Thursday, September 17, 2015

France: Going solo in lovers' country

It is hard to escape the romantic charm of France, but being alone does not mean you’re missing out

I sit on the rough edge of the farm looking out onto acres upon acres of young vines reaching for sunlight. They are only just sprouting fruit and the harvest is months away. But I could sit here for eternity, a dusty addition to a postcard picture.
France is where the romantics go, holding hands as they walk down broad leafy pavements, kissing under the shadow of a church archway or sharing pastries in a café. What was I doing then, ambling along alone with my day pack for company?
There were just six days to sample a whole country that has been on my mind for years. It was impossible, but I simply had to try.

Back in time in the 21st century
The River Seine
Footing it around Paris is the cheapest, easiest way to get around. So I got off the metro at Châtelet and wandered off into three days of non-stop discovery.
The city was named by a Celtic tribe in the third century called the Parisii, but features exquisite architecture mostly from centuries much later. Amid the notorious French upper crust attitude, perennial stream of tourists and pavements splattered with dog poo, you find that beautiful juxtaposition of history and modernity that marks every ‘old city’ in the world.
The main sites are clustered along the River Seine making it easy for tourists to get from one place to the next. The Tour St Jacques stands inconspicuously, solitary remains of what was probably a majestic 16th century Gothic church destroyed during the French Revolution.
Fete du pain
Nearby is the Hôtel de Ville, which has been the City Hall since 1357. It survived a fire that ravaged the area 200 years ago and features hundreds of sculptures, and beautiful old lamps among the thousands that gave Paris its nomenclature ‘City of Lights’. As I moved on across the river, I became one of the last to see the colourful ‘love locks’ on the Pont des Arts. In June this year, the government removed the thousands of inscribed padlocks left clinging to the heritage bridge by couples as a sign of their love.
The smell of freshly baked bread hung low below the tall intimidating spire of the Cathèdrale Notre Dame de Paris on the tiny Île de la Cité in the centre of the Seine. Spread under a huge white tent in the shadow of France’s most famous church, local bakers showed off exquisite pastry and bread-making skills as hungry tourists devoured excellent samples of French pâtisserie at La Fête du Pain, or the Festival of Bread.
A medieval stairway leads to the Notre Dame tower that explodes into a panoramic view of Paris, the city’s changing scapes watched over by hideous-looking gargoyles and chimera. The gargoyles functioned as run-offs for water, while the chimera are thought to have served as guardians scaring off evil spirits. Inside, the cathedral is filled with awe-inspiring stained glass, carvings, statues and towering organs, the chief one having 7,374 pipes. Built over two centuries, it was the one of the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses, and continues to remain one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture.
From the cathedral, a walk down the Seine brought me to the Louvre, a day tour in itself, with nearly 35,000 exhibits from around the world including paintings, sculptures, scripts, artefacts, jewellery, tapestries and more. Tourists and locals fill the expansive Jardin des Tuileries in the museum grounds, watched over by sculptures that lead you on towards the Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe.
Model replica of the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
A myriad other museums along the way bring you up to the Eiffel Tower which lives up to its fame, but only at night when the lights shine brightly and musicians create beautiful melodies beneath its halo. In the north of Paris, the century-old Moulin Rouge nightclub stands rather stifled among the buildings, its famous red windmill and décor possibly the only remnants of its seductive past. The roads nearby are filled with shops, selling everything from items of wild debauchery to chocolates and curios.
And up the steps of Montmartre, one arrives at the stately Basilica of Sacré-Cœur or Sacred Heart. Although a later construction – built in the late 1800s-early 1900s – the basilica stands tall on the highest point of the city, offering a commanding view of Paris. Faithful come in from around the world to participate in perpetual adoration of the consecrated host which has never stopped since 1885.

Vineyards & Villages
Then I left the city far behind, heading to Burgundy for a sampling of the vineyards and the produce that comes with it. As the wine capital of the district, Beaune felt understated, unrealistically peaceful and almost shy.
Wide, clear roads with medieval walls hidden at intervals, and cute dwellings with no one in sight make it an enticing place for an extended sojourn. I was fortunate to meet Marco Sparacino at the homestay, a young Italian sommelier full of life and bubbling with curiosity. Together, we explored the vineyards of the Cote d’Or, or the Golden Slope, the birthplace of some of the world’s finest wines.
The road south towards Chalon-sur-Saône passed through Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chagny, with acres upon acres of vines creeping along the slopes, hanging low to the ground on stem supports. Every so often, we’d pass through a village – a small smattering of stone houses where engaging vintners spoke excitedly about their products.
Marco enjoyed animated discussions on the complexity of viniculture, as I explored the producers’ wine caves – dark cellars stacked high with barrels ageing wines of various bouquets. Along the way, I learnt interesting tid bits about wine, saw clos or walled vineyards and had my breath taken away by a sea of cornflowers.
In the town of Beaune itself, there are historic sites including the old market of Les Halles, an ancient clock tower called Beffroi, and the 15th century Hospices de Beaune which hosts France’s main wine auction sometime after the end of summer.
Vineyards in the Cote d'Or
A day in the city of Dijon was most certainly called for, looking for La Chouette – the city’s lucky owl carving on the Notre Dame de Dijon cathedral walls, buying its famous mustard, and taking in the beautiful Ducal Palace and its in-house Musée des Beaux Arts which features a stunning array of medieval art.
Burgundy is the ideal place for some quiet time. It is chic in its strong sense of culture and offers pure experiences untouched by mainstream tourism. There are wine and cheese tours, and even truffle hunts, Michelin-starred restaurants and miles upon miles of tranquillity.

So what was I doing alone in the one of the world’s most romantic countries? I was falling in love, no doubt. With not a care in the world and not a thing to come home to, I was falling in love with living in the moment.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Of hidden history and black sand beaches - Java & Bali

Prambanan, Java
It was hot that day, and we had nowhere to lie away from the heat of the sun. We watched as happy tourists chowed their way through overpriced Continental comfort food. But it wasn’t hunger killing us. It was having so much to do, so little time and no money at all.
Borobudur, Java
Five days before this, we had landed in Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia, excitement barely contained and pockets slowly emptying. We found our way to the Kampoeng Djawa hostel, doorposts struggling to find air through a thick foliage of creepers and trees of an Amazon-like garden.
The nearby Jalan Malioboro is a major tourist attraction with shops lining the streets selling quirky wares, delicious local fare and buskers singing for their supper. The next morning, after an early start to a vantage point to see the Merapi volcano hissing steam in the distance, we set off to discover two ninth century mega marvels that marked the patronage of Buddhism and Hinduism in the now Muslim-dominated Indonesia.
For centuries, the black stone stupas of the Mahayana Buddhist Temple of Borobudur lay ensconced in dense vegetation and volcanic ash, cut off by superstition and tales of bad luck. Following its rediscovery through the 1800s, the UNESCO Heritage Site has now become the single most visited tourist attraction in the country.
Nasi campur at a local warung
On the other side of Yogyakarta, Prambanan rises through the mist like a series of intricately carved monoliths. Like Borobudur, this too fell to ruin, collapsing after a major earthquake and then being rediscovered and restored in the 1900s. Originally, 240 smaller temples stood in the complex. Today, only two are renovated, with eight of the main temples reconstructed.
Both Borobudur and Prambanan are rich in sculpture and steeped in mysticism. They present mysterious windows into the past, with tales and culture so rich it could give any ardent history lover a case of goose bumps.
After two days of soaking in history, it was time to head to Bali, the country’s most famous island. And not without reason. It’s a heady mix of partying and rambunctious nightlife, coupled with thrilling adventure sports and relaxing days overlooking terraced rice fields or turquoise blue water.
We made our base in Ubud, Bali’s cultural centre, where a great many decorative wares can be found. The markets permeate a more global air compared to Yogyakarta’s Jalan Malioboro, with curios and knick knacks made and sold with the tourist in mind.
In Ubud, we met Nyoman Ardika, a friend, impromptu tour guide and driver. The young Indonesian lad was proud to show off his country, taking us through gorgeous green countryside to black sand beaches that marked a stark contrast to the sky blue sea.
It was here that we discovered a love for nasi campur – the delicious spread of rice, meat, vegetables and peanuts – and bakso, or meat balls in a hot soupy broth, and bumbu Bali, a delicious spiced fish recipe. We also chanced upon the Green School along the Ayung River, made of eco-friendly bamboo structures and other renewable materials.
Bali is a paradise for adventure seekers too, with pristine snorkelling and scuba diving sites, and great surfing. South west is where the non-stop party is, with Kuta reminiscent of our very own Calangute area – you either love it or hate it.

As time wound down, our pockets emptied at the scuba diving site in the north east of the island, we held on to the last of our chocolate stuffed Hong Kong pai baos and swore to each other to return once more.

Underwater paradise

 First published in the Navhind Times

8 days in England

I raced down Buckingham Palace Road, a 12kg backpack bouncing awkwardly behind me as the cold rain plastered my hair to my scalp. Holding onto the five extra kgs strapped to my front, I careened down the endless departures lounge at Victoria Coach Station, praying desperately that my Eurolines ticket out of London would still be valid.
Stomp, stomp, stomp... Squish squish squish

My soaked shoes announced my arrival and as the end of the line disappeared into the bus, I just about managed to change into dry footwear, dump my backpack in the hold and grab a seat. I caught my breath and looked back at the last week that had all but whizzed by in a flash of pubs, sloping grasslands, achingly polite language and a glimpse of some of the world's most iconic structures.

Tower Bridge, London

Chester – raspberries & races
Full English breakfast
My first experience of England was right out of the little handbook of stereotypes. Yoghurt and raspberries went down the hatch before fancy fasteners of feathers and ribbons were strapped on and heels clicked towards the race track in Chester, a town 270 kms north of London. We smiled, shook hands and sipped on beer, huddled under colourful umbrellas in the Dee Stand. 'There they come!' ...and there they went, horses thundering down the track, out of sight in barely a flash and lost in the overwhelming drama of the races.
It's a long drawn tradition that is more of a social event than a sport, women trying to outbest each other in surviving the longest with the least cover in 10 degrees C and everyone enjoying multiple tastings of the local brew. And yes, there’s betting. Generally anyone who wins buys the rest a beer, so in the end, everyone wins!
Chester, though a small town, is quite popular on race day. The main thoroughfare is alive with all kinds of shops, and buskers keep the central square bright and spirited. There are ruins of an old wall dating back to Roman times in 70AD designed to keep out invaders. The circuit around the city was completed in medieval times and forms a walkway peppered with interesting historical sites.

Wales – mountains & meadows
Chester beautifully complements the quiet, village life of Betws-y-Coed in Wales. Here, in the west of the United Kingdom, the resolutely tongue twisting words feel out of place in the simplicity of life. Satisfying full English breakfasts (complete with black pudding and bangers), steaming pots of tea, and crisp morning air are ideal energy boosters before a long trek along the River Llugwy and the Gwydyr Forest without a soul in sight.
House made with slate in Betws-y-Coed
Ardent hikers with a good sense of direction take a short bus ride to the nearby village of Llanberis at the foot of Mount Snowdon to climb the tallest peak in Wales. On cloudy days, it’s hard to see the path, so greenhorns – like me – opt for the train ride instead. There’s the National Slate Museum offering glimpses into the mining and production of Britain’s peculiar grey construction material.
A hot Cornish pasty and cup of jo keeps the heart from standing still when you see a man jauntily ride down the street on his horse wearing jeans and a t-shirt like it’s the height of summer in 1965.

Mount Snowdon
Liverpool – Beatles & Beer-battered fish
Fish and chips
Liverpool is starkly different. It resounds with modernisation and the whipping noise of the wind as you take the ferry across the River Mersey. You’re already singing ‘Penny Lane’ as you step off the dock and head straight for the Beatles museum.
Located at Albert Dock and Pier Head, the Beatles Story takes fans on a journey through the lives, times, culture and music of the Fab Four. With its replicas of famous pubs from the Beatles’ era, videos of fan hysteria, memorabilia, and recorded audio conversations of people closely connected with one of the most famous bands in music history, the museum – and its Fab 4D family entertainment video – brings the beat group to life for hardcore fans and regular tourists.
A greasy meal washed down with beer is ideal to warm you up against the chilly wind, but I will sadly admit that my first meal of fish and chips in England will be my last. Served traditionally in newsprint, this beer battered chunk of haddock or cod served with an enormous pile of thick chips and boiled peas was a long-standing stock meal among the masses. That is, until chicken tikka masala took over! As a Goan, it was glaringly evident that the meal would have had a more satisfying effect had it been one of our tastier local morsels, even bereft of any condiments. The chips, however, were delicious.

Diaries at Portobello Market
London – mementos & memories
Further south in London, a walk down the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is an adventure in shopping. Everything from cheap clothes to vintage fashion, farmers’ produce and gourmet cupcakes, overpriced curios and deliriously beautiful antiques lie wedged one among the other, eagerly waiting to be hunted out.
To be blessed with bright blue skies with about 16 hours of sunshine in England on an eight-day vacation is nothing short of a miracle. It’s only natural then to take a walk through London’s giant breaths of fresh air. All through Hyde Park – past Kensington Palace where the young royal couple and their two babies live – you discover how much wonderful weather means to the ordinary Brit.
Big Ben
Families and friends make it a picnic, there are games played, dogs walked and even horses trotted. Ducks and swans greedily snap up nibbles put down by warm-hearted tourists. Buckingham Palace and The Mall suddenly emerge on the other side, stately and prim. If you’re lucky, as I was, the Queen might zip by in her Land Rover as she arrives from Windsor Palace to Buckingham right before the changing of the guard.
Soon Westminster Abbey and Big Ben loom into view, and further down across the bridge, you see the overpriced but beautiful London Eye. Just there, we stopped for a drink of Pimm’s at the Udderbelly Festival, marked by a giant upside down purple cow and dozens upon dozens of picnic tables filled with sunshine and summer drink lovers.
We passed Shawn the Sheep statues, some of the 100 painted, each by a different artist to be auctioned at the end of summer. Ahead rose the 200 foot tall Tower Bridge, one of England’s most iconic symbols and an engineering marvel during its construction in the late 1800s.
Shawn the Sheep statue for charity
Other important structures include The Shard skyscraper, the Millennium Bridge known as the ‘Wobbly Bridge’ before its modifications, St Katharine Docks, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Museum and the new Crossrail Roof Garden at Canary Wharf.
Rain might have marred the following day, but didn’t deter a visit to the Emirates Stadium in Holloway with a chance glimpse of Arsenal legend Charlie George, and a nip to the pub at Covent Garden to warm up and say cheers to a lovely time.

That night, as the bus rumbled towards the white cliffs of Dover to cross the English Channel towards France, I thought about all that had transpired over the past eight days. The UK was so much more than I imagined it would be, and if you played it right, not nearly as expensive at all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hidden Gems of Goa

Just ‘cuz you haven’t HEARD of something doesn’t mean it aint AMAZING!
The season is beginning to wind down. You’ve experienced all the necessary evils, visited all the regular haunts, been there and done and are thinking, is that all there is? 
Happily, the answer to that question is a resounding, NO!
How ‘bout going off-road, down a barely lit trail and discovering things – right here at home – that have been staring you in the face but you haven’t quite noticed.
There is so much more to Goa than the beaches, restaurants and nightclubs that everyone and their mother flock to. These are experiences, places and services we need to hold dear, to encourage without spoiling. Here’s just a few of them.
Uncovering history at Chikhali Caves
Several years ago, four underground caves were discovered that proved the existence of prehistoric settlement in Goa. Pot shards, found at the caves in Mormugao taluka, prove that it is one of the oldest known sites of human habitation in the state. It is possible that these were once used as burial chambers, and as such can be considered holy in the eyes of history lovers. For a place that cries itself hoarse about eras that began with the arrival of Vasco da Gama, Goa certainly offers awe-inspiring eye-openers.

Luxury bazaar at Le Souk by Amarya
The Saturday Night Market is one of Goa’s big draws, being more of a fun experience than a shopping excursion. When the pockets are deeper and the shopaholic soul restless, a trip to Le Souk by Amarya in Ashvem might be a good idea. It’s a luxury bazaar that has all the aura of the fashion world cascading out of Middle Eastern-inspired décor. It includes Indo-French collections at The Shop by Nana Ki, contemporary home textiles and accessories at The Bohemian Project, apparel and home furnishings at Shades of India, whimsical Bollywood-inspired bags at Paris Goa, unique handcrafted luggage at Nappa Dori, fine jewellery at Van Andel & Peace, beauty and skin care offerings at Bottega di LungaVita, men’s wear at Jonas G, specialty haircuts by Guy Staumont at Le Studio Haircut and products by Royal Enfield and Leela Art Palace. There’s also Le Café for nibbles and juices, La Crêperie for delicious pancakes and Nespresso Bar for a caffeine fix.

Deluxe detox at The Beach House
This might be a rather indulgent way to begin Lent – or wind down the season of decadence – but it’s a good option to get all the holiday season toxins out of your body with minimal self-motivation. The retreat in Sernabatim, south Goa, is hidden away from the temptations of city life, and provides a sojourn of rest and relaxation. A number of treatments are available, with clients starting off on a screening process that assesses their physical, psychological and physiological systems which goes into developing a tailor-made programme for the length of their stay. The Beach House also mentors guests at the resort and after they return home to help maintain their new, healthy lifestyle.

Georgian artisanal cheese by Maia
Cheese platters are the ultimate classics at sunset events, where you want a bit of formality but couldn’t bother with rustling up a spread for guests at dinner. One can never have enough cheese but it isn’t always Camembert or Roquefort that steals the show. Thanks to the tourist influx, there’s a whole smörgåsbord of cheeses available in Goa. But way down south, in the sleepy breezy village of Palolem, Maia Donadze brings traditional Georgian cheese to Goa, made from Indian milk but using techniques learnt back in the Eastern European country she calls home. Maia Cheese offers a variety of products, including feta, cream cheese, quark, buffalo mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, blue and ‘bree’, and also does cheese tables at weddings and other occasions.

Eco e-waste with Group TenPlus
It’s the age of electronics and short attention spans. Combine the two and you have new gadgets making themselves at home in cars, rooms and pockets. What happens then to all the waste? While some of it can be palmed off via online classifieds portals such as Quickr and Olx, much of it needs to be binned. Group TenPlus in Saligao provides complete e-waste solutions from collection to disposal in Goa that is all recycled and kept out of landfills. The company does not put any of the electronics up for resale, and ensures that all equipment that could contain sensitive data – such as mobile phones and computers – is shredded.

Scrumptious Saraswat food at Suwadik
Even as a resident of the state, eating Goan food in a restaurant is most often restricted to fish curry rice, crumb fried fish and a host of Indo-Portuguese dishes. Places that serve satisfying pre-Portuguese inspired food is generally restricted to the ‘aunty’ in the two-bench chai shop who will churn out thali after thali of delicious lunch. In Panjim, Chef Keshav Nadkarni’s Suwadik restaurant serves the quintessential Saraswat Hindu cuisine in an environment where you don’t have to roll up your sleeves, swat off the flies or share your table with strangers. Accompanied by a Mario Miranda-style painting, diners relish tisryanche dangar (clam cutlets), fish thalis, mackerel pickle, bharlele bangde (stuffed mackerel), the ever popular sungtache lonche (prawn pickle), bangdyachi uddhemethi (mackerel curry) and sweets including kharvas (made from cow’s colostrum milk), tavsali (Goan cucumber cake) with vanilla ice cream and nachinyachem satv (red millet pudding).

Luxury yachting on board Lady M
Lay off the boring five-star dinners and turn it up several notches. Goa’s quiet backwaters, bordered by lush mangroves and teeming ecosystem are lying in wait. Captain Roberto Amaral, who owns Cancio’s guest house in Aldona, offers guests and walk-in visitors the chance to soak in Goa’s hinterland beauty on board his 42-foot yacht that he calls Lady M. The catamaran and its smaller speedboat cousin have been used in movies and advertisements and provide stunning visuals of tranquil village life in Goa. Lady M has a spacious forward deck for parties, a specially designed fly-bridge, ample aft deck lounging area, and offers everything from sunset cruises to overnight trips with food and beverages, and even a DJ! Want to make things extra special? Book a full moon cruise.

On and Off the Road
Goa’s hinterland roads have long been the haunt of riding and driving enthusiasts. The open tarmac, rich hues of vegetables growing in open fields, the rush of wind – and not to mention the hearty aroma of roadside snacks – make the state an easy, yet enjoyable ride. Since 1999, Blazing Trails Tours has been riding standard Royal Enfield Bullets across the length and breadth of the country. The group of carefree souls, who once had an office in Saligao, offers a number of tours in India and South Africa. If they’re out on tour, there are other options. Based in Assagao, Peter Paulo Dos Santos and his friends established the Classic Bike Adventure project with a fleet of more than 35 Enfield Bullets that offers over a dozen rides as well as custom tours. And if you feel like something dirtier, get your gear on and head down hundreds of kilometres of deserted forest tracks with John Pollard at his Off The Grid homestay in the Western Ghats.

Pimp Your Ride at Speed Accessories
Sometimes you don’t want a regular ride, and with the vehicles market virtually exploding in Goa, it’s almost certain you will be lost among the stampeding herd. To stand out a little without looking cheap, head to Speed Accessories in Caranzalem, Panjim, where enthusiast Kenneth Fernandes owns an exclusive little outfit that furnishes your ride with some of that swagger you always wanted. Opened in 2006, Speed Accessories does everything from chic bumpers, 3D floor mats and fancy new alloys to projector headlights, LED work and custom car wraps. Based on the client’s budget, Fernandes imports accessories from Singapore, Thailand, the UK, Germany or Italy. He accepts new clients only by appointment and never takes on more than two cars a day, ensuring quick, quality work you are bound to love. So sweeten your new car or doll up old Betsy; it pays to be different.

Village life at Olaulim Backyards
They have never advertised, and probably will never need to. This is the ideal that one usually holds standards against. It is quiet, eco-friendly, warm and very, very local. The homestay in Olaulim, Pomburpa, allows guests to soak in the kind of environment our forefathers grew up in, with a few modern flourishes such as an azure blue swimming pool, comfortable beds and convenient WCs. With just two cottages and a tree house to choose from, there’s never a crowd and one is rest assured that the environment is as taken care of as you are. From water and electricity conservation and composting, to recycling and natural furnishing, Savio and Pirrko at Olaulim Backyards certainly put their back into it. Locally sourced fresh seafood and vegetables are cooked on a traditional wood-fire and seasonal fruit are always on the table.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

8 ways to enjoy Goa without the sea and sand

Go ahead, defy your overseas friends in their adamant insistence that having fun in Goa only involves drunken dancing in a club and a gorgeous tan from saltwater swimming.
It’s been said time and again that Goa is much more than just the beach. But most of these articles tend to be published during the monsoons when a day at the beach is pretty much a wet blanket. But it doesn’t always have to be so.
Here’s a chance to get away from the crowd-choked areas that call all and sundry during ‘season time’ and still have photographs that will make your social media followers go green.

Karting: Feel a bit of the adrenaline rush and zip around a track where you can’t endanger the general public. You don’t need to be a speed junkie to enjoy karting; a little competitive spirit will do just fine. Children and adolescents find racing around bends bordered by rubber tires quite exciting, so it’s also possible for parents to keep them busy while they catch up on local gossip.
Race around the karting tracks in Arpora or Nuvem.  
Boating at Mayem Lake: Remember those school trips as a child? Or perhaps even a family trip where you were plonked into a pedal boat and forced to pose with the sun in your eyes? It doesn’t have to be this traumatic. Mayem Lake has its own charm with its placid water, lush greenery all around and a large shady park to finish some reading in. Goa Tourism runs the Mayem Lake Resort with self-contained cottages should you feel like soaking in the vicinity. In the nearby Kumbhar vaddo, artisan families make Ganesh idols out of terracotta – a change from the regular clay idols.
Try boating options at the Champions Yacht Club, or stay at the Mayem Lake Resort
Live in a Portuguese mansion: Pretend you lived in a bygone era without the stiff frills of aristocratic society. There are a number of old Portuguese mansions across Goa that offer a trip back in time. Some built as far back as the 17th century, they are filled with antiques, paintings and curios that each tell a story; and rooms that whisper rumours about the people who lived there over the ages.
Both Siolim House and Casa Britona were originally built more than 300 years ago.
Go off the grid: Yes, literally. Leave everything behind and live without a fridge, fan or easily accessible shops. Is the city soul in you already scared? Don’t be. Tucked away in the Western Ghats is a farm that indulges in what it likes to call ‘micro tourism’ with simple eco-friendly solutions, lots of outdoor activities including an overnight trek in the wilderness and a fusion of multi-cultural cuisine out in the wild.
Sounds too good to be true, but Off The Grid certainly delivers.
Pedal your way around Goa: Before the festive spirit leads to all sorts of lazy indulgent malaises, repair that forlorn bicycle and pedal into the hinterland. Stay away from the touristy areas where over-enthusiastic bus drivers can turn your legs to jelly. Try the stretch from Chandor to Quepem and its surrounding areas where you can stop and admire the golden fields.
Stop at the Palácio do Deão in Quepem to admire an ancient legacy of architecture, art and décor, and perhaps grab a bite to eat.
Kayak down a river: Stretch those arms and get yourself up a creek. With a paddle though. Goa has more beautiful rivers than you’ve cared to notice. Exchange loud-mouthed tourists, pesky sand bugs and the stench of jet ski fuel for a light kayak and oars, thick foliage bent double over the river banks, and perhaps a mocking monkey or two.
Goa Kayaking has a number of options.
Stuff it: Eat more spoonfuls of indulgent food than your brain can comprehend. When your workout programmes reward you with a cheat day, an all-you-can-eat buffet is what you ought to gift yourself.
Do justice to that famous appetite of yours at Coffee Heaven or House of Lloyds.
Make some high-flying pals: These will come without the pretentious behaviour affiliated with the human sort. Grab a pair of binoculars and head into thickly wooded areas. You’ll get a lesson in silence (switch those phones off and stop chattering), patience and observation. There’s a vast range of species out there so you might want to lug along a copy of ‘The Book of Indian Birds’ by Dr Salim Ali, the 13th edition of which has illustrations by Goa’s own Carl D’Silva.
Get a personalised introduction to Goa’s avian treasures with Rahul Alvares.

Don’t overthink it; simply get that calendar out and cross out dates. Friends and family will thank you for a refreshing change to the fun times they’re used to. 

This article was first published in Goa Streets on November 21, 2014.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spice up the season in Goa

The Fun, The Unusual, The Wild and The Serene

If you told your buddies that you weren’t really looking forward to ‘the scene this season’ and they gave you a ‘what’s-come-over-you’ look, know that you haven’t flipped a lid. Sometimes you need to change things a bit, leave the haze of parties and beach trips behind and do things a little differently. Instead of hopping from one bar to the next, one dinner plate to subsequent serving for lunch, take a shot at some fun, unusual things to do this coming season.
Crash a wedding
This is the season of weddings after all. You’ve probably been to one before, but there’s something so exciting about doing things you’re not meant to. Don’t go with your entire gang of drunken buddies and avoid dressing like you want to kill the fashion sense of the season. But it’s great to make random conversation with an interesting set of people, or ask the pretty girl or cute guy across the lawns for a dance. And then disappear into the night like Cinderella. Not before wishing the happy couple of course!
View the relics of St Francis Xavier
This happens only once in 10 years, so if your memory of last time’s visit is fuzzy or if you’ve never been to it before, it’s about time you did. The Catholic saint’s body has been lying in state since it arrived in Goa in May 1542! Despite two burials after his death, St Francis Xavier’s body was found to be incorrupt until the end of the 17th century. It was in the 19th century that the current cycle of decennial expositions began. This year, it will be held between November 22 and January 04.
Contact: 0832 2284710
Learn how to water ski
We’ve all seen the parasailors, the jet skiers and the banana boat riders, and we’ve lost our twinge of jealousy having done it ourselves. Now it’s time to get a little more adventurous and ski on water. Get in touch with any one of the numerous water sports companies along the coast and feel the adrenaline rush as a cable pulls you along on skis behind a speeding boat.
Witness a Combat Cage Fight
In late November, Goa will see a new, different kind of entertainment. Combining a variety of martial arts, the Combat Cage Fight at Tito’s Courtyard promises to showcase the complexity and beauty of self-defence skills surrounded by the vibe of Goa’s nightlife that we know and love. With six bouts, one including women fighters, this unusual event is set to leave a mark this season.
Tito’s Courtyard – 0832 2275028, 2276154, +91 9822765002.
Saunta Vaddo, Tito’s Lane, Calangute Road, Baga. Website:
Volunteer at an old age home, orphanage or kennel 
When you think of it, there’s a lot for you to be grateful about. Sometimes we need to share that with those who haven’t got very much. Instead of wasting those semester breaks in the company of your PlayStation or exhausting your excess compulsory leaves expanding in front of the television, leave a little room for some volunteering. Lend a listening ear at an old age home, play some music for children at an orphanage or hand out some much awaited tummy rubs at your nearest pound.
Cheer on FC Goa at an ISL match 
Yes, this is not the Premier League and yes, our standard of football has yards to go, but haters will be haters and we’ve got to start somewhere. The Indian Super League has proved an excellent way for domestic football to get going. So grab your pom poms, banners and jerseys and head to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda to watch veteran international players show off their skills right here at home.
Tickets at
Tour crib county
Where else in India can you take a leisurely walk or drive in your pyjamas and see nativity scenes that sometimes reflect completely disconnected themes? Across Goa, Christmas is celebrated with much revelry, but it’s the competition of the cribs in south Goa that can make your celebrations a little different. From Christmas trees made of straws depicting concern for the environment to banners with social messages, and some very traditional ones, the creativity never ends.
Make your own guitar
Thought you were cool when you made your own Hallowe’en costume? Think cooler when you make your own musical instrument. Join Chris Horton at Jungle Guitars in Baga, where he shows you how to build classical or steel string guitars from scratch over 15 days. With more than 20 years of experience, he will take you through its construction, from choosing the wood to varnishing. It might be a bit heavy on the pocket, but how many people do you know can boast of such an achievement?
Contact Chris Horton. +91 9823565117,+91 8308162326.
Whip up a storm with culinary classes
After the success of Masterchef Australia, pretty much everyone thinks they can throw a few ingredients into a pan and receive gushing compliments. Learn how to do things the right way with some classes in your favourite style of cuisine. With the season of giving coming up, you can ready yourself to lay out the perfect spread for family and friends.
Discover the Story of Light
Here’s an artsy version of all the incomprehensible physics quips from the Big Bang Theory. The Story of Light Festival from January 14-18, 2015, will throw cross-disciplinary scientists, artists and philosophers together to translate quantum physics and the universe into exhibits, workshops and installations around a planned pedestrian route in Panjim.
Give your insides a makeover
Did you ever think that maybe your internal system – that effectively keeps you alive – might need a little overhauling during party season? For all the tightrope walks you put it through, hopping from one party to the next, it needs a bit of rest and relaxation. Head to a detox centre, and we’re not talking about illegal substances here. Most offer detoxification programmes focusing on rejuvenation, cleansing and stress reduction based on the ancient Indian science of ayurveda. It might be a bit rigorous, but believe me, your body will thank you for it.
Juggle me joy
If everything goes according to plan as it has been over the last six years, juggling convention InJuCo might return to Goa in January next year. If you’re expecting clowns throwing striped balls or oranges in the air, you’re highly mistaken. Here, a variety of performance artists showcase everything from the popular trapeze, acrobatics and hoola hoop to lesser known but equally mindnumbing arts such as poi, kalari payattu and acro-balance. The non-profit event features artists, some with strange names such as funny man Mr Banana and escape artist Monsieur Gusto, from all over the world.
Walk back in time
You could uncover a lost world in Panjim just by looking a little closer to the signs. If you nodded off in class while the History teacher droned on, you’re guaranteed to be snapped wide awake by this activity. Take a walk with the Goa Heritage Action Group, which organises tours in the state’s capital city and points out bits of the past you would never have seen otherwise. You’re sure to have several ‘aha’ moments that reconnect with a dusty old schoolbook.
Tel: +91-832-245-9109
Website: www.
Gardening glory
Stop complaining about the price of vegetables in the market and grow some of your own. It’s the perfect run up to making your New Year’s resolutions by getting in the groove and then committing to it long-term. You’ll get a bit of a workout in – bending over, raking, digging – and you’ll be eating fresh, organic veggies without those disease inducing pesticides. Green Essentials’ website even provides a calendar to help you schedule your gardening tasks.
Tel. 99606-43245/0832-2443124
Loosen your tongue
No, don’t hit the bottle. Sign up for a language course and learn how to say your favourite phrases a different way. There are many foreign language institutes in Goa, but there are also many that teach Indian languages. With travel a favourite activity among the middle class these days, learning a new language will help you make your way to the core of the destinations you’ve always wanted to see and the cultures that have never stopped intriguing you.
Whatever it is, choose to do something that’s not run-of-the-mill, whatever age you’re at. You owe it yourself to be able to look back at experiences you can remember and learn from, not just (although equally fun!) days and nights of partying that turn into one long blur.
First published in Goa Streets on October 25, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Young, Smart & Committed to Changing The World

The Goa hub of the international World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers initiative is addressing global issues at the local level

Social media is a lot of things, chief among them being a superb out for venting. We’re always expressing our happiness, sadness, rage or disgust on the latest trending topic. But when it comes to actually getting down to doing something about it, people often pass the buck. It’s either out of their control or someone else’s job.
Not these youngsters. This group of 14 Goans has joined the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) international initiative to improve the state of the world, one project at a time. Around the world, thousands of Global Shapers are making a difference, from providing furniture and household items for displaced people in Gaza to encouraging young Costa Ricans to vote.
“These are young people exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a contribution to their communities for building a more peaceful and inclusive world,” says Tallulah D’Silva, the curator of Global Shapers Community Panjim Hub.
With 50 per cent of the world’s population under 27 years of age and a majority in urban areas, the World Economic Forum began to look at engaging young people in the solutions to global challenges. The Swiss non-profit started this global network of people between the ages of 20 and 30 in 2011 and by June this year, more than 344 Global Shaper Hubs had been set up.
In Goa, the hub was formed five months ago after D’Silva received a call from the WEF. She then recruited youngsters she knew had the passion and drive to make a difference here.
“The Panjim Hub is involved in a number of different projects at the moment,” says social worker and photographer Fabian Franco, continuing, “One of the projects is promoting grey water recycling systems using plants and biogas systems in institutions.”
This is their G2H2O project in which they opt for plants over a conventional sewage treatment system to convert waste to clean water. Another similar project is their Trash2Gas initiative in which they hope to use wet waste to generate biogas that can be used to run a community kitchen, or light public spaces.
In Karmali, the group has joined hands with the Mitsuko Trust and the local panchayat to come up with a low-cost eco-friendly toilet to improve sanitation. The community in Old Goa is currently grappling with increasing population density, lack of water and sanitation facilities, which pollute water bodies and put the nearby Karmali Lake bird population at risk.
To combat this, the Hub’s Ecoloo Project is looking at eco-friendly, cost-effective individual and community sanitation modules with grey water recycling, minimal water usage, built with long-lasting materials, with plants grown in the root zone that can be used as food.
Recently, Viola Rodrigues, Mrinmayee Thakur and Chenelle Rodrigues assisted D’Silva with a series of nature trails to help students from city schools connect with their environment. “The objectives of the trails are to promote outdoor learning, understand local biodiversity, identify and document local flora and fauna, and connect to natural systems and understand the role they play,” the Shapers explain.
They’ve conducted two trails for students of Our Lady of The Rosary High School – one in Dona Paula and the other in Bambolim – and a third for the Little Penguins School in Old Goa.
The Hub will soon launch a Career Speak initiative for young school and college students to encourage them to choose careers that go beyond the typical ‘first choices’ of engineering and medicine. And this is just the start. D’Silva elaborates, “We are currently involved in preparing a tree policy for the city and are documenting and mapping tree avenues and different species. There are also plans to introduce urban farms in the city as a collaborative effort with Green Essentials and the Corporation of the City of Panjim.”
Goa’s Shapers come from across professions and spheres of interest – from professor Varad Sabnis, student of Environmental Studies Gabriella D’Cruz and research associate Atul Borker to journalist Anwesha Singbal, psychologist Krystal Cardozo, engineer Nitish Wagle, teacher Chandrakant Shinde, and the youngest Tarika Khan.
Being a part of the Hub is a way for them to make a change in society while also exposing themselves to the ideas and voices of youngsters from around the world. Entrepreneur Raghuvir Mahale is looking forward to using information technology to make life easier and improve daily life. “I also want to get exposed to a lot of knowledge from around the world, and learn new things that can be implemented in Goa,” he says.
The group meets every month, either at a small café or at the curator’s office, discussing ideas and making plans over hot chai and bhaji. They often work on implementing their projects on their own time after office hours, and gain inspiration from the shapers around the world who are already well on their way to making a difference.
The global community lends its support through forums and offers opportunities to exchange best practices on relevant issues – from selecting Shapers to Hub governance, and sharing insights with WEF colleagues on regional issues and pressing world challenges.
“I look at being part of the Global Shapers Community Panjim Hub as a way of helping each other with new projects, building a network not only in India but across the world and giving our community work international exposure,” says Franco.
This motley group of youngsters believes in making the change they want to see, and the next time we think of complaining about something, we might want to take a leaf out of their books first.
To learn more about Global Shapers, visit their website at
First published in Goa Streets in August 2014