Tag Archives: India

Kayaking And Camping In Mulki (Konkan Coast)-Part-3

This road trip features a trip to India’s beautiful western coast to Mulki (Near Mangalore) in the Konkan belt, including a camping and Kayaking trip across the Shambhavi river. Read Part-1 and Part-2 here if you landed on this post directly.

Siesta, Not Quite

As I tried sleeping harder, my father called me to generally check, where we were. I told him about the mishap with the car and the spectacles and asked him, if he could get on a bus and come here to Mulki to drive us down back home. So I had to book tickets on the limited 4G signal, and I ended up booking the tickets twice, since I entered my age for my dad’s ticket. Sleepy, but not quite in slumber, I re booked the ticket on KSRTC and then just when I thought I could sleep, the other folks got up, to be in time for the next evening paddle trip to the nearby Palimar Dam.  I looked at Nandu, who was fast asleep. Waking Nandu up requires a few minutes of cajoling, unless there is a Spiderman movie coming right now. I took 10 minutes to wake him up, and took him to the washroom to wash his face and pick up our dry bag to take the minimum items on our paddle. Nandu was paired with Movin from KayakBoy, while I paired myself with Rakesh on the kayak.

Getting Ready for Palimar Dam

Given that not everyone was coming, I decided to find a new coloured kayak and a new paddle. I was waiting for my arms to ache, as i warned by friends that Kayaking can be heavy on the arms, but surprisingly, I was perfectly fine, without any sore arm. I was just sore in my mind, about being partially blind, without my spectacles.

Movin from KayakBoy getting ready
Movin from KayakBoy getting ready

 

Kayaking with Rakesh to Palimar Dam
Kayaking with Rakesh to Palimar Dam

A few minutes of Kayaking with Rakesh, and I started to be mentally be a little more relaxed, and connected back with nature. The milder evening sun and an enthusiastic bunch of people to travel with, also made the mood lighter. We reached the dam in about 15 minutes of Kayaking at about 5 pm. The check-dam had water spurting through it, and apart from the layers of moss near it and the few rocks below, one had nothing to fear. So, I had to make sure Nandu, just followed a bunch of steps and precautions to make sure, we find a safe spot to enjoy the evening sun.

Nandu wanted to swim over the dam with his life jacket on, so it took some convincing to say that its not a good idea, and he had to stay near all of us. I guess I made it up, by allowing some extended time at the check dam point, where he enjoyed it.

Nandu waiting with glee to jump into water at Palimar Dam (Near Mulki in Konkan Karnataka)
Nandu waiting with glee to jump into water at Palimar Dam (Near Mulki in Konkan Karnataka)
Sitting on the Check Dam in Pallimar (Mulki on the Konkan Karnataka part)
Sitting on the Check Dam in Pallimar (Mulki on the Konkan Karnataka part)
Bathing in the check-dam at Palimar (Near Mulki in Konkan Karnataka)
Bathing in the check-dam at Palimar (Near Mulki in Konkan Karnataka)

The sun sets on the beach, but we were not able to make it since it took a while for most of us to leave the charm of the Palimar Dam. But before we left most of us made the most of a beautiful evening by jumping and bathing in the waters.  It was easier paddling during the sunset to get back to the camp.

Paddling back to the camp at Mulki
Paddling back to the camp at Mulki
Nearing the Camp after sunset
Nearing the Camp after sunset

Campfire and Dinner

 

Feeling Warm on a winter evening in Mulki
Feeling Warm on a winter evening in Mulki (PC: Rakesh Rajan)

The evening session was very relaxed and started with the fire being lit. Close to it was a barbecue being done by Sushant from Kayakboy. We all started playing a game, by introducing ourselves and saying 2 truths and a lie about us. Most of us failed miserably at the lying part, but it was good fun trying to know people.

The fear of mosquitoes was there, but I don’t remember being mobbed by them, as I was comfortably seated on the trekkinng chairs (the ones you get at Decathlon), and listening to everyone talk. The campsite is basically the open garden (and a very large one) of a local’s house, so I went in every now and then to charge my devices.

It was beautiful looking at the fire below and the night sky above with stars, out of a little patch of land surrounded by tall trees all over.  Dinner was served in a while, with Rice/Rotis and a vegetable curry. The best part however was the remnants of the butter milk they gave in the afternoon. I retired to bed at about 1030 pm, to sleep well, and wake up at 5 am, so as to manage time at the toilet. 2 toilets and 40 bums to compete with is a challenge I would not put my stomach to, early in the morning, so I’d rather sleep early.

I went inside the tent, and curled into my sleeping bag, with my phone by my side, content that I had managed to show Nandu, an interesting side to travel : Camping!

Barbecue Evening : Paneer begins its journey into our stomachs
Barbecue Evening : Paneer begins its journey into our stomachs (PC: Rakesh Rajan)

Morning: Rise and Shine

The next morning, I woke up early as planned, and loved the early morning misty-chill vibe of the place, and as light dawned on the camp, most of us had woken up to pack up, and get started to paddle along the tide. I stayed back, coming with the last batch along with Nandu, to take in the surroundings a bit. I had a quick idly breakfast with morning tea, and fed Nandu much earlier than his usual eating time. Luckily it was done easily.

I double checked if any items were left behind either in the house or the tents, and everything was fine. I had an extended catch up session with a few of the group members, and started this time with Arjun (From Wandermile) behind me on the Kayak.

The early risers packing up
The early risers packing up
Beautiful Views to sip morning chai!
Beautiful Views to sip morning chai!
Pack Up Time
Pack Up Time
Camp Site-Kayak Parking on Shambhavi River (Mulki-Karnataka)
Camp Site-Kayak Parking on Shambhavi River (Mulki-Karnataka)

To The Private Beach!

Our next and final destination, before finishing the trip was to paddle our way across the 10 km stretch of the Shambhavi river to reach a private island stretch, keep our kayaks, walk a bit to the beach side of the island and enjoy the waves, before we get back to the KayakBoy Delta point (starting point)

While we got there this time, a little faster than the onward journey, this time it was more fun, since the weather was better and we knew what to expect.  Just like the previous day, Movin and Sushant would throw cut fruits and buttermilk/lassis midway to each of our kayaks, which would be our hydration break. I ended up loving the Mango lassi and had a couple of them.

Great weather and calmer waters (PC: Rakesh Rajan)
Great weather and calmer waters (PC: Rakesh Rajan)

It was while, I was in the water, that it occured to me seeing a fisherman on the land side, that they use a stick while we use a paddle. We sit and they stand on a boat. Someday, I’d like to understand this and know more about the forces that propel you in water on a boat. Maybe on the next trip! We parked our kayaks on the other side of the island and did a small hillock trek across the island to the beach side.

The peaceful coastal life in Mulki
The peaceful coastal life in Mulki

 

The group slowly walking to the beach side in Mulki
The group slowly walking to the beach side in Mulki

Here are some shots of the the beach, from the sky that I shot on my drone.

View of the Kayakboy Delta Point in Mulki. Opposite to this is the beach
View of the Kayakboy Delta Point in Mulki. Opposite to this is the beach
That's where we parked our kayaks on the island
That’s where we parked our kayaks on the island
And then, we made our way to the other side
And then, we made our way to the other side
View of the Delta with Shambavi River and the Arabian Sea in Mulki
View of the Delta with Shambavi River and the Arabian Sea in Mulki
The Group that went with Wandermile and Kayakboy
The Group that went with Wandermile and Kayakboy

Planning a Mulki Kayak Trip?

To do a similar trip like this, do check with Wandermile (Chennai Based) or with KayakBoy (based in Mulki). These guys are great to do a trip with. Like the saying goes, all good things have to come to an end, and this trip ends here!

Post Script

  • My dad came to Mulki in the morning. Our car was in bad shape. We drove it to Mangalore and gave it for repair. It maybe another 10 days, before I get to drive it back home. The oil sump needs replacement
  • I got home with family on a KSRTC bus that evening from Mangalore. Last minute KSRTC Sarige buses are bad for the back, what else could one expect on a long weekend, when most tickets are booked out 🙂

Farming and Village Experience for Kids-Near Bangalore

Here is an experience near Bangalore that helps kids connect with nature and farming, so that they are able to appreciate the process of putting food on the table

 

As India enters its 72 year of Independence, I wish that I am able to connect more with the country. There’s a way of life that India has had since the last 3000 years, that has kept India in good stead.

Some of it has been lost through urbanisation, as we humans start to move rapidly towards an existence that creates a mismatch between our evolutionary past and co-evolved relationship with micro-organisms and environment. Maybe connecting with the concept of India is the best way to put context to Independence Day of our wonderful civilisation. Keep the flags on your chest, circulate GIF’s of flags and quotes but do connect with the concept called India

Join me on my trip to discover our lost connect with our roots! A small weekend trip with my son to connect with traditions around village games, relaxed farm life and the concept called India

If you want the same experience, contact Sathish from Grameen Sogadu

Farming Experience for kids near Bangalore
Farming Experience for kids near Bangalore
The Farmhouse
The Farmhouse
Nandu's friends, Our Host Sathish's family
Nandu’s friends, Our Host Sathish’s family
Nandu trying his hand at tilling the soil
Nandu trying his hand at tilling the soil
Toys! Plenty!
Toys! Plenty!

 

Finding Messi in Mallapuram

I have heard of Kerala being India’s football state (sharing the sobriquet with Goa and West Bengal). I travelled to Kerala’s football heartland in Malappuram district in the town of Perintalmanna to go watch a World Cup game in a style unique to this district.

Binary Choices in Malappuram District-Messi or Neymar
Binary Choices in Malappuram District-Messi or Neymar
Go Go Goal....Err. Not Quit
Go Go Goal….Err. Not Quit
Pre Match Practice for watching FIFA :-)
Pre Match Practice for watching FIFA 🙂

The video has different sub parts

a) The journey to reach this town from South Kerala
b) Staying in a retiring room in Shoranur junction
c) Finding 2 buses to the place
d) Travel to 2 football grounds, put on jerseys and indulge in a bit of pre match play/banter
e) Get into the large temporary tent to watch the FIFA World Cup match between Argentina and France!

Messi was found and lost, as France won a thriller. Do watch the video to feel the raw energy and emotion of football is celebrated in Kerala. Kerala was no different from Kazan if you look at the post match celebrations!

Try watching the Football world cup, from India’s heartland of football-Malappuram. Simple joys of community watching and joy over goals, passes and yellow cards. Head over to Malappuram district this week, or if you can’t, thank me for this video. My Vlog on my trip to observe how Malappuram enjoys football and Messi

Watch the video story of this journey here or watch it below

The idea to travel here, was made after reading Sandeep Varma’s book and posts on a trip he made in 2010

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brunch at ‘The Space’

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

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

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

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

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

The Mudpath to South Goa
The Mudpath to South Goa

Why Talpona?

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

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

Finding Rajbaga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TRAVEL POSTCARDS 10- SILENT SUNSETS AT OM BEACH

Evenings at Namaste Cafe-OM Beach(Gokarna-Karnataka-India)
Evenings at Namaste Cafe-OM Beach(Gokarna-Karnataka-India)

This edition of the Travel Postcard features Namaste Cafe at Om Beach near Gokarna in Karnataka

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

As I sat there sipping my Banana milkshake, I could see the evening hues of blue against the resplendent lighting in the cafe. Most Monsoon evenings are spent like this, lazing on your couch at Namaste Cafe’s eating area by the sea. Om Beach is along India’s hippie circuit of Manali-Rishikesh-Goa-Hampi-Gokarna-Vattakanal-Varkala and as a result of that you are sure to see almost the same menu in all these places. You might even see a menu written in hebrew, just showing how important the Israelis are to the commerce in India’s hippie destinations. Gokarna was the preserve of the hippies in the 90’s when Goa was getting over-crowded, but has since then been discovered by far too many people. Gokarna still maintains an old world village charm and is worth visiting during the weekdays for some quiet time by the sea!

Frolicking in the Arabian Sea at Om-Beach Gokarna(Karnataka-India)
Frolicking in the Arabian Sea at Om-Beach Gokarna(Karnataka-India)

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

 

KatchuTravels Featured in Media

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arriving at Havelock

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

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

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

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

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

Water Refiller at our Resort-Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village-Havelock Island) [Andaman Islands-India]
Water Refiller at our Resort-Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village-Havelock Island) [Andaman Islands-India]
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Exploring Andamans-Part 3-Sunset at Munda Pahar

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

As we left the Loha Barrack Sanctuary, we took with us some fond memories of the place, and realised we have more reasons to come back here the next time we are in the Andamans. We wanted to see the crocodile park, the Mahatma Gandhi National Park and Jolly Buoy Island (which needs a tour operator to book, or you need to go to the tourist office in Port Blair to get a permit a day in advance) and probably do a local bus journey here.

Loha Barrack Sanctuary in Wandoor [Andaman Islands-India]
Loha Barrack Sanctuary in Wandoor [Andaman Islands-India]
On our way back to Port Blair, the beautiful and green Andamans got my attention. We used to stop every few metres on the Grand Andaman trunk road and observe the scenery. With some help of previous research, I was able to tell Nandu that the Andamans is famous for some of the thin trees, which are basically Betel trees. Betel trade is one of the reasons that people cut trees but plant it back since its essential to plant trees to run it as a business. I also showed him some of the other trees and asked him to point out really big trees on our way to Port Blair. The Andamans has a state tree called the Andman Padauk, which usually means its ‘4-6 daddies tall’ [My way of saying 25-40 metres tall]

We sat by a little stream, to pick another biscuit packet that lay like a treasure inside the reams of clothes that we had packed. Nandu also was starting to fall asleep in the front seat, so I thought he would be better off sleeping in the back seat, but when we stopped and he woke up to this, he was up and awake. He asked me, why dont we have so many trees near where we live. I thought a bit and told him that most of the homes today are built on lakes or lake beds, and as a result, a lot of trees have been felled to make way for houses and apartments. As a result when the rains pour longer, nature has its revenge by flooding quicker, increased temperature in the city and more pollution. The Andamans was like a breath of fresh air for even him.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- Nature is peaceful, and beautiful. As long as we preserve this, it will protect us

Green Andamans at Garacharma (Near Port Blair)
Green Andamans at Garacharma (Near Port Blair)

We saw a very viscous and thick layer of green on a lake. It took me a minute to figure out that this was a lake and not seem green solid bed.

Green and Viscous Stream near Port Blair
Green and Viscous Stream near Port Blair

After a rather expensive lunch at ‘Anna Purna’, we realised that the food on the island can be really expensive. Annapurna was a normal hotel with slightly below par service. In the Andamans, you pay a premium for a hotel that just looks clean, as the cost of bringing raw-food materials/vegetables from the mainland spikes up eating costs. So for a very basic thali (plate) at a non-airconditioned place, we ended up with an overpriced menu. What irked me even further was my driver, had forewarned me that while Annapurna was a well known vegetarian restaurant, their pricing is high and food is nothing to write home about. Lesson learnt, and we then went ahead to the next part of our trip in Port-Blair after picking my dad up from the Veer Savarkar airport. We were off to Munda-Pahar beach, which is a beautiful place for spending a sunset as per my driver/guide-Kumar

Approaching Munda Pahar Beach near Port Blair-Andamans(India)
Approaching Munda Pahar Beach near Port Blair-Andamans(India)

To Munda Pahar

On our way to Munda Pahar Beach in the Chidiya Tapu region, I fell asleep. We had a pretty long day with intermittent sleep. Waking up at 3 am for a 6:30 am flight and having a delayed breakfast and lunch certainly had affected my body cycle. When I woke up, I found myself amidst the hills as the car swerved its way. Kumar wanted to show me the path to Chidiya Tapu, which is a trek route to get to the top of the hill, but I was too tired to walk over. I earmarked the trek for a subsequent trip, where I would spend a day trekking with  Nandu to show him the beauty around a moderate trek. For now, the only place we were heading was Munda Pahar the beach.

There seemed to be some development of the beach for tourists, as one could see a pathway built, name boards on trees, wooden seat rests made out of tree logs, amidst the tall trees for people to sit. There was sand on either sides of the pathway, but there was not much of a beach here, owing to the low tide when we had gone. Kumar tells me that some scenes from the Tamil movie “Kaakha Kaakha” were shot in this area. Now when I look back at the video, after arriving home, I can see the connect clearly.

Also if you look into the sit out made out of the tree logs, the deciduous tree is made of a dark coloured bark and is supposedly a cousin of the domesticated Jackfruit tree. This is commonly found in all communities in the Andaman Islands. The tourism ministry of Andamans have done a good job in making sit outs and shelters for the travelers in the little parts of the Andaman Islands that I have seen (Kalapathar, Radhanagar, Wandoor and Munda Pahar)

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Uprooted Trees at Munda Pahar-Andaman Islands(India)
Uprooted Trees at Munda Pahar-Andaman Islands(India)

The sun set is an event that is treasured in this part of the world. The process of fading light starts from 1630 IST, and by about 5:15 pm, the place is steeped in darkness. By about 6 pm, it feels a little later into the night like 8 pm on the mainland. I was telling Nandu that in Bombay/Goa which is on the west coast, the sunset would stretch into 7 pm and it would be dark only by about 7:30 pm. I wish I had a little globe to talk through the phenomenen.

As the sun made its way behind the mountains, it created this surreal moment as it decided to shine on a selected area of the sea. I told Nandu that this is exactly life. Providence and nature decides to make you shine based on the good vibes that you generate for the world. Just because an area is shining and other areas are not shining, it doesnt mean that one area is better than the other, it just means nature decided to focus on that area for that time. Everyone gets their time and appointment with nature. I am not quite sure, how much he understood, but the moot point for that little lesson was to see if we can help the world to help us.

 

Beautiful Sunset at Munda Pahar Beach (Andaman Islands-India)
Beautiful Sunset at Munda Pahar Beach (Andaman Islands-India)

Nandu was constantly changing, getting into the sea to play with his swimming trunks and was quite enjoying the vast canvas that he had to run around. He had taken a love for the sea and the outdoors. I gave him a little lesson that I had learnt, and that was to be able to see sunsets, and meditate during a sunset by staying quiet. The sunset is so beautiful, that it has a way for your mind and your heart to talk. They seem to be at loggerheads as you grow up, and you need external tools to make them see the same things.

Nandu’s lesson #2- Trust the sunset, and consider yourself lucky if you can see sunsets and do deep breathing to soak in the moment. It has a calming influence.

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As we walked further on the sea bed, we noticed a couple taking selfies of the sunset. They probably wont be able to send it till they get back to their hotel. The Andamans has very little connectivity and 2G is very slow, but nevertherless that allows the travellers to soak in the moment at the place they are, and doesn’t make them seek the virtual world of likes and comments on Facebook. Andamans that way makes you discover that part of yourself which is pre-facebook. It’s a different version of you. I stayed without 4G for 108 hours. It never felt bad. My son stayed without Chota Bheem for much longer. We both felt better. You should try this!

 

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Exploring Andamans-Part 1-PortBlair to Wandoor

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

 

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

 

Bandwith Bummer

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

Ferry Blues

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

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

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

Missing Mainland

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

Nandu’s Lessons

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Postcards from Wandoor

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

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

 

Silhouttes at Wandoor
Silhouttes at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

 

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

 

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Exploring Andamans- Part 0

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

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

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

Cut back to 2016

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

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

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

Flying across the Indian Ocean
Flying across the Indian Ocean

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

Monsoon Weather in Port Blair
Monsoon Weather in Port Blair

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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#TheBeachTrail2017-Part 1-Settling in Koh Phangan

This episode talks about settling into our comfort zone at Koh Phangan on Day 1 of our trip. The Beach’ was a Danny Boyle movie based on a novel by Alex Garland set in the late 90’s in Thailand around discovering a secret beach. They follow a trail on Thailand’s south east coast along the gulf of Thailand.Seeking the same backpacker spirit of enquiry and awe for people and nature, we are trying to explore that trail to inspire people to take this journey through our tales and also the iconic movie ‘The Beach’. This is the first post in the series. Click here for Part-0, Part-2Part-3 and Part-4

Once you are on sea, there is a sense of calm in your body. Your blood doesn’t run haywire, as it does back in the city. The kind of calm, that you have not felt or seen. The mountains and the sea seem constant, they dont move. There’s nothing that’s vying for your attention. Your mind is not having to be at many places and act like its at one place. Your mind is still, your body is still, you are still (despite the fact that you are moving on a constantly moving sea) and that takes some getting used to, and if you are like me, most of that emotion ends in being transported to you to a world where you dream, despite being amidst paradise in reality.

Siesta on the Gulf of Thailand
Siesta on the Gulf of Thailand

A journey on a little ferry/ship in the afternoon sun, was about testing 2 contrasting feelings on our skin. We wanted the soft warmth of the afternoon sun on an alternating overcast and sunny day, and the winds on our face. We got both, while we were perched in our seat. The only bummer really was, you could not quite move on the top deck of the ferry, once it picked speed. You would shake and lose balance while trying to move, and if you did find balance the strong wind would knock you down. The whole afternoon was spent either sitting on one of the seats, or sitting on the floor. We did have some inventive travellers who started to create a party of their own, by drinking against the direction of the wind, protecting their plastic cups with their hats. It was fun trying to see if they would spill the ‘Songserm’ whisky on themselves. They fought with the wind, and with every plastic cup downed, they would be inebriated to repeat the act more. One of my friends on the trip, joined in and did this until his hat flew right into the sea.

 

Colorful People on the Lomprayah Ferry to Koh Phangan
Colorful People on the Lomprayah Ferry to Koh Phangan

The wind hitting everyone’s faces and hair brought a beautiful sense of everyone being disheveled by the time we reached our first island stop. Wind is again like rain, it looks beautiful when seen for a fleeting second, but it can get irritating when the wind/rain bring their kin/kith along for a prolonged session. I was grateful to providence to be feeling such sensations, and to know that the a full week lay ahead before my flight descends into Chennai’s sweaty air.

 

Windy Day from Chumphon to Koh Phangan
Windy Day from Chumphon to Koh Phangan

We reached Koh Phangan, and were forewarned about the expensive taxis. We attempted to bargain with the ‘Songthaew’ [Shared Taxi Vans with an open back] and decided that with our luggage, we were better off to just pick a proper shared taxi that allowed us to reach our hostel. We decided that we will anyway be spending our time on the road, exploring places. It was better we stayed at some place closer to the vibe and energy of the island in the evenings, while we spend the day exploring. We were to get to Haad-Rin area to our hostel, which shared a small lane, across a small lake and had a grassy outback path to the sun-rise beach (Haad Rin Noi).

 

Jaya Hostel Road at Haad-Rin-Koh Phangan
Jaya Hostel Road at Haad-Rin-Koh Phangan

One of the things with landing in a place, is to walk around and observe what the place has. We also had some research planned on what would be the things we would explore on the island, since we had booked our return flights and booked accommodation for about 4 of the 8 nights, thinking we will figure the rest based on what we discover. We calmed our excited nerves by walking down the road that led to the beach, reminding ourselves that we were on a budget, and we stick to our fruit diet for the trip to minimise costs and stay hydrated in Tropical Koh Phangan.

Fruits at Haad-Rin
Fruits at Haad-Rin

We walked over to the beach, ambling about the Westernization of what used to be a quiet little Thai Town. Haad-Rin is pretty much like Calangute today, which we knew, but we were able to get cheaper hostels only in this part of the town, after a search on Hostel booking sites. As we made our way to the beach, we noticed people playing there trying to get under a rope of fire. Some of them sane, and some of them inebriated with a Chang beer in hand. As people get through below, the level gets tougher and from them only the fittest survive it. What was interesting was the camaraderie that was building up between strangers at the fire place, and that was very heart warming. I ended up knowing some of my to-be-hostel mates from the evening. We had just warmed up to the vibes of Koh Phangan

Fire Dancing in Koh Phangan
Fire Dancing in Koh Phangan

We have made a documentary on our adventures till we reached Koh Phangan. Watch Part-1 of our documentary below.

 

Of Protecting Landscapes in a Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observations from The Tea Festival-Part 1

I had an opportunity to update my ‘operating system’ to learn more about tea.  I keep wondering, how I started drinking tea. Despite growing in Southern India, where there is a strong habit of Coffee and Tea, I chose to avoid both till I joined work 13 years back. The tea machines, and on Indian Railways were my first blushes with tea. Till date, I used to visualise tea as a neccesary evil in the mornings, which I never paid attention to the taste, unless it deviated off the basic taste scale that I had.

The tea festival held in JW Marriot in Bengaluru was an eye opener for me, on the various varieties of flavours of tea that is available. The various aromas that are there, quite pleasantly had me listening in to learn more about this. As I soaked in the aromas, I could sense the depth in some of them. I saw some strong tea varieties, and some very different ones from Turkey, and was blissfully observing people talk about Tea and thoughts.

There is a more detailed series of posts coming up, but for now, do have a glimpse of how the event went on.

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There were workshops for Tea tasting and Tea appreciation. There was quite a crowd for these events. This was a session hosted by Anamika Singh who runs her own tea business called the ‘Anandini Himalaya Tea Company’. When she was running her session, I saw her passion and knowledge in letting people know about the subtelities in the art of certain tea brews.

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One of the brews she had for us for a tea-chocolate pairing workshop. She neatly poured out the tea, initially half cup for everyone and then filled the cups, to make sure that the brew was consistent for all people. It looked like the sunset had chosen to rest in the glass, with that shade of golden brown.

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We had 3 varieties of chocalates to put in our mouth after taking a sip of the tea. I quite enjoyed the chocolate melting in my mouth since it had warm tea waiting to attack the chocolate and create a blend. I was not quite able to spot the blend with my taste buds, since I was distracted by the sweet feeling of chocolate melting in my mouth with the tea brew.

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Susmita, the main organiser is seen conducting a session, where she is talking about the ‘First Flush’ variety of tea from Darjeeling which is about Rs 16,000 for a kilogram of tea powder. This is from one of the companies that were present called ‘Tea Philosophy’.

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Some of the first few workshops were interesting that they took us to the history behind how Tea originated in India presented by a couple of people who work as Tea Scientists. My whole perception was that the Brits invented tea when they were in India, but the history of tea dates back to around 2000 years in China. That ends my first update on the festival. Look forward to 2 more parts of exploring a few varieties of tea and some history behind it. Do know more about the festival through the website or by checking some of the tweets around with the festival with the #TFI or #TeaFestivalIndia

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On How India Plays Holi

Growing up in the southern confines of Chennai, I was walled from how the rest of India celebrated a festival called Holi. The Chennai I knew started in Thiruvanmiyur and ended in Mylapore, with my catchment area being Adayar and Besant Nagar. Since growing over 30, I have had the opportunity to attend the Holi function outside Chennai, to witness what a fun festival it is. I thought I shall document some of my shots of how India plays Holi. If you have an opinion on Holi as a function, do head to the comments box, and lets get a conversation going. Tell me places that I can go to cover holi!

 

Holi Party in India- Bengaluru
Love the way the girl is surrounded in a pool of Holi Colours and is not done yet!

 

Holi Party in India- Bengaluru
I quite love the way different colours come into the frame. Pretty much like how different people co-exist in a single space!

 

Indian Holi Party
Like the energy in the frame, with all that Holi Powder visible as particles.

 

India Holi Celebration Party
The mad scramble for Holi Powder on the Cart

 

India Holi Celebration Party
Like the way the guy is emptying all his holi powder, before he heads home!
India Holi Celebration Party
View from the change rooms! Holi party never stops!

 

India Holi Celebration Party
The Blue clouds of powder look surreal. Or is it just Surf Washing Powder 🙂 ?

 

India Holi Celebration Party
Lord Krishna is on Earth. Coming soon to a Holi Party near you!

 

India Holi Celebration Party
When the blues get over, Pink Power takes over!

 

India Holi Celebration Party
When Pink Power needs a makeover!

 

India Holi Celebration Party
From the blue Zone to the Pink Zone!

 

India Holi Celebration Party
The kids shaking a leg to some music and targeting innocent bystanders!
India Holi Celebration Party
Kids enjoying at the holi celebrations!

 

Indian Holi Party Celebration
Kids are Killing it! My son playing Holi, and loving being dirty in green!

 

Indian Holi Party Celebration
Me with my son at the Holi Celebration!

What’s Your Poison…err…Tea?

What?

There is a Tea Festival, happening at JW Marriot Hotel on the 18th and 19th of March 2017. The festival is to make people aware of the beauty and aroma around Tea and to discuss the possibilities of Tea based Tourism. Maybe I will have a few more places to visit over a cuppa tea

Who?

This is being hosted by Susmita Das Gupta, Entreprenuer of ‘The Smart Ideas’ and a passionate Tea enthusiast, who has conducted many tea tasting and tea meet up sessions.

When?

18th and 19th March. From 11 am to 8 pm on the weekend.

Why?

Katchutravels is interested in understanding the possibilities around tea tourism. Also the next time, I travel to a hill station, I’d love to know more about the leaves and the various varieties of tea, which is right now limited to the ‘dip-tea’ that I have.  I will be covering the event in its entirety. Do look out for regular updates on our Facebook and Twitter Handles.

But the raison-d’etre of the festival is that India is actually the largest exporters of the various varieties of tea, which has been commercially produced in India since 1820 (and being around from 750 BC), so we have a reason to celebrate

‘Katchutravels’, is happy to be displaying travel images at a Photo Exhibition [running as part of the Tea Festival] scheduled at 11 am on the 18th and it runs till 8 pm on Sunday.

Photography Exhibition at the Tea Festival-JW MarriotPhotography Exhibition at the Tea Festival-JW Marriot

How?

There are interesting tea workshops through which people, would be able to understand the intricacies of Tea and its impact on health. Here are some of the ones I plan to attend. Though you should know that these are priced moderately between Rs 650-850 which can be booked on Eventshigh hosted by Celebri-Tea folks!

  • 18th March- 12 pm- Know your Tea Workshop
  • 18th March- 2 pm- A Journey to Rediscover Tea
  • 18th March- 3:30 pm- Tea and Health
  • 19th March- 112 pm – Tea Appreciation Workshop
  • 19th March- 2 pm- Tea and Chocolate Pairing.

PS

Interesting to note that 3 artists whom I admire a lot, were also Tea Lovers! Kishore Da, Sachin Tendulkar and Bob Marley

Tea Festival India
Tea Festival India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel Postcards #7

This edition of the Travel Postcard features Cola Beach in Goa.

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

Kola Beach(Goa) from above
Kola Beach(Goa) from above

Travel is about exploring and finding vistas. Sometimes you dont get a cookie, and at times you get a great surge of blood running through your veins, when you see a picturesque background. This was on the 1st of January 2017, when I decided to cross a little lagoon, holding my camera bag above my head, and hoping I dont drown. A little hill trek, a barren mud track trek with no directions and then to find this view from the hill! I was exploring Cola Beach on a trek from Agonda Beach, and this view totally made the hike worth it. I had put my son to sleep in the afternoon, and got a couple of hours to trek to a nearby place. Cola seemed like fun to do, and I ended up on the trek with some great visuals. That is the next series of articles coming up on KatchuTravels this February.

You can check earlier editions of the Travel Postcards right here