The old world charm of Fontainhas: My third guest post

Raghav of the Traveling Ticker asked me for a Guest post more than a year back. And though I agreed to write one, I could not find a topic suitable for his blog. Till I visited Fontainhas in Goa last year.

Fontainhas is a charming little area in Panaji, Goa, known for its traditional Portuguese style colourful houses. Though I would have loved to spend more time there, I could only manage an hour walking its many lanes and delighting in its unique architecture. Needless to say, I fell in love with Fontainhas.

I sent of the post and accompanying photographs to Raghav yesterday, who posted “The old world charm of Fontainhas” on the Traveling Ticker short while back. Do click on the link or the collage below to read my impressions of Fontainhas.

And you will let me know what you think of Fontainhas, won’t you? :)

Fontainhas, Goa, Travel

Please click on the picture to read the full post

The cemetery at Colva

It is around midnight when we pass Colva Cemetery.

I had arrived in Goa earlier that November evening and after settling into the service apartment I was staying in, head to Colva Beach for dinner with my friend. A delicious dinner of Italian food later, it is time for a leisurely stroll back to the apartment under a moonlit sky and a gentle sea breeze accompanying us.

We pass restaurants that are still serving dinner, tourists walking back to their hotels, sleepy dogs, shops shut tight… And then quite suddenly, a large angel looms out of the semi darkness, startling me for a second. That’s when I realise that we are passing a graveyard, the Colva Cemetery, and the “angel’ was part of a tomb.

We stop to look over the low walls of the graveyard. Of course, we can’t see much in the darkness except for ghostly outlines of tombstones and tomb sculptures. Also visible is a rather sinister and spooky-looking barn like structure with no doors or gates. Since the moonlight doesn’t penetrate inside, it is shrouded in darkness.

“What’s that?” I ask. “It can’t be the church, can it?”

“No. The church is behind us, and across the road. Maybe a chapel?” my friend suggests.

“Maybe. But why is it so dark?” I shiver involuntarily.

“Let’s come back tomorrow morning and find out, shall we?”

We come back in the morning and see one of the most beautiful graveyards that I have come across.

Colva Cemetery, Graveyard, Colva, Goa, Travel

Continue reading

Dear Goa

It took me 27 years and four trips to come close to understanding what people say about you.

It is said that you are not just a destination or a place, but a state of mind. Rarely a day goes by without coming across a write-up about you in a newspaper or a magazine or a blog. Many of these write-ups are so gushy that it is almost embarrassing to read them. But it does reveal one thing: it was love at first visit and an almost instant attainment of that “Goa” state of mind for those who wrote the articles.

Goa, Colva Beach, TravelNot for me though. I visited you four times between 1986 and 2013, and you have always been a destination for me, and memorable for all the wrong reasons (for the first 3 trips, at least). I wasn’t impressed with you after the first trip or the second or the third trip… As for the fourth trip, we’ll come to that a little later. Let me tell you a little bit about the first three trips.

The first trip was organised by my school in December 1986. It was a road trip and I was one of the 90-odd students who travelled in 2 MSRTC buses from Pune to Goa. My recollections of that trip are largely of motion sick co-travellers and vomit all over the bus; smell of fish, wherever we went in Goa (yeah, I’m a vegetarian); a blur of church and beach visits, each one indistinguishable from the other; diarrhoea and the hunt for public toilets with water… It was a poorly organised trip and I know that you were not entirely to blame, but… I didn’t take to you at all.

The second trip happened four years later in December 1990, a mandatory field trip in my third year of college as part fulfillment for a BSc in Geology. This time I travelled by train with 20-odd classmates and 3 teachers.

Goa, Field trip

Somewhere in Goa at the start of our field trip in December 1990

Continue reading

Travel Shot: The elevator with the pink seat

The elevator dings its arrival and the doors slide open noiselessly. I step in and look in fascination at the elevator’s interiors.

I am at Hotel Suryagarh, a luxury boutique hotel near Jaisalmer, and am being escorted to my second floor suite by a hotel attendant after completing the usual registration formalities.

“Why don’t you sit down, Ma’am?” the hotel attendant urges me.

This might have been a strange question considering we were in an elevator. But since the elevator had a large, cushioned seat upholstered in a velvet of bright pink, it really wasn’t that strange a question.

Hotel Suryagarh, Boutique Hotel, Luxury, Elevator

I politely decline as I feel a little stupid to sit down for a trip of two floors. But I do notice that the elevator speed is quite slow and discover later that this has been done deliberately to encourage guests to relax and sit down.

And over the over the two days that I spend at the hotel and the numerous trips that I make between my room and wherever I was headed to, I would use the elevator. Get in. Sit down. Relax. Take pictures. Normally, I would have used the stairs, but not this time.

Hotel Suryagarh, Boutique Hotel, Luxury, Elevator

To this day, the luxurious elevator with the pink seat at Hotel Suryagarh remains unique. I have never come across anything like this before, and doubt it I will.

Have you come across unique hotel elevators? Do share.

The Sacred Spaces of Devbhoomi

I first came across the term “Devbhoomi” on the day I flew to Chandigarh to begin my Himachal Trip. The airline’s in-flight magazine had an article titled “10 things to do in Devbhoomi”. Now, I detest anything that talks about top 10 or 5 or 21 or any number for that matter, for they never make sense to me. I almost always skip such articles in question.

But the name Devbhoomi, which means land of the gods, intrigued me and I read on.   The article wasn’t particularly good or the “10 things to do” even half-way interesting for me. But the article did reveal one interesting fact: Devbhoomi is how the local Himachalis referred to their state, their land. Though this established that ‘Devbhoomi” was not a marketing gimmick like another Indian state’s claim of being “god’s own country”, I remained a little sceptical.

And over the 10 days that I spent travelling in Himachal Pradesh, I tried to understand why the locals referred to their land as Devbhoomi. Each day of my stay there brought in new insight, a new understanding… through visits to sacred sites, listening to narrations of folk tales and legends of sacred spaces from the locals, and experiencing nature in its elemental form. Every glimpse, every experience of a sacred space was an appreciation of the tangible and intangible meaning of Devbhoomi.

I am going to attempt to put together all those experiences here in this blog post. Let me begin this journey of the sacred spaces in Devbhoomi with the roadside shrines.

Sacred spaces, Roadside Shrines, Temples, Himachal Pradesh, Travel, Devbhoomi, Taranda Devi

Roadside Shrines in Devbhoomi. Clockwise from top left: Snakes on the temple spire; a gigantic Hanuman idol on the NH22 near Rampur; and the Taranda Devi temple

Continue reading

Stranded in Sangla !

On the morning of September 21, 2013, I woke up to the sound the falling rain. When I stepped out of my room, this was the sight that greeted me. It is here that I will request you to backtrack a bit and read my previous post, if you haven’t read it already.

Sangla, Bad Weather, Kinnaur, Baspa Valley, Himachal PradeshI was at Sangla’s Kinner Camps in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh. Our tour group had arrived here the previous afternoon and we had had a great time exploring the neighbouring Batseri village and walking along the River Baspa till rain forced us to return. Though we were a little concerned about the sudden change in weather, we were also quite sure that the next day would dawn bright and sunny.

Bright? Sunny? It was dark, grey and cold and I could actually see fresh snowfall on the distant peaks. As I stood there wondering about the weather, Doreen, our tour organiser and manager, came around to ask us to be packed and ready to leave. Since the weather forecast was not encouraging, Pawan, our driver, had suggested that we leave Sangla at the earliest. The next hour was a rush as we packed and got ready to leave. While we had a hurried breakfast, our bags got loaded into our 3 vehicles.

As I got into my vehicle, I noticed that Pawan’s normally relaxed and mischievous face wore a worried look and I soon realised why. The road leading from Kinner Camps to the main road was not tarred or metalled and what was a passable dirt track had turned slushy with the rain. And combined with a very steep ascent, the ride to the top could be a tricky one.

It was a silent group that got into the vehicles and the only sounds were that of the falling rain. With a prayer on everybody’s lips, the vehicles took off. The first two vehicles made it to the top without any incident.

The third vehicle got stuck.

Continue reading