Category: Blog

Chasing the Monsoon in Kerala

 

Kerala, then you’ve probably been living under a rock.Located North West of Kerala,  justabout 16-18 kms from Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala, Kovalam is a lovely crescent-shaped stretch of beach which actually is acluster of 3 beaches separated by rock promontories viz.,Lighthouse,Samudra and Hawa beach.

It is here that the famed South Westmonsoons hits India, using Kerala as the gateway, making its waythrough the Southern states to other parts of this vast country.You’re at Kovalam. Pause. Will it rain or won’t it?

Well, based on the outcome you could decide to:

  • laze languidly under the shelter of a beach shack or get an Ayruvedic massage
  • sip your beer alongwith some mouth watering fried squid or fried fish Kerala style, for company
  • look for bargains at the local shops lining the Lighthouse beach
  • find out the real story behind the name Hawa beach or
  • dash off to the Indian Meterological Observatory located at Thiruvananthapuram (new name meaning, City of Lord Anantha) and check with the rain astrologers (the Met dept. folks) if the rains are “on course”

Going by historical records, the rains have hardly ever strayed beyond 1st week of June.However, if the rains disappoint by not showing up, you can show up at the iconic Sri Padmanabhasamy Temple where Lord Vishnu is found reclining on his serpent and pray fervently. Spoiler alert:adhere to their dress code (yes they can refuse entry if your attire doesn’t meet their criteria, your fervent prayers not withstanding).

Journeying with the rains as itsnakes its way across the state to Karnataka, Goa and beyond, is compelling in its beauty, tranquility and urgency. Cue: run out and get drenched, photograph the soft after-rain glow or just hold your breath till your next lush and abundant destination. Metta!

Delicious tidbits:

  • The South West monsoons are known as Edavappathi, after the month of Edavam.
  • The Meteorological Observatory in Trivandrum, one of India’s oldest observatories was started by the Maharaja Swathi Thirunal of Travancore in 1836
  • Prince G V Raja found immense tourism potential and invited Thomas Cook & Sons, UK to develop and promote the region
  • The candy striped Lighthouse is 35 m tall and you can climb to the top for spectacular views
  • Fusion, German Bakery, Swiss Café are where you get some good grub at Kovalam

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Kerala and the South West Monsoons –

a match made in the clouds

After Kovalam’s rainy beach and Trivandrum’s good Lord SwamyPadmanabha watching the world go by on his recliner serpent, it’s time to move on to more languid country. So think Vasco-da-Gama,the spice trade, Travancorekings, Namboothiris, and as your mind meanders, stop and gasp at the magnificence of the Ashtamudi Lake. Inhale. You’re at the gateway to the famed backwaters of God’s Own Country, Alleppey.

As you make your way to backwaters-world, en route you could wrap yourself in acres of paddyfields like a wet sarong on a rainy day. Idyllic, green and wet, thisis Kerala’s rice bowl, probably the only place in the worldwhere farming is done below sea level

 

Kettuvallams wait for experience-seekers patiently, tethered to the pier at Alleppey. As you step into one, you know it’s time to go with the flow. You watch the world go by, wave to the young boys running along the embankment, look up at the sudden flash of avian colour and enjoy the languorous ride.

 

From Alleppey chase the dark clouds to Kochi, a delightful blend fold-word charm and bustling metropolis. Fort Kochi is a must-see place ideal for rambling and sauntering through its rich historical and cultural heritage. From the peace of the old colonial bungalows experience a different kind of peace in a Namboothiri home in Nilambur. This district is rich in different wooded forests especially teak, housing the world’s first Teak Museum. As you sit in the courtyard of a Namboothiri home with the rains pitter pattering down, time stands still. Until suddenly…

 

 

you see a row of men lining up thepath, beating their drums, and dancers dressed in the most vibrant,eye-popping elaborate costumes and head dresses, dancing in slowrhythmic steps, propitiating the Gods. Watch with awe as these Theyyamdancers perform this ancient dance to worship ancestors, in frontof age-old shrines.

After the Theyyam routine, you comeback to earth and chase the rains to Bekal, one of the best preserved forts in Kerala. Located at Kasaragod, this 300-year old fort offers a spectacular view of the Arabian Sea. While in Kasargod, a visit to the oyster farm, OysterOpera, is a must. Listen, see and experience the transformational oyster and mussel farming conducted in this award-winning eco farm recognized for its innovative methodologies.Yes, it’s time to whip out your travel diary and journal away about this remarkable enterprise accompanied by the warm outpourings from the sky.

As you chase the South West monsoons from one place to the next, enveloping you in perpetual dampness, you are reminded of Coleridge’s Rime of The Ancient Mariner: And now the storm blast came, and he was tyrannous and strong: He struck with his o’ertaking wings, And chased us south along.

Photoscourtesy:

a) Paddy fieldsat Kuttanad – Kuttanad.org

b) Chinesefishing nets at Kochi – celebrations-of-life.blogspot.com

c) Theyyam dance– kallyalmuchilot.blogspot.com

d) Bekal fort –en.wikepedia.org

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Bangalore Sketch Crawl

Sketch crawl in Bangalore

Ever noticed all the things we don’t notice in our routine life? Drive through the same roads everyday and still not notice the stories our city wants to tell us. Sketch Crawl organized by Make it Happen and guided by Nicholas,an architect,enabled us to look at our city, Bangalore,in a way we had never before.

A walk through the noisy and buzzing M.G.road and sketching some of the buildings of Bangalore with historical importance.Sketch crawl is an eye opener as we notice the architectural designs and minute details of the buildings which we’ve seen almost all our life.

Higginbothams

Founded by Abel Joshua Higginbotham in 1905,it is one of the oldest bookstores of Bangalore. Above is a sketch of Higginbothams by one of the participant. Each person has their own perspective about the same element and these elements can be made memorable by sketching. Photography helps us capture moments but sketching gets us connected to the places.

Tract and Book Society

The British Book Society building is popularly known today as the Hard Rock Cafe. This building is a prominent structure signifying the architectural designs of the British. In the picture above we can notice the details sketched by our participant. We get to see a whole new image of our same old Hard Rock Cafe as we pay attention to the details and the stories this building holds.

In the sketch crawl,each person has their own perspective about the same element. To one of our participant,Hard Rock Cafe is a reminder of the YMCA song as it’s usually played there.

St.Mark’s Cathedral

Situated in the heart of Bangalore,the Cathedral church has immense details for artists. We visit a church every Sunday,but how many of us take time to notice the minute details our church holds? The Cathedral church holds details which fascinate everytime we look at it. The rich architectural design amazed all the participants and it seemed unfair that the canvas could hold only certain parts of the church. The details made in all the sketches were a proof of the whole new image our participants could see of their same old Church.

Amongst all the hustle in the world today,there are a very few people who still want to keep their hobbies and passions alive and we got a whole bunch of them. A group of fantastic people who were willing to step out on a sleepy Saturday morning to look at the whole new same old city.

More than sketching and knowing our city,what was more important is that we made memories. Just a look at the sketch anytime in the years to come and we’d go back to the same Saturday morning. Perfection isn’t required for a sketch,all we need is for it to hold eternal​ memories.

Blog by : Umaima Khan

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Goa : Discover The Undiscovered Places

 

How to live it up in Goa
Let’s see if I can keep the beach references to a minimum. It’s not to say that beaches in Goa aren’t worth visiting – they’re a big draw indeed – but there’s so much more to the Goan experience than just having sand in your feet, hair, trousers…

The Goan society is a melting pot of different identities, and its people have created the quintessential easygoing Goan culture. This “Susegad” lifestyle is rooted, among other things, in the old world charm of their Portuguese colonial structures; in Bebinca, Khatkhate and other exotic cuisines; in the serendipitous bylanes of flea markets; in the churches, spice farms, wildlife sanctuaries, the old forts with fancy names and yes, the beaches. The multi-million dollar tourism industry around Goa’s unique geo & demo-graphy have added to that list as well; so you can experience world class hotels and spas; try out your luck in casinos (gambling is legal here); go kayaking in the serene backwaters; hire a yacht and cruise the sea with your pals; and while you’re still at a beach – do all sorts of surfing, sailing, skiing, diving – as long as you know how to swim! It’s quite clear that the smallest state of India is packing some the biggest fun to be had and here’re some the ways you can go about living it up, Goan style.

Take Cover !
Start by landing in Panaji, the capital city, and take shelter in either a budget friendly world heritage hotel or if you’re feeling adventurous, try out the famed Goan hospitality by staying in someone’s home! Both are located in Asia’s only Latin colony of Fontain has – a satiating treat for the history buffs as the place maintains to this day its Portuguese influence, such as the narrow streets, old villas and buildings painted in lively hues of red and blue. For the fans of room service, the Panjim Inn heritage hotels are the ideal place. These colonial-structures-turned-hotels offer all the trappings of an exotic vacation: period architecture, antique interiors, art galleries and immaculately dressed staff catering to your needs!

Panjim-Inn-Heritage-Hotel-600x292
Panjim Inn Heritage Hotel

While there is no shame in preferring the pampering of hotels, you can also try out something different in the area – Homestays. Experience the warmness of staying with the host family in the 200 years old “Casa Nova”. Make yourself comfortable in the ancestral house of a legendary anti-Portuguese journalist and dive straight into the stories of the various artefacts which decorate the spacious wooden floored living room. The family lives on the first floor while the ground floor is kept especially for guests in this beautiful house overlooking the Altinho hill and flanked by the creek of Ourem

After checking in to the place of your choice, start your Goan vacation by heading to Old Goa, a 10 minute drive from Fountain has. Check out the imposing churches and cathedrals in the area which are amongst the largest in Asia. Some of the buildings have now become museums, providing a fascinating display of Goa’s history. A must-see is the Basilica of Bom Jesus – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which contains the preserved remains of Saint Frances Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. The body is shown to the public every 10 years, with the next exhibition due in 2014.

To Paddle or Not to Paddle
Morning will present interesting choices on how you want to continue your sightseeing. For those who’d like to get close to the sights, there’s the joyously paced kayaking. Start early morning with a group of fellow kayakers and paddle through backwaters, mangroves, fishing villages and witness other riverine delights. Everything will be provided for; you just gotta paddle and ogle!

The other option is rather awesome – A personal yacht! Bring up to 27 of your guests and charter the seafaring beauty “Solita” for a cruise on a per hour basis or choose from sample itineraries which includes: Bird watching (real ones!) in Salim Ali Sanctuary; chasing Dolphins around north Goa beaches; sailing further north to the majestic Tiracol Fort; Mandovi river cruise of Panjim & Old Goa; deck dinner under the open sky; and the special overnight cruise for two where you’ll be taken far off-shore and be left alone to your romantic fantasies for the night!

Spices, Dices & Sales
Goa’s tropical climate makes it an ideal place to grow a variety of spices, crops and fruits. The spice farms are open to visitors, with accommodations, and other activities such as elephant or boat rides, offered at many of them. You can take a guided tour, enjoy the scenery, and finish with a spicy lunch fresh off the farm! Most of them are located in Ponda, the Savoi Plantation being the most popular.

The Goan night markets are very popular and for those who like the bustle of the bazaar while hunting for bargains or souvenirs, Mackie’s Nite Bazaar and Saturday Nite Market is the place to be on Saturdays. Handcrafted accessories, live music, massage and hair parlours, belly dancing and even magic wands; all sorts of wonderful things are up for grabs.

The more suave and deep pocketed among us would love to play Bond at high stakes gambling games in one of the many casinos here. The Deltin Royale is Goa’s largest and most popular casino; located on a huge ship anchored in the Mandovi River. It has five decks, and three floors spread over 12,000 square feet, with 50 gaming tables, 30 slot machines, and top level tournaments every week.

Life is A Beach

Life Is A Beach

Well, I tried: You just can’t leave out beaches from a travel article, it’s Goa after all! You did well in checking out the various other attractions of Goa instead of just scurrying to the beach first! So now, convinced that you’re not the average traveller, head over to one of the many beaches and discover the unique personality each one has. There’re the quiet ones – Agonda & Patnem; The home of the hippies and flea market – Anjuna; The wild ones – Baga, Calangute & Palolem; The lively one – Candolim, and several others. The characteristic beach club/shacks offers the eclectic mix of good food, alcohol, live music and disco by the seaside. Curlies in Anjuna, Tito’s and Mambo’s in Baga, La Plage in Ashvem and Horizon Grill in Candolim (arguably serving the best steaks in the state). An event not to miss is the annual Sunburn Festival on Candolim beach. The festival is a celebration of music, entertainment, food and shopping, and was ranked as the ninth best festival in the world by CNN in 2009.

If night life on the beaches is exciting, water sports during the day is just the fix for adrenaline junkies! The Dona Paula beach specializes in water sports activities and offers water-scooter rides, windsurfing, parasailing, water-skiing, skibob, fishing, snorkelling, and scuba diving.

The Goa Marriott Resort & Spa in Miramar beach is good place to end your vacation: they say vacation refreshes the soul; spoiling yourself with a spa certainly ensures that!

 

Sunburn-Festival-
Sunburn Festival
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Monsoon Festivities of Goa

Goa-drenched – unusual Goa in the rains

Goaaaaah in the rains. It is a story that must be lived and experienced first hand. It is time to lift the veil of the monsoons and discover what lies beneath. Welcome to Goa!Goa has a hitherto unexplored facet beyond the usual sun, sea and sand, one that whispers history, culture and of a people deeply traditional yet straddling modernity with ease. As you come in from Kerala chasing the South West monsoons, make a pit stop in Karnatakath and head to Goa, you revel in the air that is noticeably happier perhaps and brimming with covert excitement.

Towards the end of June every year, the Goans celebrate the ‘son-in-laws’ of the village. Yes, you heard right! Young people wearing “copels” or floral crowns celebrate the “Javoiache” (meaning son-in-law)
or the “San Jao” festival with gaiety and gusto. As you cheer and shake a leg or take a swig of the “feni”, the local cashew or coconut based-alcohol, steer towards the Latin Quarters or Fontainhas of Goa.

Impeccably maintained, this part of Goa harks back to a Portuguese past, managing to survive despite the onslaught of 21st century. Buildings built in classic Portuguese style dressed in yellow, green or blue with balconies fronted by wrought iron railings and tiled roofs transport you to another era.

From Portuguese style houses time to make room for some sumptuous forts. One among them being Terekhol, standing sentinel to a violent history of the land it was built to protect. Built by the Raja of Sawantwadi, this magnificent 18th century fort is a heritage hotel today, with a beautiful chapel within its precincts.

From tradition to heritage to history to island, yes it’s time to head to Divar. Just take the ferry from Old Goa, about 7 kms from Panaji and step onto Divar island, a little gem of old world charm, paddy fields, small houses, winding roads, tinkling of cycle bells and boys playing football in the rains.

Soak it all in. Cycle. Walk. Sip feni, eat some vindaloo or chicken xacuti. Listen to some Mando, old Konkani songs and let Goar rains seduce you. It’s time to do a rain dance in Goaaaah!

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Distinct Cuisine and Rich Cultural Heritage

Chasing the Monsoon
The perfect monsoon recipe – waterfalls, heritage, food and beaches of Karnataka.

Karnataka is endowed with amazing beaches, distinct cuisine and a rich cultural heritage and natural splendor.As you drive down from Kasaragod in Kerala to Udupi in Karnataka, you can read up on this coastal city’s riveting back story on how it got its name. Udupi is steeped in culture and boasts of lip smacking Udupi foods like idlis, vadas and golibaje and beautiful beaches that you can soak in, in Udupi as Udupi soaks in the rains.

Further up, North of Udupi, stop by at Banavasi. Not a regular on most tourist maps, this little gem of a destination is an atypical spot, casting its spell on you with its ancient architecture and bucolic lifestyle.

Banavasi has something for the historians, architecture buffs, and for those seeking something unique. A monthly pineapple fete is held on the first weekend of every month where a group of women cook up a veritable pineapple storm. Don’t forget to try the local “khanavalis”, or small local cafes that serve hot, delicious food with a dose of warmth, generosity and love.As you bid adieu to Banavasi, it’s time to let your jaws drop at the sight of Jog. Jog Falls are the tallest single tiered cascade in India. Get up close, personal and wet and sprayed as you slowly and carefully climb down the 1380 steps to the base of the waterfalls, or get a view from the old British bungalow across the road. Its sight cannot leave you unmoved, as the 4 falls Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani spill the Sharavathi river over the mountainside in a breathtaking spectacle of Mother Nature at work.

As you watch the folk dance Dollukunitha being performed in the night, hear the thud of cymbals, feel your heart pound in tandem, you feel truly blessed as Mother Nature showers you with her benevolence.

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The Nagaland Diaries

Nagaland

The Naga Diaries.

If Nagaland has not been on your travel listicle yet, it’s time to make amends. Nagaland constitutes a part of the North Eastern states also known as the 7 sisters, formally established as the 16th state of India on 1st December, 1963.When you think of Nagaland what usually comes to mind is perhaps untrammeled forests, wild boars, fierce warriors and most importantly, an ‘unsafe’ place and the world-famous Naga chillies. Well all of it is true barring the ‘unsafe’ bit. Yes, to be honest, like a lot of the North Eastern states, Nagaland has also had its share of insurgency issues in the past. But today, it’s asserting itself as a fantastic tourist destination, and is on the path to development and shoring up its limited infrastructure.
Nagaland may be small in size, but is peopled with tribes who are big in courage, valour, ferocity and ethnicity. There are 16 different tribes such as Ao, Angami, Konyak, Chang, Locha, Sumi, Rengma, etc., each with very distinctive dialects, customs, dress and habitation. You might wonder how to actually see this fantastic variety of people together and would it necessitate pitching tents in the hills and forests and spending weeks and months to get anywhere close to these people? The Hornbill Festival held every year in December in Kohima, is one of the great cultural festivals in the world. It has the right ingredients to make it breathtaking and an unforgettable experience. The gaiety, the warmth of the people, the amazing dancers, the diversity of people, the food, shopping and the sheer excitement gives you a buzz as you approach the gates of Kisama, the Heritage village.
Zeliang Naga Tribesmen of Nagaland, India rehearsing their traditional dance during Hornbill Festival on 10th Dec 2014.

If it’s December, it’s got to be the Hornbill. The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland is usually held in the first week of December every year, since 2000. Conceived as a tourism promotion initiative, the Hornbill Festival is named after the eponymous bird, greatly respected and revered among the tribes of Nagaland.Over the last decade and a half, the festival has risen up the popularity charts and today is a “must-do” on any adventurous traveler’s itinerary. Our visit in 2014 was a wonderful and indelible experience, as it exceeded our expectations. Right from the time we landed at Guwahati airport to the long, slightly tiring drive up wards through Guwahati, Dimapur and finally Kohima, and the magical 4 days that we spent there, everything about Nagaland called out to us and said, “welcome, please stay back.”

The Hornbill Festival is a truly fantastic pot pourri of Nagaland giving us a glimpse of its cultural diaspora all under one roof, the Kisama Village. Located about 10 kms. from the heart of Kohima, it’s a very well planned heritage village, with ear marked areas for shopping, eating, an amphitheatre for performances and a showcase displaying the habitats of the 16 Naga tribes.

As you approach the Kisama heritage village, you feel a sense of excitement, hear the buzz and the anticipation builds up after you park the car in a fairly well managed car park facility. Yes, you do see the Indian army jawans clad in their fatigues smartly holding aloft their rifles (don’t know what kind) as they keep a steely eye on the goings-on.The Hornbill is like a microcosm of the world with everyone reveling in the spirit of Nagaland. But Nagaland is not just about the Hornbill. There’s more…

 

Nagaland is often referred to as ‘wild east’ of India. The usual photographs of men and women in barely there tribal clothes, elaborate head dresses, tooth(y) necklaces and long earrings with weathered faces dot the photographic landscape. But Nagaland is more than its 16 tribes or the famous Hornbill Festival .Nagaland boasts of a rich history and the Kohima World War 2 cemetery is one such beautiful place where the price of war, human lives, has been so respectfully memorialized. Entering the cemetery, you are surrounded by the tranquility, a fierce pride and unshed tears as you see the tombstones and read the names and the ages of these fierce soldiers who defended to the death their land from the marauding Japanese.

Japanese forces entering Nagaland standing sentinel, like a living testament to the raging Battle of Kohima.
And visit the Kigwema, a quaint village with people from the Angami tribe who continue to live here and weave fantastic shawls, giving you a glimpse of what once was.

If you drive down 20 kms to the west of Kohima, there’s another gorgeous heritage village called Khonoma. Old world charm, rolling terraced fields, clouds tipping over the blue sky, the chill wind in your hair and little children laughing and eating the smallest, cutest and most sour dried apples that you will ever find, Khonoma is a visual and sensual treat. As you sit in the village square which is actually a circle, and enjoy local teas, local cuisine and sip on the local rice wine called zutho (the other rice wines are Dzutse and Ruhi), the warmth and the hospitality of the people is unmistakable. Forget whatever you may have heard of head-hunting tribes, these people may be fierce warriors but they’re also gentle and welcoming of their guests.
There are places such as Mon, Dzuku valley, Mokokchung, among other places that you can visit. But if you’re trying to pack in the Hornbill and all of this, you’ll need a good 10 days in Nagaland alone. Because pitching a tent outside the Hornbill or staying overnight at a homestay in Khonoma doesn’t mean you can let go of the night market in Kohima. Because if you haven’t seen the night market or eaten some of those road side delicacies, or shopped for some of the best winter jackets, boots, leggings and more, then well, you haven’t really visited Nagaland.
While you dream about picturesque hills, riotous colours, brusque dances, pork meat and the Naga chillies, we’re headed to Kaziranga. One-horned rhino anyone?
Kaziranga is a magical place. It’s unlike any other wildlife sanctuary you may have visited. It is vast, it is wild, it is tranquil and it is rejuvenating. Kaziranga, as most would know is the habitat for the world’s largest population of the one-horned rhino. But more than that, it is also an extremely breathtaking display of nature’s bounty.
Kaziranga boasts of multiple resorts and small lodges and the Nature Hunt is a wonderful Eco camp, with a simplicity that is reflected in its style yet warmly embracing in its hospitality.
Home to the elephant, the one-horned rhino, tigers, langurs, and a wonderful variety of bird species. You can wake up at the unearthly hour of 5 am and get ready for the early morning elephant safari. It’s misty, foggy with almost zero visibility and then suddenly you’re confronted with a group of elephants and their mahouts ready to take you through the tall elephant grass to catch a glimpse of the famed one-horned beast. As the elephants swish, swish, swish through the tall elephant grass which grows upto nearly 5 metres, the sound and strangely the silence is suddenly broken with the elephants standing still – and there in the clearing you spot the great one-horned, stoically nibbling at the grass or nursing a baby. While birds flutter their wings, you hold your heart’s flutter and just gaze at the magnificence.
Kaziranga is a must-see. The Assamiya thali, the tea plantations, the warmth and hospitality of the locals, the really nice accommodations that have now been made available, the really well-managed and exotic sanctuary giving us a glimpse into a world that is surreal. An overnight stay is enough, however if you’re an ardent wildlife or birding enthusiast, then 2 or 3 days is a must. From Kaziranga, then it’s straight on to Guwahati airport and back to mundane routine. However, not before having had your fill of a planet that seems so different from the hustle and bustle that we inhabit. Yes, travel does expand your horizons and you need to make it happen.

Photo of elephant safari courtesyhttp://insightsindia.blogspot.in/2014/05/things-to-do-in-north-east-india.html

    Kaziranga factoid:

  • Best season to visit – November to April (Park is closed from June to September)
  • Guwahati is the nearest airport located at about 220 km from the National Park
  • Permissions to enter the park have to be obtained in advance from the Range Forest Office
  • 3 Ranges – Central, Eastern and Western ranges offer spectacular avifauna and wildlife sightings
  • Established in 1908 as a reserved forest, declared National Park in 1974 and a World Heritage site in December 1985
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