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!
Get to Palolem beach at around 6:30 am to catch the beautiful sunrise over the coconut trees. Just at the entrance of the beach there is a tea stall run by Babu. Do have the bruns (hard buns) along with tea and scrambled eggs. Babu is very welcoming and you are bound to get chatty with him. The moment you step onto the beach you will be bombarded by boatmen quoting prices for a tour that takes you dolphin spotting and then to two islands – Butterfly Island and Honeymoon Island. They quote a cost for the entire package around Rs 2000 to Rs 2500. Make sure you bargain; I struck a deal of Rs 1700 for a trip duration of 2 hours. It was around 7 am and there were very few tourists on the beach. Since I was travelling alone I had the whole boat to myself. The larger the group the cheaper it would be for you.
You will start off with Dolphin spotting, there will be one guide and one boat rider accompanying you and your group. The guide spots the dolphins in a distance and the boat rushes to them and then shuts off the engine so as to not scare the Dolphins away. I was lucky to spot quite a few of the friendly creatures. You will then head to Butterfly Island. Butterfly Island is a very tiny bay nestled between rocks on either side. The water is clear and the sand is clean however you are advised not to swim here as after a few feet from the shore there is a trench. If you arrive early in the morning you can get the entire bay to yourself. Sit for a while, take in the sea breeze and forget your worries. There is a stream that is present in the center of the island that leads into thick foliage. Try and stay away from it as I saw people using it as a restroom. The name is derived as the shape of the rocks in the background looks like the wings of a butterfly. Next up, is Honeymoon Island. During high tide the entire beach is submerged underwater. We went there during high tide and hence could not disembark here. During nights there are parties that happen at the beach and you can rent out a shack to stay overnight.
If you have conveyance at your disposal you can go from the southernmost tip of Goa to the northernmost in a span of about 3 hours. I did not want to rush my trip a lot and just decided to go around South Goa. In the evening of the second day I had booked my stay at Colva and had to leave Palolem by 6:30 pm. So I decided that I will go north up to Cabo De Rama and come back to Palolem by 5 pm to return my scooter and head to Colva by bus. The ride from Palolem to Cabe De Rama took 45 minutes. The roads are well marked, even then I had my google maps on just in case I get off path. 5 minutes before you reach Cabo De Rama fort, you will come across open fields that lead to a cliff. The view from the cliff is spectacular. The water down below is so clear that you can see the rocky sea bed. The cliff is lined with coconut trees. You have to be there to experience the serenity. I just sat at the edge of the cliff for a good half an hour admiring what nature has to offer.
The fort is to the extreme left hand side of the cliff. Before you go there, please go to the right. Once you reach the extreme right hand side you will come across a pathway that takes you down the side of the cliff. It opens up into one of the most beautiful white sand beaches I have seen. This is Cabo De Rama beach. The beach has one hut for the life guard and there is a lagoon that runs through at the back. The lagoon is covered under the canopy of coconut trees. Just lay on the beach get sun tanned, maybe have a picnic here under trees with your friends. Clear blue water makes it irresistible to take a dip and just feel like floating there all day. I then went on to visit the fort. I went on towards the fort from the beach. Cabo De Rama fort is the largest and one of the oldest forts of Goa. There is the church of Santo Antonio inside the fort. The church is in brilliant condition and is still used by devotees. The cliffs of the fort drop directly into the sea. You get a panoramic view of the Colva and Cancona stretches of South Goa.
After witnessing the breathtaking views from Cabo De Rama I began heading back South towards Palolem. The next beach I stopped at was like a piece of heaven. Cola beach nestled beyond a hill this place is paradise. This is by far the best beach I visited in South Goa. Cola is situated 14 km south of Cabo De Rama. You will see a dirt road exit at the side of the highway that leads to the beach. Take proper care while handling a two wheeler here as it is very bumpy. The beach has a clear blue lagoon as the river flows into the sea. Sometimes during high tide the warm salty water of the sea mixes with the cool sweet water of the river. There are just two resorts on the beach and they are quite expensive. Cola beach has soft golden sand and the lagoon is lined with terraced coconut trees. Do not miss out on visiting this beach, it is totally worth the effort it takes to find.
It was 2:30 pm by now and I started to get hungry. There are just two shacks to eat at on Cola beach and they are not light on the pocket. So, I suggest that you head to the nearby Agonda beach. Agonda is a slightly more commercial beach and has a substantial amount of tourists. On the approach road to the beach I stopped at a restaurant and had a fish thali along with fish steak for only Rs. 300. The beach has a number of huts that you can rent out and stay at. I took a nap on one of the beach chairs before returning back to Palolem. I reached Palolem at 5:30 pm and returned my scooter to Shubham. At his place I met a fellow solo traveler from Pune Sabyasachi. He is a freelance travel photographer and blogger. He was to rent the scooter after me and offered to drop me at the Canacona bus stand. I took a bus to Margao at 6:30pm, the cost of the ticket was Rs 30.
Stay tuned for the next part that begins at Colva 😀
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
Follow the link to know who do I refer to as JourneyFuel!
Ccir Cyrus Gurung. A professor, a great host and a traveller! I was planning a solo trip to north east India and Bhutan. Darjeeling was first on my list. I was looking for cheap reliable accommodation as I was on a tight budget. While scrolling through homestays on Airbnb, I came across the profile of Ccir. He had a ton of positive reviews from travelers all over the world. I messaged him and the plan was on. Ccir helped me plan the rest of my trip as well even before meeting me. He had a number of students who were from Bhutan. So, a lot of my cross border travel was made very easy thanks to him and his students. Just a week prior to my arrival at his house my friend said that he would be joining me. Ccir without hesitation, agreed to accommodate him as well.
My friend and I arrived in Darjeeling on cold rainy evening at around 730 p.m. Ccir came to receive us a few minutes away from his home. His home is not very obvious on the street and there were no street lights as well. We finally got to his house. His house is one room that he shares with a different person almost every day. This is because of the demand of him as a host on Airbnb. He has one entire wall covered with pictures of travelers he has hosted. The other wall has notes stuck to it. He makes every person that he host’s write a message based on their experience. Ccir then took us out to eat at Glenary’s Bakery and Hotel Penang.
The smile that Ccir has is just so welcoming. He is an amazing person and is well traveled in the north eastern part of India and Bhutan. He loves Darjeeling; you can say this by the way he speaks about the place. His knowledge about the history of Darjeeling and the places to visit is vast. Ccir took us around Darjeeling at night on his bike while explaining the significance of each place on the way. We stayed with Ccir for only a night but we shared a lot of our stories and are still in contact with each other.
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.
Follow the link to know who do I refer to as JourneyFuel!
I was at the Kanteerava stadium in Bangalore on a solo trip to watch the Indian national team take on Oman in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Oman, the clear favorites in the game were leading 1-0 with an early goal. All of us fans were very vocal; chanting and cheering our boys in blue, then a breakthrough in the 26th minute. Sunil Chettri from the edge of the box turned towards goal and took a shot right into the top corner sailing past the mighty Ali Al-Habsi. The entire stadium erupted in joyous cheer. Out of instinct I turned to my right and hugged a fellow fan. This fan was Piyush Jain.
After the feeling of having just scored against one of the best teams in Asia mellowed down, (It did not completely sink in, even now I get goosebumps remembering that goal) Piyush and I started talking. It was like we have known each other for years on end. He was so welcoming and a really great listener. After the game, (which we sadly lost 2-1) he offered to take me to a Café for dinner. We went to Truffles on St. Marks Road. Piyush is a crazy biking enthusiast and a graphic designer by profession. He told me that he also loves to travel and sets out alone whenever he can. He has completed almost all of south India on his bike. After dinner he took me around entire Bangalore city (Bangalore at night feels like another city altogether without the traffic).
Piyush is a wonderful storyteller, he will keep you engaged with his narratives in such a way that you will always be asking for more! We spoke about life, travel, people and still felt that we could go on and on. Both of us shared the motto, No amount of money can buy you the experiences that you get through travel. Not knowing whether we would meet again we exchanged contact details and as he dropped me off at my hostel, I thanked him for the hospitality he provided me with.
You never know how soon a person can enter your life and leave a lasting impression. Don’t think twice before you greet a stranger, you might just make a friend for life. Piyush is still a very good friend of mine. We met again during the football game of India vs Iran and then a few months ago we went backpacking across northeast India and Bhutan (Stay tuned to the blog for posts on this trip).
My urge to travel is fueled by the desire to meet new people. Staying with local, indigenous people, interacting with them and breaking bread with them gives me first-hand experience of their customs, culture and beliefs. It is also heart-warming to see how locals in remote villages are one with their terrain.
I have come across a number of people who have left me with the thought, “I hope I meet this person again somewhere down the road”. I call these people JourneyFuel! Just when during your travel you are out of energy and you suddenly meet a person who lights up your mood, those are exactly JourneyFuel. These people enhance your travel experience and keep you on the edge of your senses always asking for more. These are people who make you think about “What is it that I really want from life?” and urge you to “just calm down and relax.”
JourneyFuel stay with you long after your travels and turn them into memorable experiences!
This post will be updated with links to posts about people who have been memorable for me. Do you have any such people you call JourneyFuel? Let them know how they made your travels memorable. Share your story in the comments below. You can also tweet about them using #JourneyFuel.