South Goa a Travel Series (Part I)

Friendly people, serene beaches, and great food; a series on South Goa.

I won a contest on twitter held by an airline company. The prize was return flights to Goa and a ticket to a concert. The concert got cancelled on the last moment, so then I got 4 days to explore Goa. I decided to head south since I wanted to be away from the crowded commercial beaches of Goa. My flight landed at Vasco Da Gama airport in the afternoon. I had booked my first night stay at SUMMER Hostel by Hostelcrowd. The hostel is walking distance from Palolem beach. The first task was reaching Palolem, a private taxi charges Rs 1800 and a bike taxi quoted Rs 1000 to drop me at my hostel from the airport. If you are travelling in a group the taxi would be the best option. Try and avoid the bike taxi for a long distance because it will be hard on your back.

For the backpackpers on a tight budget I would recommend doing what I did. I got a bus from the airport to Margao. The ticket cost is Rs 20 and it took 40 minutes to reach the bus stand. Margao bus stand is a central hub from where you get connecting buses to other parts of Goa. I then boarded a bus to Palolem. The journey from Margao to Palolem takes about 2 hours and costs Rs 40. The buses are cramped and lack of legroom made my journey a bit painful and tiresome, but if that’s what comes with saving around Rs 2000 then it’s totally worth it.

The bus dropped me right at the gate of my hostel. Shubham greeted me at the reception and got me settled into my 8 bed dormitory. Interestingly, I was the only Indian staying in the entire hostel. My dorm had students from Germany and France. The cost for a bed per night is Rs 400. You get access to free wifi, a hot shower and a small common kitchen which is totally worth it. I stayed here just for the night since I was heading to Colva the next evening. I wanted to rent a scooter to get around the place; Shubham lives right opposite the hostel and was kind enough to lend me his two wheeler for Rs 150 per day.

I headed to Palolem beach, by the time I reached the beach it was already 8pm. The approach road to the beach is lined with shops selling handicraft items and quirky arts and craft.  Palolem beach at night is the perfect place for a stroll with that special someone. Almost the entire stretch of the beach is lined with candles and you can hear the waves crash on the shore while a light breeze brushes your face. A couple got engaged on the beach that night. The beach has shacks all along, I stopped at one to enjoy a light dinner. There are freshly caught fish on display outside each shack, you can pick what you want and they will cook it as per your taste. I got a red snapper fish cooked in a light tomato gravy, accompanied with rice.

The night life at Palolem is the most happening on Saturday night because of its famous silent party at Neptune point. Neptune point is at one end of Palolem Beach. The silent party happens every Saturday night starting at 10:30 pm and runs unto the wee hours of the morning. The entry is Rs 600 per person, usually they have three DJs of different genres playing. At the entrance you get your headphones and can tune into whichever genre you want to dance to. The genres for the night were EDM, Psy Trance and Bollywood. I was there at 11 pm and people had not even started coming in. The place usually gets full only after 12 am. I had to skip the party as I planned on leaving the hostel early in the morning to catch the sunrise.

Stay tuned for more in the series 🙂

Read South Goa a Travel Series (Part II)

Alibaug – A Fort and Three Beaches

A Day Out in Alibaug

Alibaug is a perfect getaway to help you relax and be one with nature. I set out to Alibaug on a Saturday and hope my itinerary will help you plan your trip well.

Alibaug is a coastal town in the Raigad district of Maharashtra situated 110 km from Mumbai. There are ferries that ply from Gateway of India to Mandwa Jetty throughout the day from 6 a.m to 6 p.m except for during the monsoon season. There are three ferry operators – P.N.P, Ajanta and Maldar and ticket prices range from Rs. 85 to Rs 150. It will take you around 60min to reach Mandwa. You can also hire a private speed boat that will get you to Mandwa in 20 minutes. Each ferry company has their own private buses from Mandwa Jetty to Alibaug town. The bus fare is included in the ferry ticket. We travelled by the 6:15 a.m ferry.

The sunrise that you witness while you are on the ferry is second to none. Keep your camera on hand at all times as each moment will give you a different picture because of the change in intensity of light. You will be able to see luxury yachts anchored off the coast and also a few naval vessels on the way to Mandwa. We reached Mandwa jetty at 8:15 a.m. It took us 2 hours as there was a slight delay in the departure of the ferry. The bus to the main town was to leave in about 25 minutes after we reached the jetty. Instead of waiting for the bus we decided to take an auto rickshaw directly to Alibaug beach. The auto rickshaws here are large and can comfortably seat six passengers. Amongst the four of us we paid Rs.400 in total. The ride to the beach is about half an hour. There are trees on either side of the road and  a slight haze of early morning fog.

Alibaug beach is quite commercialized, the moment we set foot on the beach we were flocked by vendors offering us water rides and other beach activities. The beach is not very clean due to the crowd. Even though it was just 8:45 a.m there was a substantial crowd already present on the beach. To the left hand side of the beach there is a provision for pay and use changing rooms and toilets. About one kilometer into the water is the Kolaba Fort.

The Kolaba Fort was built in the year 1681 by Sambhaji Maharaj, son of Shivaji Maharaj. A major portion of the fort and a few buildings was lost in two fires in the years 1729 and 1787. You can reach the fort by foot or on carriages when it is low tide. Otherwise, boats ply to and fro from Alibaug beach to the fort. We travelled to the fort on a donkey carriage. Our rider waited for us while we spent an hour at the fort. The most intriguing feature of the fort is that it has number of freshwater wells even though it is a seaside fort. The fort has a Siddhivinayak temple which people frequent mainly during the Ganesh festival. There are also a few houses present of people who take care of the fort.

We reached back to Alibaug beach and relaxed for a while. If you walk straight from the main exit of the beach, after two cross roads you will find a decent restaurant. The breakfast there was not amazing but good enough to reenergize us. While we were waiting and thinking where to head next an auto rickshaw stopped by. The driver suggested that one of the best beaches in Alibaug is Kashid. But, Kashid is quite far and would take around one and a half hours to get there. Since we had just a day to spend, instead of travelling so far we decided to skip it. I am not a big fan of crowded commercialized beaches and would rather prefer a beach that is secluded and not many people frequent it. We asked the driver if there were any such beaches nearby. He suggested we go to Akshi beach and then head towards Nagaon beach.

On the way to Akshi from Alibaug we stopped at a Lotus pond. There is a narrow walkway that leads to the center of the pond. The ride to Akshi beach cost us Rs.200. It took half an hour to get there. At the entrance of the beach there were a few stalls selling chai and other eatables. Tall trees all around us and a steady flow of wind just felt extremely pleasant and serene. The beach looked like a flat desert because of the low tide. Apart from the four of us there were only six other people on the beach. This beach was clean and calm unlike Alibaug beach. This beach has no activities. You should just sit down, close your eyes and listen to the waves.

Nagaon beach from Akshi is 3.5 k.m. You will get auto rickshaws from Akshi beach but I suggest that you take your own time and walk along the coast from Akshi to Nagaon which we did. The walk can be a bit tiring especially if you do it in the blazing sun. Keep yourself hydrated and wear a cap to help protect yourself from a heatstroke. There are a number of resorts and private houses that open onto the beach along the way. The stairs to each of these properties can make for very interesting pictures. A lot of fishermen have their boats present on the coast.

As you near Nagaon beach you will be able to see jellyfish in the sky (read parasailing people). Nagaon beach is very commercialized. There are a number of activities right from camel rides to parasailing. There are a lot of shacks present as well. Do not miss the seafood from the shacks. By the time we left the beach it was already 4 p.m. We took an auto rickshaw directly back to Mandwa jetty as were tired and did not really want to travel by bus. The ride cost us Rs. 500 and it took 45 minutes to get to the jetty. We got the 17:15 p.m. ferry and headed back to Mumbai.

Best beaches in Alibaug:

  • Alibaug
  • Mandwa
  • Kashid
  • Akshi
  • Varsoli
  • Nagaon
  • Murud
  • Rewas

Things to Carry:

  • Beach Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Lots of Water
  • A few snacks
  • An adventurous attitude

Glimpses of Mumbai

This video shows snippets of Mumbai through timelapse, hyperlapse and slow motion video. I created this video for a competition Indigo 6EExplorer. This video has been featured on the facebook page of Indigo airlines and also on their youtube channel.

The competition has one more round before the winners will be declared. There will be 36 people selected from across India. Each person will be an ambassador for a particular State or Union Territory in India for a year. Hoping for the best. Wish me luck  🙂

TAKTSANG MONASTERY – INTO THE TIGER’S LAIR

Legend has it that Padmasambhava flew to this site on a Tigress. He came to subdue a Tiger demon. If you look closely at the cliff on which the Taktsang Monastery rests, you will see the face of a tiger.  Taktsang is a Tibetian word that literally translates into “Tiger’s Lair”. This is the place where Padmasambhava meditated and later emerged in 8 different forms hence, this place is of great historical importance. The monastery is situated in the Paro valley at a height of 10,240 ft.

We set off from Thimpu in the morning at around 7:45 a.m (We planned to leave at 6:00 am but our driver literally said that he does not wake up early and so we had to start later). At 9:00 am we reached Paro, had our breakfast in a small café and reached the base of the trek at 9:30 am. The mighty monastery perched atop a steep cliff intimidates you. But, it is one of the most spectacular sights you will ever see. Although it seems formidable, there are a number of access routes. Our driver said that it would be a 4 hour trek and that his personal best was 1:30 hours to the top. You can take a ride on the back of a donkey that will take you almost up to the top or can just trek your way up.

There is a pretty well defined trail and at a steady pace it would take you about 2 hours to reach the top. My friend and I were quite disappointed that there was a defined trail as we expected a difficult adventurous trek. So, we wandered off the trail to define our own path to the top. At about midway there is a village temple and a cafeteria. You can sip your coffee in full view of the monastery. We also got lost but do not regret it at all because we found ourselves at the priest’s house. These quarters are situated opposite to the monastery and at a higher ground.

We then made our way back on to the path, the path is lined with prayer flags and paraphernalia for worship. There are pine trees in the surrounding and you can hear the pleasant sound of a waterfall. The large water fall, drops 200 ft into a sacred pool and is forded over by a bridge. The bridge is a flight of stairs that first descends down the ravine and then ascends towards the monastery entrance. Even though we got lost we eventually made it to the monastery in 1:30 hours.

The monastery has 4 temples and residential shelters. There are eight caves present. All the buildings are interconnected through steps and stairways made out of rocks. There are a few wooden bridges that have ridges to place your feet and help you cross over the rocks. The caves have a number of images of Buddha. Oil lamps are seen flickering in the foreground of the idols, while the soothing chants of the monks echo in the air. The entire setting makes you feel that time has slowed down.

Tips to get the best out of your Taktsang experience:

Get here early in the morning: The timings of the monastery are: 8am – 1pm and 2pm – 6pm. If you plan and start the trek at 8am you will be able to beat the crowd and have the amazing view all to yourself.

Take in the view: Photography is not allowed inside the monastery premises so make sure you take as many pictures as possible on your way here.

Do not keep this for the last day: It is always better to have an extra buffer day as the weather is unpredictable and could ruin your trek.

Follow the dress code: Wear full sleeves t-shirts preferably with a collar and also avoid shorts. The monastery guards are strict about the dress code and would not let you inside. I had to borrow a scarf to enter the monastery as I wasn’t wearing a collared t-shirt.

Carry food and water: Carry atleast 2 liters of water and some energy bars to keep yourself fueled.

WHITE SAND AND CLEAR BLUE WATERS – KOI PHI PHI LEH

Koi Phi Phi Leh is an Island in the Andaman Sea. It is situated in the Krabi Province of Thailand. Koi Phi Phi Leh is made up of very steep limestone hills and two mystical bays; Maya Bay and Losa Ma Bay. The ring of limestone hills act as a cradle to Maya Bay. The pristine blue waters and the pearl white sand will give you a feeling like you are in paradise. Maya Bay can be accessed only by small speed boats because of the shallow waters.

Maya Bay has become very popular among tourists since The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio was filmed here in the year 2000. Koi Phi Phi Leh is one of the stops of the Phi Phi Islands tour package. I would suggest you take the package that takes you around in a speed boat. I went with the Ocean Mania Tour Company, their service was excellent and our guide Leo was an amazing entertainer.

The continuous influx of tourists makes it impossible to get a picture of the beach without people in it, which is quite frustrating. When you make your way to both the ends of the beach, you will find that due to the waves the limestone has eroded and there are cave like formations. The ends of the beach are not too crowded and can be utilized to get some amazing pictures.

Down the middle of the island there is a path that leads into the woods. The intertwining roots of the trees are mesmerizing and picturesque. Beyond the woods you reach a flight of wooden stairs. You have to be careful of the moss on these stairs. The last thing you want to do is fall just before witnessing something spectacular. At the top of these stairs is a viewing platform that overlooks a huge rock in the center of Losa Ma Bay.  This rock which is in the middle of the sea, has a rope ladder that people climb onto and dive into the sea. You just can’t get enough of the crystal clear blue waters.

The entire Phi Phi Islands tour costs around 1400 Baht by speed boat and 800 Baht by ferry. Koi Phi Phi according to me deserved an entire post dedicated to it because of the way it enchanted my senses. I will post in the future on the remaining `stops of the Phi Phi Island tour.

Also read about my experience at Urbanpod Mumbai: India’s first Pod Hotel.

 

EXPERIENCE ART IN PARADISE

Have you ever thought, “How would I look on the cover of TIME magazine?”,  “How would it be to drink water alongside a Giraffe?” . Well, questions like these can be answered by being a part of the many installations at Art in Paradise.  Art in Paradise is one of a kind illusion art museum situated in Pattaya, Thailand. Shin Jae Yeoul, a Korean artist is the museum director. He along with other Korean artists have collaborated and revamped an old rundown building into a spectacular journey.

Art in Paradise is about 5800 square meters in area and the expenditure to build this was approximately 50 million Baht. The building is divided into separate rooms; each themed room has a range of 3D illusion paintings. Some of the many themes are, Underwater World, Classic Paintings, and Landscapes. There are markings on the floor in front of each installation indicating the best possible camera angle to take the picture.

This is a great place to come to with family, friends or on a date, you will leave with amusing memories captured on your camera. It would take you around two hours to get through the entire museum. There is no fixed time that you need to spend with a particular painting. Your imagination is the limit! Through well thought shading and placement of shadows and lighting on each painting, the images look spectacularly believable.

The entrance fee for foreign nationals is 500 Baht (Adult) and 300 Baht (Child). For Thai citizens it is 150 Baht. Art in Paradise is located on Pattaya 2nd Road in North Pattaya. It is open on all days from 9:00 A.M. – 9 P.M.

 Art in Paradise is a unique art gallery experience that makes the viewer part of the art.