Jazz at the Gonsalves mansion in Campal

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Another visit to Goa and another interesting experience. In my endeavour to peel away the touristy layers of Goa, I struck oil last week – if you pardon the ungainly mixing of metaphors. And ended up at the courtyard of an old Goan house (read Portuguese, since I haven’t been able to see much of Goa’s pre-european heritage). Armando Gonsalves has converted his old house into a venue for regular jazz and fusion music concerts.

There were a bunch of Spanish musicians that evening. It started with Basque twins, Sara and Maika beating out some nifty rhythms using the Txalaparta (closest pronunciation being tchalaparta), which is basically an ensemble of unlikely everyday stuff, including pieces of wood and stone. Followed by The Toumie Vila Seseca Trio on more traditional instruments.

I went with Savio & Pirkko and Pirkko’s visiting folks from Finland. The crowd was mostly Goa’s India refugees and booze flowed bringing forth its unique brand of mellow cheer. Everyone, as you can imagine was in a good mood, in which alchemy, Spanish music added the final dash. It was a lovely evening.

And as often happens, it is in such unlikely circumstances that you get these blinding flashes of insight that change your life for ever. It happened to me too.

I learned that starting the evening with a large whiskey is probably not a good way to start any evening. Especially if you plan to go a long way.

Stop Press : Go to Goa NOW!

Goa has had unseasonal rains. It rained loads in August instead of the usual June & July. And so, it looks extraordinarily green & lush now, with a wonderful ‘fresh & clean’ look. I was there for just one day over the weekend and had the good fortune to wander all over the Goan countryside just as dawn was breaking (all of this, after a full night of unique Goan revelry, which of course, is another subject).

The sight of light breaking over the lovely greenscapes of rural Goa, with the light mist slowly lifting in tendrils from the ground and the fresh smell of the damp red earth awakening to another day, is one of the more mystical experiences of life.

Go right away, even for a day to Goa. Once you get there, dont hang about near the sea. Go inland and check out Goa’s rural landscape. Obviously, all this has to be done between 4 and 7 am.¬†You probably have a window of a fortnight to see this.

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 10 other Indian cities

HolidayIQ has just revamped its weekend getaway section. Now one can find weekend getaway destinations as well as weekend getaway resorts/hotels by distance from each of the top 17 Indian cities.

Click here to see the new pages:

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata

Weekend getaways from all 17 cities

More Goa photos from Nagesh Acharya

Nagesh, the engineer turned photographer + cinematographer has been at it again. Photographing Goa in between a hectic schedule of shooting a movie there. Here are some of his recent snaps – click on any snap to see it in full size glory.

If you would like to ask Nagesh any questions or leave him a message, please use the comments box in this post – I will forward it to him.

Baga beach


Canacona beach

Canacona beach from Nagesh Acharya

Honeymoon Island

Honeymoon Island

See the rest of Nagesh’s uber cool Goa snaps.. Continue reading

Hippies and the overland Asian journey of the 60s

(An old clip of a part of the hippie overland Asia route)

As I set out for another trip to Goa, albeit for work this time, I am once again reminded of Roy’s narrative of the arrival of the first Hippies to Goa. Roy was all of 15 then and he was thrust into the roller-coaster world of ‘flower power’ Goa. By 1967, Goa was the final destination in what Rory Maclean calls the ‘weirdest procession of unroadworthy vehicles ever to roll and rock across the face of the earth’ – the great overland trek by western youngsters turning their face to the two Cs that dominated their lives, Capitalism and Christianity.

As Goa gets overrun with an increasing array of tourists – a heady mix of Indo-gangetic plainsmen meeting the walrus moustaches from the Russian steppes, it is easy to forget that this land has an interesting claim to contemporary history.

(Another interesting clip from Rory Maclean on the overland route : this time in Afghanistan)

Click here for an earlier post featuring hippies.

And here for all my Goa posts.

Canoeing down a secret lake in Olaulim, Goa

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(Hiawatha in Goa!)

Among all the experiences I have had travelling across the world, gently sailing on a lake in a canoe expertly handled by a dimunitive Finnish lady, listening to the enveloping sound of stillness of village life in Goa, with only the pant of 2 swimming dogs as symphony, must surely rank pretty high.

It was about a month ago that I found myself peering straight ahead from the bow of a little canoe in a lake set amidst the verdant and extremely quiet landscape of Olaulim, Goa’s wonderful little village I had written earlier about.

Savio & Pirkko have cracked it – they have figured out what life is all about. And to let you in on the secret – it is about having Continue reading

Sailing from the Dona Paula jetty in Goa

The Swift anchored in the deserted Butterfly beach in Goa

(The Swift at anchor in the deserted cove at Butterfly Beach, near Palolem, Goa)

Ashwin Tombat left a journalist’s career in (then) Bombay to settle down in Goa. And he confesses it has been a great ride. And now he combines his professional role as the Editor of Herald, Goa’s second most circulated English newspaper, with his passion for sailing as a coordinator for the Goa Yachting Association.

I have never sailed before although the idea has always held appeal. So, I took up on Ashwin’s offer to take me sailing. And on a fine, sunny afternoon last week, I joined Ashwin on his 20 ft sailboat, The Swift at the Don Paula jetty for what turned out a bad case of amour. The last time this happened to me was when I was 20 years old and as you would suspect it was a girl. This time it was the absolutely seductive charm of softly lapping waves, the breeze across your face and the companionable silence of men on a voyage of no purpose.

We set sail at about 2 pm and held course for the small & relatively less visited beach Continue reading

Ingo’s Saturday Nite Market in Arpora, Goa

(A video of Ingo’s Saturday Nite Bazaar in Arpora, Goa. courtesy : Youtube)

And since everyone told me that Ingo’s was better than the other one, Mackies, I made my way there last saturday. It was very nice in a ‘fusion Indie+World’ kind of way.

Surprisingly, Daniel, the guy who owns the fishing camp up in Vijaydurg runs the famous Daniel’s bar here (more formally known as the Boutique House) and so I got to meet him and his lovely wife Thelma. More of that in another post. Now on to Ingo’s.

Ingo is a German who came to Goa and decided to set up the now famous Saturday Night Bazaar. So he went up to an old Goan family with a big house and sprawling grounds in Arpora and got them to lease the land to him for the do. The idea caught everyone’s attention and Ingo’s has been the most successful multinational enterprise in Goa for the past 7 to 8 years (although rumours suggest that the Russian mafia might soon become the biggest business unit in Goa).

Ingo’s Saturday Nite bazaar is, well, a bazaar on Saturday nights. On for about 6 months of the winter months, it brings an eclectic bunch of traders – from the ubiquitous Rajasthani and Kashmiri vendors of Indiana to all hues of foreigners hawking stuff from handmade shoes (nice) to variegated trinkets (not so nice).

The food was good too. Obviously Indian food was in plenty, from Tandoori chicken to Goan Xacuti. But the really interesting part was the international food. Continue reading

On a passenger train from Mangalore to Madgaon on the Konkan Railway

26 stations separate Madgaon from Mangalore on the KR2 passenger. It took me 7 hours and I didnt mind it one bit. And, yes, the KR2 passenger has one reserved compartment and seats allotted are zealously guarded by the TTE. So, go ahead and climb on it the next time you are in the west coast. It is a great journey.

This is a particularly blessed land. As you go north to Goa, you get the sea on your left and masses of open, rolling country on your right. And to make it all very agreeable, the train runs over innumerable rivers and goes through long tunnels that have the exotic smell of damp red laterite soil; the same smell that greeted me in my grandfather’s house deep in the Keralan country, every morning when the dew was fresh on the ground.

And, now for my 10-second primer on the Konkan railway. The four Konkan coastal states (Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka & Kerala) hold 49% and the Indian Railways hold 51% of the Konkan Railway corporation. About 20 odd scheduled passenger trains run on Konkan railway in addition to a number of cargo trains. It has about 1900 bridges and 91 tunnels. The celebrated Mr Sreedharan, who then went to do a number of Metros in urban India, was the first head of the company. His team got the job done in about 7 years time and if other Indian government projects are anything to go by, this verges on the truly miraculous.

Like all big developments, the locals love it and hate it by turn. Continue reading

Will serendipity help me fill my Konkan trip?

And how.

I am back from almost a week of wandering up and around the Konkan coast from Mangalore to Madgaon. Which of course, explains my absence from this blog. But, I am back with many stories that should give me lots of posts over the next few days.

Here is a sneak preview. The people I met over the week include:

  • The banker who dumped a promising international banking career to become a farmer in the highest peak in Karnataka..
  • An engineer who gave himself up to his passion for photography and who is filming India’s first digital photography movie..
  • A singer/contemporary of Remo who was part of all the recent history of Goa – from the Portugese defeat to the retreat of the hippes..
  • A fascinating Estonian who can’t figure out why Indians never say ‘I don’t know’, but say ‘her husband expired’…
  • Olga from Barcelona, who does knock-out Spanish food at Ingo’s…

and so many more.

Watch this space. It gets interesting.

Click here for the first post on planning my recent Konkan trip.

Click here for all my Konkan posts.

Click here for all my Goa posts.

Konkan coast on rails

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(Map of Konkan Railway)

So, I am off again. The idea is to get to Mangalore and work my way up to Goa and then from there to explore the beaches of Sindhudurg in South Maharashtra. It is a non-plan, plan. I have a train ticket from Bangalore to Mangalore. I have a ‘second sitting’ booked from Mangalore to Madgaon. (I think www.IRCTC.co.in is a blazing wonder – I just booked, very effortlessly, a 71 buck ticket for the MAQ – MAO journey and even have a window seat allotted to me; need to see whether seat allotments hold on passenger trains on the Konkan railway). I also have a return ticket to fly back from Goa to Bangalore. Hopefully, serendipity will help me fill the rest.

Click here for all my posts on the Konkan.

And, click here for all my posts on Trains, planes, spacecraft etc.

Tarkarli beach on the Konkan coast

Sindhudurg is the southernmost district of Maharashtra, just north of Goa. Sindhudurg is supposed to have some of the best beaches in India and Tarkarli beach in particular is mentioned by many as a particularly lovely beach to go to. Tarkarli’s reputation is one of clear waters that allow one to snorkel and scuba dive, which is interesting because to the best of my knowledge there is no other mainland beach in India that is good for watching the world underwater.

Goa does offer Scuba, but even the operators themselves agree that Goa’s murky waters are not the place for it. The best snorkelling & diving in India is in Lakshadweep, where Mitali & Prahlad Kakkar run Lacadives (the other option is to dive with Goa diving in Agatti Island; I have come across some vague rumours of safety here, so do check well before you go) . After that is the Andaman Islands, particularly Havelock Island. I haven’t been there and so do not have first hand experience – but many members of HolidayIQ swear by Havelock which is very reassuring.

Anyway, to come back to Tarkarli beach. I do know that a few years ago, a couple of well known boutique cruise operators (Seabourn, I am almost certain was one of them) had an interesting halt offshore at Tarkarli beach from where they brought guests by boat to the beach and then took them on a cycle tour of the local Konkan region. My impression is that this is not done anymore – certainly not at Tarkarli beach. Not sure why.

MTDC has a resort at Tarkarli beach, which has been reviewed and rated by many members of HolidayIQ. Everyone is unanimous in their opinion of Tarkarli beach. Tarkarli is an awesome beach and Continue reading

Go Goa : the Beaches of Goa

It is now official – Goa is the biggest vacations spot for Indian domestic tourists. Over the last 3 years HolidayIQ has been tracking its members & users who are amongst the most ardent holiday-goers in India and the data is clear & unambiguous. Goa gets more domestic holiday-goers than any other single location.

HolidayIQ lists 18 Goan destinations for tourists, from the ever-popular Calangute beach to the lesser known Varca beach to the secret Chapora & Palolem beaches. HolidayIQ also has a free downloadable Guide to Goa’s Beaches which you can get here.

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Click here to get this guide>>

6500 Indian resorts, hotels, home-stays & guesthouses

HolidayIQ has now listed 6500 resorts, hotels, home-stays & guest-houses across India. About 40% of these properties have got reviews from actual guests who stayed there, which is amazing for our country. This is simply because of the consistent hard work so many travel-crazy folk have lovingly put into this over the last 3 years. I still remember early 2004, when this project started as India Resorts Survey – a travel-lovers initiative set up by a small group of holiday junkies. It has really grown up now and it cannot be easily replicated.

The count of accommodation options at the major tourism states are: Goa Hotels – 384, Kerala Hotels – 642, Rajasthan Hotels – 561, Himachal Hotels - 381

For the bigger cities, the count is : Delhi – 198, Mumbai – 176, Bangalore – 171

Out of this list, 1157 India hotels are in a mountain or a hill setting, 554 are Beach hotels in India, 161 are wildlife hotels and 92 give the traveller an inland waterfront experience.

Best Hotels by Travel + Leisure : Where is Aman?

Another ‘Best Of’ list. Travel + leisure magazine has announced the best of tourism for 2007. Included are the Best Hotels, Best Cities, Best Islands, Best Airlines, Best Cruises, Best Car-rentals, Best Tour Operators and so on.

The big Indian story of course is that the Oberoi Udaivilas comes in as the Best Hotel in the world. The really interesting news for the cognoscenti is the absence of any Aman Resort in the World’s top 100 list for 2007. Intrigued, I checked out the 2006 list – Amanpuri had come in at a low 72nd rank last year. Is this a reflection on the properties of Aman or on the readers of T+L?

Weekend breaks

As the monsoon sets in and summer holidays become a memory, urban India goes into the short-break mode. Soon HolidayIQ will be flooded with users trying to find weekend getaways from various cities. When we put togethe the Weekend Getaway option on HolidayIQ, we did not anticipate the huge following this feature would get.

The Weekend Getaway feature on HolidayIQ lets users find holiday options around 18 cities of India. The best part is these can be searched by distance from the city, upto a distance of 350 kilometres. I have great fun playing with this feature even when I am not planning a holiday. Dreaming.

Here is the list of 18 Indian cities from which weekend breaks can be found on HolidayIQ:

Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Mumbai, Mysore, Nagpur, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram, Vizag

5000 Indian hotels, resorts, guest-houses and home-stays

HolidayIQ has hit a big milestone. It now lists over 5000 hotels & other travel accommodation options across India. The diversity and range of accommodation options is increasing in India and this is a good opportunity to take stock.

With its focus on vacations, HolidayIQ lists a large variety of “pure holiday” acommodation options. In addition, there is a group of City Hotels listed (about 1500, which is 30% of the total) primarily in “gateway” cities which are cities used as transit points by tourists to get to the more remote areas of India.

Here are the fascinating details of the holiday accommodation options available to tourists across India. Continue reading

Marketing Indian tourism destinations

(Promo video from Kerala Tourism, directed by one of Kerala’s successful cultural exports – ace movie director Priyadarshan)

We all know that Kerala has done a great job of marketing itself as a tourism destination. Goa is pretty good at it too. So is Rajasthan. Unfortunately, most of the other states have floundered. What is up? Here is my take on tourism destination marketing in India… Continue reading

Olaulim village, Goa

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Olaulim village is not one of the touristy villages in Goa – thank god for that. I had the good fortune to stay for a night at one of the more interesting households in the country, set in little Olaulim village. Savio, the head of the house is a Goan who finally “settled down” (after wandering the world as a tour guide, hotelier, scuba diving instructor etc). His graceful wife Pirkko, moved to Goa from, hold your breath!, Finland. Continue reading

Unsafe beaches in India

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(Agatti, Lakshadweep – photo courtesy : HolidayIQ)

With Goa & Kerala getting more tourism action, Indian beaches are getting huge numbers of people who have no clue how to handle the sea (not that the sea can be “handled” at all!). Many of them are actually seeing the sea for the first time. Indian beaches in general are not safe. Few of them are protected coves; most face directly out into the ocean and quite a few of them are near a river-mouth.

On a recent visit to Baga in Goa, I realised how badly equipped Indian beaches are on swimmer safety. Continue reading