Friday 22 October 2010

A Portuguese sojourn - Panjim, Goa

It's funny, even though I've been to Goa umpteen number of times I haven't done a single post on it. So, I'm starting with Panaji (also called Panjim). This subdued capital of Goa rarely gets its due, as most people head to the more popular Calanghute and Bagha beaches.  On your next trip to Goa, take a detour from the party scene and head to  Panaji for a look at Goa’s unexplored culture and heritage.

Goa’s reputation for its sprawling beaches and wild parties often precedes the arrival of its tourists. And in the search for the hippie Goa, its capital city of Panaji is often given a miss. But this quaint colonial town has a personality of its own.  With narrow, shaded streets and colourful heritage homes vying for attention, Panaji reflects the cultural side of Goa. A fairly unexplored city with a serene waterfront, Panaji sprung many a surprise at me on my recent visit. Here’s what I discovered...

Things to see and do
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church
This surreal white structure has been in existence since 1541. Its magnificence can be judged by the 100 steps you have to walk to get into the church. The interior reflects the architecture of the era it was built in, but it’s simplistic in comparison to the monolithic exterior. The best time to visit is during the three-day celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, towards the end of May, where people come to witness the sheer splendour of the church. There are also stalls that sell tiny miniatures, souvenirs, sweets, food and drink.

As you walk into Fontainhas, it’ll seem as though someone came with buckets of colours and splashed them over all the houses. Most of the homes here are painted in ochre, brick red, deep blue and soft lavender reminiscent of the Portuguese era, when locals were asked to paint their homes in different colours, as only the churches could be painted white. Take a nostalgic walk down the narrow streets of this beautiful heritage quarter that is located near River Ourem. 

Kala Academy
The Kala Academy not only provides a platform to showcase upcoming talent, but also houses a beautiful large space by the seaside, where you simply immerse in the surroundings. In addition to an art gallery, auditorium, library and performance halls, it has a well-maintained garden facing the sea and a large canteen.

Miramar beach
The Miramar (Portuguese for viewing the sea) beach is just three kilometres from Panaji. It’s more popular with the locals than tourists since it’s not a very clean beach. Although with soft silvery sand and a string of palm trees providing shade, it’s a nice place to come and watch the sunset.

Panaji Jetty
If in Panaji, you must take the sunset cruise on River Mandovi. There are many boats that offer several cruises through the day. The cruise is filled with cultural song and dance performances, true Goan style. If you’re fond of gambling, step abroad India’s only boat casino, the Caravela.

Where to eat
One of the most popular restaurants in Goa, Mum’s Kitchen—located on the Panaji-Miramar road—was essentially a move to save Goan cuisine. Started over 10 years ago, the menu serves authentic Goan cuisine researched from Goan villages. Dishes such as nalachi kodi, which is a traditional Goan-Hindu refreshing drink made of kokum blended with coconut milk, are truly unique. A must-try is the Crepe Mum, a pancake filled with a mixture of coconut and jaggery and served with vanilla ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and garnished with cashews. The ambiance exudes an earthy feeling, especially a stone wall adorned with pots and urns from another era.

For Goan cuisine desi-style, go to George restaurant (located near Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church) and try the scrumptious chicken xacuti and pork sorpotel. Owned by Eddie, this 55-year-old restaurant is a favourite with the local populace. He specialises in the pork vindaloo, beef cream chops, pork sausages and shark ambiotic.


Don’t leave Panaji without buying local goodies such as bebinca, dodol and pork sausages to name a few. Once in the market area, look for a shop called T-Centre, which is close to the fish market. This is a one-stop shop where you’ll find all local delicacies. 


Friday 8 October 2010

POLL - Rank the best 3 photographs

For any photographer (even an aspiring one like me), it's truly tough to choose the best pictures from their portfolio. So, I decided to ask all of you to help me make a choice, for an upcoming project. Here are some of my favourite pictures. Please rank your favourites from 1 to 3. You can do so by simply writing the photograph nos. in the order of preference (from 1-3) in the comment box.
For example, My favourites are: PHOTOGRAPHS 1, 4, 10
THE POLL ENDS ON October 12, 2010

PHOTOGRAPH 1: Clicked at the Umaid Bhavan Palace Hotel, Jodhpur

PHOTOGRAPH 2: Clicked at the Umaid Bhavan Palace Hotel, Jodhpur

PHOTOGRAPH 3: Clicked at Sarahan, Himachal Pradesh

Clicked at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

PHOTOGRAPH 5: Clicked at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

PHOTOGRAPH 6: Clicked at Rajasthan: Opium seeds at a local's home in Luni village

PHOTOGRAPH 7: Clicked at Jodhpur: Mehrangarh Fort

PHOTOGRAPH 8: Clicked at Kanatal, Uttarakhand: Pine tree in the middle of a forest

PHOTOGRAPH 9: Clicked at Jodhpur Station: Jodhpur Station in sepia tone

PHOTOGRAPH 10: Clicked at Maldives: The reflection of a sea plane from the sea plane

PHOTOGRAPH 11: Clicked at Leh: Pangong Tso

PHOTOGRAPH 12: Clicked in Leh: Scenic landscapes en route

PHOTO FEATURE: Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel, Jodhpur

About a month ago, being frustrated with a heavy workload (some of it self-imposed) I desperately needed and wanted a luxury vacation. I harboured the dream of one that was wouldn't cost me a rupee. Funnily enough, elements of the universe conspired to make my dream a reality and I was offered a trip to the Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel, Jodhpur. Reiterating my now stronger belief in 'The Secret', I enjoyed the ultimate luxury experience. Here are some images from my stay:

It all started with a pick-up in a vintage car from the airport. My ride was a vintage Chevrolet (that's all I could get from the chauffeur!)

My grand room, replete with a walk-in-wardrobe, 2 mini balconies with patio furniture and a massive bathroom furnished with a bathtub and a separate bathing area!

The majestic lobby area in all its glory.

The ceiling of the lobby.

 The palace hotel looked upon by the moon.

 Paintings of kings and queens adorn many of the walls at the hotel.

Found this on the wall of the Ladies room!

The seemingly dancing chandelier of the Marwar Hall.

The circular ceiling.

And saving the best for last; this is one of my favourite pictures.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Reliving Ladakh

Ladakh is a dream destination for most travellers, and this July I finally fulfilled mine. But whoever has visited this surreal heaven will agree—once is not enough. So here are five reasons why I want to go back to Ladakh :)

11) Khardung La: The 39km ride up to Khardung La from Leh induces mixed feelings of excitement and fright. One on hand, the vistas of distant snow-clad mountains shrouded in clouds had me gasping in awe, but as we went higher and the roads got narrower with loose rocks and dirt covering the path, I was plunged into prayer mode. Once we reached the coveted 18, 380 ft., the temperature dropped drastically and we were surrounded by snow, dotted with innumerable colourful prayer flags. Be sure to stop here to click pictures and grab a cup of hot coffee with some maggi noodles. There’s a souvenir store here that offers curios like T-shirts and mugs. History states that Khardung La lies on a caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Central Asia, and during World War II, a futile attempt was made to transfer war material to China through this route. Today, it’s considered a biker’s ultimate dream.

Bikers heading up to Khardung La.

Some chose cycles instead of bikes!

Khardung La - The world's highest motorable road at 18, 380 feet

22) Pangong Tso (meaning lake in Ladakhi): A five-hour drive over the world’s third highest mountain pass, Chang La, at 17, 586 ft., tumultuous roads and avalanche scares, we finally reached Pangong Tso. Its beauty is inexplicable. As a perfect reflection of the cloudy sky amid barren mountains forms delicately on the water, it changes its colour to display myriad hues of blue, while ducks wade their way through from one side to another. It was like capturing a postcard picture; a photographer’s delight. Situated at a height of about 14,270 ft., the lake is 134km long and extends from India to China. It’s in disputed territory, as the Line of Actual Control passes through the lake and 60% of it lies in China. During winter, the lake freezes completely, despite having saline water.

Words will just dilute the beauty of this place; I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

33) White water rafting: Thrill-seekers like me need a dose of adrenaline-pumping adventure every now and then. And rafting on River Zanskar was definitely on my to-do list. We chose the 25km stretch from Chilling to Nimmu that lasted for two and a half hours. With scenic rock formations in the background and gushing river water in the foreground, I really wished I had carried my camera in the raft. Maddening grade 3+ rapids combined with mini whirlpools made it far more adventurous than I imagined. So even with a tired body and sore arms, I decided to take a dip in the freezing river. The indomitable rush you feel once back on the raft is absolutely worth it. 

Photo courtesy: Pawera Singh

  4)   Diskit Gompa:
A larger than life, intricately-designed statue of the Maitreya Buddha, held atop an elevated rock formation, is a sign that you’ve arrived at Diskit. The 500-year-old Diskit Gompa is the largest and the oldest surviving monastery in the Nubra Valley. Adorned with colorful murals and decked with Tibetan patterned silk, the temple complex displays typical Tibetan architecture and is home to almost100 monks. The view of this fog-drenched valley from the gompa is simply spectacular. According to an intriguing legend, it’s believed that a Mongol demon, who was against Buddism, was slain here. However, his spirit is said to constantly revisit the monastery. It’s also said that his wrinkled head and hand lie somewhere within the monastery. Well, another reason to visit!

The first vision we witnessed as we arrived at Diskit.

The larger than life statue of the Maitreya Buddha. 

5)   Restaurants and bakeries: Following a reference from a friend I made en route, I visited Pumpernickel Bakery at the main bazaar in Leh town. From apple crumble to chocolate coffee cake, this quaint bakery and cafe produces delicious treats that come at a whopping size and measly price of Rs. 50 only. But when it comes to momos, I found the best at Gesmo restaurant; a cute little place with gorgeous green windows, located at Fort Road. I especially liked the useful notice board they put up here that lets you find new places as well join other groups for treks and other expeditions. Restaurants like Summer Harvest and Leh-View are also worth checking out; the former for its Tibetan /Chinese fare with cold beer and the latter for its Kashmiri curries paired with a rooftop terrace.

The yummy momos at Gesmo restaurant.

 Cumin cookies at Gesmo restaurant.

Mint tea at Pumpernickel bakery.

The chicken sandwich at Gesmo restaurant. 

Please note: A permit is required to enter many of the places mentioned above. Ensure to check the details in Leh itself.  

Published in iDiva, September 25, 2010 issue.