Category Archives: India Travel

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Part 3

This is the third in series of my trip to GRT Temple Bay in Mahabalipuram. I challenged a North Indian friend, who said there’s nothing to do near Chennai in the summers. I told him I could transform his life through experiences on a Saturday and Sunday. Lets dive in to the series! If you have landed directly here, Read Part 2Part-1 and Part-0 for context!

Here’s the video story

SCUBA Tales

Did you know that SCUBA was an acronym for Self-Contained-Underwater-Breathing-Apparatus? I had learnt this while taking my first diving lesson way back in Bangaram Island in Lakshadweep in 2009. I retained absolutely nothing from that dive as I would find out

 

SCUBA Basics at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay-Mahabalipuram
SCUBA Basics at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay-Mahabalipuram
Breathing Routine Change

To get into the water, I first had to wear the SCUBA Pro skin jacket. It needs someone to zip you from behind, and it feels quite tight. Black dress on a summer day in Chennai is not the recipe for relaxation at all, but I was to step in to the pool in just a few minutes. Rishabh from Temple Adventures was there to teach me the basics of SCUBA Diving. I had to put on an oxygen cylinder on my back, and a mask that had some space for my nose, and a little attachment that went in my mouth, having to tightly bite it. I now had to breathe in through the mouth and exhale out through my nose. It took a while to even set this in motion. It was even tougher trying to balance my legs as there are fins that are on your legs. That made me look extremely clumsy as i tried to balance myself, with an oxygen cylinder on my back. But with a little bit of patience, all is indeed well!

Lessons Underwater

My first lessons were around communicating the signs properly in water, now made famous as part of common folklore since Bollywood addressed this in 2011 with the feature film ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’

SCUBA Signs under water
SCUBA Signs under water

The next lessons were around clearing water that gets fogged up in the mask surrounding the nose, when water finds its way inside. The other basic lesson was around moving your hands in a way that you reach out for an extension that connects to your mouth, through which you breathe. This extension is connected to the Oxygen cylinder. You need to keep it an angle, else the air/oxygen gets released and wasted.

Deep Blue

Though it was bewitching inside, I could not quite breathe easily or swim easily. That’s when I asked the instructor if someone could dive without the cylinder. He spoke about free diving, and said that he could hold his breath for about 4 minutes inside the water.

Swimming in the pool
Swimming in the pool

I also learnt in my conversation with the instructor that Koh Tao is probably not the best place to go for SCUBA Open water dive courses, as there has been such a huge influx of tourists, that you are more likely to see humans than fishes there! i briefly thought about doing an Open water dive course, during my trip to Thailand last year around the Full Moon Party, but chose to rest after exploring town and Songkaran in Ko Tao

Summer Chillers

If you want to experience the same, as i did, do pick this package called the Summer Chillers, and learn a new way of life under water!

You Know What We Did This Summer? | Temple Bay Tales | Part 2

This is the second in series of my trip to GRT Temple Bay in Mahabalipuram. I challenged a North Indian friend, who said there’s nothing to do near Chennai in the summers. I told him I could transform his life through experiences on a Saturday and Sunday. Lets dive in to the series! If you have landed directly here, Read Part-1 and Part-0 for context!

Getting to Breakfast

Soon after we finished cycling, we went over and had our breakfast at the Water’s edge cafe. It was a good spread, but we were late and needed to finish it before they close. One thing we observed was that due to the searing heat, seats near the glass area were less air-conditioned than the ones inoculated from the heat. The summer is usually un-relenting for a body that is not used to such heat, and we had to find a cozy corner where the effect of the sun, does not eat into the air-conditioning.  I had a couple of fruit juices along with Idli/Dosa and bread for my breakfast.

All Terrain Vehicle Ride

I had told Tej about the ATV ride at the beach, and we wanted to go and try it out. Both of us were excited about speeding in the sand, and turning at angle, throwing mud in the air. Some primal things as a kid, stay in our memory and pop up while outdoors like our wish lists.

Tej kicking up a dust storm with the ATV Ride
Tej kicking up a dust storm with the ATV Ride
Things to be Aware
  • These ATV machines need a strong grip to get used to. That may take about 5 minutes as the hands bonds with the controls. My ATV seemed to be inclined to curve right as opposed to go straight.
  • Tej was a little stronger than me, and he loved the ride on the sand. He went quite fast on the sand, and won the competition to ride better! But hey, never forget to have fun!
Tej driving the ATV at Mahabalipuram
Tej driving the ATV at Mahabalipuram
  • Secondly, the real fear is when you drive fast, what if you lose control and get into the sea. If the ATV gets into the sea, it will be a problem, as such devices/cars are not supposed to be in salt water, while they can otherwise be driven on wet sand.
The Ride

Do watch and check how our ATV Ride went!

 

The Ultimate Guide To the Velas Turtle Festival-Part 2

The Velas Turtle Festival is one of India’s premier destinations (apart from Orissa) for viewing the Olive ridley turtles hatch and head to the sea. The conducive environment created on the beach, helps female turtles trust and leave its eggs on this beach for it to hatch. The turtle conservation program also helps in everyone in this area being aligned to preserving and conserving turtles. It’s also India’s first formal program to stay in villages with the locals and then watch the turtles head out into the sea from the observatory.

This is Part 2. If you have come here directly, there was a Part-1 and a Part-0 too. Do have a look at the series before you start this.

Here’s an option if you are feeling lazy to thumb through the post in images.

  • The post and the video will have different content though the end story is the same.
  • The post talks about my experience and thoughts, while the video has the most important elements captured on camera from various angles
  • Only the video has elements on the history of the Velas Turtle Festival in an interview with Hemant Saldurkar- The organiser of the festival.
  • If I were you, I would watch the video and read further to let the mind check if what you imagined is the same as what I have written about to get a complete picture of what to expect if you are planning a trip to Velas.
Post Dinner on Day 1

I had a very fulfilling dinner, and also noticed that Nandu had eaten a little more than he does at home. I felt satisfied that he had adjusted to the place and was feeling comfortable.

After watching the documentary, he kept running around the house with some of the other kids, and at some point, he was forced to sleep, since the lights were switched off for everyone to sleep.

Some of the folks from Travel Trikon travel group, were playing some game sitting in a circle. I was ready to sleep, since it was beyond my sleeping time at 2130 back home.

Mats out on the mud flooring at Milind's Homestay-Velas Village (Maharashtra)
Mats out on the mud flooring at Milind’s Homestay-Velas Village (Maharashtra)

I was sleeping next to the biker couple from Mumbai, who kept getting up showing some signs of discomfort. I later realised that some of the mosquitoes were troubling them. I had slept with my jeans pant and did not have a problem as such luckily. The house had about 20 people sleeping in the portico of the house, by the mud floor. My only requirement, getting up, was to make sure my devices were charged and I could walk and find my slippers to either go drink water or to to the toilet, which was behind the house. I seemed to have a peaceful sleep, except for getting up a few times and finding my throat showing signs of catching cold. I just prayed and went back to sleep, hoping I would not fall ill.

In such places, under the stars and in a community environment, I tend to sleep deep, but I am also very cognisant of what is happening around me. I woke up without the need to switch my alarm on. I had woken up at about 5 am, after sleeping at 11 pm the pevious night, well rested and ready for the day ahead. It helps to wake up early when you have 2 toilets and 50 people who may compete for it. As soon as I was done with my ablutions, a state transport bus blared its horns and brought the morning load of tourists from Mumbai before the break of dawn. I just had to get my son to use the toilet before the queue started to build.

Milind and his helpers started serving tea, while a large portion of people were still asleep. Some of the portico lights were on. It was already 6 am. I hurried into packing my bag for the morning jaunt, which I heard was around 2 kilometres of walk to the Turtle hatchery.

Walking to the Hatchery

If I had known, that I could take my car and park it there, I would have taken the offer, but the lure of walking slowly through town and keeping an eye out for absorbing the beauty of the town at the crack of dawn. Walking with us were a couple of bird watchers, who were telling Nandu on what to observe. Nandu looked like he was listening and then proceeded to shift his attention elsewhere.

We were walking without actually knowing the route. There were a bunch of people also walking, but each of us without knowing the route managed to just copy each other and we reached a point, where there was a bridge.

If you had a car, you would park here, and get down from the bridge by the steps and then walk on a pathway to the beach.

The Parking spot on the bridge
The Parking spot on the bridge

This is a kilometre of walk with barren land on one side, and mangroves on the other.

Long Walk from the car park to the Turtle Hatchery at Velas Beach [Maharashtra-India]
Long Walk from the car park to the Turtle Hatchery at Velas Beach [Maharashtra-India]
After about 40 minutes we reached the beach, just in time for the morning hatchery procedures. I saw a team of 3-4 people who had gone near the sea to erect temporary structures which serves as boundary. I heard the team was a new team in place, since the earlier organiser Mr Upadhyay had moved to Anjarle (a village 2 hours away) to set up a new turtle hatchery there. The new team had taken a little more time than usual, is what I heard and they made their way back to the hatchery.

Morning Turtle Hatchery

As I settled around a corner, the organisers went in the hatchery, which is covered by a wire mesh on all 4 sides. It was like they went into a ring/den to communicate with their brethren. The crowd was gnawing at the wire mesh, trying to somehow not get a human or a wire in our view to see the turtle. It was here for these fleeting moments that the organisers felt like people with super powers. They come and do this twice a day, and at some point, I don’t even think they are having this thought that they have more access than the commoners. It’s their job and livelihood while the rest of us are here for amusing and entertaining our boorish selves.

With every basket they lift, there is either a chorus of disappointment or joy depending on whether a turtle made its way up in the soil to the top of the beach sand under the basket or whether it did not.

The Turtle Run

Once the turtles have hatched, then the organisers quickly wind up proceedings at the hatchery. They let each of the baby turtles get on to a bag, which is placed inside a basket and they transport them to the portion of the beach where they had erected the temporary chained boundaries.  The tourists watch them getting inside the sea.

Semi circular line for watching the Turtles go to sea!
Semi circular line for watching the Turtles go to sea!

The turtles are under intense scrutiny, as scores of SLR totting photographers are bending backwards to get the right angle, while some parents are doing a live video call with their brethren back home. That serves a mild reminder that 4G signals probably come at the beachThe experience ends with that, until it re- starts in the evening, which I enjoyed even more since more turtles came about

Google Maps- That Thing Turtles Don’t Use

The interesting thing to note is that years later, the turtles (if they are alive) find their way back to the same beach of their birth. I’ve heard that fascinating story to be amazed on how the turtles can find their way to exactly the same beach. The turtles use the invisible lines of the magnetic field. Humans at sea would probably use a compass or Google Maps to navigate their way, but turtles don’t need any navigation help. It is the same magnetic field signature that each place retains, which also helps the turtle find its way home. Here is a mathematical paper and article explaining the turtle movement according to the magnetic field.

We Make Babies, Not Family

I found it a little deviant behaviour, that a turtle lays its eggs and does not stay for its babies birthing or does not even know its babies, since it just seems to come and lay eggs. I am not sure a turtle ever can identify who its family are. Can it? If you know something about it, do comment.

Evening Run at the Hatchery

Our evening run was more fruitful. For one it was relaxed. We had seen turtles in the morning, so there was not this angst that this may be our last session (since we still had a session the next morning). This time, owing to the heat, Nandu and I drove in the car, and parked it some distance away from the parking spot, and walked our way to the hatchery.

The feeling when a turtle shows up when the basket is lifted is pure sense of elation. Its as if we are communally celebrating the birth of every turtle we see.

When Nandu got bored, he decided to jump into the sea!
When Nandu got bored, he decided to jump into the sea!

Once the turtles are taken into the wetter part of the beach, closer to the sea, it seems that the turtles have this pressure to go run and perform, but they don’t quite care about their new found celebrity status.

Turtles-Celebrity Life at Birth
Turtles-Celebrity Life at Birth
Turtle Finding its way into the sea!
Turtle Finding its way into the sea!
Sunset at Velas
Sunset at Velas

As the sun gave way to the moon, and the chill evening breeze started during our walk back, I could not help think of a perfect song for the evening mood

“Yeh Raatein Yeh Mausam, Nadi Ka Kinara, Yeh Chanchal Hawa”

“Yeh Kya Baat Hain, Aaj Ki Chandni Mein, Ki Hum Who Gaye”

Nandu holding a mobile light against his face, as we walk back under the full moon light to our parking spot
Nandu holding a mobile light against his face, as we walk back under the full moon light to our parking spot

By the time, we made our way back to car park, Nandu and I were tired. The walk also felt longer due to the number of people ahead of us and the fact that we were walking slowly, owing to a huge group in front of us. As we made our way to the car park, we noticed that a villager, had set up a mobile bhelpuri stall catering to the hunger pangs of the mass of tourists. Saturday evenings are probably the most crowded evenings in a week, during the season. I was tempted to try it out, but I realised I had not taken my purse, since I had worn my swimming trunks to the beach, knowing Nandu might jump into the waters, and I need to be around to have a safety watch around him. No Bhelpuri, but in a few minutes we would have the divine dinner, that was waiting for us at Milind’s home stay.

The Ultimate Guide To the Velas Turtle Festival-Part 1

The Velas Turtle Festival is one of India’s premier destinations (apart from Orissa) for viewing the Olive ridley turtles hatch and head to the sea. The conducive environment created on the beach, helps female turtles trust and leave its eggs on this beach for it to hatch. The turtle conservation program also helps in everyone in this area being aligned to preserving and conserving turtles. It’s also India’s first formal program to stay in villages with the locals and then watch the turtles head out into the sea from the observatory.

Day-1

Here’s an option- if you are feeling lazy to thumb through the post in images, here’s a link to the Vlog.

  • The post and the video will have different content though the end story is the same.
  • The post talks about my experience and thoughts, while the video has the most important elements captured on camera from various angles
  • Only the video has elements on the history of the Velas Turtle Festival in an interview with Milind Nijsure ( who runs the homestay)
  • If I were you, I would watch the video and read further to let the mind check if what you imagined is the same as what I have written about to get a complete picture of what to expect if you are planning a trip to Velas.
Zoom Car Economics

I booked a Zoomcar from Pune to get things started, after flying in earlier in the morning. Zoomcar has a pretty good procedure for renting its cars right from the Pune Airport(Extra 180 Rs as opposed to picking up the car from their Viman Nagar workshop). I remember taking a slow video of the car just to have an idea of dents (if any). I got an old Maruti Swift, as part of their compact car stable. Pune to Velas was about 190 kilometres. I did some calculation that I veer off a bit on day 2, and about 100 extra kilometres, I would roughly drive for about 500 kilometres. As a result I chose their base plan (8800 INR for 310 kms and INR 12 for every extra kilometre) as opposed to their other plan of INR 12400 for 620 kilomtres. I ended up doing 410 kilometres on the 3 day round trip, amounting to an extra 100 km(1200 INR) at the time of returning the vehicle. This included the cost of fuel (Diesel) which I never had to fill. I was told by Zoomcar staff, that their weekend prices are higher. If I had done this trip on a weekday, it would have cost me half. Point noted.  Additionally Zoomcar had a fine of 2500 everytime, you crossed 120 kmph. I thought it was a good scheme to make people drive their cars safer.

Feedback for Zoomcar– I ended up getting an old, and slightly dirty car. The air in the tyres looked suspect, as there was one part of the front tire that looked like a lump. A car mechanic, on the highway asked me to go slow, since that lump was suspect. The last thing I want is worry on a 3 day trip with flights out of Pune. Otherwise, the car was in good working condition.

The Drive

Once I reached Wakad, I had two options. I could either drive halfway to Mumbai and take a U Turn on a highway near Imagica Water Park, or I could take a left from Wakad (Outer Pune) on the state highway through the Tamhini Ghats. I chose the latter owing to a single road going almost all of the way till a village 30 km before Velas. I drove at about 30-70 kmph speed, owing to the fact that either the roads were small-potholed or these were curvy ascending paths into the hills.

The Mulshi Lake near Tamhini Ghat-Maharashtra
The Mulshi Lake near Tamhini Ghat-Maharashtra

The drive through Tamhini Ghats is beautiful, and I am told that in the monsoons, its even more beautiful. The Mulshi lake is one big lake, that takes a while to traverse, and there were signs advising people not to step into the marshy exteriors of the lake owing to snakes/crocodiles in the vicinity.  I stopped a few times, as I felt sleepy on the highway and for once, I stopped owing to the beautiful view of the sun’s rays on the Arabian sea. This was near Harihareshwar, viewed from a hill drive!

Beautiful View of the Konkan Coast-Harihareshwar
Beautiful View of the Konkan Coast-Harihareshwar

 

So after  about 4 ‘Chai’ breaks, I called Milind Nijsure (The Homestay owner at Velas), to ask about the route. Thank god, I did. I figured out that there is another Velas beach called Velas Agar which was the wrong place that I was heading towards. He asked me to find my way to Bagmandala- a ferry port

On my way to Bagmandala, I discovered that for large parts of these coastal tracts there were muslim settlements. I found that strange, since I thought coastal places, back in the days were invaded by westerners, and as a result Christianity on the coast got introduced in India. I don’t quite know, how so many people from a Muslim background came here. It would be interesting to know how they peregrinated here. In case you know, please do leave a comment!

Bagmandala Ferry Run
View of the Bagmandala ferry through my car
View of the Bagmandala ferry through my car

We had to slowly meander our way through a potholed road to arrive at the Bagmandala ferry. I went and purchased tickets. Rs 150 for loading the car into the ferry, and Rs 6 for each person. The view was beautiful but the impending action was scary. I had to do a reverse, and get down the slope to get into the ferry, and I had developed a neck strain from sleeping in a bad position on the morning flight, so I asked the ferry guy, if I could not do the reverse and drive into the ferry. He smiled and said, then I would have to do a reverse up the slope at the Velas/Bankot side of the ferry. I agreed, trying to postpone the inevitable. I thought, let me enjoy the ferry ride atleast. My friends Mehul and Ashfaq from Mumbai had recommended the ferry. As soon as I had parked the car inside the ferry, I was asked to come and sandwich the car between 2 heavy vehicles. Behind me was another heavy vehcile.  Checkmate! Stuck in the car for the rest of the ferry journey with no view, except that off the 3 heavy vehicles around me.

Jammed on all sides in the Bagmandala Ferry
Jammed on all sides in the Bagmandala Ferry
Vehicles behind me and front of me in the Bagmandala Ferry
Vehicles behind me and front of me in the Bagmandala Ferry

On the return journey, after a 10 minute ferry ride, I had my toughest test. Reversing the car on an incline upwards. Murphy’s law  will make sure that there will be one irritant person on a bike who does not move an inch, despite the honking. Those few moments tested my patience as a driver.

On the Road to Velas

The road post that is a small road, with inclines into a small town at Bankot, and from there on a mud road on the lower part of the cliff, overlooking the Arabian Sea. I got a lorry coming in the opposite direction, and I again had to go reverse down an incline and turn left, so as to allow the lorry to pass by. The local heavy vehicle drivers, don’t like giving way to other tourist cars. Maybe its a racial thing, with the bigger the size of your vehicle, the bigger is your ego while on the road. I struggled to get up on the road again, despite going on first gear, as the vehicle did not get enough momentum to go up and it went going down. I asked for help, and a couple of locals, helped put a stone behind my back tyre, so that helped me go up. Thank god for small mercies!

We then passed the sea, and it was beautiful driving past the sea on one side, as we slowly rode on whatever was left on the path.

View of the route by the sea to Velas Village (from the car)
View of the route by the sea to Velas Village (from the car)
Aerial View of the route by the sea to Velas Village
Aerial View of the route by the sea to Velas Village

We reached Milind’s house in a short while, but we did stop a few times. The GPS went kaput after a while, due to a lag, and I was not exactly sure of Milind’s house, since once you enter the village, the road is small, and you have no room for a U turn, unless you go some distance, and there are vehicles constantly on the move, so it could mean developing some patience.

Home! Home! Home!
Reaching Milind's House-Velas Village
Reaching Milind’s House-Velas Village

I felt a chest thumping ‘Yabba Dabba Do’, as soon as Milind confirmed his house. I had to park it temporarily at an angle in front of Milind’s car, until a state transport bus came by and thundered for it to be removed. The best parking spots were behind and they were all taken. I had an instant connection with Milind’s house, owing to the mud flooring, and a portico. I went there and marked a portion of the portico, near the hay area to keep my slippers and luggage.

Milind's House Portico. My Luggage is right beside the hay
Milind’s House Portico. My Luggage is right beside the hay

Nandu found a few kids, and started to run around the house through all its rooms creating noise all around the house. This is exactly the kind of vacation I wanted. It was unravelling layer by layer and I was happy with what I saw. No AC, No room television (Milind has a TV with a Tata sky connection, but that’s more so to show documentary of the turtle conservation to people in the evening), No mobile signals. It was probably my 5th trip in less than 18 months with these parameters. (The previous ones being Flying Elephants in Andamans, Jagale Homestay in Coorg, Manveer’s Kitchen in Agonda(Goa), Sandeep’s homestay in Kerim-Terekhol(Goa) and now at Velas

Documentary Screening at Milind’s Home

Every evening when guests are there, Milind switches on his TV and plays a documentary on the Velas Turtle Conservation. It helps build context with the tourists that the focus of their trip is eco tourism and not enjoyment tourism. Out of the videos screened, i found parts of it on Youtube done by Shivani Mulekar and Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra

Documentary Screening at Milind Nijsure's house
Documentary Screening at Milind Nijsure’s house

I happened to meet a biker couple (Apoorv and Jennifer) and was speaking with them about the festival. Apoorv had already been in the evening to the beach, and was showing me some fabulous clicks of crabs on his SLR. I had reached Velas and missed the evening turtle hatchery session.

Life was beautiful and content! Dinner was starting to be served!

Dinner being served at Velas (Maharashtra-India)
Dinner being served at Velas (Maharashtra-India)

To read Part-2 head here

Picking your homestay
  1. I stayed at Milind Nijsure’s homestay, and it cost me around 3300 for 2 adults and a child- including stay and food (2 dinner, 2 Breakfast, 2 Lunches) from a Friday evening to Sunday Afternoon (3 pm).

You could call Milind at +91-8149753863 to plan your stay. He has dormitory rooms or separate rooms.

2.  I had visited the homes of Hemant and Sawant. You could book their homestay by calling the following numbers

Hemant/Priyanka Bhole- +91-9763795605

Sawant- (Number to be added)

Landline numbers of other homestay owners

Name Contact No. (Velas STD Code: 02350)
Mrs. Kavita Bagkar 220682
Ms. Priyanka Bhole 220689
Mr. Swapnil Dhareepkar 220562
Mr. Prakash Joshi 220570
Mr. Santosh Joshi 220511
Mr. Abhijit Kulabkar 220694
(M) 8975939484
Mr. Sham Kulabkar 220594
Mr. Siddhesh Kulabkar 220695/8446848540
Mr. Omkar Nijasure 220329 / 28 / 25

83083 60387

Mr. Milind Nijsure 220629/9421188487
Mr. Sameer Padlekar 220693/8652541817
Mr. Mandar Palshetkar 220674
Ms. Namrata Palshetkar 220674/9702400085/

8655891918

Mr. Nandkishor Patil 220561
Mr. Surendra Patil 220351/9225144816/

8805483264

Mr. Subodh Saldurkar 8975633185/7743830532
Mr. Amol soman 220279/9403574183
Mr. Ameya Srivardhankar 220543/673468839/9922534184/7350414759
Mr. Mohan Upadhye 220304/8975622778/

8983767388

Mr. Avinash Yadav 220545
 These members serve pure vegetarian food

The Ultimate Guide to the Velas Turtle Festival-Part 0

 

The Velas Turtle Festival is one of India’s premier destinations (apart from Orissa) for viewing the Olive ridley turtles hatch and head to the sea. The conducive environment created on the beach, helps female turtles trust and leave its eggs on this beach for it to hatch. The turtle conservation program also helps in everyone in this area being aligned to preserving and conserving turtles. It’s also India’s first formal program to stay in villages with the locals and then watch the turtles head out into the sea from the observatory.

 

It was early February in 2018, when I heard about the Velas Turtle Festival.  When I put the place ‘Velas’ on Google Maps, I realised that this was a place that was closer to Bombay or Pune, and was not a place to easily get to if you were from the Southern Part of India, unless you boarded a west coast super fast express that would stop in Ratnagiri.

Pune to Velas-Google Maps Information
Pune to Velas-Google Maps Information

Why Velas?

I wanted to take Nandu there, and see for himself, in an organised program of how turtle conservation happens, and as has been the theme since last year, I have preferred to take him to places without Television, mobile networks and air conditioning to primarily connect with people and nature. As much as it is a lesson for him, I too need the detox of staying away from digital screens through the day.

What did I expect?

I had seen some blogs and videos written about the place. The rural setting interested me, but since this trip was to be made in my son’s summer holidays, I was slightly worried if staying in a village would be a problem. I knew that there were turtle hatchery sightings twice a day and a few sights nearby if one wanted to drive around during the day.

What was my itinerary?

Day One– I planned to fly into Pune on a Friday morning, and take a Zoomcar from Pune to drive my way to Velas through a state highway route and settle into the homestay on Friday evening. If possible, I wanted to make it in time for the evening sighting.

Day Two– I planned to see both the sightings and if possible make time to visit Anjarle Beach/Harihareshwar Beach/Bankot Fort  nearby(Fun-Fact, I did not do any of these)

Day Three– I wanted to have my breakfast and then pack off on a slow drive to Pune to meet a friend of mine by evening , so as to catch my late night flight back home. (Fun-Fact, I started only at 3 pm and reached Pune at 9 pm)

The details of what I did is coming up as separate posts. But before that here’s a quick photo and write up on what to expect

Things to Know, that I wish I had planned earlier

Right Route– The drive from Pune to Velas, was through the Tamhini Ghat road is on a State Highway that snakes its way through hills. It also has a few kilometres of pot holed roads, which means you drive at 20-30 km/hr on those stretches. The drive though is  180 kilometres, takes around 6 to 6.5 hours.  The better route from Pune is to drive through Lonavala. More distance and lesser times, since there are better roads to drive. The state transport buses keep coming at you on these roads, and you need to know, who’s the king of the jungle in these parts!

Bus Ride on Tamhini Ghat Road from Pune
Bus Ride on Tamhini Ghat Road from Pune

Scenic– I had to make quite a few stops, while driving around the serenely beautiful Mulshi Lake. In the monsoons this place is even more magical.

The Mulshi Lake near Tamhini Ghat-Maharashtra
The Mulshi Lake near Tamhini Ghat-Maharashtra

Slow Down– If you want to slow down and enjoy village life, you really should not try to pack in other attractions in a 3 day trip. I just found living in the homestay, visiting the turtle beach and playing in the sea, more than a handful. I did not make any other trips in this 3 day period at all. I ended up meeting a few people in the village to know more about their turtle conservation efforts.

Parking– The road to many of these homestay is a narrow one, and you need to park your car in a way that other vehicles, namely state transport buses can pass through. Its advisable to come early before the crowds and find your spot which is walkable from the homestay

The narrow roads to Velas Maharashtra
The narrow roads to Velas Maharashtra

Food–  I stayed at Milind’s homestay and the food and hospitality was so good, that eating food and talking with strangers and sleeping at night on the mud floor (with a bedding layer) were things that I really enjoyed. I did not really feel like leaving the place.

Delicious morning Poha at Milind Nijsure's Homestay-Velas (Maharashtra-India)
Delicious morning Poha at Milind Nijsure’s Homestay-Velas (Maharashtra-India)

Sleep– Lying down with strangers and a view of the stars has to rank as a great experience. In a village most people are in sync with nature and sleep by about 10 pm. You need to pack your Odomos and sleep in a full pant. Men sleep outside while women and children sleep inside (Mosquitoes can visit quite a few times)

Mats out on the mud flooring at Milind's Homestay-Velas Village (Maharashtra)
Mats out on the mud flooring at Milind’s Homestay-Velas Village (Maharashtra)

Turtles

Given these turtles are the star attraction and the possibility of seeing them is dependent on how many decide to come out of the eggs, it could be 0 turtles or a few that day. Always keep a couple of sessions more than required just in case.

Turtle Hatchery in Velas
Turtle Hatchery in Velas

There will be a steady crowd at these places especially on weekends, so you will have to find your quiet corner to watch the turtles. Make friends with the local administration people to get closer to the turtle within the admissible limits.

Turtles being let out into the sea-Velas (Maharashtra-India)
Turtles being let out into the sea-Velas (Maharashtra-India)

I will leave you with a few montages of what to expect on my trip. There’s a detailed 3 part video and series  coming up.

If you want to know the preparation I did to come to the Turtle Festival, please check my podcast below with Shama Parveen on her blog

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Life on a Farm in Tamil Nadu

I had been last week to a farm house [Vaksana Farms] in Tindivanam (A place in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu) to catch up on a few things. I loved the way the house was in the middle of nowhere. The house was designed very well, including enough green cover around to keep the heat out.

The washbasins were made of curved boulders instead of bone china, and the tables were out made of rock. The house had a shade of functional Flintstone like life and modernity nicely blended

Natural Boulder Washbasin
Natural Boulder Washbasin [Image Courtesy-Kiruba.com]
Along with me were Gurpeet Tikku, Kiruba  [owns Vaksana Farms] and another family that had come there. Srinidhi Hande, was on a trip to Sparsa Resort and Sathanur dam, came visiting on Sunday evening.

 

Here’s presenting my weekend there in 60 seconds

Life on a Farm in Tamil Nadu Vaksana Farms
Life on a Farm in Tamil Nadu Vaksana Farms
Little Flowers falling on the Flintstones like table
Little Flowers falling on the Flintstones like table
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms
Discussing on Instagram
Discussing on Instagram
Lunch Time at the Farm
Lunch Time at the Farm
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms
Milking the Cow at Vaksana Farms

 

Staring at the evening sun for a selfie!
Staring at the evening sun for a selfie! With Kiruba’s dad, Retla and Srinidhi Hande with his spouse.
The farmers dancing to the tune of "Make Hay while the sun shines"
The farmers dancing to the tune of “Make Hay while the sun shines”
The art of Chilling-Sri Sri Kartik
The art of Chilling-Sri Sri Kartik

 

Blast From The Past- Exploring Anjanadri Hill (Hampi)-Part 2

 

If you ever hop on to Hampi, one of the places for a morning jaunt should be Anjanadri Hill. It’s a 570 steps from the base to the top of the hill and was about 3.5 kilometres from Anegundi. I had a local who gave me a lift at about 5:15 in the morning. The weather was good, with Cyclone Neelam just having visited earlier in the week, so it was largely overcast even an hour after sunrise.

[This post continues from Part-1]

Here’s a little photo blog on my experience climbing the hill, that overlooks plantain and paddy fields, with a top view of the boulders and the river that cuts across all of these fields. There is also the view of the Vithala and Virupaksha temple if you strain your eye or your zoom lens.

This place is best visited during the golden hours. I visited it for Sunrise. Since Hampi has a lot of hills, each of these places are great to travel and see them from the top during the golden hour.

The base of Anjanadri hill. A small shop display their 'Kolam' to start the day
The base of Anjanadri hill. A small shop display their ‘Kolam’ to start the day
View of Hampi from the crevices of Anjanadri Hill (Karnataka-India)
View of Hampi from the crevices of Anjanadri Hill (Karnataka-India)
The long winding 570 step stairway to Anjanadri Hill
The long winding 570 step stairway to Anjanadri Hill
Monkeys guarding Hanuman's hometown-Anjanadri Hill (Hampi-Karnataka-India)
Monkeys guarding Hanuman’s hometown-Anjanadri Hill (Hampi-Karnataka-India)
Beautiful view of the hill against the backdrop of dawn at Anjanadri Hill (Karnataka-India)
Beautiful view of the hill against the backdrop of dawn at Anjanadri Hill (Karnataka-India)
Beautiful Views of Hampi from Anjanadri Hill
Beautiful Views of Hampi from Anjanadri Hill
View of the Bhadravati River from the top of Anjanadri Hill (Karnataka-India)
View of the Bhadravati River from the top of Anjanadri Hill (Karnataka-India)

Other Blogs Talking about Anjanadri Hill

Sagar Sakre talks about how the Bhadravati river  cuts across 2 districts- Koppal and Bellary, and also about some attractions at the top of the hill like a floating rock.

Vasant.P talks about how Anjanadri Hill is one of the seven hillocks in this area and the significance of each of the hillocks.The seven hillocks are Kishkinda, Anjanadri, Matanga, Malyavanta, Rushyamukha, Hemakuta, Rathnakuta. He also mentions that Hanuman is revered by Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s wife had come here in 2014.

If you have written about the place, please do mention your link in the comments. I will be happy to feature it.

Getting Here

It’s a straight road from Anegundi. If you are coming from Bangalore, you need to drive towards the Chitradurga-Hospete direction and come to Anegundi.

 

Blast From The Past- Anegondi’s(Hampi) Rural Charms-Part 1

This post explores Anegondi, a small rural town on the banks of the Tunghabadra river in Hampi. This was from a trip in 2012, hence the series ‘Blast from the Past’ I thought it makes for showing the beautiful rural charms of India.

How did I decide to go? -I happened to read about Anegondi in an Outlook Traveller article [October 2012 edition] and immediately decided that this place would be a great weekend destination to go from Bangalore.  The train (Train # 16592) starts at 10 pm on Fridays from the city railway station and reaches Hospet/Munirabad the next morning by about 8 in the morning.

Robbery Central– The train passes through Hindupur/Dharmavaram, which is apparently a spot for frequent train robberies. I experienced a robbery in front of me, and could not catch the robber. My only advice is to pull down your train window (I travel Non AC Sleeper most of the times) and don’t encourage any stranger-without a reservation to sit in your vicinity (Those 6+2 seats). If you can travel in the AC compartments, it does create one extra layer against these train thefts.

Things of Interest- If you have time, try going to the following places during your stay at Anegundi

a) Anjanadri Hill– Birthplace of Hanuman (Coming up in Part-2)

b) Gangavathi- Another village 12 km from Anegondi. A circus operates there. Should be fun seeing these art forms from the yester years, given that we don’t see them enough in cities.

c) Long walk to the river. Just a beautiful walk through the country side.

d) Coracle Ride to the Temple side– To get to the beautiful Vithala and Virupaksha Temple

e) Chai-Chillum-Chappathi Trail– If you head to Virpappur Gaddi, say hello to the hippies. If they don’t wave back, they are probably on hash/Marijuana and on their own trip!

f) Odomos Trail– Mosquitoes have the best nightlife post sunset, so don’t plan too many activities in the evening that involves you being outside. Check with your host on the situation/season for mosquito menace.

Here’s a brief glimpse into my journey to Anegondi from Munirabad railway station in photos.

 

On an auto through the hills. From Munirabad to Anegundi
On an auto through the hills. From Munirabad to Anegundi

 

Home is not far away! Anegundi approaching!
Home is not far away! Anegundi approaching!
We slayed the hills on an auto! Cant imagine any other place where autos operate on a hill
We slayed the hills on an auto! Cant imagine any other place where autos operate on a hill
The beautiful fields and boulders enroute Anegundi
The beautiful fields and boulders enroute Anegundi

 

The scenic countryside enroute Anegundi
The scenic countryside enroute Anegundi
Hanuman's home town! There's only one boss here!
Hanuman’s home town! There’s only one boss here!
The beautiful portico of the Uramma Heritage Home in Anegondi (Hampi-Karnataka-India)
The beautiful portico of the Uramma Heritage Home in Anegondi (Hampi-Karnataka-India)

If you are on a budget and want to stay in a similar artistic property, you could try out Peshagar House, which is part of the same group.

The comfortable beds of Uramma Heritage Homes-Anegondi-Hampi
The comfortable beds of Uramma Heritage Homes-Anegondi-Hampi 
Beautiful and spacious rooms at Uramma Heritage Cottages
Beautiful and spacious rooms at Uramma Heritage Cottages

To book into the spacious cottages of Uramma, head here

If you want a guide and a detailed trip to some of the points, you could use my friend Basava (Call him at 9482328777), who is a tour guide roaming around in a Himalayan Enfield.

Read the next post which talks about the morning trip to Anjanadri Hill here

In The Land of Kurumba Tribes-Part 4-Reaching Tea Nest and Singara Estate

This post talks about a guided trek from Coonoor’s Singara Estate all the way down to Kurumba Village resort, going through the monsoon clouds, tea estates and little government buildings popping out of nowhere. The previous post talked about exploring the Toy Train ride to Ooty from the land of the Kurumbadis. If you’ve just arrived here, we’ve so far talked about how we arrived at Kurumba Village and spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village. 

In the evening, I managed to speak to the hotel manager ‘Jyotish’ about the possibility of a guided trek, who helped me arrange a trek with their resident guide. This needed to be planned as I had to arrive at Tea-Nest, a sister property of Kurumba Village which was about 20 kilometres away. I had to drive with one of the hotel staff early next morning till Tea-Nest, and then requested the staff to drive the car back to Kurumba Village. I would trek and come back to Kurumba village in a few hours.

So I woke up in the morning, and drove to Coonoor, where we would pick up our guide Srini (who spoke in a Malayali accent, but was actually from Mysore, who’s parents were settled in Coonoor).  The drive out on the mud-road is slightly challenging on the ascent, when you need to be on 1st gear, but otherwise its a straightforward drive to get to the main road.

Faith on a slateboard at Coonoor
Faith on a slateboard at Coonoor

We waited at a few points on the drive, to pause and take note of the beauty of the mountains. The sky was pregant with rain clouds, and the sun was threatening to find its away by showcasing an orangish gaze. The rain won the battle, and I had to get back in the car to focus on reaching Coonoor, so as to pick up our guide-Sreeni.

Beautiful view of mountains en-route Coonoor
Beautiful view of mountains en-route Coonoor

We reached Coonoor town by about 6:30 am, and were waiting for Sreeni- the guide from Nature Resorts. Sreeni arrived at 6:45 am, as he was walking and coming from his home, which was 5 km’s away. Sreeni is an active walker, who prefers walking from Coonoor to Mettupalayam, as its quicker to travel that way than get caught in the traffic jams that happen on weekends when travellers come in droves to Ooty.

Misty Morning in Coonoor
Misty Morning in Coonoor

We saw a beautiful ‘Thamburusi’ flower, which was having a beautiful contrast with the light mist, the green leaves and the dark clouds. The water-droplets on the flower, were like the fountain of youth dangling on them visually.

Flowers in bloom, amidst the morning mist
Flowers in bloom, amidst the morning mist

I had a cup of tea, and then started to walk on the trek. Stay tuned to Part-5 coming up soon.

Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek
Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek

Do have a look at the video where I reach Teanest, from the hotel. The videos always have a little extra than what I write.

 

 

 

In the Land of the Kurumbadi Tribes-Part 3-The Toy Train Ride to Ooty

Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek

This post talks about exploring the Toy Train ride to Ooty from the land of the Kurumbadis. If you’ve just arrived here, we’ve so far talked about how we arrived at Kurumba Village and spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village. 

Getting Ready for a Toy Train Ride

After a beautiful walk in the woods, I was planning a trip to Ooty just to show my son the Toy Train. I had previously booked tickets on the Toy Train knowing that I will be staying in ‘Kurumba Village’. The closest station is Hilligrove, but the toy train does not admit people there, even though it stops, so I had to drive in my car till Coonoor, which is about 14 kilometres. I had a train at 1630 IST which was to reach Ooty by about 1730. I thought the morning Toy train would take longer, but it looks like there are different trains with different speeds or maybe the trains have started to go faster since my last trips in 2010 and 2002. We packed for some biscuits, the Go-Pro Camera, my camera kit (DSLR and mobile with the smaller tripod).

Watch a video of my ride in the toy train

The Ride to Coonoor Railway Station

We passed by Kattery Park and Glendale Tea estate (from a distance) as we reached Coonoor. While I did not have enough time to stop over, for the fear that I may get caught in a traffic jam.There were some beautiful views of the mountains in the distance and we paused for a few moments at each place to take in the view, and then reached Coonoor by about 3:55 pm, and since it was a weekday, there seemed to be enough place to park my car in the railway station.

The Glendale Tea Estate when viewed from a distance enroute Coonoor
The Glendale Tea Estate when viewed from a distance enroute Coonoor

As we walked into the station, i noticed a train already waiting, and on checking with the TTE(Traveling Ticket Examiner), it was confirmed that this was my train, which had probably been advanced by about 30 minutes. I boarded the train in my little compartment that could house 6 people facing each other where 4 seats would have access to a window view.

 
 

From childhood, I’ve always fantasized being in a pocket sized train, which I can take anywhere I want. The cars of the early 19th century were like a small toy train compartment which had wheels on roads. Having got inside, I took the middle seat, and gave the window seat to Nandu, asking him to observe what he sees. We were to pass by tunnels and bridges (There are 250 of them on this route) and we were part of a beautiful blue carriage with large windows that was slowly chugging past a beautiful green landscape.

History of the Nilgiri Mountain Railways.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was thought by the British back in 1854 and it took about 54 years to plan and cut through the rocky terrain to make a train go through these mountains. The locals of this area frequently were used to find paths to walk between Ooty and Mettupalayam in an hour and still do. The Toy Train is used by migrant workers or for people who want a safer commute between little towns on the hills, but with the trains coming in 1908, it did make a huge difference to the way people could commute and transport materials.

The Steam locomotive that pulls from Mettupalayam(MTP) to Udhagamandalam(Ooty-UAM) stops over at Coonoor for a more powerful engine to pull through the hill side. The engines were using coal, but due to diminishing coal resources, the trains now fill water at each of the stations which gives enough fuel to get to the next station pulling a group of coaches.

The train has a rack and pinion arrangement for better grip on mountain paths, and as a result the maximum speed is about 13 km/hr on the rack path, and about 30 km/hr on the non-rack path. The metre gauge track runs for about 46 kilometres from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam

The Cinema connection to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The beautiful and simple mountain railways in ooty has attracted many cinema directors to shoot on this iconic railway line. The Tamil Movie ‘Moondram Pirai’ also remade in Hindi as ‘Sadma’ was shot here in 1982.

The other famous movie shot here was the Mani-Ratnam directed Uyire/Dil Se’. There were many more movies, that were shot here, but I have included the 2 most visually appealing film-makers who have shot here. The complete list is shown below in the appendix.

Our Experience on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway

On the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam
On the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam

The train’s doors were bolted by the TTE at the start of the journey. The train did not allow passengers to get down and amble around, and stops for about 45 seconds in each of the stations enroute (Lovedale, Ketti). This was a slight bummer, since there was a fast pace vibe to sitting in a slow train.  Our co-passengers and I would take turns to exchange views on windows. The train starts with views of betel trees, heads off into mild forests and then opens out into a valley view of tea estates, before passing by a lake by the side of the Udhagamandalam railway station.

We had booked our second class reserved tickets from Coonor to Ooty and had not booked our return tickets, since there was no train showing up on IRCTC. As a result, we had to get down and go buy tickets from the counter. The train stops for about 15 minutes at Udhagamandalam, and functions as a complete unreserved passenger train on the return journey to Coonoor. There is enough time left to go buy a ticket and find a place to sit, unless it happens to be a weekend, where there is expected to be a bigger rush.

Window seats on the unreserved journey back to Coonor
Window seats on the unreserved journey back to Coonor
Footboard View of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train
Footboard View of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train

On our return journey, the light started fading early, as mist started accumulating as the train slowly found its way into beautiful village with settlements built around railway stations.

Dusk, Rain and a forlorn railway station as the evening and night start talking
Dusk, Rain and a forlorn railway station as the evening and night start talking

Every time a tunnel came, it would automatically prompt the younger crowd of tourists to yell until the tunnel found light. The train ride in the evening was sleepy at best due to the fading light and we reached Coonoor, being happy enough to drive back to our resort, albeit feeling a little drained.

As much as I expected Nandu to feel entertained, he was falling asleep by the chill evening wind

Unreserved Passenger Train from Ooty to Coonor
Unreserved Passenger Train from Ooty to Coonor

Other Media on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Ooty

Here’s a big list of movies shot in Ooty, apart from the ones I have shared.

Ajay Jain of Kunzum, travels and shares his experience in a detailed photo blog, as part of his Arabian Drive.

Amit talks about a detailed road trip  + Toy Train

Sam and Sheena actually managed to put their cycle on the train. I found some very useful info on the intricacies of booking tickets, from their blog.

Planning your Trip on the Nilgiri Mountain Rail Toy Train from Mettupalayam to Coonor/Udhagamandalam

  • You could opt to book waitlisted tickets from a railway counter or on IRCTC, but that would mean uncertainty till the last minute.
  • There are 21 tickets sold in person on the morning of the journey. So if you can get to Mettupalayam really early before the rest of the crowd comes in, you can find a hack to book your tickets. But do remember, that these are small trains, and if you are using them at the start of your journey with heavy luggage, then it may be tough. There is a parcel van for one of the trains, which has a separate office to book your luggage. Do come early to avail of this facility
  • If you are with a large group, make sure every member of the group is with you during booking tickets, otherwise the ticket booking person is unlikely to book it since there is a huge demand
  • Ooty/Coonoor are in Tamil Nadu, which for a large part is a very hot and humid state. People from various parts of Tamil Nadu flock to ooty on the weekend, to have better weather and to treat their kids to a toy train ride. If you are planning a weekend trip, do try and club it with a Friday or a Monday, and keep your train ride on weekdays, if you have not planned in advance. There are not more than 50 seats on the train, and its extremely tough to get reservation unless you book early or reach the railway station line on the day of the journey (being the earliest). Most people come here by the Nilgiri express train from Coimbatore, so you will need to make sure you are ahead in the line, by reaching earlier than them to get ahead on the line. The train reaches Mettupalayam at 6:15, so you need to beat them to be earlier than them. 4 am maybe to be first in the line.
  • If you travelling from Bangalore, you would enter Ooty first and then come to Mettupalayam(unless you want to take the salem-avinashi-mettupalayam route longer by 100 kilometres but with pristine 5th gear worthy highways).  It’s always better to arrive in the hills, and then keep the ride as an attraction, than to use the trains as a means of commute on your journey start or end, since there is not too much space for luggage.

In the Land of the Kurumbadi Tribes-Part 2

This post talks about how we spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village.  The previous post talks about how we arrived at Kurumba Village .

Night Walking in the Forest

As the evening paves way to the night and the winter chill sets in, I walk across the stone path from the dining place to my room. I can hear sounds of bats and crickets, and I find that the stone path zig zags a bit and goes down a considerable distance. I leave it for the day to explore, as it seems a little scary at night, and there’s a light drizzle that’s just picking up. I decide to come back post the rains, and discover that the path down basically goes to a beautiful tree house. There is a ‘buggy service’ for transporting guests to different parts of the resort, and I am far away from a resort staff at 9 in the night, and my phone is in the room, so I just walk back quietly. I am told that sometime elephants do come into the resort as the forest blends into the resort. As long as we don’t mess with the elephant, it will come by and go further down the hill, without really bothering about you.

Jaywalking at Night in the stone path within the resort at Kurumba Village
Jaywalking at Night in the stone path within the resort at Kurumba Village

On the Kurumbadis

The next morning I wake up early, and look at some of the paintings that adorn the wall of each of the rooms.  I also ask around, and figure out that the Kurumbas were hunters and gatherers, and usually exchange goods and services with the other 2 tribes. The Kurumbas had small dwellings with a garden patch, growing bananas, mangos and jackfruit. Most of their settlements have seen migration from the higher reaches of the nilgiris to just above the plains, owing to de-forestation. Some of the Kurumbadi tribes in the region, work in the ‘Kurumba Village’ resort. It is also said that the Kurumbas are known for their sorcery, but this yet to be verified. This website, talks a bit about the Kurumbas. If you happen to know a little more, do help me gather information by commenting on the post.

Painting/Sketchings of the lives of the Kurumbadi Tribes
Painting/Sketchings of the lives of the Kurumbadi Tribes

Planning the day ahead

At breakfast, Nandu and I decided to plan our day on what each of us wanted to do. I wanted Nandu to travel on the toy train and also attend a class on environment with the in-resident. Nandu wanted to play and read something on the hammock. So I had to sit and plan the day out. I wanted to go on a little hike with the in-house guide, who advised me on a hike nearby but he clearly said kids cant do the hike, so I postponed that plan to the next day to be done, when Nandu was sleeping.

Scenic Breakfast View at Kurumba Village Resort
Scenic Breakfast View at Kurumba Village Resort
Dining against the backdrop of the Bakasura Mountains
Dining against the backdrop of the Bakasura Mountains

So the plan for the day was to start with some hammock time, picking a couple of books from the room(Each room comes with a little library of books, apart from a library at the reception). It was initially a little tough trying to balance 2 bodies on the hammock, but once we settled down, it seemed a very relaxing thing to do.  Nandu went in first,  trying to play on the mobile, to discover that there was no network and no Wifi for him.

The lure of the hammock in a forest-Kurumba Village Resort
The lure of the hammock in a forest-Kurumba Village Resort
Morning Story Telling
Morning Story Telling

Naturalist Tour for kids, inside Kurumba Village

A resident naturalist called Dinesh, takes kids on little tours inside the resort and introduces them to the animals inside and gives them an introductory lesson on how children can get closer to the environment. I decided to follow them from a distance to try and see what Nandu learns, since I was trying to teach him something similar on our trip to the Andamans

Spot that Bird There!
Spot that Bird There!

Dinesh decided to divide the session into 2 parts. Nandu was with Rohan, another kid staying at the resort, and both of them had to go collect leaves and twigs from around the resort. After they had got about 5 leaves, they needed to pick up a paper and create a little art form by sticking the leaves on paper. While paper dried, Dinesh would take them around the resort, talking about the birds in the vicinity, spotting animal footmarks, learning to stay still and hug a tree, and about the Kurumbadi village. I was lapping all of what Dinesh was saying, staying happy that Nandu found an interesting activity to engage himself in.

Ambling our way within the resort (Kurumba Village)
Ambling our way within the resort (Kurumba Village)
Nandu reaching out for the adhesive at the Children-Activity center at Kurumba Village Resort
Nandu reaching out for the adhesive at the Children-Activity center at Kurumba Village Resort
Children's activity centre overlooking a beautiful view of the forests at Kurumba Village Resort
Children’s activity centre overlooking a beautiful view of the forests at Kurumba Village Resort
Tree Hugging Excercise at Kurumba Village Resort
Tree Hugging Excercise at Kurumba Village Resort

The tree hugging exercise is a beautiful excercise that teaches kids that the tree is our mother and feeling the vibes that flow from nature to us humans. One needs to spend about 5 minutes in silence trying to hug the tree, feeling the bark of the tree (preferably blindfolded as your senses of touch are heightened). Nandu is a kid who is high on energy, and it was a brief break to pause and connect with nature. I intend to do more such trips, that helps him connect with nature and grow up to be a environmentally conscious traveller.

The last time Nandu and I did this in the Andamans, I got an award from Indiblogger for being the best blog talking on the environment. While it was encouraging to see external people realising its importance, I realize these are still baby steps towards making him an environmentally conscious traveller, but If you have any ideas that could help and sustain learning, please do comment and let me know.

Nandu collecting all the twigs and sticking them in his slam book
Nandu collecting all the twigs and sticking them in his slam book
Kurumba Village certifies Naturalist Nandu
Kurumba Village certifies Naturalist Nandu

This series continues in Part-3

Have a look at Kurumba Village’s facilities

 

If you cant wait, and need a little highlights reel on what to expect in the other parts, do watch this below video

Cost of Staying

The resort is priced above 12,000 INR onwards on its rooms, and it differs depending on the room type. Browse through their website to book directly

Best Time to Go

There is no best time for a place steeped in the hills, but if you can just before the Europeans come here for their winter season (Dec-February), the resort is flush with the freshness of the onset of the North East Monsoon(Oct-Nov) and the Pre monsoon showers (June-September)

Getting There

From Chennai– You could take the train 12671 to Mettupalayam via Coimbatore and then take a taxi from there to the resort. If you are flying down, take a taxi from the Peelamedu airport in Coimbatore.

From Bangalore-The best way is to drive, through Mysore and Gudalur into Ooty, Coonor and then Kurumbadi, but if you dont prefer the hills, you can drive through Salem, Erode, Avinashi keeping the ghat roads to a minimum of 14 kilometres. For those flying or taking a train, you need to come to Coimbatore to then take a taxi.

From anywhere else in India-Fly in to Coimbatore and take a taxi/train to Mettupalayam

To get to Kurumba Village, its best you travel on your own in your vehicle. Whether you travel on your own or take a taxi for your rides, it should be another 6000-7000 Rs on your driving costs at the minimum.

If ever you wish to be adventurous, the way to do that is to take the train at Mettupalayam and get down at HillGrove, and trek down into the Kurunji flower areas, cross a little waterfall hoping you dont slip, and you will find yourself in 20 minutes at the resort. I dropped my S7 Edge into the waterfall, but thankfully my phone can remain in water undisturbed.

The resort has only BSNL signals, so if you have anything else, it makes sense to call the resort from Mettupalayam/Coonor for directions, as there is no easy signboard to spot on your left, where you need to make a V shaped turn down the valley. If you are not sure how to drive down or drive up a hill, it helps if you can drive in 1st gear or get a driver who is at ease with driving in the hilly regions.

 

In the Land of the Kurumba Tribes-Part 1

Tribes– Seth Godin describes them as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea”. I was out to live in a forest but in the comforts of a proper resort, in the land of a tribal village called Kurumbadi, where the Kurumbas live. The Kurumbas, Toda’s and Kota’s are the three prominent tribes in the Nilgiri area, presumably  believed to have originated from 3 sons named that way, who went on to develop tribes from their family tree. With this little history, I set off on my trip to the land of the Kurumbadis

If you dont have the time, to read further, try watching the video that tells our story. If you have the time reading the post further on is probably the best experience.

The Route to Mettupalayam

The weather near Salem turned slightly overcast, as I stopped for a driving break. I could see some hills from the A2B restaurant, which had considerable cloud cover. I knew I had to be a little mindful of rain enroute, and of course on roads that might not have a whole lot of tar on it. The other thing that worries me on drives are usually battery levels on the phone, since I use it to speak and also for navigation. The folks from ‘Kurumba Village’ called me a day in advance to tell me directions as Airtel signals dont work from Mettupalayam all the way till Coonoor, and Kurumbadi is exactly between these places, where I need to discover a mud path going down from the hill, 30 degrees to my left.

I had great roads till the Avinashi Byepass, after which I had to slow down on a state highway to Mettupalayam. As I turned on my phone from the slumber of the ‘flight mode’, a slow drizzle started and my car’s windows were starting to become dotted with drops. Its a beautiful feeling to be in a closed cozy car, when its raining outside. I started the drive, looking at the betel plantations on either sides of the toy train track that was running parallel to the road that took me on the ascent to the nilgiri hills.

The monsoon cometh- Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu
The monsoon cometh- Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu

Rain and Hair-pin bends

In about half-an hour, after a few hair pin bends, and some drizzle, I was feeling at home driving in the hills, when I realised that I had probably missed the turn down. I slowed down, stopped and walked a bit back to check and luckily I had gone only about 150 metres ahead of the left turn. I managed to turn back and find the road down, with a little trepidation. For a first timer, to drive a heavy car down a part-mud-part tar road filled with leaves, is scary, as you dont quite know the terrain. The hotel was still 500 metres away down that road. I settled for the comfort of the second gear, to just have a light grip on the accelerator, as I passed by homes of the hotel staff into the forest in a single road, which went down after a couple of curves into the entrance.

Getting to Kurumba Village

I had the hotel staff waiting for me, with their traditional ‘Vanakkam’, post which I was led to my room by one of the staff members.The Kurumba Village resort, was set up in 1996 and it took about 4 years to get all the permissions, and then by the time, it was complete for bookings, it was 2004. It takes some amount of patience to build a hotel, that’s a work of art, and the biggest compliment I could give it, was that it did not feel like I was in a resort, but in a forest where there were homes in random places along the stone walk.

Our room opening to a private garden and hammock-Kurumba Village Resort
Our room opening to a private garden and hammock-Kurumba Village Resort

Next to my room, was a private little garden surrounded by plants and a hammock, while each roomed adorned a painting of the tribes of the Nilgiris. The room had a valley view, opening out to the magnificence of the Bakasura mountains. The drive to the place was worth it. There were no telephone signals and there was a very bleak wifi. Not bad to just observe silence and connect with nature. With the resort basically being tucked in on a mountain, and near a waterfall, TataSky was going to have some problems coming properly. That was our only connection to the outside world, and when it rained the TataSky looked like a 1990’s video streaming on a dial up connection. The disconnection to the distraction of the modern world was well set up. I did not quite mind the situation, as I went over to the restaurant to have lunch.

Our room at Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu
Our room at Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu

As I sat there, gorging the hara bhara kebabs, the clouds were floating right above me, since the restaurant has this edge-of-a-cliff feeling. My son gasped at the size of the mountains, even as he was enjoying his meals, looking at the uniquely designed fork that was glistening against the table with its art form. After a long lunch, we just preferred to stare at the clouds and the mountains, as the evening light faded and the rain started to pour. Life was beautiful.

 

Edge of the Cliff Dining-Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu
Edge of the Cliff Dining-Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu

 

Read more in Part-2 of the adventure. If you cant wait, and need a little highlights reel on what to expect in the other parts, do watch this video

 

Cost of Staying

The resort is priced above 12,000 INR onwards on its rooms, and it differs depending on the room type. Browse through their website to book directly

To get to Kurumba Village, its best you travel on your own in your vehicle. Whether you travel on your own or take a taxi for your rides, it should be another 6000-7000 Rs on your driving costs at the minimum. If ever you wish to be adventurous, the way to do that is to take the train at Mettupalayam and get down at HillGrove, and trek down into the Kurunji flower areas, cross a little waterfall hoping you dont slip, and you will find yourself in 20 minutes at the resort. I dropped my S7 Edge into the waterfall, but thankfully my phone can remain in water undisturbed.

Best Time to Go

There is no best time for a place steeped in the hills, but if you can just before the Europeans come here for their winter season (Dec-February), the resort is flush with the freshness of the onset of the North East Monsoon(Oct-Nov) and the Pre monsoon showers (June-September)

Getting There

From Chennai– You could take the train 12671 to Mettupalayam via Coimbatore and then take a taxi from there to the resort. If you are flying down, take a taxi from the Peelamedu airport in Coimbatore.

From Bangalore-The best way is to drive, through Mysore and Gudalur into Ooty, Coonor and then Kurumbadi, but if you dont prefer the hills, you can drive through Salem, Erode, Avinashi keeping the ghat roads to a minimum of 14 kilometres. For those flying or taking a train, you need to come to Coimbatore to then take a taxi.

From anywhere else in India-Fly in to Coimbatore and take a taxi/train to Mettupalayam

The resort has only BSNL signals, so if you have anything else, it makes sense to call the resort from Mettupalayam/Coonor for directions, as there is no easy signboard to spot on your left, where you need to make a V shaped turn down the valley. If you are not sure how to drive down or drive up a hill, it helps if you can drive in 1st gear or get a driver who is at ease with driving in the hilly regions.

In search of Kumbakonam’s Famed ‘Degree Coffee”

I make the transition from the 4th to the 5th gear, when I see signs of Kumbakonam Degree Coffee on the Chennai-Bangalore highway near Kanchipuram. The Coffee that they serve is usually passable, to the point that it helps you refresh on a car ride, and then you get back to driving. While I have seen spurious copies of the Kumbakonam Degree Kaapi, I always wondered whether I would anytime be able to amble by for an original filter coffee/Degree Coffee at Kumbakonam. I found an opportunity recently, and I thought I should get to the right place to have the coffee. So I set out in an auto from the bus stand to the Venkkatramana Hotel, which I was told was the best place to sample the ‘Degree Kaapi’

What is the Degree Kaapi? Why is it called so?

Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam
Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam

Coffee is a mix of Decoction and Milk, and the Degree Coffee is basically using the first decoction of the day, with boiled milk at a particular temperature around 110 degrees (and hence the ‘Degree’ in the name). The first decoction is also sometimes called as the first degree. Quora has an interesting thread, that also says that chicory was mis-pronunced as Tikery and that came to be known as degree. The decoction comes from the Arabica and Robusta Coffee beans. Apparently Coffee came to India from Yemen in the 1600’s and the Coffee at Venkkatramana hotel comes through ‘Mohan Coffee Works’ which makes the powder, after sourcing it from the hilly tracts of Chikmaglur in Karnataka.

People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam
People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam

WikiPedia also mentions this on Filter coffee- ” The upper cup is loaded with freshly ground coffee. The grounds are then compressed (i.e., tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup’s pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one has to tamp the coffee to retain the same extraction. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory holds on to the hot water a little longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the coffee grinds.

The resulting brew is generally much stronger than Western drip/filter coffee, and often stronger than even espresso.”

Where is Kumbakonam?

Kumbakonam is a temple town in Tamil Nadu by the Cauvery river known for its temples. It’s also the hometown of the famous mathematician Ramanujam. Kumbakonam plays host to the ‘Mahamaham’ which is held once in 12 years (very similar to the Maha Kumbha Mela with a rythmic 12 year cycle)

Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)

In Search of the ‘Degree Kaapi’

I figured out that there were 4-5 places one could go to for sampling the ‘Degree Coffee’ in Kumbakonam. There is Murali’s Cafe, Krishna Bhavan, Mangaleshwara Cofee Hotel and Venkkatramana Hotel if you want to have the Coffee directly. If you want to take home some memories there is Venus Coffee Shop and Mohan Coffee Works. I chose the last hotel in each of  lists, as I was recommended this by the local auto-driver

The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam
The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam

I hear the first destination to sample the Coffee was 10 minutes away. The auto driver, drove with an air of superiority as if he was the crowned prince who was steaming down his private road, passionately muttering things about the little lanes we pass by. I also hear him put together a temple package for the evening. I nod my head and say, we’l see. As it turns out he chose to assist me filming at the venue, in return for some coffee and tiffin.

Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel
Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel

Venkkatramana Hotel- Go For the Coffee

We met the Venkkatrama hotel’s proprietor who tells me about the history of how the Pasumpon Coffee Club used to have fresh cow’s milk early in the morning and how that used to lend a special taste as the decoction added was the first one. Usually the taste withers off with the second and third decoction, and that’s where the difference in taste happens. The earliest person to make this was Panchapakesa Iyer, who used to own cows and start making the first brew available at his Lakshmi Vilas hotel as early as 5 am. Over time, there have been more people from the Iyer community of Tamil Nadu who have set up shops, but there are only a few in operation, including the Venkkatramana hotel.

Do watch him and my experience with the Degree Coffee in the below video.

 

K-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel
M-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel

Post the ‘Degree Kaapi’ experience at Venkkatramana hotel, I proceeded to Mohan Coffee Works to go buy some coffee back home for my father, as he loves the powder from this store.

Buying Coffee Memories for Home- Mohan Coffee Works

Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand

 

The Coffee machines usually aim to ground 100 grams of the beans to around 80 grams of coffee powder. Usually this is an indication of very high quality, but its probably for the connoisseurs of this special taste of Coffee. This process is called roasting and after the heating is done, its advisable that the powder cools for 5-10 minutes, else the powder is half baked.

Chicory is added for colour before the Coffee powder is lapped by customers. However the beauty of the ‘Degree Kaapi’ is the heating up of the un-diluted milk to 110 degrees, and then mixing it with pre-heated decoction

I signed off from Kumbakonam, after making my bag pregnant with 4 packets of Coffee powder, and promised to come back for more to explore this little town. I am interested to go to the nearby temples on my own pace, and I hope to come back to Kumbakonam to just be able to do that over the weekend.

 

 

ˆ

 

Winner-IndiBlogger Awards 2017 (Environmental Photography)

On the 30th of December, just as I was finishing up lunch, with my mother being satisfied that the rice bowl was completely empty, I saw a Facebook tag by Srinidhi Hande, that I was also a winner in the IndiBlogger awards for 2017. It was a pleasant feeling to know that I had won, amidst finishing a lazy lunch.

Winner of The Indian Blogger Awards 2017 - Society, Good Living & India

Katchutravels(Kartik Kannan) winning the #IBA Indiblogger Awards 2017 for the Environmental Photography
Katchutravels(Kartik Kannan) winning the #IBA Indiblogger Awards 2017 for the Environmental Photography

Watch it below on Youtube. There are a lot of award categories, so this is a 6 minute video. If you have the time, I would recommend you to follow and know about other talented bloggers who won.

If you want to fast forward to mine point the cursor to between 3:10 and 3:20

It looks like the awards have been conducted well in the sense that its come from a great jury, and transparent process of recommendations, without a lot of the spurious awards that lie like the Liebster award which makes a mockery of the whole process of awarding great content. Srinidhi Hande too echoes the same feelings as a winner on the 2017 Indiblogger awards

In 2017, I had spoken about 3 trips that I had undertaken in

  • Thailand– Finding paradise in nature and embracing local culture and festivals. It always works better than alcohol and chemical induced fun on trips.
Playing in the waters of 'Paradise Waterfall'-Thailand
Playing in the waters of ‘Paradise Waterfall’-Thailand
  • Andamans– Simple tips on Andamans Travel with my son, to teach him the importance of responsible travel and respecting nature.
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
Nandu saying NO to Plastics
Nandu saying NO to Plastics
    • Coonoor– Here’s a small trailer. This is coming up later in Jan 2018 on my blog.

 

 I had spoken about how one can really be in sync with the environment to enjoy travel rather than following a bucketlist of places to check-in on Facebook. Here’s more to exploring the world, and being in sync with nature and teaching the next generation to embrace nature rather than Wifi/AC/Indulgences. Here’s to a more connected-to-nature in the years to come!

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.

Don’t go and tell everyone about this place. There are way too many Indians who spoil beaches in Goa, coming with an alcohol bottle in hand, in search of the mythical nude beach that exists on google searches. They come, gawk and stare at people in beach beds in frustration of not finding what they come for.

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.

Things to do in Agonda (Near Cola)

If you are looking to know more about Agonda itself and what one can do around, do refer my earlier travelogue on Agonda

Part-1(Where I wake up to couples kissing and settle down in Jar-dim-a-Mar)

Part-2 (Where I take a walk around Agonda beach’s structures and characters)

Part-3 (Where I take a morning boat in the Arabian see and spot dolphins and check out Honeymoon Island)

Part-4 (Where I relax in the ‘Castaway’ comforts of Butterfly Island)

 

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.

I wonder when Rama would have come. Did he come here with Sita or did he backpack alone with Lakshman? Given Goa is close to Hampi(which is next door to Kishkinta where Sugreeva, Vaali and Hanuman lived), I am surmising that Rama must have come here while searching for Sita on his trip from Panchavati to Rameswaram enroute Sri Lanka, since the sequence is North to South. Any one has an alternate version?

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

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 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.