, your chances of getting a seat is usually dependent on someone getting off in a nearby village. In Udupi, you just have enough time to barge in and find the vacant location. If you do get a window seat, latch on to it like your life depends on it, since that is your passport to fantasy in immersing yourself in this rugged and serene landscape.

 

All aboard on the Mangaluru-Madgaon Passenger (56640)
All aboard on the Mangaluru-Madgaon Passenger (56640)

This is a relatively new route, and is not frequented much by people, except those travelling from these villages or from Mangalore to go towarsds Goa/Mumbai. The rail track was opened for general public from the 26th of January, 1998 as part of the then newly formed Konkan Railways headquartered at Navi Mumbai, with 738 kilometres of rail connecting Mangalore and Mumbai through Goa. Pre 1998, People n Mangalore had to find a bus to Bangalore, and a train from there connecting to Davenegere-Hubli-Belgaum(Belagavi now)-Pune-Mumbai. Go down to the bottom of the post to see some links/resources talking about the history of the Konkan Railways and some early travellogues maintained.

The train slowly stops at Kundapura. I chuckle knowing that Hyderabad has a place called Kondapur, which is similar in pronunciation but world’s apart when it comes to beauty and peace. The train stops for a couple of minutes, and I walk down to check if there is something I can munch on. I am done with morning Idlis, and its well past 9 am now, and my stomach has its urges every now and then. I only find Lays and aerated drinks, which I dont drink. I would love to have tender coconut available, but I manage with a mango drink for the journey.

The railway stations are small, and have a a sense of memories. With 1 book shop,  1 waiting room, 1 food stall,  there are limited places to walk to and you register elements of the railway station better.

Minimalistic Railway stations on the Konkan Line- Stoppage at Kundapura
Minimalistic Railway stations on the Konkan Line- Stoppage at Kundapura

Once you are in the train, the greens around the railway track will consume you. The greens in the paddy fields, the greens in the palm trees lining the rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea, the greens of the little hills that the train cuts through. The greens basically talk to you, drawing you to think that keeping your face to the rail window was a full time activity. The real value of the rail ticket is the window seat, from which you will see how similar landscapes are in a place where eating customs and languages change.

The Konkan Greens outside the window!
The Konkan Greens outside the window!

If you have not got the window seat, another alternative could be the seat on the door of the compartment, which opens up a wider range of vision. Attempt this only when the train slows down or is going slowly. It is dangerous to sit near the door.

Footboard Seat on the Konkan Railways
Footboard Seat on the Konkan Railways

The villages by the Konkan, make you sitback and take notice as the palm trees, besides the greens mesmerize you into wanting to be part of the landscape. You keep building so many postcards in the mind, that at one point, you just want to keep coming back to visit this stretch. A camera helps you recconect to frames of what you saw while on the move, and helps you in planning the next trip. Imagine lagoons, tunnels, mountains, farms, paddy fields, quaint villages just keeping on repeating as the train chugs its way through the rugged landscape.

When the sun colours the green golden!
When the sun colours the green golden!

 

As the train passes through beautiful lagoons, you look at those little patches of green amidst the blue and marvel at the colour contrast. What if you could own on of these? Would you retire peacefully? I almost feel like saying yes, but my home loan EMI pops up like satan with a spear, and I get back to dreamily looking at the scenes outside the window. There are roads that cut through greenery, there are people walking on stretches where the morning rays of the sun merge with the green of the paddy and give it a golden glow and I wonder should I pull the chain and just wander into these villages and see them.

Lovely Lagoons by the Konkan Railway
Lovely Lagoons by the Konkan Railway

 

I am stuck to these blue horizontal bars, with my eyes looking at the villages outside. I keep taking my ‘commercial breaks’ by having conversations with passengers on the train. One thing about these second class compartments, and especially the ones where long distance train tickets cost less than a hundred rupees is that people are bound to speak to you, share their lives, their thoughts and even their food. In my case, after learning that I am a photographer, a couple of people asked me to take the window seats. I am indebted to them, as they parted with their window seats. They were middle aged men from a factory in Erode in Tamil Nadu, and were on a bachelor trip to Goa, and were excited about their first trip to Goa. The added fact that I speak Tamil in an unfamilar terrain across the Konkan, also gave me brownie points.

Grab that windows seat!
Grab that windows seat!

 

Every time a lagoon came, I’d freeze. I’d freeze since the frame was stunning. When you encounter a huge waterbody after seeing dense trees all around, all of a sudden your space in front of your eyes increases to take in the enormity of a tiny train trudging through the Konkan railway. The senses freeze and allow you to ‘screenshot’ the image into your mind, in the limited time that the trees get back into the frame. This was like your energy booster in the middle of a long journey. Every now and then, you manage to get back to the window, even though you see nondescript villages pass by, just for the fear of missing out scenery like this.

Freeze Please! Konkan Railway gem on display
Freeze Please! Konkan Railway gem on display

Villages pass by with orangish Paths, covering whatever is left of the road, being garlanded by tall palm trees. It looks like the tree is the parents and they are chaperoning the village from getting urbanized. They are doing a good job at it. Reddish brown tiles, and Green cover all around makes you feel like stress, urgency and a fast pace don’t really have a standing here. An old man walks along the mud path, like he must have for all these years, with a smile. Somebody in the train is playing ‘Malare’ on their bluetooth speaker, as the train ambles through Kundapura and Senapura.  The world seems more beautiful, with a mellifluos song, sung in sync with scenery that is shouting at you to look at it with its wares.

Scenic Rural Roads by the railway track in Karnataka
Scenic Rural Roads by the railway track in Karnataka

 

Seeing Trucks piggy bank on Rail wagons, made me google a bit to understand what this was. I found out that this was part of an Indian Railways scheme called ‘Roll-On-Roll-Off’, which was introduced in January 1999, a year after the Konkan Railways was open commercially.  This scheme helps decongest roads, as the trucks now travel on the rail network, resulting in a savings of 750 lakh litres of diesel fuel. The RO-RO concept was flagged off earlier this year in Bihar

Rail On Rail Off Scheme on the Konkan Railway
Rail On Rail Off Scheme on the Konkan Railway

 

Soon after crossing the mighty Sharavati river, Honnavar shows up. Its one of the bigger stations on this rail network, but a look at the local villages doesnt suggest that anything is any different. I wonder if the local economies and entertainment revolve around the arrival and departure of the infrequent trains at these stations. Bombay,but not quite Bombay, as latter has people’s life revolving around more frequent trains that is a maddening rush, but these stations along the Konkan, have a pretty laidback approach to life. I spot a little school near the railway track, and each time the train hoots through the treacherous terrain, the kids quite love the attention, and wave out to us. Simple joys and pleasures of life that have been numbed by living in an insecure city life. I question, why the damn life in a city, and why not a life earning enough to be peaceful and be grounded and connected to nature. The Home Loan EMI devil stares at me. I regret even posting the question and get back to engaging my senses with nature.

Serene views of a waterbody on the Konkan Railway route
Serene views of a waterbody on the Konkan Railway route

The names of the stations are in a shade of yellow, against the dusted white walls. It’s like the stations had a uniform.  The Konkan railways have numbered portions of the stations, with a white board showing the coach number. Since they have limited trains passing through, the vendors and the TT know exactly which coach stops. Maybe ‘Google Now’ can next tell me, to walk a 127 steps to the general compartment. Maybe in a few years on the Konkan Railway! The picket fences are the identity of the Konkan Railway, in the midst of the little greenery that surrounds it on the station. When I approached Murdeshwar, I could spot the giant Shiva statue right on the beach, from the railway track. This little village also has some Scuba Diving options near the temple complex.

Konkan's own style picket fences
Konkan’s own style picket fences

As the train moves on, the paddy fields are swathed over large expanses. There is so much open space, and it mildly manages to open up my constipated mind. Cattle has places to graze, children have places to play, the animals have a localized water body to quench their thirst and this is the normal world, we urban citizens seem to have moved away from. There are workers in the field waving at us, the children are playing cricket by a dilapidated wall for a pavilion, and the train keeps passing through vistas of endless greenery, lagoons and tunnels. Harwada shows up, out of the blue. I thought it was a stop for a signal, it turned out to be a railway station with no sign of a platform or maybe I didnt look harder.

Stopping by Harwada Railway Station in Karnataka. Wait is there even a platform here?
Stopping by Harwada Railway Station in Karnataka. Wait is there even a platform here?

The train passes through Harwada, and goes towards Loliem. Yes, a railway station that starts with LOL, which basically has a beautiful view of the Arabian sea meeting the Talpona River, near Xandrem beach. Once the beach names end with a ‘drem’ you know that the Konkan Railways has stepped into the wonderland called Goa. Loliem is the first station from the southern side.

Where the Arabian Sea meets the Talpona River in Goa
Where the Arabian Sea meets the Talpona River in Goa

The train ambles its way to the Cancon district, housing a railway station called Cancona. This railway station is where you get off to see the curvy palm linings of Palolem and the peaceful Agonda, Khola and Gajlibaga beaches in Goa. The railway station is scenic and is surrounded by hills. The station has autos and taxis that schedule their movement based on incoming/outgoing trains.

August-2008, my friend and I vacated our shack at Palolem during the monsoons, as it was dull, and a friend of ours called us to Candolim, so we went to Cancona station at 10 in the night to catch a train to Thivim. As soon as the autorikshaw left us, it started raining cats and dogs, and there was no one at the station, except the person manning the ticket counter. There was no way we could go back even if we wanted, since the station was in the midst of a mini forest amidst the hills. Since we were to only buy an unreserved ticket, my friend and I started to postpone buying our ticket for the midnight train. When we walked up to the ticket counter, we found out to our dismay that the train coming now was going in the opposite direction and our train was scheduled only early in the morning at 7 am. We had nothing to do at the station. We had a couple of hours of laptop battery, so we were watching a movie, sitting uncomfortably on the rocky chairs, while the mosquitoes sucked all the blood from two vegetarian tee-totallers, for a difference given the usual alcohol laced blood it must be used to stocking up on. We woke up groggy eyed, to see patriotic songs being played. It was India’s 61’st Independence day, and the station master was busy with preparations for the Independence day function. We got up, and feltwe had missed that 7 am train, and then we realised that the train was late, owing to the monsoon. We waved to the station master and went back to boarding our train, with memories of spending an independence day at a quaint railway station

An autorikshaw ferries passengers from Canacona Railway station in Goa
An autorikshaw ferries passengers from Canacona Railway station in Goa

The Kadamba bus stand as seen as from the Cancona railway station. Its about a brisk 15 minute walk to get to civilisation to Chaudi market. I liked what I saw, and felt that this was a good time to get off and explore something in these parts of the woods. So as all good things come to an end, my Konkan rail experience ends here.

The view of the Kadamba Bus station at Chaudi near Canacona Railway Station in Goa
The view of the Kadamba Bus station at Chaudi near Canacona Railway Station in Goa

 

Important Notes and External Links



Getting on this train

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 bus, which goes through Mangalore. The 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.

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.

From Hyderabad– Your only real 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. Its easier to reach Goa than Gokarna, so that stat is a bummer, but you really dont want to miss this train journey.


Konkan Railway Reference Map- Use this map for planning where to get off in between or just planning your journey. Original Image here, but a short portion of it is shown below for consumption

Konkan Railway Map
Konkan Railway Map

The Covelong Music and Surfing Festival 2016

Covelong near Chennai, is home to the annual 3 day beach fest with Surfing, Music and Yoga as the main attractions by the beach. Usually the 3 day festival happens in August or September. To know more about the festival and latest dates click here. Go further to read what happened in 2016’s edition of the Covelong Surf Festival

The real beauty of a music festival by the beach is not as much about the music, as much as it is about the vibes that evening. Its about a crowd that wants to jive about, its about a musician who wants to get the crowd involved, even if they don’t understand the music.

Usually the Covelong music festival has an acoustic stage and a beach stage through the day, but its the night that takes centre stage. The colours, the scent of the salted sea, the colours of the locals and fireworks, and yes the Bass thundering its away besides the raging waves makes for 3 evenings of high octane raving over music. I didn’t quite understand the music, but shaking a leg and feeling lighter is probably the key, as I would discover.

 

surf1

Fuzzculture’s Arsh was engaging with the audience really well. He looked like the singer KK when seen from behind with long hair, and a guitar round his shoulder.

surf2

 

He had quite an aura emanating, when the smoke from the stage were seen in the background of the lights. The independent music scene and the musicians surely had me think, that I should probably move beyond bollywood and popular music.

surf3

 

surf4

surf5

 

The crowd genuinely seemed to be interested in listeing to the musician and it was nice to see the local fisherman also getting involved trying to sample the music.

surf6

surf7

The front stage is not where all the action happens. I briefly went behind and saw the stage from behind, and it looked like the cover of a music band, with all colours of the spectrum lit against the dark of the twilight playing into darkness’s hands.

surf8

The local flavour at the beach near Chennai was the corn seller selling corn. It was not overpriced like a lot of commericalised corn. I took some corn, rested on the sands, looked at the moon in the distance, its reflection on the sea and thanked providence for providing a beautiful experience of music by the Bay of Bengal. I would come back tommorow for the surfing. Till then, it was time to get to Mahabalipuram and go and catch the highlights of the India-West Indies T20 games being played then in Florida.

Corn seller at the beach, during the Covelong Surf Festival
Corn seller at the beach, during the Covelong Surf Festival

I came back the next day to watch some surfs and was spellbound by the magic they created in traversing the sea with their artistry

Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival

#TravellerStories-02- Off Missed Sunrises and Other Stories!

Let’s meet Arnav Mathur who is second on this series called  #TravellerStories. He’s a traveller from New Delhi (who is passionate about going green and sustainability) who blogs at Eat,Travel,Live and Repeat. He works as aSocial Media Coordinator and Content Writer at JustWravel Pvt Ltd. In this episode, we throw a few questions at him and find out what he likes and doesn’t. Since this is an experiment, feel free to comment and help us out with interesting questions for the next set of travellers to be featured.

Arnav Mathur

 

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStoriesXX? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

I am from Delhi but have spent all my life in different towns of India as my father is in the army.I have stayed in places like Wellington and MHOW which are like alien cities to people living in metro cities. I am a Civil Engineer by profession passionate about Green Buildings and Sustainability. I have been freelancing for a travel company and travel blogging and am enjoying every bit of it.

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

Indian food is spicy and unhealthy.

Well not all Indian food items are spicy and unhealthy, their is a healthier less fat, sugarless option for all sweets available these days.Of course, some Indian food is spicy, but we never cook too spicy items at home and usually ask for a medium spicy alternative of a dish while ordering in restaurants. The street food of India is hygenic if taken from a decent looking populated vendor.

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

It would definitely have to be the Tandoori Momos and the Vodka Momos. I heard their names for the first time in my life when I moved to Delhi a year back, and have become a momo addict ever since.Tandoori Momos are available in Hunger Strike, Amar Colony and the Vodka Momos in Queens Boulevard, Amar Colony.Read more here

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why) and send us a photo with you in it

My favorite city till now would have to be McLoedganj, Himachal Pradesh without any doubt. It was my first trip after relocating to Delhi, India and it spearheaded the urge to travel and explore. It was the perfect catalyst for my Wanderlust. It was a weekend trip after 3 months of hectic job so all we did inMcLoedganj was Eat, Sleep, Relax and Repeat. The place is so welcoming to travelers with so many cafes offering cuisines from around the world and free wifi in all the cafes. I had my life’s best Pizza till now in Carpediem, McLoedganj, so yeah!  McLoedganj is my favorite place till now and will always hold a special place in my heart.

E) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling?

During my trek to Chandrashila Summit in May 2016, it was made clear by our Team Leader the importance of time hence we started early morning at 3 AM for the final summit trek.After walking for nearly 2 hours we reached a spot, where we were told our destination was not that far.While others were still to resume the walking, I took some giant steps and took a good 500 m lead which eventually led to a 1 km lead.When I reached Tunganath Temple, I was crazy enough to halt for 20 min for no rhyme and reason.As a result I reached the summit at sharp 6 AM but missed the sunrise by a mere 15 min. That’s when I realized the importance of time on the hills.I definitely should have been crazier to not take a halt at all and instead just kept moving forward.

Arnav Mathur missing his sunrise
Arnav Mathur missing his sunrise

 

 

If you would like to be featured and tell your stories that may be of interest to the traveller community, do write in to us at Kartik@katchutravels.com

#TravellerStories-01- Of Camping at Wimbledon and Other Stories

Let’s meet Verushka Ramasami who inaugurates this series called #TravellerStoriesXX. She’s a traveller from Durban (which she thinks is the best place in South Africa) who blogs at SpiceGoddess. She works as a Travel and Tourism lecturer and is a lifestyle blogger when the sun sets over Kwazulu Natal. In this episode, we throw a few questions at her and find out what she likes and doesn’t. Since this is an experiment, feel free to comment and help us out with interesting questions.

Verushka Ramasami
Verushka Ramasami

 

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStoriesXX? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

 

 

 

 

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

I am from Durban ,South Africa. By day I am a Travel and Tourism Lecturer and by night a Lifestyle Blogger. My blog has a focus on Food , Travel and Culture.

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

” Do you live in a treehouse ?”
” Do you speak African ?”
” Do you have a Lion as a pet ?”

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

Definitely a Bunny Chow ! No there are no bunnies harmed in the making of this dish. The dish is a quarter loaf of unsliced bread that is hollowed out and filled with either a vegetable or meat curry. It is eaten by hand so no cutlery. The dish originated from the indentured Indian laborers who came to work on the sugar cane fields in South Africa and use this as a way to transport their food to work.

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why) and send us a photo with you in it

I love travelling and have travelled to some pretty amazing places around the world. For 2016 my favourite place is Kerala , which was my first trip to India.

E) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling?

I think every trip has a crazy adventure. But one that sticks out is while I was in London and we camped on the road for tickets to Wimbledon. It was worth it though as we got centre court tickets.

If you would like to be featured and tell your stories that may be of interest to the traveller community, do write in to us at Kartik@katchutravels.com

Travel Postcards-03

This edition of the Travel Postcards features a little village, by the northernmost beach in Goa. That little village that no one told you about. That little village, that is nestled in the middle of nowhere, like a bermuda triangle between the intersection of the Arabian Sea, The Terekhol river, and a little sleepy village.

“This series, called the Travel Postcards are basically the short story version of a single frame. Some tales are told between 2 sips of your juice. These are those tales. Not too long, Not too short, a little context, a little perspective and yes, they do act as a pill, that you can pop up for some travel inspiration”

It has an ancient fort (Fort Tiracol), which is now converted into a luxury hotel. Once you get to the Hotel, you will come across the rooms, which are named after each day of the week, and when you get to the eating area, you will have a beautiful view of Kerim Village by the palm trees and the beautiful curves of the Kerim beach. Even if you cant stay here, you can hop over on the free ferry from Kerim, to the Terekhol side, and walk up to the fort on an ascent. You could also chose to go via an auto, but that kills the charm of such a beautiful place. Get there at a Leisure walk, until the bright orange of the fort welcomes you.

Terekhol Fort in Goa
Terekhol Fort in Goa

You would be drive through this palm tree laden path to arrive at Kerim’s jetty. Its a scenic drive from Arambol Village or Pernem Railway station to come here to cross over to the other side. Kerim is away from the noise of Punjabi music blaring, away from noisy tourists and most importantly far away from any kind of populist ride like the Banana boat rides or water scooters. It makes the beach and the village a lesser attraction, but that’s where the charm of Kerim lies. Away from it all, so that you discover yourself and the that 3 letter word called G O A.

Palm Trees lining Kerim Village
Palm Trees lining Kerim Village

To know more about this place, keep visiting this space for a longer piece on Fort Tiracol. Till then, spread the love and let the travellers know about Terekhol. It doesnt cost much!

Travel Postcards-02

Today’s Photo series features the iconic Vithala Temple and the Anjanadri Hill Temple, from Hampi( Karnataka) in India. Now go get your tea, and read on!

“This series, called the Travel Postcards are basically the short story version of a single frame. Some tales are told between 2 sips of your juice. These are those tales. Not too long, Not too short, a little context, a little perspective and yes, they do act as a pill, that you can pop up for some travel inspiration”

Panoramic View of the Vitthala Temple
Panoramic View of the Vitthala Temple
View from Anjanadri Hill-Hampi
View from Anjanadri Hill-Hampi

The first photo was taken in Hampi, over the side of the Tunghabadra river, that houses the Vithala temple. The whole place has a ‘What If’ feel. What if, this whole empire was not razed down to ruins? What if, this place was teeming with people? I would love for it to be captured or shown via Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality when you wear a headset and strut through the town. Hampi is basically yesterday’s empire frozen to today’s times. Its interesting to see how the temple was the centre of most activities. There was a place for trade, outside the temple with a stable for horses, and a rest place for travellers to bathe. Today all that stands are ruins of a kingdom that once was the envy of many. The boulders and rocks, add the extra charm to the modern day rustic Hampi, especially during the golden hour sun-light.

I took the help of a local guide called Basava, who took me to the top of a hill, that gave me this near panoramic view of the Vithala temple. I call it near panoramic, since this was shot on an 18 mm focal length, on a cropped sensor SLR. I wish I had my Tokina 11-16 lens on this trip. It would have made for a little more surreal imagery of the Vithala Temple

The second photo was taken on the top of Anjanadri Hill, which is the birthplace of the Indian deity-Hanuman. These places at the top of a hill during sunrise or sunset. Hampi seen from above, is probably the way it was ordained to be. The soft greenery that adorns the rough landscape, shows you how contrast can make a great scene.

Have you been here to Hampi? Which is your favourite place? Do mention in the comments below! Do watch this space for a longer post on these places!

 

 

Goan Monsoon Musings-Part 1

The alarm rang at 7 am as planned, the snooze button was activated (not as planned) and I went back to sleep. I heard the sounds of droplets of water falling hard outside the floor of my hotel. It was raining hard. I was in the midst of the Goa n monsoon, and there was no escaping from the fury of the Goan Monsoon. The sea was raging too. I could hear the waves, as it crashed on the whatever was left off the coast of Sernabatim in Goa. I was at Furtardo’s Beach Café, which was perched on a slightly elevated platform, with the beach having been eroded. So the waves basically hit against the hotel wall, and I was that close to the monsoon’s fury. I stepped out of my room, and opened the door, and the main area was just fine. The fury had not swallowed my room. The beach shack’s garden, was glowing green all over, fresh from the rains.

Main Reception at Furtardo's Beach House in Sernabatim-Goa
Main Reception at Furtardo’s Beach House in Sernabatim-Goa

Umbrella clad, I stepped out to the beach below me. The rain had abated a bit, though the winds were strong. There were a handful of people on the beach, presumably locals who were maybe at their daily walks, suggesting that everything is normal. The coconut trees, were trembling and could not quite mask the calmness of the locals. The weather felt beautiful.

 

Winds and Rain-Goan Monsoon at Sernabatim Beach
Winds and Rain-Goan Monsoon at Sernabatim Beach

An hour and many droplets later, I was on the road. I had made my plans for the day to get outdoors and drive through the Goan monsoon. There’s a special charm to Goa in the monsoons. Its as if the whole state is painted with grey skies and green grass all over. If you had to fall in love, make love, or rekindle your vows towards a relationship, Goa in the monsoons is when you come. A little walk through Sernabatim village maybe.

As soon as I started walking, the sun chose to make a guest appearance. The paddy fields seemed to have 2 shades of green, gleaming in the morning sun. It was beautiful. The different shades were due to different sets of farming efforts maybe since there was a boundary in between separating the plots. But 2 shades of green was maybe all I needed to ramble along.

 

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The roads were empty. No Tourists, Just the locals, Just the way Goa functions normally, and I was put right in that situation. I saw a diminutive uncle, taking his wife on a cycle, amidst the tall trees and wet roads. For a village, these were pretty sturdy roads. I have lived in Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai, and at the first sign of rains in a remote colony, the roads disintegrate. There was just the odd puddle of rain water stagnating but the villages were pristine and un touched by all the tourism.

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I quite loved the colourful houses, complementing the contrast that the monsoon brings to Goa. On the red bricks, that anyway dominate most homes in the Konkan belt, you are bound to see moss and off shoots of plants, as borders between the house and the roads. Weak borders at that, which could fall anytime.

 

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If the houses, were not enough for color, the Goan vehicles too oozed off some quirky colours. I saw a greenish Bajaj scooter, over looking a Honda Activa parked in the distance. It was about 9 am, and I see a Goan youth, cozying up in the little space that is there as seats, to lazily read the morning news. It’s a working day for most part of India, but Goa is as relaxed as ever. It’s an alternate reality in Goa, which does good job of convincing people that life is ‘better in goa’(Like those T shirts).

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I come across a Goan Taxi stand, which is basically a shed, that was built in the middle of nowhere. The wall is basically their ‘Amul Advertisement type medium’ to let the world know that they could call these folks for a taxi. The Taxi union in Goa, I hear is very strong. They have not allowed private radio taxis/app based businesses to set shop in Goa, which protects local establishments, but works out not so well for travellers.

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More coming in the second edition!

 

 

Day Out at the Covelong Surfing and Music Festival-Part-I

I am always fascinated by the prospect of listening to music at the beach, and also have the waves crashing by. It’s a world of your own, when you are at sea. India’s east coast is usually not privy to having the infrastructure required for music, and entertainment by the sea. Over the last 3-4 years, Chennai’s outer fringes have seen a spurt in sporting activity with surfing being adopted in Covelong and Mahabalipuram, and even further in Pondicherry. I decided to go check what the festival was about.

Given this was happening about 40 kilometres from where I live, I thought it would be fun if friends come along, so on reaching the location, I updated my Facebook check-in, to let friends know, that they could come over anytime during the day. I was pleasantly impressed with space created for parking 2 wheelers and cars. There was a separate apartment enclosure by the sea, and there was enough space to park vehicles as long as you were early enough to find a good slot.

The surf festival is about professional surfers, competing with themselves in the sea, with a context. I was perched in the sea, trying to capture the way they communicate with the ocean to surf along with the wave. The first day was about some surf and music, and that’s what you will see in greater detail in the next part. For now, here’s a glimpse into my trip.

 

Live Life One Wave at a Time!
Live Life One Wave at a Time!
Drumming up a tune!
Drumming up a tune!

 

 

 

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The Lankan Beach Cure-Part 2

This little series explores Sri Lanka through its beaches. A day out at the beach along the Dehivala-Galle line shows up some beautiful sights. Join in me in my experiences in Sri Lanka

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I observed the boys playing cricket and it was beautiful observing the kids playing by the sea.  Every now and them, their shots had an audience in a moving train full of passengers. This was the rail from Galle to Colombo, steaming in to the city, at the outskirts of Colombo (Dehiwala)

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I found some grass to rest myself and spare myself from the searing sun. Beyond the grasslands, I found a structure that was closed and had no one, so I went ahead and rested by the pillars watching the Lankan shirtless kids sweat it out by the sea.

 

 

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Behind me, there were a few boats on which the couples started to converge. Some on the boat, some behind it and they seemed to enjoy the anonymity of the Poya day. The whole city had shut down, and they were left to themselves to spend some intimate moments under the umbrella, while the cricket continued with little audience interest. Pretty much like how ‘Test Cricket’ at grounds, run in most parts of the world on week days!

Post  mid-day, I had grown bored of watching the kids play and miss at the cricket, watching couples explore each other and watching the sea that was threatening to come inland and disturb the 2 games going on at the beach. The cricket and the love continued unabated.

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I said good bye to the boys, the grasslands and from a distance, saw the another set of couples spending time with each other, before I retired to the main road of Mount Laviniya. I had travelled about 3 kilometres on beach since morning and had documented almost every thing that happened on the beach the whole day, after I had started out from my hostel(Adikaram Sea View Hostel)

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But the stray coconuts probably watch things unfolding on the beach better than me. The coconut probably knows all of the gossips happening between people and objects by the sea. There’s infact an interesting blog in French Polynesia by that name, called Coconut Radio which says that “In French Polynesia when gossip is passed along from person to person we call it the coconut radio”. I had just played the Coconut Radio for Sri Lanka on Poya Day. I enjoyed it in silence, when I reminisced the day that just happened.

Food from ‘The Hole in the Wall’- Jannal Kadai in Chennai

As I walking down the crowded North Mada Street, and proceeded to turn right at the Ponnambala Vaidhiyar Street, the fresh smell from the flowers vendor’s catch, warmed me up for the gastronomic fare that lay ahead. I had heard about the ‘Window Shop’ (Jannal Kadai )store, that serves delicious evening snacks and breakfast near the temple, but had never managed to go there, despite being a local in the city of Chennai now for 26 years.

Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore
The Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore

I was a 100 metres away from the ‘Jannal Kadai’, and I had to wade through the sea of people who were walking in and out of the majestic Kapaleeswarar Temple. The temple, was facing one of its less crowded days. I have been here during the Mahashivratri festival and have seen crowds swell here, so today was mildly pleasant, also helped by the fact that Chennai was going through a rainy spell, so the humidity was bearable.

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Crowds thronging ‘Jannai Kadai’ in the evening.

I walked a bit further and tried to spot where this shop was. A little further down the road, I saw a bunch of people crowding near a window. Could it be a flower vendor shop, or was it ‘THE JANNAL KADAI’? I saw people holding plates and consuming food. Maybe this was the place. I moved a little closer to the window, and saw a man, at the counter sitting at the level of the window, cross legged and collecting cash into a box. Flanking him were a couple of his team mates who were making ‘Bajji’, ‘Bondas, ‘Idli, ‘Vadai’ and ‘Dosai’. A quick 5 course (you-could-call-it-that-way) menu of an evening snack, by the temple.

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Crowds thronging ‘Jannai Kadai’ in the evening.

 

The window to the shop, was partially covered by dried lemons and the image of a demon occupying space. Usually this is a sign of warding off evil spirits, usually found in many parts of South India at estabilishments, and even on vehicles. The more colourful are found on national lorries that ply on highways. The Tamil comedian Vivekh, takes a pot shot at such beliefs against Colourful demons-on-Lorries’ in a yesteryear movie called Minnale. [Watch it here from 1:50 to 4:25]

Looking through the window of Jannal Kadai
Looking through the window(Jannal)

As we lounged inside, and spoke to the person at the cash counter, we are told that this place is about 10 years old. Maybe he meant it for the business, but this was operating out of an olden days house, and the house must be a lot older. We settled for 2 plates of Dosai’s and 1 plate of ‘Molaga Bajji’. Just as we ordered, a fresh batch of bondas was placed by the windows to help the consumers make their choices easily, in the absence of a menu card.

Appetizing crisp bondas on display at Jannal Kadai in Mylapore
Bonda Ready Saar

We chose to give the bonda a miss, since I needed to be home. The Dosai, was made wet by Sambhar and chutney on it. The plate finished in double quick time, and I was gastronimically ready for a few more, but since I had to be at the other end of the city, I chose to settle the bill, and come back to Mylapore for a more detailed date with my stomach at the various eat outs in Mylapore. The Hindu newspaper, has done a good job in listing the places in Mylapore that you should keep a look out for. Do view them here, and come back to this blog, for more detailed reviews of all of these eat outs.

 

Till then, if you plan to go to this place, use this Google Maps Link.

 

 

 

 

Travel Photo Stories- Episode 1

How often do you dream of seeing an azure blue sea, as you travel beside it? I loved the thrills of being on the Galle-Colombo railway line in Sri Lanka, right beside the Indian Ocean. It was surreal and scary at the same time. It looked like the train was travelling on the ocean, since the height of the train window above the sea, was not so high. In India, I have been to Rameswaram, where the drive into Mandapam over the Pamban rail bridge is equally surreal but the height gives it away. The feeling is not quite the same as the train in Sri Lanka.

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The closest, I have been to seeing something at a similar level, though with very little water was on the rail line from Madgaon to Vasco in India, as the train nestles through Majorda, there emerges a little patch of beach, by which the lower tides of the Arabian Sea surface up near the railway line.

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Is there any railway line that you have seen lately, that you would like to share? Do let me know.

Dancing In The Isles

 

 

This article talks about Sri Lanka and cricketing memories. I capture elements of Sri Lanka, Travel and cricket in the island from the view of the 1990’s.

As I boarded the train from Dehivala to Bambilipitiya, a little station in Colombo, along the Colombo-Galle railway line by the sea, my mind went back to the summer of 96. The summer of annihilation, The summer that Prime Sports [Now Star Sports] advertised as Cricket’s greatest year with Brian Langley in the advert.

Summer of 96

The summer of 96, was strange because the Lankans were on fire. Tony Greig was all over them, calling them fondly as ‘These little Sri Lankans’ with a specific reference to “Little Kalu” who along with Sanath Jayasuriya, was causing grief to a lot of bowlers. The grief became internalised in Manoj Prabhakar’s last ODI, when Kalu and Sanath launched a blistering attach on a bowler forced to bow in front of his home ground, by bowling off spinner for half his quota of overs bowled in the match. The scar ran deep that day from what happened at the Kotla. A little under 2 weeks later, the scar had bigger ramifications when the Lankans spun India out at the Eden Gardens on a relaid track, but it somehow got assuaged when the Lankans beat Australia in the finals. That small little nation had grown bigger in my eyes, in a period of little over a couple of weeks. From Delhi to Lahore via Calcutta and Rawalpindi. I probably never knew what it meant to the island nation back then. I was to soon find out as I made my way to the Cricket Club Cafe, on a balmy sunday afternoon in September.

In search of the Cricket Club Cafe

 

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The station was similar to the suburban rail stations, I would use back home in Chennai. A little platform that had a track on either sides, without any hustle and bustle, all for about 10 Lankan Rupees. These are usually 3rd class unreserved tickets, but have the best views of the sea, as the train ambles into Bambilipitiya. The railway stations from outside resemble a colonial bungalow in a hill station, but the reality is this little homely building is a railway station.

 

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A zig zag walk of a kilometre later, I find myself still confused if I am at the right place. The place that i encounter is fresh with sunshine coming over, after 2 days of rains and inclement September weather. The white walls are shining well through the contrasts of the tropical combination of the azure skies and green trees

 

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At the crossroads where there’s an interesting signboard that talks about the distances and directions of cricket grounds from that spot. I look west to Newlands, east to the Basin Reserve, North West to the Queens Park Oval, and angularly across to Lords and the MCG in opposite directions. Cricket’s little relic, at Colombo has just sent the cricketing hormones racing. I walk in feeling charged.

At the Cricket Club Cafe

The cafe has a very homely and warm vibe, with travellers who come here across the world. The cafe’s main hall has memorabilia hanging all over the walls. Shane Warne’s bowling in 4 different frames on the left and Allan Border is hooking and flicking in the other frames on the right, which is interspersed with panoramic view of cricket grounds.

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A ‘Vivian Richards’ vegetarian menu item makes its way to the table, smelling of cheesy lasagne, while the travellers inside discuss Lara and his comeback in the summer of 1999 against the Aussies. The TV in the room, quietly shifts to the live cricket being played a few blocks away at the Premadasa.

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As I move into the other room, I see an Image of Don Anurasiri bending his back, and a T shirt that has autographs of the Sri Lankan team. The ‘Don’ played in an era when Sri Lanka was hardly at its best.

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Sri Lanka’s renaissance in my opinion started on that 1995 tour of Sharjah, where Kalu and Hashan Tilakratne almost chased down West Indies’s mammoth 333 (fuelled by 169 by Lara). WI were given their first shock then, which trickled to a little more as part of an Australian summer where SrI Lanka, made it to the tri-series final in 1996 with some inspired cricket. That set the tone for the summer in the sub continent, as Sri Lanka ambushed all other teams, on their way to the world cup victory

 

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As the below newspaper cutting shows, a little dwarfed nation, troubled by the incessant strife in the north, and the threat of an attack, had a reason to smile and celebrate. Cricket had its ‘David beats Goliath’ moment yet again with a Sub continental team emerging champions. Cricket’s mount everest had been conquered, and the government chose to award the winning side a holiday package to Maldives. Maybe that was the height of luxury back then, when cricket was not yet a full time sport, that had as much money flowing in. Picking leather balls and pieces of woods, were an option, instead of picking guns and bombs for children and maybe this set off more people to bring their blaring horns and music equipment at the grounds in Colombo, though its always been part of the cricket scene in Sri Lanka.

The Cricket Club Cafe, made me revisit the 90’s through the eyes of a Lankan supporter, and I paid my bill visualizing Tony Greig’s voice shrieking “They are dancing in the Isles’, while the clarinet’s go off. [Though that comment was meant for Sharjah, I could very well use it in this context since Tony Greig was one of Sri Lanka’s very own]

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