Ratnagiri: an avian paradise

“I never meant to be a birder. But the birds didn’t give me any choice.”
Diane Stopyra 


Ratnagiri, as we all know, is famous for its mangoes, cashews and seafood. The landscape here is as varied and colorful as it’s produce and cuisine.We planned a Diwali family vacation here in the last week of October. A cozy overnight train journey was an exciting first time for my seven year old!!IMG-20191023-WA0021.jpgIMG-20191023-WA0027.jpegWe were expecting a lot of sunshine. To our dismay, we were completely engulfed by pre-cyclonic winds and clouds as the cyclonic storm namely ‘Kyarr’ over the east-central Arabian Sea for the 4 days that we were there. Gushing winds, rain showers and no sunshine at all. Well, we tried to not let that dampen our holiday spirits.IMG_20191026_141331.JPG
Our first stop was Ganeshghule, Oceano Pearl homestay, near Pawas. A warm red brick house overlooking the rice fields and a short walk from the beachIMG_20191024_092817.jpgIMG_20191024_083323.jpgComfortable rooms in a coconut grove, simply amazing lip-smacking home-cooked meal. Truly the best place to reinvent yourself and master the art of idling.IMG_20191024_083545.jpgWe were pleasantly surprised to discover the fabulous avifauna here. As the rain eased out a bit by afternoon, we ventured out with our cameras. Sunlight flittered through the branches, glinting against its plumage, I spotted the white-throated kingfisher.

IMG_0152.JPGA few steps ahead, another beauty! A Red-whiskered Bulbul against the thick foliage.IMG_0154.JPGNature won us over, one warbler at a time. We enthusiastically embarked on a trail through the rice fields to capture some more beauties. IMG_20191025_075541.jpgA Green Bee-eater perched high up on a branch, peering towards the rough sea, wondering maybe what’s in store next, in the eye of the storm?IMG_0194.JPGA couple of white egrets wading through puddlesIMG_0206 (1).JPGand some red-wattled lapwings in the grass.IMG_0273.JPGWe really didn’t know how to identify and distinguish all these birds, but just kept clicking pictures and our friend Dr Mita Gala, an avid birdwatcher helped us later with the names A sea eagle soared high in the sky, as we ventured towards the coastIMG_0229.JPGand some sea gulls at the edge of the water.IMG_0202.JPGThe next day we drove northbound, past Ratnagiri on the great coastal road of Aare and Ware beach to Ganpatipule temple.IMG_0240IMG_0266

The Blue Ocean Resort and Spa at Ganpatipule was our next halt, a perfect place if you are smitten by the “bird” bug. We were greeted at the reception with a poster of the birds we could encounter here.

IMG_20191025_152513.jpgIMG_20191026_131521.jpgWalking around in the drizzling rain, with the sea raging in the background, we spotted some more birds strutting around the ground. An amazing place to inspire the “bird nerd” in you A pond heron was walking majestically on the lawnsIMG_0351.JPGand is that a Munia in the shrubs….or a Magpie robinIMG_0353 There is a small hill within the property and a walk to the temple at the top, especially when sunrise is the perfect backdrop to spot more birds that dwell in the trees up there.

Spotted a spotted dove

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When I glanced up, I saw two beautiful birds perched on the low branch of a bare tree. I caught my breath. They were no more than four feet away and looking directly at me. We locked eyes for an instant, I clicked and then they were gone. A black drongo ..and maybe an eagle ?IMG_0307 (1).JPGThat’s the story of how I accidentally became a Birder !!!

IMG_20191025_095433_BokehPerfect capture of these two cuties in the trees, isn’t it ?

Inpite of the rain and clouds, we had an amazing holiday chasing all kinds of birds. Make hay while the sun shines they say. Well if it doesn’t, life is still beautiful !!!

 

A Bird nerd who says “I always tern up for bird watching !!!!

Whatever floats your boat

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A solitary fisherman drifts over the calm waters of the lake that is now filled to the brim and the mid monsoon skies above are heavily overcast, threatening another downpour soon. He nonchalantly casts his net, hoping to trap some fish, to feed his family maybe and a big catch will help him to earn some money in this “dry” season of his livelihood. He waits patiently and so do we as we watch him from the balcony of our floating cottage at Club Mahindras Ashtamudi…

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The verdant state of Kerala is blessed with over 30 backwaters and Ashtamudi ( so named because it has “eight cones “) which is about 3 hours drive from Trivandrum airport, is now gaining a lot of popularity as the perfect family holiday destination.

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We had been to Munnar, Thekkady, Kumarokam and Cochin in the past at the time of the Onam festival in 2013. Another short holiday to Wayanad from Calicut in the North a few years later was a heavenly experience. The magic of the monsoons of Kerala and the piquant taste of the local food beckoned us once again to explore God’s own country this July. As I returned to Mumbai and wrote this blog, the state was devastated by the worst flood ever and our prayers and help in different forms was sent to the people.

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The location of this resort tucked away amidst swaying palms and its unique floating cottages truly make very memorable experience. There cant be a better place to sip a cup of hot tea, especially when its made using a traditional steamer. Soak in in the waterfront vistas every evening, nibbling on some crunchy bhajiyas!

The décor of the cottages is so tastefully done using the local coir and wooden panels that retain the natural flavour of the region. A whole new take on relaxation, as you listen to the pitter patter of the rain from your cosy balcony, literally putting your feet up.

The floating restaurant serves the most appeasing fare, especially all the local cuisine. Thursday is the day for the Onam Sadhya, a whole feast served on a banana leaf and certainly not to be missed.

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Fret not, you will be able to finish it and the natural sequelae that follows once you have devoured it….the perfect afternoon siesta !

Kids can be kept busy while you snooze as there are so many activities for them here, from swimming to cycling. Board games, indoor and outdoor games. Or just laze in the hammock enjoying the breeze and the sound of the rippling water.

The houseboat cruise awaits next morning to take you deeper into the heart of the backwaters. Drift along the waters, feel free as the birds that fly around you and the breeze that tangles your hair. Get up close and personal with the locals as you visit Munroe island, the coir factory and sip on fresh coconut water.

Back to the resort for some delectable local dishes for lunch iddiappams, malabar parathas and ghee roast, appams and karimeen pollichattu ….its really going to be hard to leave this place and go back home !

“Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain”……When it rains you can sit indoors with your cup of coffee, your favourite book ……or go for a completely rejuvenating ayurvedic massage at the spa

The old adage that families that eat together stay together has now been transformed to families that holiday together stay together……Club Mahindras Ashtamudi is really the perfect family holiday destination all through the year!

Soul trip to the southern land’s end of India

We had visited the Westernmost point of Europe in Portugal (Cabo de Roca) a couple of years ago where there is an inscription of a quote “Where the land ends and the sea begins.” ….that reminded me that we have a similar “Land’s end” of the Indian peninsula thats more unique because its where a sea, a bay and an ocean meet….Kanyakumari.

We planned a trip here in the midst of the monsoon of July 2018. The great coastal drive from Trivandrum airport was very pleasant through the rain-blessed verdant coconut and banana groves and estuaries with birds, sometimes with a glimpse of the rugged sea.

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We were greeted by a small shower in the morning as is typical in July and the sky was heavily overcast with clouds. When we reached Kanyakumari in afternoon, the waves were lashing, the ocean roaring in a fury and the waters so turbulent around us. All the fishing boats were safely docked on the shore.

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As we boarded the ferry to the Vivekananda rock and I looked back at the shoreline, the words of the Great Swami spoken at the Parliament of Religions reverberated in my ears “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world tolerance & universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religion as true.”

Can you spot a church, a mosque and a temple in this picture that together reiterate even to this day his beliefs of 1893.

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The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was built in 1970 in memory of Swami Vivekananda who is said to have attained enlightenment here. The Living memorial and the mandapams are worth visiting. The most interesting is the sundial and sunrise calendar (although we were totally devoid of any rays of the sun here that day !)

Just sitting by the sea and listening to the sound of the waves is a truly immersive experience here….Smell the sea and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly…

The Thiruvalluvar Statue in the memory of the the greatest poet of South India looms large at 40 metres and one can see people bathing in the Triveni Sangam or the holy confluence of the three great water bodies.

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The billowing clouds engulfed the sky in the evening too so we really could not witness the sun set and the moon rise over three seas (Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean) simultaneously. A morning walk to the pier in the hope of seeing the sunrise revealed just a streak of light at the horizon but a wonderful photo opportunity to capture the fishermen and fishing boats not really in a mood to brave the stormy waters around.

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Based on the reviews we went to Sarvana restaurant for lunch looking for an authentic south Indian thali but found it very bland and not up to the mark especially the rassam. Dinner was a more satisfying fare at a smaller family run restaurant opposite Hotel Sangam called South Food Center and would recommend it. We stayed at the Seashore Hotel which definitely had the best view and a scrumptious breakfast.

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Its a great feeling to have visited this “V” tip and southernmost point of the Indian Subcontinent which was definitely on my bucket list and I hope to visit more such iconic land’s ends as we wander the globe..Cape of Good Hope or Land’s End, Cornwall maybe….

Hidden gems of Goa : Palolem and beyond

Nestled at the southernmost end of Sunapranta or the “Golden Land” as the state of Goa is often called, is Palolem with its gilded beach and emerald sea. This pristine beach has gained popularity in the last ten years. It doesn’t boast of fancy resorts with swimming pools for a holiday but has only wooden makeshift huts on the beach with the the clear sea just waiting for you to dive into!

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The ART RESORT as the name signifies is very unique resort designed and managed by a German girl with the idea of showcasing various forms of Indian art, a beautiful blend of the East and the West in an artsy way. The perfect place for a girlie getaway with my friend Julie to celebrate her last bank holiday weekend in India.

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The brightly painted cottages with white curtains are just a stone’s throw from the beach. The interior ones have a cosy terrace attached or hammocks in front to read a book underneath the shade of the palm trees.

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The trendy restaurant and bar area facing the waterfront serves really good food and drinks so its the perfect place to laze around with a book, watching the lashing waves.Well this was definitely the agenda I had in mind when I planned this trip with my friend Julie…. to enjoy the sun, sea, sand, some great food, a few drinks and a lot of laughs …..

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They have a local artist here who offers art classes, an Ayurvedic massage spa and some Yoga classes on the beach as well. So its really the perfect setting for an idyllic getaway. As the night approaches the whole beach lights up and a leisurely stroll down the sandy shore led us to discover Ciarans, the restaurant which has the best local food, view, music and ambience. After dinner we walked some more, the night was so peaceful and the sound of the waves so soothing !

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On Day 2 we set off the explore the neighbouring beach of Patnem on a curious trail of signboards from “Alice in wonderland “…follow the rabbit …to LaLa Land …Whats that you may wonder ? A prisitine resort overlooking Colomb Bay. We decided that this is the place to come back for lunch and went ahead to Patnem beach for a dip in the warm blue waters. The beach was pretty much deserted and we cooled down at the beachfront shack with a drink.

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The afternoon heat was really sweltering, yet it didn’t dampen our fervour to wander and discover some more surprises just around the corner. Graffiti, if you please! and the aroma of cinnamon rolls wafting from Karma cafe and bakery reminding me that “somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.” Mango smoothies with a twist to beat the heat.

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Heading back to Palolem, via LaLa Land at Colomb Bay for a lazy late lunch. They claim its the most magical place to stay and I’m sure I was intrigued enough to like to confirm that next time I’m here on a holiday.

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We were back to Palolem by evening and the aquamarine waters were just beckoning us for a cooling evening dip and then a candlelight dinner on the beach

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A view like this to wake up to ….if only we had nothing else to do but all the time to stand and stare at the clear blue sky and waters.

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“You can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul.”

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No trip to Goa would be complete without a meal at Martin’s Corner and I couldn’t possible let my friend leave the country without having tasted the best of Goan seafood here. Prawn vindaloo is just the starter, many more scrumptious dishes coming up before we make a dash for the flight!31693067_10216903994858649_2223934435235987456_n.jpg31743682_10216915857675212_3374072663596072960_o.jpg31723288_10216903996138681_2688226636226101248_n.jpg

Footnotes :

  • The beach huts here are dismantled at the advent on the monsoon season by mid May and reassembled again in October. Hence this experience can only be enjoyed from November to April
  • Scuba diving is possible, especially with a very experienced Hungarian instructor but the water is a bit murky as you can see…31599846_10216915818394230_1611699246761771008_o

 

Photocredits : Julie Till-Dowling ….Nomad…Beach comber, Himalayan Dreamer, Lover of Life in the air, below the seas and on the earth 🐠….and so much more !!!

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Wayanad wanderings…..

Fancy living in a treehouse with an enchanting view of acres and acres of green, amidst verdant coffee plantations? Then Wayanad is definitely the place for you ..another off the beaten track destination in India to be one with nature! They don’t call Kerala ” God’s Own Country ” for nothing, you will discover.

Wake up to the sound of chirping birds, surrounded by a mesmerizing morning mist. The aroma of the fresh brew of coffee at your doorstep draws you into the balcony to enjoy the symphony of melodious birdsong, perfect for a soul soothing experience. Walk down the winding path to the restaurant for a Kerala style breakfast to linger over. Which would you rather have Malabar parathas with egg curry or Kadala curry or piping hot Appams with stew? How about all?

 

The misty views of the plantations from the restaurant are perfect for a digital detox as you can #chillax with a book and some more divine coffee. Or you can take a plantation tour and learn about coffee, pepper and cardamon cultivation process in the eighty acre plantation. Binoculars and cameras ahoy as this place is the abode of 32 different species of birds, and all you shutterbugs would be sure to capture some of them. I had heard many accounts of the beauty of Wayanad in Kerala, but wasn’t prepared for this immersion, to be bewildered by the beauty of this pristine place to this extent !

 

At lunch time, enrich your tastebuds with some more gems from the treasury of a Kerala culinary feast. Indulge in a traditional Sadya served on a plantain leaf of par boiled red rice, curries, side dishes, savories, pickles and desserts or some unique fish delicacies like Chemmeen Moilee – Prawn curry or Karimeen pollichathu – Pearlspot fish grilled in banana leaf. We do ensure these unique food experiences, no matter where we go. And for those who want to don an apron and get some hands on experience in whipping up these delicacies, we have cooking classes too !

 

You will witness and learn the secrets of Kerala cuisine here. The basic essence is rice and coconut and every dish here is derived from it. Traditional methods are used as the food is slow cooked in earthenware pots, spices are freshly ground using a stone mortar and pestle. The kitchens are equipped with their own idiyappam and puttu kuzhals (makers) to doll out the freshest for your breakfast!

A plethora of ayurvedic massages await you here to soothe those aching muscles and give relaxation a whole new meaning. A combination of ancient Abhyanga practices and massage oils prepared from the plants of the tropical forest work magic together and produce many beneficial effects. So just one may not be enough, have a massage every day when you are here.

The eye soothing greenery of the tea plantations around and rippling clear waters of the waterfalls and lakes make Wayanad the perfect place for a refreshing holiday. As the sun sets over the Chembra peak at the horizon, and you sip another cup of filter coffee sitting in your treehouse balcony, the sheer serenity of the place envelopes you. “Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.”

The surreal taste of Punjab

Our getaways from Mumbai are truly experiences which teach us to live life, not by the ticking clock but by the magical  “compass”.Take a breather, and breathe in the beatitude travel has to offer, discover new destinations on every trip!

Punjab …the land that’s blessed with the waters of the five rivers of the Himalayas, the land of the farmers and fields and the land that’s carpeted with yellow mustard flowers in Winter. The tranquility of countryside and farm fresh air and food beckons you here to feel the stresses of city life ebb away.

Fancy hotels in Amritsar city really don’t compare to the off the grid farm stays that you should rather choose around in the countryside. Nature enthusiasts won’t ever move their gaze away from the vast expanse of greenery that surrounds as you relax in the patio of a mud cottage here. The rustic charm of country lifestyle is the flavour to savour here, each cottage and the common lounge area is so tastefully decorated.

Experience a world of a difference in the the taste of the food here. The garden-fresh vegetables, the pure milk and every morsel you sample is made using wholesome ingredients. There is an unmistakable taste of freshness in every mouthful. And when all that is served to you on a charpai in the verandah of the mud huts, the makke ki roti, sarson ka saag and rajma chawal is one glorious meal (Or “sone pe suhaga” as they say)

Each new day undoubtedly brings still more beautiful things ! The morning mist over the fields and the crisp air is invigorating. Take a stroll of cylce through the village. As the rays of the sun make their way through the clouds, turning the yellow flowers golden and the clucking hens welcome you to explore their domain. Watch the milkman milk the cows at the local dairy, the source of all the cream,butter and ghee that is the pièce de résistance of the food here. Head back for a heavenly breakfast of aloo methi parathas topped with blobs of butter, yoghurt and turnip carrot pickles ……with a view to kill !

These holidays are for you to relax, put your feet up and sip some chai from a kulhad…read a book, write a poem, play board games or cards,  do anything and everything that your heart fancies…

The only reason to leave this bliss would be to visit the peaceful  Golden temple. We also loved the foodie trail to the heart of Amritsar particularly around the Golden temple and Phulkari markets. The food in the communal kitchen or langar is simple yet pure ambrosia, especially the sheera that melts in your mouth, oozing ghee  The contenders for the “best Amritsari Kulcha” and Chole here are so many , its hard to make a choice. A bread that tingles all senses but it must crackle to perfection as well. Wash it down with a big glass of lassi. Don’t forget to pack  some desi ghee sweets to take back home and some authentic Chole masala too.