Saturday, July 18, 2015

A memorable trip to Goa

“The eastern sea shore has called
The sun is up and shining
Time to eat and dance
Clap clap clap your hands
And shake shake shake your feet

The sea and the waves don’t stop
And the western sea shore awaits the moving sun
As dawn turns noon and noon turns dusk
And the moving sun settles at night on our shore

We uncork the wine and share stories over fire
The dancing doesn’t stop - no sir no
For merriment and camaraderie live in the air here
This is what we do, this is who we are
Stranger from faraway, join us will you?

But to know us, you must become us
So uncross your hands and unfurl your hair
Let the frown on your face go
And a smile take its place

If you beat the drums or pluck the guitar
Get them on stage and show what you are made of
None the matter if you do not, just…
Clap clap clap your hands
And shake shake shake your feet”

Goes a Konkani song. At least I hope it does. Conviviality is in the air in Goa. The state (union territory) has a colonial history with the Portuguese. The ruler always leaves a certain legacy as he leaves for good. The British left us English and the railways. And cricket of course. The French left funny street names back at Pondicherry. So we had the luxury of sipping Radha juice at a bistro in Ru Busse by the coast side there (not making any of this up). The Portuguese, it is said, left eating, drinking and dancing back at Goa.

This trip was a different one for us in a few ways. We usually drive in our comfort zone. That means that our usual range is 300-400 kms one way. Secondly our visit zone is in and around Coimbatore. The range goes with it.

In this trip, we broke both. Goa is about 1000 kms away from Coimbatore. This meant we spent four days in our car and on the road. So the drive was part of our trip. More so in terms of duration. So the whole trip was quite intense. For me at least as I held the wheel. Radha seems to think, just because I enjoy myself at the wheel, there is no work involved. The day we reached, after 500 kms of drive that day, she clapped her hands, smacked her lips, figuratively speaking, and asked where do we go next? Good question. I will just eat and rest, thank you!

Murdeshwara Temple

The long distance offers plenty of opportunity to visit different places on the way. We maxed it out by taking a different route when returning. Key places we stopped over at - Mangalore (doesn’t really count because we just hit the rack there, but hey you wouldn’t have known if I had not told you), Udipi, Murdeshwara temple, Chittradurga, Devahalli, Bangalore (hit the rack here again). Bangalore to Coimbatore was our usual NH47 route.

Udipi Sri Krishna Temple

The best thing about modernization of NH’s is that drivers have a field day. The discipline doesn’t come do what may. But that is a different and beaten to death story. The roads are spectacular, save small patches. And the moment you hit Goa it takes on a whole new dimension - something I was never prepared for. When the toll-walah asked for 250 bucks (legally receipted) I was grunting within. But the road quality thereon, and all of Goa literally, was something else. We could have been driving under ideal test conditions terrain which advertisers use to measure optimum car mileage. The road was thick black, freshly painted road signs and blemishless.

Since the car never had done a 2500 km project before, I decided to service him once. It turned out the AC cooling coil, clutch sensor and brake shoes had all gone off and had to be replaced. I was glad I serviced him. And the insurance had to be renewed. Despite these precautions, on the return trip, the rear left wheel got busted. It was a ‘pop’ during the drive. I first assumed the wheel guard went off but on closer check, we saw that the top layer had come off and the wire mesh underneath (tubeless tire) was exposed. Thank cars for stepneys.

Onward towards Goa, we took the Coimbatore, Mysore, Mangalore, Udipi route. After we crossed Mysore, the entire stretch was new for me. Our overall plan was neatly constructed. 500 kms a day. Halt at Mangalore for day 1 night. Halt at Goa for day 2 night. Day 3, 4, 5 at Goa. Halt at Bangalore for day 6 night. Halt at Coimbatore for day 7 night. Despite the relentless driving, resting overnight was vital and reset the driving clock. I will keep this in mind for similar or longer trips in future.

As always we wanted to avoid a late start and leave early on time. As always we failed and started by 12pm. So by the time we reached Mangalore for the first night’s halt, it was midnight. As always, tempers frayed during the drive. As always they settled down. As always music ruled the roost. As always I type as always too much.

Breakfast was at Udipi. Great choice by Radha to eat at a local restaurant. To tell someone you dined at Udipi conjures up an emotion that you dined at the heart of South Indian cuisine. The food wasn’t outstanding - except for the paruppu vadai (I told Radha we need to take one as sample and show it to Pepper Vine Eatery, which is a local one we visit often, just to show how its done) - but we were glad we decided against branded places which were available as well.

If you go to Udipi you need to visit the Krishna temple there. So we did that as well. We went in circles initially. Everyone seemed to be saying the temple was just a krosha away (remember Paramahansa Yogananda’s trip to the Himalayas which was cut short and he visited the sleepless saint instead). Only the temple was nowhere to be seen. We eventually made it. One thing I didn’t understand was why Krishna had to be kept locked up and visitors had to watch Him through a ticket-counter like opening. It felt very strange. Wonderful thing was food was served free to all devotees. We would have dined here had we known earlier.

Another memorable place was Murdeshwara temple. I had seen pictures of this Adi Yogi in padmasana before. But I didn’t know this was that until we reached the temple. The statue was probably 60 feet tall. It was an amazing piece of art. And art met location there since it was just adjoining the coast. There was also a hotel for lodging right next to Adi Yogi. It was a good opportunity to book an intermediate stay here as well. But we covered a good 300 kms more that day after this visit, so it wouldn’t have been productive in terms of planning.

Thereafter, there were no surprises drive wise. It rained on the way which added variety to the setting. But - BUT - we passed by amazing, humongous, copious rivers on the way. Ten at least. As someone who is from Tamil Nadu, I had to hang my head in shame witnessing this. For this state was no stranger to such massive rivers. I myself have witnessed the kollidam in full fury at Anbil during my childhood. Now it is a big bed of sand. This is a big crime against nature and our next generations that we have committed. This setting of crossing rivers, backwaters and the coast of course, was a constant experience once we crossed Udipi till the moment we left Goa. This is a dream stretch in terms of drive.

Goa Roads - a splendid stretch!

In Goa, we stayed at two different places. South and North Goa. I wasn’t prepared for Goa’s size. I had assumed it would be the size of Pondicherry for no particular reason. Perhaps I assumed “union territories” would be coin sized map wise. Goa is big. Big like five or six Chennai’s put together. Or may be three or four. Definitely more than one for sure. I am not a mapologist (what’s the correct name?) ok! So Goa is big. Goa is clean. Goa is beautiful. Goa has beautiful roads. Goa has clean coasts. Goa has a lot of bars. Goa has amazing backwaters. And I am not smitten by Goa. I am stating facts.

In South Goa, there is nothing much to do. So it is a lot quieter. And the resort we stayed in was awesome. Colva beach was stones throw away. That is 4 kms away. Remember we traveled 1000 kms to reach here. So I am entitled to use that phrase. Because of the long drive, the next morning, I woke up late. We just used the day to visit Colva beach. We had a pina colada in a nearby bar. My introduction to pina coladas goes back to “On the Border” chain of restaurants. The pineapple, cocount, cream combination is dizzying and it was the case this time too. If you want to order one, remember to prefix it with virgin. It is important.

"virgin" Pina Colada

Then I had an extended dip in the beach. I don’t know how long, but it must have been at least an hour. Whether a person enjoys it or not, looking at someone rolling in beach sand and sea water suggests the person is enjoying it. So that way I was able to convince Radha to hop in as well.

That night, we went to a nearby all vegetarian but expensive restaurant. Expensive as in similar to Chennai’s vrindavan or Cream Center. We hadn’t eaten a proper meal that day so this trip fixed that. We noted with amusement that at the entrance the board said Goan food among others. We asked them what Goan food they had. We got to know that Goan food is mostly non vegetarian - sea food, steak. They had written Goan food to lure visitors in. So our order was the traditional north indian, ghee rich type.

The trip from south to north Goa was nearly 60 kms. Add another 10 kms if you can’t find your way - which happened to us. This resort was ok type, but there is so much more to do in north Goa.

One thing we did was to go on a ‘dinner cruise’. This is a two hour ride into backwaters. You also get to see some performances depicting Goan culture and have a good dinner. If you’re the social drinker or the drinker type - you will be right at home here (and in all of Goa as well). You find as many bars as chai shops in other cities. The dinner cruise wasn’t ‘exceptional’ but it was ‘different’.

We also visited Miramar beach (a popular one) and a shooting spot. The spot is Dona Paula which is about 4kms from Miramar beach. We could see why it was popular for Bollywood. The sea can be seen in a panorama that is like a 180 degree horse shoe. Its beautiful. You can visualize Ajay Devgan jumping 30 feet and kick three goondas (10? 20?) with this background. And the three of them can fly another thirty feet into the ocean! Plus 1 for the hero, director, producer and pop corn sales! But for the life of me, I can’t understand why no one thought of putting up a chai shop there. Sipping chai and watching the panoramic coast there would have been heaven. Of course, someone did think of putting up a bar there!

attempted panorama - Miramar Beach

Though the trip was planned as a drive trip, the car was a blessing even in Goa. Without him, we would have paid 2x the amount of the entire trip’s fuel cost just going around Goa. I am not exaggerating. If you account for the total distance we spent going around Goa, it amounted to about 300 kms which would have cost us 5000 rupees.

The next day, we went on a memorable river rafting trip. It was expensive - INR 1800 per head. But there was no way we could have done this otherwise given the infrastructure requirements. The plan was to go up the hill, get on the river on its downstream course and disembark an hour later. The “hour” really depended on the current speed. I found the entire premise exciting. It was something I had never done before.

To get to the hill was an hour’s drive to a village. Again, beautiful roads. We got there just in time - one due to good roads, and two due to GPS and Google Maps. I keep wondering how we would have done this a decade ago. The resort in south Goa as well was nestled deep inside back roads. We reached there by 11pm and it was Google Maps which took us there. Its in a way scary how much it knows that you and me don’t!

Once we reached the meeting point, it was another hour’s drive to reach the upstream point. The Mandovi river was beautiful. I mean, BEAUTIFUL! Such richness and vibrance! It makes me again sad for our state. As a majority, we don’t seem to realize what it means to lose things of such significance. I am not talking in utilitarian context - which has its own relevance. Even people who grew up with those rivers and lakes seem to take it as an inevitable consequence of modernization. It is not an inevitable consequence. As we chalk up growth plans, the design and planning needs to consider protection and nurturing of our existing resources as highest priority.

A matter of shame for me is that I do not know to swim yet. I can safely put the blame on my parents for the first twenty years of my life. Thereafter I did not invest the necessary time or create the necessary situation to complete the learning. I came close once but dropped it due to time. A consoling factor was that, for this event, even swimmers had to wear life jackets because of the current. This didn’t prevent me from jumping into the river when the opportunity presented itself. As scary as it was - because I am relying solely on the efficacy of the life jacket to protect me - I am really glad I did it. It was so much exhilaration. I wonder if swimming classes teach life jacket based techniques. I found it easy to just focus on movements without the fear of whirlpool sucking me inside (that a non swimmer creates his own whirlpool is another matter). The water was deep. I was told 25-30 feet at its deepest. Funnily, the danger was at the shallow parts. Because the rocks are very mossy and you can’t stand on them. If you attempt to, the danger lies in slipping and getting carried away by the current and/or hitting yourself on rocks ledged on the river bed.

Like the saying goes ‘you eat your own dog food’, we rowed our own raft. It was difficult at first. But it was possible to optimize our paddling since we were going downstream. Just follow instructions. The instructor was good and we had fun doing this. It also included spraying water on nearby boats with the paddle.

As much as I appreciate the effort, technique and facilitation involved by the company - the experience was one of a kind - the photo charges were a ripoff. They wanted 800 bucks to get photos on a USB stick. 500 without the USB stick. We did opt for the photos but in the end, they ended up looking all blotched up with water. Even if they do comeout fine, I say its not worth the price. My tip - get a waterproof camera or phone and shoot your own photos. May cameras come with water proof housings and waterproof phones are easy to come by (Experia for example). In the end, because he got a good shot of me floating in the river, I will let it pass! I will suggest strongly to bundle the photos as part of the expenses for the experience itself. It would be a nice gesture! Or go the other way, make it of such quality - and include video snippets, that it would be impossible to consider doing this by yourself or passing up on the offer. (If you watched The River Wild you will know what I am talking about). When I went skydiving, they charged 80 USD (that was 15 years back) for the video. After watching myself free fall from 10000 feet above, it was a case of no questions asked!

Finally, Radha wanted to meet the locals. So we went to a village market. Not that we sat with them and spoke to them about their lives over a chai - in Goa’s case it would have been a beer may be? - but the ambiance and location gave a sense of it. We got some awesome kamarkats (called coconut laddoos there). We finished one full pack (about 20) in an hour. The other pack, we dropped it off at a friends house in Bangalore, where we halted overnight there - the bane of hospitality. The upside of it was in exchange, I got three kalpada mangoes. Those mangoes were the sweetest I had tasted. I regretted getting only three. I should learn not to be nice and diplomatic to hosts when they offer things like these. Radha got some mangoes as well from the Goa market but they were nowhere as close as the kalpadas.

Kalpada Mangoes - as sweet as they come!

We thought of doing one last thing in Goa - catch a movie at INOX. But it was Sunday evening and the shows were all sold out. No big deal, they are going to show the same movie as that which is screened in Chennai or Coimbatore. The upside of watching in TN is that you pay only 120 INR, which is the cap the government has fixed for movies here.

Instead of the movie, we had sugarcane juice at a nearby food court, got bhel puri parcel (Radha has a thing for this) and headed back home. Home as in our temporary stay place at Goa. The bhel puri was supplemented with sandwiches we made with the sandwich maker we took with us.

The drive back home was not exactly uneventful. One was the busted tire incident. Other was that an overexcited driver wanted to reach Bangalore quickly. He (she?) was doing probably 100-120 kmph but the situation allowed only 60-70. I do not know if he changed lanes in the last minute or he was on the same lane - but he made a major miscalculation about duration to stop and braked too late. He collided, not slowly, into the mini truck driving parallel to my right. I was so glad it wasn’t me - because we were already late - close to 10pm. Being on the receiving end of a collision like that would have changed the situation entirely. One - damaging the car. Two - it mostly would involve an altercation about right vs wrong party. Three - the two/three hour delay near midnight and the needless harassment. The poor mini truck! First thing that came to my mind was the invisible hand of Bhairavi. Yes, anything good in my life credits to Her. I am not just saying this - it is the truth.

On reaching Coimbatore, which was about 7pm - we saw Insidious 3 - which really is a prequel though it sounds like a sequel. I have no clue why she insisted on watching this of all movies when she can’t take horror movies. She kept her eyes closed for half the movie. I was glad, because I wanted to watch this anyway. What a way to end a trip like this!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Prevent Cable Company......

A brilliant and humorous take on net neutrality. Must watch!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sunday, June 09, 2013

flowers for food

Somebody likes the initiation arrangements.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Poor man's Ooty

The phrase "poor man's Ooty" applies to Yercaud on many levels. It's an hour, the metaphorical stone's throw, away from Salem. That means you don't have to stay up overnight if you can't afford to. It's just about 4000ft above sea level. The place is unpretentious, small but beautiful in its own way. There are no stellar attractions, all view points just show the town down below from various angles - but the temperature drop from the height and the mini-bustle coupled with an underlying serenity do get to you in an unexplainable way.

All attractions can be cocooned inside a circle with a radius of 8kms drawn with the Yercaud Lake as the center. Vegetarian food is easily available, unlike Munnar, thank you Tamil Nadu! There are some hidden surprises, most notably, the Mahadeva statue which is about 7kms away from the town. Another is an unadvertised true view point inside the botanical garden near lady's seat. All other labeled attractions are cliche' or shabbily maintained or both. One potential to-do would be the quad-biking in the plantations.
Unfortunately, the owners are too worried about the bike and run along with you when you quad-bike. Killjoy! Like most resources and places in the state, the maintenance is just enough to get by and leaves to be desired. However, a big thumbs up for keeping plastics away from the hills. All shops big and small, roadside and concrete follow this religiously.

 Note: Panorama - click to view full size

I will remember this Yercaud visit for the most important reason - Mayamma samadhi just at the foothills. Like a diamond among dead-grass, this place lays unnoticed in the middle of the hot town. The place is quiet, well maintained and most importantly, the mystic's shrine throbs with Spiritual energy. There is one photograph of Her with an endearing yet threatening smile - a smile that sucks you in from the hot room and takes you someplace else where thoughts and emotions do not reach. I only wish this shrine was somewhere near the seashore, which is a place I was told she loved. No matter, I am thankful to those who worked to bring this mystic to the reaches of the masses in their own way.