Shikara and sunrise

To visit Kashmir had been my dream of many years. Needless to say, I was thrilled beyond measure when the coveted Kashmiri sojourn finally materialised this year. The beautiful Dal lake, idyllic meadows, tallest pine and chinar trees, countless hidden lakes, majestic mountains, charming houses, handsome horses, raging rivers and the most hospitable people – I was finally going to be witnessing heaven on earth!

A good beginning sets the tempo for the rest of the trip. Hence, while more posts detailing my adventures in the valley are pretty much in order, I would like to recount my experiences at my first touch-point in Kashmir – Srinagar.
For most, Srinagar is symbolic of the alluring Dal lake. The many interesting stories of the Dal that I heard from friends and read over various blogs had left me curious to know how this seemingly ordinary body of water had left everyone enticed. So I excitedly decided to stay at a houseboat to experience the Dal in its truest form.

Lalarukh houseboat, one of the many houseboats that dotted the circumference of the lake, was my chosen place of stay. The enormity of the Dal lake was such, that various entry-points or ghats had been marked at regular intervals as landmarks and indicators. I was slightly confused initially, when my host informed me that I would have to come to the houseboat via ghat number 9. However, the mystery finally unfolded itself once I reached the ghat and I was left in awe of the modus operandi to get to the houseboat – Each houseboat had dedicated shikaras (traditional small Kashmiri boats) to ferry passengers from the ghat to the accommodation. I settled myself in the shikara, absolutely delighted by the fact that I was having my own Venetian experience right in the middle of Kashmir! I was joined in the shikara by a fellow trekker (Kashmir is quite popular among trekkers, so one is sure to find them aplenty) and as the driver rowed us into the interiors, away from the shikara-swamped ghats, our hands automatically reached for our cameras to captured the unhindered beauty of the Dal.

Introduction to Dal

Introduction to Dal – first impression

The enormity of the lake was surreal and its glimmering waters were bordered by innumerable colourful houseboats, and opened into the endless blue sky overlooking the glorious Zabarwan range. My enthusiastic shikara driver – Dhoni ji, as he was fondly called – ferried me to the houseboat where I relaxed for some time before finally dashing out to the ghat again. I was to be joined here by a couple of fellow trekkers who I had met at the airport earlier in the day. During the wait for my new-found friends, Dhoni ji promptly filled me in with anecdotes about his family and life in Kashmir – how he had worked in Goa for nearly half his life, his travels across most of Europe and Australia, his brother’s fancy job in Switzerland, playing football over a frozen Dal lake in the winters, the ever increasing pollution of the lake, how unquestionably safe Srinagar was for women – I had heard it all. I tried to get his opinion on what would be the best time to go for a shikara ride across the lake – morning or evening. But he nonchalantly proclaimed that he would take me to the best of places, irrespective of what time of the day it was. However, as my fellow travellers slowly appeared in sight, Dhoni ji quietly divulged that a floating market was set up every morning in a particular part of the lake. In that moment, I made up my mind to go rowing across the Dal early next morning!

I was soon joined by my fellow trek-mates and we decided to spend the evening in being touristy and visiting the Nishat garden and Shankaracharya Hill. The lazy Sunday afternoon resulted in the extensive garden being thronged by school children who were busy enjoying themselves on picnic. Flocks of school kids were savouring their day out, running across the colourful landscape, idling in the shade of trees and merrily diving into the canal that ran through the middle of the garden. We spent some time at the garden, envisioning what the 7 days ahead had in store for us and then quickly got on our way to the Shankaracharya Hill (the entry to which would close at 5.30pm). Once we reached the hill, our driver informed us that vehicles would not be allowed beyond a point and we’d have to do a short hike up to the temple. He also suggested that we left our electronic gadgets, mobile phones and all food items in the car since these were not allowed within the temple premises. We quickly hiked up to the temple and paid obeisance to the giant shivalinga that stood in the middle of the shrine, as a number of devotees sang their prayers to the deity. Once we made our way out of the shrine, we sat in silence basking in magnetic vibes of the temple, relishing the glorious aerial view of the city from atop the hill.

A splash here and a splash there

A splash here and a splash there – school kids at Nishat garden

As we descended from the hill, we were once again by the side of the Dal lake, the waters of which were now being used by the rays of the setting sun as a backdrop for its goodbye dance. We collectively decided to spend some time at an empty spot on the promenade to witness this captivating vista. The enchanting view of countless shikaras drifting across the shimmering waters of the Dal, flocks of birds flying back to their sacred abode and the cinnamon sky bidding the sun goodbye – made for a picture-perfect spectacle. Truly overwhelmed by the beauty of nature that we had just witnessed, we made our way to dinner and treated ourselves to a sumptuous meal of authentic Kashmiri pulao and shorba. As we reached Ghat number 9 to head back to our respective houseboats, we confirmed our shikara ride with Dhoni ji for the next morning (we negotiated a deal with him at INR 500 for an hour). I was now truly looking forward to the 5am shikara ride, ready to witness the tranquil waters of the Dal at daybreak!

Sunset shades

Sunset shades

I was awoken by the chanting of morning prayers reverberating through the cool waters of the lake. It was past 4.30, and I walked up to the window to observe a couple of flickering lights here and there, on an otherwise dark and desolate lake. Quickly dressing up, I whizzed out of my room – waiting for Dhoni ji, all set to start my shikara ride. I wandered around the houseboat in my waiting time, illuminating the dark corridors with torchlight. The houseboat appeared to be huge in size and seemed to be connected with the others from the back. Before I could continue with my pointless adventure, I was distracted by the sound of water lapping against the boat and rushed to the front porch again. Except for the prayers (which were still in continuance), it was so quiet that even the creaking sound I made while walking up and down the gallery could have woken half the neighbourhood up.

Breaking dawn

Breaking dawn

I was joined on this 5am escapade by my three newly found trekker friends. As we kick-started our morning tour of the Dal, we couldn’t help but immerse ourselves in the serene setting. Ours was a solitary shikara across the lake, which gave us ample time and space to blissfully soak in all of nature’s activities around us – the endless chirping of the birds, the first rays of the sun slipping through the clouds and crowning them in gold, the cool morning breeze and the sound of water lapping against the boat. We continued to cruise along various water-alleys across lily-swamped corridors and an isolated Meena Bazaar for another 30 minutes. Vegetable vendors with elongated shikaras suddenly started to emerge around us as we began to approach the market place. As we continued our journey towards the market place and scores of other vendors started appearing in sight, Dhoni ji pointed at the vegetables and began to tell us how and where these were grown. We soon reached the market place which was packed with all sorts of vendors – vegetable and fruit sellers, craftsmen, sellers of flowers and seeds, kahwa traders, handloom and souvenir merchants. Dhoni ji further enlightened us on how the locals cultivated water-growing vegetables and herbs in the lake. He also mentioned that the floating market was a highlight of the Dal lake, which was visited primarily by tourists. The locals apparently made their own daily purchases from the common Srinagar bazaars.

The floating market

The floating market

After spending another 20 minutes in the market indulging in sundry shopping, we embarked on our journey back to the base. The return was filled a more clear view of the houses that were perched across the lake and Dhoni ji was now showing us lettuce and onion plantations in the water. Now that the sun was out and it was bright and clear, we noticed how quaint the route was and took turns to sit at the front of the shikara to enjoy the divinity of the Dal. A myriad trees gracefully posing on the edges of the meandering lake making crystal clear reflections along the gleaming waters, young children squinting out of their windows and gushing at the site of the young travellers visiting their homeland, the cool morning breeze caressing our hair – all made for the most picturesque return sail. As we crossed a still sleepy Meena Bazaar yet again, Dhoni ji probably sensed my disappointment at seeing the closed shops and presented us with yet another piece of trivia – Each of the seemingly closed shops had a salesman sleeping inside to cater to potentially interested tourists wanting to purchase local products after the shikara ride. We were running out of time and halfheartedly decided to continue our journey back. Our glorious shikara ride soon came to an end (we were out for almost an hour and a half) and we thanked Dhoni ji, exchanged good byes and headed back to our respective houseboats.

Postcard views from the front

I sat myself at the porch of the houseboat, sipping on the delicious kahwa that my host had prepared for me and silently revelling in the experience of my first ever shikara ride. It had indeed been an extraordinarily beautiful morning!
The idiosyncrasies of life at the Dal lake were unfolding before me, as I sat there still ruminating over all the gratifying events from my stay in Srinagar – a multitude of hawkers hopping in and out of houseboats and calling from their shikaras to present their products, countless birds flitting in and out of the cool waters of the Dal, the lake embracing the glimmering sunrays like a necklace of its own, and a host of locals heading towards the ghats on their way to work.
In that moment, I felt a stillness and calm inside me like never before. I felt like I had been placed in the middle of the most perfect postcard and experienced a sense of absolute joy. Taking the final few sips of what was left of my kahwa, I wondered why people said that peace was hard to find in this beautiful place.

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Amma

I am waiting at the doorstep, Amma
A smile slowly spreads across my face
As I remember how you’d always trick me into sitting here, after the longest chase
Under the pretext of watching the bulbuls and monals and quails
You ended up feeding me with porridge, and a hundred tales

I was a difficult kid to  handle, wasn’t I, Amma?
How I’d run across the hills, into the setting sun
To return just in time only for the evening chai and bun
And remember how I took that big fall as I climbed to steal apples off Negi ji’s tree?
But you calmly came around, and helped me flee!

I have a confession to make, Amma
I never told you, but all my friends were in awe of my relationship with you
Remember how you took us berry-plucking in the spring of ’89?
And when you excitedly helped us separate the wild berries, from those which were just fine
All my friends wished that they had an Amma like you, and yet you were only mine

I realise what a great friend I had in you, Amma
Remember how you’d trek up the mountains with me, across farmlands and forests, early each spring?
And as we lay out our picnic of kafals and bilberries, even the birds would stop to hear you sing
In the autumns, we’d watch the winds take away dried leaves into the bluest skies
And gaze out of the window, to watch them look like tiny butterflies

Then I grew up Amma, didn’t I?
And just like bulbuls and the gulls, I flew away, too
Into the city life, to build a world completely new
Everything was so different here, Amma. Everything was so fast
Nobody had the time, to even watch a moment last

You’d always taught me to adapt, Amma
And like the mountain trees that survived through each season, be responsive to change
But yet without you, the new life was so strange
I called you up regularly before, but soon could not keep up
So I reassured  myself that maybe this was a part of being grownup

In all these years you kept asking me to come home, Amma
And finally I am waiting at the doorstep, Amma. I came here with you to stay
But these birds, the trees, the hills and this house – they all make me feel like a foreigner today
I am secretly hoping that this is your game of hide and seek with me, even as I wait for you from dusk to dawn
You were my home, Amma. And now you are gone.

Home. Photo credit: Samir Dasgupta

Rain and Ravangla

It is 7.20 in the morning and I quickly gulp down my coffee and start trotting towards the taxi stand which is right outside MG Marg. Glancing back, I bid adieu to New Modern Central Lodge – the lovely place that housed me during the first two days of my travel. Even as I walk across the near empty MG Marg, trying to grasp as much of its beauty as I can for the last time, I cannot help but wonder what my next destination Ravangla is going to be like. I hurriedly buy my shared jeep ticket to Ravangla upon reaching the taxi stand (= share jeep tickets to Ravangla could be booked in advance on the previous day as well) and head to the cab.

The gorgeous mountains as they play with the Sun!

The gorgeous mountains as they play with the Sun!

The cab starts off at 7.45 am sharp and the drive to Ravangla is magnificent, to say the least – Winding roads across the gigantic Himalayas, the cold breeze, tallest trees, unending farmlands, the most exquisite birds and wonderful co-passengers. It feels like a dream. There is a visible change in climate and environment as we move away from the commercial hub of Gangtok. (= My co-passengers Simmi, Bishey and her mother are the most enthusiastic company I could have asked for. Even as they intently listen to all my stories of Bombay, they animatedly point out to the mountains outside the window and keep me updated with our geographical location. They share details of their life in Sikkim, and constantly keep checking if I am comfortable. All this in a shared-cab! These lovely ladies already make me look forward to Ravangla and I can’t wait to get there!)(= One more thing that I could not help but notice, was the availability of clean and hygienic public toilets on the route. I instantly drew comparisons with my visit to Himachal Pradesh a couple of years back, where availability of public toilets was one of the bigger challenges we faced during our road trip. Thumbs up, Sikkim!)

We reach Ravangla by 10.30 am, and even as Simmi continues her homeward journey to Kewzing (which is approximately 10 kms away), Bishey and her mother continue with me, till I manage to locate my hotel – Hotel Melody. They bid adieu with the warmest smile and wish me the best of luck for my journey ahead. I am welcomed into the cottage-like hotel by the owner / manager, Bobbit Das, and my room offers me a brilliant view of the town. It is such a pleasant day and the sun rays beaming through the window make me wonder why everyone kept telling me about how cold Ravangla is! After getting some rest, I head to a restaurant called ‘Kookay’ for lunch (Bobbit sir’s recommendation). (=Now I need to mention that at this moment, a million thoughts are bouncing all over my head! Firstly, during my conversation with Bobbit sir, I learnt that I was the only guest at the hotel during my stay in Ravangla. I don’t know how to say it, but I am scared. This is probably the first time I am experiencing the true meaning of solo travel, but I just cannot put my apprehensions to rest. My solo-traveller instincts have obviously taken over, and I have got my guard up… but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to stay here – all alone. Sigh. Maybe I should just move to some other place that is not as deserted as this one? But the reviews on tripadvisor were very positive. What other option do I even have? From what I gather, there isn’t much to do in Ravangla anyway. Maybe I should just leave tomorrow? Sigh. Maybe I should just go and have lunch first? A whirlwind of thoughts).

At Kookay!

At Kookay!

Veg thali. Slurrrp!

Veg thali. Slurrrp!

I walk to Kookay which is barely 5 minutes away from the hotel, where I meet Norzang, who is meticulously redecorating a wall with post-it notes left by the many visitors at the restaurant. The restaurant is beautiful and exudes a lovely vibe. I request Norzang to suggest a local delicacy for lunch and he gladly recommends the thali. ‘It is not a local dish, but it is cooked in the local way. Maybe you can try it’, he says. So thali, it is! Given that I am the only guest at the restaurant (again!), we end up making small talk on why I am travelling alone and what my folks think of all the photos that I keep sending across to them. Soon, my meal arrives and my appetite takes me by a big surprise as I gobble the food down. To call it delicious, would be gross injustice to the food! After my meal, I randomly ask Norzang to help me with off-beat places to visit at Ravangla. What happens next, is something I will always remember. He tears off a couple of pages from his diary, and begins to draw miniature maps to help me with directions to what he suggests are the places worth visiting. Another brush with the affectionate Sikkimese hospitality!

Kookay maps

My favourite souvenirs from Sikkim 🙂

I thank Norzang, collect my bag from the hotel and merrily start walking to Tathagata Tsal (=more famously known as Buddha Park – Yes, that is the first destination!). It is easily a 15 minute walk, to say the least. As I stride away from the dreamy town, I am left walking alone along the empty road (again!), even as a number of tourist vehicles zoom past me. However, as I near Buddha Park, the Buddha emerges through the mountains and its sheer size leaves me captivated. I purchase my entry ticket (=which costs Rs. 50) and make my way through security. The guard collects my ticket and asks me if I am alone (=First emotion: fear. Is he a creep? Why should he ask me this? What has it got to do with him? Should I tell him the truth or lie? Why am I stuck in Ravangla? So many thoughts in a fraction of a second. Funny how the human mind is so quick). I reply in the affirmative, and he politely shows me directions to the Buddha, the souvenir stores and the washrooms before welcoming me with a smile. I am completely taken aback. (=Next thought: this place is beginning to shatter all my opinions on sixth sense and intuition). 

Tathagata Tsal

Tathagata Tsal

As I set foot into the park, the view of it leaves me enthralled – the strong wind, manicured lawns, the prayer flags and the enchanting Buddha statue with the mountains acting as a perfect background. I climb down the stairs and walk along the path only to be left mesmerized by the ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ prayer playing in the park. Wow! (=I can’t stop thinking about the powerful vibes that Buddha Park exudes. It is undoubtedly one of the most serene places I have visited). In all my excitement, I make a mental note to stick around the place for at least a couple of hours more, and explore every corner that I possibly can. However, the bright sun-rays are slowly beginning to vanish, and a cloud-army is marching towards us in the sky. I am quite enjoying my walk along the elaborate path-way, but silently praying for it to not rain. As I reach the foot of the statue, I can hear loud thunders from some place far away in the mountains. I quickly take my shoes off, and enter inside the statue. I am welcomed to the sight of a magnificent stupa at the centre of the hall! To the left is a museum with 1,000 Buddha statues and straight up is the route to walk what feels like 3 floors up inside the statue. This circular-walkway runs through various wall-paintings of the story of Buddhism – its origin, how it got to India, the story of Buddha, etc. Just when I am about to exit from the statue after completing my tour of the inside, a group of approximately 50 South-Asian tourists walks in with 5 monks and they start chanting prayers and do a parikrama of the shrine. Almost as a reflex action, I step back inside the statue and sit down in a corner to watch them pray. (=It feels so powerful, almost hypnotic). Having lost track of the amount of time I have spent here, I slowly move out of the statue after a while.

Prayer Flags

Prayer Flags

My worst fears come true as I step outside – It had been pouring. The strong winds are making whistling sounds and causing the prayer flags fly – which is a vista I want to remember forever. The bright sunny day that had welcomed me into the town has now disappeared and all that is visible now, is the grey sky. The thundering has gotten louder and closer and even more vicious. (=Honestly, I love rain. A part of me was actually even wanting to get drenched. But I had my phone, camera, diary, story book, map, wallet and tickets with me in the bag… with no plastic to cover these things up. Hence, the caution). I quickly trot along the path-way, on my way back to the gate. I am contemplating hitch-hiking my way down to the town, but then decide to just make a run for it instead. As luck would have it, only a minute into my exit from the park, it starts to drizzle. I am too far away from the parking lot to ask for a lift, so going back is not an option. I then notice the other gate to the park (which has a roof) and run to seek refuge. All this while, I can feel small pebbles hitting my back. I look around to see who is throwing these at me, but not a soul in sight. It is now pouring heavily, and I am safely under the shade of the roof at the gate. It is only then that I realise that nobody was throwing pebbles at me – it was raining hailstones!! HAILSTONES! I am just standing there, at the gate, with no other human being in sight – awestruck – as the rain lashes the ground and as the hailstones fall with a force like never before, as if it was never going to stop. (=Even though I am alone and stranded, in this moment I feel happy like never before. I think I am the happiest I have been. It feels like every cell in my body is feeling the joy of experiencing a hailstone shower. It feels so wonderful to feel so vulnerable to nature. I want to absorb every bit of the beauty that I am witnessing – the falling hailstones, the clouded mountains, the roaring thunder and my feeling of infinite happiness. In this moment, I am the happiest I can be 🙂 )

In a short while, it stops raining, and I dash back to the hotel. I get to my room and the anxiety of being the only guest at the hotel floods my head again. I call a friend to pour out my concerns… and after immense pacification, I finally decide to go ahead with my stay and enjoy the beauty of Ravangla. Just as I finish my call, it starts thundering and raining hailstones again – almost as if the rain gods want me to stay 🙂

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Solo-tripping across Sikkim!

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Earlier this year, I decided to embark upon a new adventure – a solo trip to Sikkim!
My 15 day journey involved hopping in and out of shared jeeps, switching multiple trains, living in home-stays and budget accommodations, experiencing nature in all its glory, meeting the most amazing people and gorging on the most delicious food! To call the experience exhilarating would be an understatement.

I would be lying if I said that I was not apprehensive about travelling alone. But having successfully managed to complete the trip all by myself, I am filled with a sense of liberty and independence! Travelling alone has filled me with a sense of empowerment and also helped me connect with myself in so many ways. I took so many decisions that I never thought I could take, and discovered the courage that I never thought I could possess. Most importantly, travelling alone helped me truly appreciate the significance and culture of the place.

Needless to say, I will be writing extensively about my experiences in Sikkim. However, to begin with, I would like to share with you a brief interview that Breakfree Journeys conducted with me to know more about my experience as a female solo-traveller. It gave me a great platform to share (a part of) my experience, apprehensions, preparation and thoughts at the time of travel; And I would love to share it with you!
So here’s the link:

http://breakfreejourneys.com/conversation-kalindi-manek-travelling-solo-sikkim/#

Will soon update this space with more stories from visit to Sikkim 🙂

 

Distance

It is a relaxed Saturday evening, just the way it should be. With pretty much nothing to do, but recuperate from the effects of a long and tiring week, I wait to hear from my brother who is out on a holiday. Even as I wait for him to text me of his whereabouts, I find my fingers slipping on to the Facebook app on my mobile phone and even before I know it, I am browsing through my brother’s profile on Facebook.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

I feel an inexplicable urge to know more about his college life. I want to see the posts that he has been sharing. I find myself wanting to know who his new friends are. I want to read all the comments on his posts to see what his friends talk about. I find myself eagerly running through his timeline – wanting to read about events scheduled to happen at his college.. or maybe about something funny that happened during a lecture that are all joking about..or some mention about something that they’re all looking forward to. I continue to browse further, with lighted eyes, hopeful of finding a photo or two of him with friends. I can sense myself trying to look for indications that he is indeed having a good time away from home.

I find myself yearning to know how he spends his time there – Which part of the campus is he staying on, what his new room looks like, how many more dogs has he petted in his campus, who are these new friends whose names keep appearing on his timeline – and suddenly I am flooded with a strange emotion. How does he feel about all of us back home? I want to know if he feels homesick sometimes…or at all. I am also trying to look for ways to confirm that misses our ‘ghar ka khaana’ 🙂

It’s funny how just a Facebook profile can invoke so many thoughts inside my head. Until a few years back, every time I saw my friends get too emotional while seeing off their siblings, I couldn’t really understand what the fuss was about. But I did find myself weeping away after seeing my brother off at his hostel for the first time. So I guess I do have a fair amount of clarity about what a big deal it is to part ways with your sibling just when you’re beginning to develop a bond with him and getting to know him better.

Even as I finish with my endevour to try and keep updated with all the happenings in his life, I realise that distance does make the heart grow fonder… and Facebook helps me confirm that 🙂

Road-tripping to Ratnagiri!

Destination: Ratnagiri, Maharashtra
Distance from Mumbai: 339 km (approx. 8 hrs by road)
No. of days: 3
No. of persons: 5 (3 adults + 2 kids)

After immense discussion and 4-destination-changes, we finally zeroed in on Ganpatipule for a short family vacation this Diwali. Having read and heard rave reviews of the Konkan region, this trip sure had me in high spirits!
Well, after some initial apprehension about the distance to be covered and the road to be taken, we finally decided to drive down to Ratnagiri (the various travel blogs on Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri were of immense help and major confidence boosters). Google maps on, we finally took off for the pristine Konkan at around 7.30 am from Mumbai (=Personally, the earlier you leave, the better. The route is beautiful and can be enjoyed during the early hours of the day. Also, lesser the traffic, quicker will you reach!)
We took the following route from Bombay: Mumbai Pune expressway – Khopoli Pali road – Right turn at Wadhkal Naka for NH 66 – Mangaon – Mahad – Chiplun – Sangameshwar.
Having had no previous experience of driving on a National Highway, I was a bit nervous about taking the wheel. However, a few kilometers into the drive, all was good. The roads are excellent and the route was pretty straight. There were a couple of places where we got stuck on account of inaccurate Google Map directions, but some local help later, we were back on track! NH 66 (Mumbai – Goa road) does have some tricky spots and long ghats, but it’s all manageable if you exercise caution while driving. Contrary to various blog posts that suggested the lack of eateries on the route, I found that there were plenty of options to eat and rest at regular intervals. Fresh juices, fruits, snacks and rest-rooms were pretty accessible in the villages scattered across NH 66. (=Recommendation: Do try the delicious Solkadi at Hotel Hindavi just after Adlabs Imagica).

The beautiful road :)

The beautiful road 🙂

A number of short breaks and food-stops later, we finally reached our destination at around 5.30 pm – Kotawade. (= Thanks to the peak season, we were unable to find a decent accommodation within Ganpatipule. After unending online research, I had stumbled upon a homestay called Atithi Parinay, and immediately checked tripadvisor and their website for details.. and one call later, our booking was done! The only glitch was that Atithi Parinay (AP) is located in Kotawade village, which is around 15 km from Ganpatipule. However, all the tripadvisor reviews and photos on their website really had my heart set on AP 🙂 ).

Colours!

Colours!

On checking into AP, we were received by the owner, Medha and her dog Renne (super adorable). On entering the house, we were lovingly served with fresh kokam sharbat (slurrrp) and guided to our room by Medha. We were provided with a large air-conditioned Bungalow room on the first floor to accommodate all 5 of us. The interiors were so tastefully done and exuded a very rustic vibe. The stone walls, dung floors, windows were so rustic and yet so sophisticated. The tents and cottages were designed wonderfully and felt comfortable – just like home. The rest of the day was spent in wandering around the property and relaxing amidst nature, after which we were treated to a finger-licking home-made dinner at AP. We also made friends with another family that was there on vacation and enthusiastically made plans to visit the beaches with them on the next day! (Perks of living in a home stay 😉 )

The bungalow at Atithi Parinay - Shrameva

The bungalow at Atithi Parinay – Shrameva

The cottages are a must-visit!

The cottages are a must-visit!

We were very fortunate to have the terrace right outside  our room. The chirping of the birds and beautiful vistas of sunrise & the exceptionally maintained estate were just the perfect start to our next day! By 7 am, we quickly headed to visit the Aare-Ware and Malgund beaches. Aare- Ware beach was a 5km drive from AP and was, without exaggeration, the most beautiful beach I have seen. Blue waters, clear skies, green patches of palm trees and the unwavering mountains – The place was straight out of a dream. We were the only ones around that area, with no other soul in sight! We halted there for a while (for an endless photo session) and then drove ahead to another point up the hill that offered a panoramic view of the sea. It was here, that we spotted innumerable dolphins diving in and out of the endless ocean. The vista was so magnificent, that it made me want to stay there and keep gazing into the gorgeous ocean.

The gorgoeus Aare-Waare beach!

The gorgeous Aare-Ware beach!

But like all good things come to an end, so did my brief spell of enchantment. We hopped back into the car and headed to Malgund (another 11 km away) beach for water sports! Malgund beach was another beauty. Although there were a few tourists who were there for water sports, the beach was clean and the waters, crystal clear. We spent another hour at Malgund – trying our hand at kayaking, jet skiing and a host of other water sports (which were quite reasonable priced, and could be negotiated). Once we were done with the water sports, we played around in the beautiful waters of Malgund… thoroughly enjoying every time the waves came rushing into our open arms and hugged us 🙂 (=Malgund is a very safe beach with fairly shallow waters. We had our life jackets on even as we played in the water, and were under the supervision of a life guard).

The water sports gear at Malgund

The water sports gear at Malgund

We returned to our home stay by 10.15 am, only to be served with steaming hot breakfast (poha and cheelas)with chai. Post all the gluttony, we headed to our room for some rest and freshening up. The rest of the day was spent in chit-chatting, relaxing on the terrace and playing countless games of  badminton and UNO. Not to mention, savoring the delicious home-made fare at AP!

Stairway to heaven ;)

Stairway to heaven 😉

The perfect to laze around on the terrace!

Perfect way to laze around on the terrace!

Terrace view :)

Terrace view 🙂

The next morning was welcomed with a morning walk across Kotawade. It indeed is a beautiful, quaint village. We realized that most of the houses in Konkan were built with red ‘chira’ stones. These simple abodes only added to the beauty of the place! We returned to AP, only to be served with a scrumptious breakfast, which we gobbled down in no time! We treated ourselves with multiple games of badminton, UNO and tree climbing after lunch. However, by 3.30 pm, we hit the road again, to visit the Ratnagiri lighthouse (= Strict  timing: 4 pm to 5 pm). Our estimation that the lighthouse was around 10-12km away from our home stay was soon proved wrong, as we drove through numerous villages, seeking directions from locals. On our way, we missed a turn and reached the monumental Ratnadurg fort instead. The fort proudly stood there, in all its grandeur, overlooking the endless Arabian sea – what a sight it was! Due to shortage of time, we decided not to climb up the fort, but visit the lighthouse instead. We reached in the nick of time to visit the lighthouse (they were closing entry for the day) (= Entry fee is Rs. 10 per person) and quickly climbed up to see the view. The breathtaking view more than made up for all the wrong routes and long drives! We stood there, enamored, letting the wind play around with our hair. Needless to say, plenty of photos were clicked, but none of them can capture the beauty of what we saw from the lighthouse 🙂 (= The road to the lighthouse is narrow and extremely steep, so it would help to drive steadily there. Saying it out of the experience of my car getting stuck midway 😛 )

The lighthouse standing tall.

The lighthouse standing tall.

View of the Ratnadurg fort from the lighthouse

View of the Ratnadurg fort from the lighthouse

Sunset from the lighthouse :)

Sunset from the lighthouse 🙂

We quickly exited the lighthouse as it had to be closed for the day and took off to visit the Ganpatipule temple. The temple was a long drive from there, and we eagerly wanted to reach before it turned dark (the roads are pitch dark at night, so it’s always a risk to drive on the winding roads). We soon reached the temple entrance, where an entry of Rs. 20 is levied for entry of vehicles. The temple was located at a distance of around 1km from the entry point. We parked the car at an empty spot and walked towards the temple. a good number of people had come to offer their prayers at this famous temple. As we neared the temple, we noticed that it was beautifully located right next to the beach. It was beautifully done up in the local red stone, and was quite well maintained and well-secured. The grand MTDC resort stood on our right, overlooking the beach and temple. We queued up to pay obeisance to the deity. Thanks to the smooth administration, we were out within 10 minutes. We had been informed by our newly made friends that the temple also offers delicious prasad (food offerings made to the deity) to the visitors. But due to dearth of time, we decided to give it a skip. (However, we’ve been told that the pasad is a must have here. So do try it!). Quickly, we headed to our car (by which time it was already dark), and drove back to AP, where another mouth-watering meal awaited us! The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and packing to leave on the next day!

Ganpatipule temple. Source: Wikipedia

Ganpatipule temple. Source: Wikipedia

Departure day soon arrived and we decided to make the most of it by exploiting the terrace to the fullest. After spending a good hour and half on the terrace, we freshened & packed up, and headed downstairs for breakfast. Needless to say, breakfast (uttapams and sabudaana khichdi, served with chutney and dahi/ curd) was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed by all! Having stuffed ourselves with copious amounts of food, we quickly took off for the cashew factory that was just 2 minutes from AP. Special Konkani cashews were then purchased for ourselves and the family, after which we headed back to AP for our final checkout. We then bade adieu to all our newly made friends there, and took off for our long drive back to the concrete city with heavy, yet happy hearts! 🙂

Back on the road!

Back on the road!

I realised that Ganpatipule/ Konkan is a great place to have a relaxing vacation. The drive, beautiful vistas, scenic beaches and lovely weather are so de-stressing. It’s not one of those destinations where you just keep ticking places off your checklist. It’s a great place to spend some quality time with yourself and your family and just not have anything to worry about. I would highly recommend a visit to the Konkan to everybody… so much so, that I’m planning my next road trip already 😉

PS: For alternate budget accommodation in Kotawade, you contact call Mr. Gajanan Sahasrabuddhe (+91 94224 30779)

Thoughts

Hi there! It’s been the longest time since I wrote.. I know, and it doesn’t make me feel good!
But here I am, after all this while, randomly penning typing my thoughts down 🙂

Well, for starters, it’s been a very hectic 3 months for me. The CA journey doesn’t end after passing the final exam. It begins after the result, I’d say!
The post-result period not only invoked celebrations, but also plenty of self-talk, analysis and career planning. Trust me, it’s one of the more difficult tasks in life. It takes a lot to be honest to oneself and a lot more to have the courage to actually do what one likes!
So here I am, finally free (at least for now :p) from all the what-do-I-do-with-my-life muddle, having slightly more perspective about how I want my life to be 🙂
So I have got myself a fairly decent job (bye bye broke days) and now the ‘adult-feeling’ is finally sinking in – bills, payments, investments and what not! Work does keep me very busy most of the time, and hence, the no writing bit. But that is going to change for good 🙂

What urged me to write today, was a random chain of thoughts about how we take everything for granted and choose to be unhappy!
It all started with this status message that a friend posted on Facebook:
“I can’t believe that the last time we had Maggi was the LAST time we had Maggi!”
As absurd as it may sound, it actually got me thinking! Don’t we do this every time? Yes, I laughed..but this was some serious stuff! Do you know if the last time YOU met someone was actually the LAST time you met them? Or if the last time you went to some place was your LAST there? Or whether the last time you did something was indeed the LAST time you did that?? Sounds freaky.
It made me realise how I take so many things for granted! I take my family, friends and all my comforts for granted!
I crib about my job and work hours..but there are so many people out there who are waiting to get a job, but can’t find one! I do argue with my folks and get angry with them over the smallest thing. But then, how lucky am I to have such a beautiful family! To have people I can go back to, at the end of the day..to have people who’ll always have my back..to have people who love me unconditionally, and to whom I must choose to return this love 🙂
It got me thinking..that maybe when Steve Jobs said that we must live each day as if it’s our last, he didn’t really mean that we should be irrational. But rather, that we appreciate everything that we have and be grateful for all of it! To love everyone and treat everyone well..for we never know if it is indeed our LAST time with them. Maybe when we regret, it’s not really about things that we did not do. I guess it’s more about all the things that we have done, without knowing that it was our LAST chance and that we can do nothing to change it ever again!

Phew! That was some heavy thinking. But I feel happy at the end of it – I wrote!
I don’t know if I expressed myself well enough, but I tried!

This much for now.. But until next time, (choose to) be happy! 🙂