Lavasa – The Protofino of Maharashtra

I am happy to announce that I have collaborated with folks over at Hungry Tripper. Do check their website, they have a travel contest also running with up to Rs. 10,000 prize money up for grabs!!. I have published the article about Lavasa on their website.

You can read it here : Lavasa – The Protofino of Maharashtra

In the future I would have more articles published on their website.

South Goa a Travel Series (Part III)

Read South Goa a Travel Series (Part I)

Read South Goa a Travel Series (Part II)

I reached Margao at 8:30 pm.  I had booked an Airbnb that cost me Rs. 2000 for 3 nights. Aaron was my host and his house was about 10 minutes from Colva beach by scooter. He was really kind and dropped me to the restaurant Kentuckee on Colva beach, which is quite famous for its food in that locality for dinner. My dinner was very simple; fish curry and rice with a fish steak.  All the places from where I could rent a scooter were shut, so I had to walk back home. The streets were completely dark and deserted with the occasional lights from the vehicles passing by. The 20 minute walk felt a lot longer than it should have and I went to bed immediately, as I planned on starting early the next day.

The locals in Goa are really friendly and helpful. The watchman of the building where I was living at gave me details of a scooter rental place (Valencia Rental, Colva 09921348359). They gave me a deal of Rs. 900 for 3 days to rent a scooter. I headed to Majorda beach. This beach wasn’t as clean as the other beaches I had visited. There is a Lagoon on the beach but it is quite dirty and I would not recommend entering it. There were a very few people on the beach, probably because it was quite early in the morning. I had breakfast at a stall on the beach; Hot cup of tea along with pav and potato bhaji all for just Rs. 30.

Next up, I headed to San Jacinto Island. This island is just a few kilometers to the north-east of Dabolim airport. Silver Gate bridge connects the island to the mainland. This destination is quite underrated and you will not find many tourists here. The island is famous for St. Hyacinthi Church, which celebrates its feast on the last Sunday of September. There is also a chapel on the island that has an underground tunnel leading to the other side of the river. The island is majorly a residential area and life on the island is slow. There also is an old lighthouse, from the top of which you will get a breathtaking view of the Goa coast.

22 km North of San Jacinto is the statue of Dona Paula. This place is a popular tourist attraction and was very crowded when I reached. The fishermen of the area have a collection of ghost stories about Dona Paula. They say that on pitch dark nights and sometimes at the stroke of midnight, she rises from the sea and roams the area, wearing a string of pearls and nothing else. I did not stay here for long and proceeded to Panjim.

Our Lady of immaculate Conception Church in Panjim stands out with its great Portuguese architecture. The entire exterior of the church is bright white. I reached here just around 2 pm and the church was closed for visitors till 3:30 pm. I had a quick meal at George’s Restaurant opposite the church. The pork vindaloo with pav was delicious. The interior of the church is very colorful and has a lot of gold plated carvings. The main alter is dedicated to Mother Mary. On the 8th of December every year the church celebrates its feast with all fervor. The church is decorated with white and blue flowers and there is a procession led by a brass band that plays the festive fados. The procession usually ends with a fireworks display.

The churches of Goa have preserved their heritage and give a sense of calm when you enter them. To explore some more churches I made my way to Old Goa or Velha Goa. Se Cathedral is the largest church in Asia; it is dedicated to St. Catherine. The Cathedral has amazing mosaic work, soaring ceilings and very intricate wood carvings. In the adjoining compound is the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The Basilica is a UNESCO world heritage site and contains the tomb and mortal remains on St. Francis Xavier. His body is placed in a glass coffin under the shower of gilt stars. 3rd December is annually celebrated as the feast of St. Francis Xavier. Once every 10 years his body is taken around Old Goa before scores of pilgrims. The next will happen in the year 2024.

By this time it was already 6:00 pm and I wanted to get back before it got too late at night. I grabbed a quick street snack of pork sausages and pav for Rs. 50 and set off for Colva. Benaulim beach is around 10 minutes from Colva, Johncy’s restaurant is one of the most famous places to eat there. I reached Johncy’s at 8:30 pm and enjoyed a sumptuous meal of tongue roast and butter garlic prawns and headed back to my room. The next day I had planned on visiting ancestral Goa.

 

Ancestral Goa of the ‘Big Foot’ Museum, is a miniature Goan village describing  Goa – like it would have been a 100 years ago. It is located in Loutulim. There are different sections depicting the way of life and the history of Goans. There is a rock with an imprint of a foot. Legend has it that a generous land owner who used to help the poor was taken advantage of and left penniless. He asked the Gods to give him a place to pray, the Gods gave him one hot stone on which he stood on one foot and prayed. Looking at his devotion they took him into heaven and his footprint was left behind.  The museum thus gets the name ‘Big Foot’ from this legend. There is also a laterite sculpture of Sant Mirabai strumming her tambori. This sculpture is the longest  laterite structure in India. An ancestral Portuguese home is present right opposite the museum.  The entry fee for the house and museum tour together is Rs. 170. The guide that takes you around the house is very informative and you learn a lot about how the people used to live centuries ago.

 

Before setting out on my trip I had asked friends for suggestions about places to eat and to see. Star Light restaurant by the river in Assolna was one of the top recommendations for food. I went here for lunch. Their Calamari (Squid) stir fry is the best you can have. I had lime soda and beef chilly fry for Rs. 290. The location of the restaurant makes it an ideal place for reading or just sitting and relaxing. You cannot miss this place!

I wanted to see the sunset at a beach, so I decided that I will visit a few beaches before going back to Johncy’s (Yes, I loved the food so much that I went here again). Zalor beach was where I stopped first; this beach is very clean and had only foreigners, probably because it isn’t very popular. Cavelossim beach was my next stop. White sand and few people, my kind of beach. After a walk along the shore it was about 5:30 pm and almost sunset. I moved on from Cavelossim to Varca beach. There were group of local kids playing football on the beach. I couldn’t resist myself and joined in. We played until sundown; it was a perfect end to my Goa trip.

 

Hope you liked the travel series! Stay tuned for more tips and travel stories. Happy Travels 🙂

 

 

 

Bird Watching Near Pune

Bhigwan-‘Bharatpur of Maharashtra’

Winter being the migratory season for birds, the pink Greater Flamingos from Siberia migrate to Iran and India. A quaint little town Bhigwan in Maharashtra is where you can spot these flamboyant birds. Flamingos, Herons, Cranes, Marsh Harriers, Tawny Eagles, Sea Gulls are just few of the many birds you will come across at the small town of Bhigwan.

Bhigwan is situated at one end of the Yashwant Sagar reservoir which is the catchment area of the Ujain dam. It is about 100 km from Pune. Bhigwan is flocked with migratory birds between late December and early February, hence it is also known as the ‘Bharatpur of Maharashtra’. Bird lovers from all over Maharashtra make their way here to witness the symphony created by these magnificent birds.

To reach Bhigwan you have to take the Pune-Solapur highway. There are two places in Bhigwan that are famous for flamingo spotting; Diksal and Kumbhargaon. We went to Kumbhargaon. You have to drive approximately 2 kms ahead of Bhigwan before taking the exit to Kumbhargaon. The sign boards are well placed, so you will not have a problem finding the place.

Sandip and Nitin Nagare (09767571734) are local residents and they will help in arranging a boat for you. The cost for a boat that seven people share is Rs. 100 per person. You can also hire an entire boat for yourself at Rs. 800. The birding experience lasts for about 2 hrs. It is also possible to stay overnight in tents beside the lake. The Nagare’s are very helpful and friendly. You should call them up a day before and discuss your plan so that they can arrange the boats, accomodation and food for you. A bird guide will accompany you on your excursion.

Make sure you plan your trip such that you reach the place by 6:45-7:00 am, before the weather starts getting warmer. This also is the best time to get the perfect lighting for photography. If you are a photography enthusiast, unless you have a high tech camera phone or a camera with good zoom lens, you may get disappointed. The boat ride does not take you very close to the flamingos as it may disrupt their natural habitat. We were lucky to see a flock of Flamingos fly over us. The alighting of the flamingos is a sight you must not miss. Our boatman bought a bucket of fish from a local fisherman during the ride and attracted the Sea Gulls towards us by feeding them. The experience of watching the Sea Gulls sweeping over our heads and diving into the water to get the fish was thrilling.

So get your binoculars and cameras ready and head towards Bhigwan for an amazing experience of birding!

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

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.