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Text and photos by Renuka Singh
I reached Kalka station early in the morning and could already feel the advent of chilling waves from Himachal. However, I was too lazy to pull out my jacket from my bag or maybe I was just too excited to reach Shimla! Without wasting a single minute, I quickly hired a taxi to reach my destination. I was really thrilled to see the mountains after a long time. The only thing that I looked forward to was photography as it was my first ever travel photography trip, so I was eager to experience the sheer joy of doing my favorite job and holidaying too!
There is something about Shimla that as soon as you get there it just envelopes you in its charm. There’s an aura about it that never seems to fade. It’s an amazing blend of modernity and tradition. If you want to feel the joy of living like a free bird, this place is worth a visit. One can really abandon the baggage of worries in the mind and savor the charismatic ambience to the full.
Mountains, valleys and cedars are all in place, however what adds to the hill station’s delight are its locals who are unfazed by the world and its artifice. If I were to define the beauty of Shimla, I would simply say that it’s like chewing moments with ease. If you want to visit Shimla for its natural beauty, think twice because when you are here mountains are far away! The city of Shimla, is extensively built on the hills, which covers most of the area. However, that doesn’t deter a traveler at all. To experience the magic of this place, grab yourself a bench and gazing would be the best activity one could think of, especially on a sunny day. On a misty day, of course, a coffee would complete the picture.
Predictably, I began my excursion with the Ridge, which is at the top of the hill station. It’s a popular hangout place where tourists lounge, go for horse-riding or simply saunter. The place has Shimla’s landmark – the age-old Christ Church, which can be seen from afar. Its grandeur stands still and glorious. Period. There’s also a library adjacent to the church. All in all, it’s a place that allows you to slip into a perfect paradise – colonial architecture, soothing breezes and carefree people. What else do you need for a holiday?
Shimla is a commercial hub, which is encircled by various other modest hill stations – Naldehra, Chail and Kufri. The more you explore the more beauty you get to feast your eyes on! The only thing that may put off a traveler is walking. Yes, walking in Shimla is quite something. It leaves you breathless. Make sure your partner isn’t lazy because the real fun is in exploring the place on foot.
Taking pictures can be more interesting than I thought. I remember how I started walking aimlessly while clicking and reached Vice Regal Lodge, which is now an Institute of Advanced Studies. Thankfully, it was raining, which made my expedition a more beautiful experience. I enjoyed taking a stroll inside the premises, amidst the ruined building in the backyard. Though rain was not good for my camera, I locked some shots of fresh green grass and flowers, coated with raindrops.
Monkeys can really perturb you, but if you resolve not to feed them, keeping them at bay is not a difficult job. Other than that, it’s a refreshing experience all through. Accommodation is easy and quite reasonable, food is delightful, and you have freedom to just move around on your own, at your own pace.
Wrapping myself cozily in a shawl, I started cursing chilly waves, which had turned harsher towards the evening. I desperately hunted for a café, and I found one – Barista. A steaming hot cappuccino came to my rescue. I found the ambience a little different from outside. I thought I got a glimpse of my city life for a while. I loved to see people taking the business of relaxation so seriously. Everyone had their own space and everyone enjoyed being in Shimla!
Next day, I woke up to a misty morning. Blue mountain ranges with a dash of fog took my breath away! For me, it was a great scope for photography. It took a spur of the moment to decide to get on a bus for Kufri and Chail. It was already rewarding while I was still halfway through. I had already started marveling at the scenic views on the way. I could not help gasping at the glorious mountains.
Kufri is dry during the summer, so there isn’t much to see when it’s not snowing. However, Chail was a welcome surprise! I didn’t expect Chail to be so exquisitely beautiful. I had a big wholesome platter for lunch, followed by tea, which pleased my heart to a great extent. The restaurant was part of the Chail Palace Hotel and garden, where we had halted.
As all good things come to an end, my trip to Shimla had to cease. I packed my bags and checked my train timings on my ticket. My train was in the evening from Kalka. I still had a few hours to myself.
After checking out from the hotel, I simply sat down to watch the day go by and that is quite a rich experience in this summer capital. As the sun decided to retire leaving behind its domineering resonance, I too gave in to its majestic hues.
by Subhasish Chakraborty
With the successful completion of the construction of phase I of the GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL), the Ministry of Civil Aviation granted permission to officially begin operations from 00:01 hours on the 23rd of March 2008. The government notification also meant that the old airport at Hyderabad’s Begumpet will no longer cater to commercial flights.
The day 23rd March 2008 is a red-letter day in the history of India’s civil aviation industry as it is for the first time that a mega airport project has been successfully completed with a private-public partnership.
This gem of an airport, which is well spread out over an area of 5,500 acres was designed and constructed by GMR-HIAL – a joint venture of GMR Infrastructure Ltd., which has a 63% stake. Apart from GMR, the other stakeholders are the renowned Malaysian Airports Holding Berhad (11%), Airports Authority of India (13%) and the Government of Andhra Pradesh (13%). The airport which is located in the Shamshabad neighborhood of Hyderabad, immediately became the centre of attention for the international aviation fraternity.
The launch of this futuristic airport couldn’t have come at a better time, particularly when the city of Hyderabad was then as it is now, on a roll with international IT giants like Microsoft, Deloitte, HSBC, Oracle, GE along with their Indian counterparts like Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Satyam, all of whom have their presence in the city of Charminar, and literally ruling the global IT landscape with their billion dollar turnovers.
Another fact worth remembering is the strategic position of the city of Hyderabad. All the metropolitan cities of India like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata can be reached within 2 hours while the aviation hubs in the Middle East and South East Asia can be reached within 4 hours traveling time. This geographical advantage hasn’t been lost by the global aviation biggies like British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates etc…
A high level delegation of British Airways representatives paid a visit to the new airport shortly after it was officially opened and were full of praise for the infrastructure and other miscellaneous facilities that have been made available for the discerning world traveler. BA officially commenced operations on the Hyderabad-London sector on 27th October 2008. Other renowned international airlines like KLM, Kuwait Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air Lanka, Thai Airways etc…. too, had keen interest for Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.
The popularity of the new airport has remained phenomenal and it can be gauged from the fact that in little over the first month’s time, the RGIA had recorded a 16% increase in air traffic and a whooping 13% increase in passenger flow as compared to last year’s statistics.
With the successful launch of the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, many seasoned international travelers are of the opinion that ultimately Hyderabad has come of age as a truly world class business destination and if things continue to move in the right direction, in the years to come, the RGIA is going to play a pivotal role in the hugely competitive global aviation landscape.
From the get-go, Hyderabad was a much preferred aviation hub of Southern India and aviation experts are of the opinion that in the long run the RGIA will considerably reduce travel time as well as the fuel costs. Already this relatively new airport has handled over 1,90,000 passengers of which 30,000 were international and the rest 1,60,000 domestic.
My first brush with RGIA was on 25th March 2008 and I had gone to receive my aunt who was scheduled to arrive at the RGIA airport by a Malaysian Airlines flight. At first glance I couldn’t believe such a hi-tech airport could be built in India.
I knew a guy from Calcutta who worked for the Malaysian carrier and was based at Hyderabad. I contacted the Malaysian Airline counter and inquired about my friend from Calcutta only to be politely informed by the smart looking Reservations Asst. that he was on -leave. But being a thoroughbred professional that she was, the slender looking Reservations Assistant asked whether I needed any further assistance. Once she got to know that my aunt was scheduled to arrive by the Malaysian Airlines flight, which was still a good 1.5 hour away and that I was keen to have a look at this futuristic airport she herself escorted me and gave me a virtual tour of this stunningly beautiful airport.
Nafisa, the Reservations Asst. from Malaysian Airlines was my guide and we began our exploration of the airport right from the scene of action – the Terminal Building. I was told that there were 12 boarding bridges, which in itself is commendable apart from the 30 odd remote stands and hundreds of Common User Terminal Equipments. I was most impressed by the easy availability of self check-in kiosks.
On my frequent visits abroad, I like many others of my ilk were most embarrassed with the state of affairs at the Immigration Desks in Indian airports. Earlier, one had to queue up and bide his time until his call came from the mischievous clerk at the Immigration counter. The RGIA has changed all these and I was amazed at the pace at which the Immigration counters disposed off the cases. In all there are as many as 46 Immigration counters and at no point of time is there any likelihood of inordinate delays. Nafisa also came out with a startling revelation that the RGIA was the first airport in India to introduce the cutting edge Airport Operational Database (AODB) Technology.
As far as the design and layout of the airport is concerned, it is undoubtedly very user-friendly and the architects have kept things simple. The Terminal Building is conspicuous by its sense of space that aids in free movement. The building is well spread out covering an area, which is all of 100,000 Sq. meters. The innovative manner in which the architects have designed the Domestic and International terminals is commendable as there is enough provision of space interconnecting the two terminals thereby facilitating smooth transit.
After circumnavigating this incredible airport, I needed some rest and some breathing space to fathom all that I had seen. Seeing me perspire in the hot and humid Hyderabad afternoon, Nafisa and I decided to check into a signature restaurant. And what restaurants!!! The leading international brands like Café Coffee Day, Hard Rock Café, Cookie Man, HMS Host were all there, lined up to pamper anybody who took the trouble of stepping inside their respective premises. We were spoilt for a choice but ultimately settled for Café Coffee Day. I simply couldn’t stop admiring the hi-tech features of the airport and kept on eulogizing the marvelous work that the engineers and architects have put in to Nafisa, all the while munching my Chicken Sandwich and Cold Coffee.
After the brief siesta, Nafisa and me proceeded to inspect the Lounge facilities on offer at RGIA. The absolutely gorgeous Lounge area is under the supervision of Plaza Premium. The sheer class and elegance of the Lounge area with a few discerning world travelers relaxing in the soothing ambience of the Lounge made for a truly professional airport service, which would be at par with the best anywhere in the world.
The Lounge facilities at the RGIA is accessible to both Domestic as well as International passengers. I have seen the impeccably maintained Lounges at Changi Airport as well as the ones at Bangkok, but somehow the facilities on offer at RGIA like the exclusive Business Center, Gymnasium, Baggage Pick up and Delivery, Shower Facilities, exclusive napping areas and that rejuvenating massage therapy seemed far classier. The Limousine service is especially top-notch.
As far as Duty Free shops and retail outlets are concerned, the RGIA has already roped in one of the best retail consortiums – “Shopper’s Stop” to cater to the exacting demands of the new age world traveler. According to Nafisa, there will be an exclusive retail zone that is being designed by a leading UK based architectural firm with years of exposure in the designing of global retail marts.
The need for a world-class hotel in close proximity to the airport is a perennial need of any tourist destination. One of the world’s foremost hotel chains – the one and only NOVOTEL, has that taken care of.
As far as state-of-the-art communications is concerned, the RGIA has left no stone unturned and the big names like BSNL and Tata Teleservice Ltd. provides both Voice and Data based services, in complete compliance to the exacting international telecommunication standards. PCO’s and Internet kiosks dot the entire stretch for the convenience of the passengers.
As far as Foreign Exchange is concerned, two of the trusted names in the domain of Foreign Exchange – Travelex India Private Limited and Weizmann Forex Ltd, have been roped in to provide truly world-class money exchanging facilities. And there is no dearth of ATMs. The big names like Axis, HDFC, Kotak, Vijaya, Canara and ING Vysya have all made their presence felt with their exclusive ATM counters at strategic points of the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.
On the technical aspects of this futuristic airport, there is adequate provisions for parking aircrafts on the stands, which in turn are connected to the boarding bridges thus enabling a majority of the passengers to use the gates. Unlike other Indian airports, the state-of-the-art Ramp Handling equipments are strategically positioned in close proximity to the pier. What is more, there are provisions for smaller aircrafts to be transported to the terminal pier without causing any interruption on the adjacent apron taxiway. An innovation at the RGIA has been the introduction of the Fuel Hydrants, which is connected through underground pipelines from the principal Fuel Farm.
As far as the connectivity to the airport is concerned, it is very efficient to say the least. There are multiple ways of reaching to the airport. Be it the 4 lane NH-7 to the West, the 4 lane Srisailam Highway to the East, the 4 lane P.V. Narasimha Rao Elevated Highway or the proposed 8 lane Outer Ring Road, the choice is yours.
I was personally advised to travel to the airport by the all-new Aero Express instead of the self-drive option that I had previously thought of by my close door Banjara Hills neighbor. I was circumspect at first but the moment I hopped into the luxurious coach all my preconceived notions were swept away.
This unique airport shuttle facility is the first of its kind in India. On can board the Aero Express at neighborhoods like Begumpet, Secunderabad, Charminar, Mehdipatnam and the HITECH city.
The prices have been kept competitive and is pegged at Rs.95/ at the time of my writing. The best thing about the Aero Express is that the air-conditioned buses are non-stop with no halts midway whatsoever.
The airport has also introduced a novel method of hassle free travel from airport to Hyderabad city by way of Radio Taxi service. This air-conditioned cab service is provided by the renowned Meru group and operates on the meter system. Each of the taxis that operate on the Radio Taxi domain are licensed taxi/cab operators issued by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and are reliable. The minimum fare up front is Rs.30/-.
For those who rely on the self-drive option, the car parking facilities at RGIA is very well planned. At any point of time the RGIA parking bay can cater to 3000 vehicles. The parking area is fully automated and the state-of-the-art parking automated system is provided by the renowned Skidata-AG of Austria.
The parking charges vary with the grade. There is Economy Car Parking, Premium Car, Parking for buses and coaches and exclusive parking bays for motorcycles and two-wheelers.
Post liberalization, the successful construction of the RGIA is by far the biggest achievement of India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation. The ball was set rolling ever since the Ministry of Civil Aviation floated a global tender notice to develop and operate the Greenfield international airport at Shamshabad and the rest as it is known is history.
Today, thanks to the Government of India’s liberalized civil aviation policies with regard to private participation in the development of airports, it is hoped that many new airports in India would be developed with the private-public mode of operation. India is blessed with incredible natural beauty in terms of tourism but there was always a feeling that India with all its technological prowesses could do better in terms of a few hi-tech airports.
One has to remember that it is the airport, which is the first point of contact for the discerning global traveler. Thus, the airport plays a huge role in determining the perception of a country – negative or positive, by the jet set global traveler.
With each round of my “Reconnaissance Mission” of the airport with Nafisa, I hardly had any remarks to make. It was all admiration. Admiration of an India on the rise. Admiration of an India as one of the world’s most exotic tourist destination and admiration for an India which is on its way to achieving aviation glory.
As I put my earphones one last time before I went to receive my Malaysia -based aunt who was scheduled to arrive any moment, the patriotic song – “Sare Jaha Se Accha. Hindu Sita Hamara” never felt this patriotic before.
The villages of Kamarpukur and Joyrambati are the native places of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna and his holy consort Sri Sarada Devi . They are amongst the most holy places of pilgrimage in the state of West Bengal. These two villages are not only visited by pilgrims from India but a large number of visitors from abroad too,who pour in during the peak touristy season in search of inner peace and tranquility. A vast majority of the village folks are poor and their primary source of income is agriculture. Both the villages present a sad tale of retarded growth and their rich heritage, both natural and cultural, seems threatened.The principal goal of this Tourism Project is alleviation of poverty through eco-friendly tourism that is sustainable in nature. The project aims at contributing positively to the eradication of poverty in all the three tourist spots of the circuit and keeping this in mind the project will be pro-poor, pro-rural folks and pro-women, all of which will enable the benefits accrued through Tourism to reach the grass roots level workers of the tourist circuit. This Tourism Project also envisages to enhance not only the religious and spiritual heritage of the villages but also developing a form of tourism, which would be community oriented and fully sustainable in nature.For more information and itinerary contact firstname.lastname@example.org
by Subhasish Chakraborty
The eco-friendly township of Kalyani, located at a distance of 50 kms. from the City of Joy – Kolkata -comes as a breath of fresh air for tourists. This little known township was launched with a lot of fanfare and expectations by the great Bengali statesman of yesteryears – Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy.
This township in the district of Nadia, renowned for its spiritual legacy was popular at a time when the “City of Joy” ,was reeling under the pressure of the influx of refugees .The then Chief Minister of West Bengal – Dr. Bidhan Roy -had dreamt of a satellite township to ease the population from the city and that is how Kalyani was born, Like a phoenix out of the ashes of World War II, at the site of what was once an American Military Base “Roosevelt Nagar”, aptly named after the former President of USA – Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of USA , it is now Kalyani.
Many believed that Kalyani would evolve as one of India’s model towns in terms of planning with an exclusive industrial belt that would propel the local economy to even greater heights. However, the so called “Industrial Growth” never saw the light of the day.
In its present avatar as India’s “Cleanest Urban City” or India’s first “Open Defecation Free City” Kalyani has evolved into a much sought after residential district and for the past decade has been attracting a lot of NRBs (Non Resident Bengalis) many of whom have set up their dream homes in Kalyani’s pristine environment. Much of the credit for winning the hearts of the discerning global Bengali diaspora goes to Kalyani Municipality, which has been consistently receiving the coveted “Best Municipality Award” for a number of years now.
Apart from its cleanest Indian city image, the outside world is largely unaware of Kalyani’s rich virile past – that of being an American Military Base during World War II when Asia became the centre of war activity. A leisurely stroll through the township’s mettaled roads and tree lined avenues, reveal remnants of the war like the military barracks, truck and tractor garages, Utarborath’s Army Hospital, the Air Force Station at Kapa, a drinking well with names of soldiers engraved etc… all of which transports one to a bygone era.
I was fortunate to interact with Dr. Sur, the Chairman of Kalyani Municipality at a recently held seminar in Kalyani and during the brief tete-a-tete over a cup of piping hot Cappuccino coffee, Dr. Sur revealed his plans for the promotion of Tourism in Kalyani and the District of Nadia thus – “We will promote Tourism that is Unconventional as well as Responsible. Mass homogenized Tourism in the form of hotel-sightseeing and back-to-the-hotel stuff will have no place here. In the coming years I foresee tourists in Kalyani staying in Tree houses instead of luxurious multi storied apartment hotels, promote indigenous Bengali cuisine in place of noveau international cuisine, promote tribal folklore and music instead of Rock Concerts, promote eco-friendly farm and agriculture tourism instead of five star luxury tourist experiences and of course set a trend for horse driven carriages instead of the polluting vehicular traffic as far as transportation is concerned”.
Dr. Sur seemed particularly interested in highlighting Kalyani’s unique “Colonial” image and with the red molten ball dipping across the shimmering Kalyani Lake horizon providing for a truly ethereal setting to our conversation, Dr. Sur was a touch poignant when he declared – “The sheer immensity of launching this one-of-its-kind Colonial Tourism project in Kalyani baffles me. Although the concept is still in its infancy, we are preparing the blueprint which should be ready in six month’s time. Apart from the Ministry of Tourism, we have to garner support and technical knowhow from the Indian Army. The key landmark is to build a world class War Memorial Centre, which will have a dedicated arena where the World War II, India’s struggle for independence as well as Indian Army’s present status as a global military giant will be represented pictorially”.
Let us hope Dr. Sur’s “Mission Tourism” is successful.
Futuristic Tourism Development Avenues in Kalyani and the District of Nadia
The overall tourism scenario in the state of West Bengal is dismal to say the least and the Left Front government, which has been in power for the last almost 4 decades have clearly missed out on the tourism front. Kalyani and the district of Nadia today is a sad tale of retarded growth.
All said and done, let us not keep bickering about what went wrong with West Bengal’s tourism industry, vis-à-vis the district of Nadia and Kalyani township in particular. Instead, let us consider a set of “Futuristic Tourism Development Avenues” which if implemented in a planned manner, promises to usher in a second Bengali renaissance, which is “Renaissance through Tourism” in Tagore’s land.
(1) Tourist Holiday Village at Kalyani
Being centrally located in the District of Nadia and proximity to places of tourist interest like Nabadweep Dham, Mayapur, Krishnagar, Plassey (site of the famous Battle of Plassey), the haunting wilderness of Bethuadari forest, Murshidabad etc… an Eco-friendly Tourist Holiday village at Kalyani will indeed be very advantageous for the discerning tourists who come to visit this fascinating district.
The proposed tourist village in Kalyani will essentially serve as a base from where the discerning tourists will have the opportunity to explore the District of Nadia and beyond.
The oblong shaped Kalyani Lake, which is all of 1.25 kms. in length and its width is 0.4 kms. on the northern side and widens to 0.6 kms. to the south could be an ideal place for building an eco-friendly Tourist Holiday Village. Already, the lake is well connected by a mettaled road that connects the lake area to the city of Kolkata.
Designer eco-friendly products like floating hotels, houseboats, machans, bird observatories etc…may be incorporated to heighten the touristy experience.
(2) Agro Tourism or Agriculture Tourism
The district of Nadia is primarily an agriculture driven district and a vast majority of the population (70%) depend upon agriculture for earning their livelihood. The district is self-reliant when it comes to food production. The land pattern though is fragmented in most parts.
The days of hotel, sightseeing and back to the hotel, are gone. These days tourists demand real experiences during his /her holidays. The demand is for pleasant surroundings, usually at reasonable rates which West Bengal does have in abundance.
The essential ingredient of this new kind of tourism package is the organization of recreation which alone can enrich the tourism experience by allowing greater integration with the place visited and fuller involvement in the social and cultural life of the rural destination.
A common place in a village is selected, particularly the land which is for common use. This place will provide a podium for artisans, snake charmers and other rural artists who solely depend on roadshows for their livlihood. Other places in the village like the cultivated pond, vegetable and fruit gardens etc.. are impeccably preserved for the visiting tourists.
The tourists on their arrival to the village are allowed to fish in the pond at a very concessional rate. The gardens are open for the tourists so that they can “Pay, Eat and Pluck” the vegetables and fruits. When this system is fully evolved, the middle man who gets a major share of the income finds no place and the market is brought close to the village.
It has to be borne in mind that the Village Tourism which would be developed will not at all be a simulated one. The configuration of the village which has the set-up according to the caste and class would be explicitly exhibited. The city residents who have not seen the authentic village life would get a glimpse of the village life without paying the charges which the travel agents sell.
(3) Fishing & Angling Tours
The district of Nadia is crisscrossed by rivulets and wetland bodies The Bengali and his fish are inseparable and a variety of fishes are reared. Historically, the boatmen of Bengal are a unique lot. Their slow, uncluttered and philosophical outlook on life has been a rich literary source of Bengali folklore. A lot of films too have been produced depicting the strange lifestyle of Bengal’s boatmen / Fishermen.
The local government (Kalyani Municipality) first needs to identify a bunch of fishing villages for accelerated tourism development. The pivotal idea is to construct rural fishermen’s huts made of straw and bamboo alongside the water bodies so as to provide shelter to the tourists. Their unique folk songs and traditions can be showcased in the central podium of the fishing village. For the diehard fishing and angling enthusiasts, leisurely boat rides on the water bodies may be encouraged and permission may be granted for fishing in the waters, which will come at a price. Fishing equipments may be rented out to the tourists as well to heighten the touristy experience.
(4) Introducing Horse Cart Rides:
These days, horse driven carriages are indeed a novelty. Being the hub of British India, horse driven carriages were introduced in a phased manner by the British East India Company in Kolkata and many other parts of West Bengal.
If one delves into the history of horse driven carriages, they were in vogue even during the Mughal era and came in different shapes and sizes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, not only were these carriages the primary mode of transportation, they were also extensively used by the members of the erstwhile royal families. The carriages then were fine pieces of craftsmanship. It is such a pity that today in the guise of modernity, we have to axe these wonderful eco-friendly vehicles.
This concept can be profitably launched in Kalyani and in other places of tourist interest in the district of Nadia. The prospect of riding through intriguing by lanes, which has history written all over and the exotic Bengal countryside, can be a heady feeling for the uninitiated.
Exclusive horse riding retreats may be introduced in places with a colonial past like for instance Kalyani, Murshidabad, Plassey, Krishnagar etc…. which were intimately connected with the British Raj as well as the Mughals. The introduction of exclusive horse riding retreats in the above mentioned places would not only usher in an innovative tourism experience, it would also be a wonderful way of reviving the past glory of Bengal.
The Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal along with the local Municipal bodies like the Kalyani municipality, may first identify the sites suitable for rural Horse Riding Retreats and then come up with a comprehensive tourism development plan.
(5) Tree House Tourism:
Tree house recreation has of late made its mark as a much sought after alternative form of recreation. This concept has become hugely popular in the state of Kerala and some parts of Rajasthan.
Even a decade back, tree houses used to be kid stuff, but not anymore as more adults are building houses in trees to get high. The joy of being tucked up in a remote arboreal hideaway is the stuff that dreams are made of and they have even been the subjects of best-selling books and popular exhibitions.
Apart from Kalyani, the ideal location for introducing Tree House Tourism would be the lush green Bethuadhari Reserve Forest in the district of Nadia, which is a pleasant place to relax in the midst of tropical forest cover, chirping of the birds and a few species of fauna like Spotted Deers, Pythons, Monitor Lizards and Turtles.
The fact that the National Highway passes right next to the Bethuadari Reserve Forest and being easily accessible from Kolkata, this wildlife sanctuary has always been an enigma for many weekend tourists.
(6) Colonial Tourism in Kalyani
The Government of West Bengal would do well to declare Kalyani as a colonial tourist destination, given the fact that Kalyani used to be an American Military Base during World War II and was referred to as “Roosevelt Nagar”, after the then President of USA – Franklin Roosevelt. Also, now that the Indo-US joint military initiatives are at an all time high, both the Indian army and its counterparts in USA would do well to co-operate in shaping up Kalyani as a much-preferred colonial tourist destination.
A few possible touristy landmarks for Kalyani are mentioned below:
(i) Setting up a War Memorial Center in Kalyani with photographs and pictures of World War II. Pictorial representation of India’s struggle for Independence.
(ii) Photographs, write-ups and audiovisuals etc…. depicting the Indo-US military exchanges till the present time.
(iii) Develop Kalyani Lake, which is 1.25 Kms. long into a state of the art Lake Retreat with luxurious accommodation units, convention center, musical fountain and all the modern paraphernalia expected of a super deluxe retreat.
(iv) Develop the Picnic Garden into a world class Botanical Garden with exclusive garden villas for up market tourists.
(7) Declare the District of Nadia as a Spiritual Tourist Destination:
As far as the question of spirituality is concerned, it would perhaps be apt to state that the district of Nadia has a great spiritual past and that great spiritual heritage and tradition of thousands of years is still alive. In fact, Nabadweep Dham, a small town of Nadia district happens to be the birthplace of one of India’s greatest spiritual personality – Sri Chaitainya Mahaprabhu who is regarded as the avatara of Lord Krishna in this age whose mission it was to teach love of god through chanting his holy name.
Also, in the district of Nadia is Mayapur, where the headquarters of the world famous International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is located. The Hare-Krishna movement made so popular and acceptable in the modern era by one of the world’s most outstanding spiritual teachers – His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, has its magnificent headquarters at Mayapur, which is just 3.5 hours drive from Calcutta.
ISKCON in particular has mega tourism plans for Mayapur and Nabadweep Dham and the government can effectively play the role of a catalyst.
(8) Bengali Fairs & Festivals to be Promoted Aggressively:
West Bengal is a land of festivals and fairs. Be it the Gangasagar Mela, the Poush Mela of Santineketan or the 300 years old Sati Ma’s Mela at Kalyani, West Bengal is never short of fairs and festivals. The Fairs and festivals of Bengal are unique and one-of-a-kind to be found nowhere else on earth.
The Indian state of Rajasthan has shown how by proper marketing and planned infrastructure developments, fairs and festivals can win the admiration of the world’s tourism fraternity. The world famous Pushkar Fair as well as the Jaisalmer Desert Festival are today ranked amongst the world’s most colorful fairs.
The 400-year-old Satima’s Fair at Kalyani, which is held annually transforms Kalyani into a fairy tale land with thousands of Sati Ma’s devotees who converge into her sacred estate and make merry with intoxicating Baul music and a plethora of ethnic entertainment. Kalyani Municipality would do well to seek the support and co-peration of the Ministry of Tourism for better management of the Sati Ma’s fair, which has the potential to become the Indian version of “Mardi Grass”.
(9) Son et lumiere on Nadia’s Spiritual Heritage:
The renaissance period after the infamous 1857 rebellion against the British rule saw a spontaneous outburst of Bengali art and literature. It was during this period that the great spiritual giant Sri Ramakrishna made his appearance and it was left to Swami Vivekananda – the cyclonic monk of Bengal to spread the tentacles of Vedanta to the world community. This period also saw the emergence of great souls like Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Rishi Aurobindoo and others of their ilk.
It is high time the government comes up with a state-of-the-art “Son et lumiere” on the great Bengal Renaissance which may be showcased for the entertainment of the discerning international travelers. There are still many facts that the rest of the world doesn’t know about the Bengal Renaissance, which may be unraveled to the new age traveler to Bengal.
Nadia being the birth place of the great spiritual giant Sri Chaitainya Mahaprabhu is also much revered by ISKCON devotees because one the modern world’s most renowned religious ambassadors – Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON had an intimate spiritual attachment for Nabadweep Dham in particular, and it would be in the fitness of things that a ‘Son et lumiere’ be produced, which highlights the spiritual greatness of the district of Nadia.
(10) Bengali Wedding Tours:
A Bengali marriage is always very special. It is high on drama, there is great pomp and merrymaking and the food is lip-smacking good. One has all the ingredients of a soap opera. The Municipalities and village panchayats may be given a grant to build community halls and the residents of the concerned town or village may be encouraged to hold marriage ceremonies at these community halls.
(11) Craft Bazaar in Kalyani:
The district of Nadia is a virtual treasure house of Bengali art and crafts. This region has encouraged people to carry on the century’s old traditional way of earning ones livelihood like jewellery, carpentry, blacksmithy etc…and this district has set a great example of keeping one’s traditions alive even in the face of urbanization and cut throat consumerism.
As there is no dearth of wide open spaces in Kalyani, the concept of a Craft Bazaar is an innovative idea and this kind of congregation of the local artisans in a common market place will serve in the best interest of the local village folks who can earn their livelihood by selling their products.
A nominal rate will be charged from each artisan, which will be ultimately utilized for the further development of the Craft Bazaar and also for the day to day maintenance. The Bazaar will be so designed that it blends harmoniously with the local environment and is eco-friendly. Small huts will be allocated to each local entrepreneur for a maximum of two weeks after which the next in line will be given a chance to set up his stall.
Apart from stalls allotted to the artisan community, food plazas too can be constructed with the help of eco-friendly materials and food may be served to visitors in environmentally safe, disposable earthen cups and leaf plates, basketry and coconut shells. A minimal built up area with a food plaza centre and plenty of open space can serve as a venue for different types of food festivals. Open air theatre will be a very important feature at the proposed Craft Bazaar. Spectacular glimpses of the vast storehouse of Bengal’s culture ranging from Rabindra Sangeet to the intoxicating Baul music may be conducted. Apart from portraying the unique Bengali culture and folklore, the Kalyani Craft Bazzar can also offer a Pan-Indian cultural experience in a microcosm where folk dancers of other states of India can showcase their unique dance forms ranging from the graceful Bharatnatyam to the vigorous Bhangra.
(12) Japanese Garden
Given Kalyani’s verdant greenery and vast open spaces, a Japanese Garden will bring about a magnificent contrast to the landscape. The characteristic feature of Japanese Garden is the unmistakable influence of Buddhism. The garden is intended as a place for quiet reflection and this intention is based on a religious philosophical demand. To achieve this impression of quietness, all brilliant colors are renounced and preference is given to the various kinds of predominantly green plants so that a uniform color is attained.
Most Japanese Gardens are monochrome, whereas the European Gardens are polychrome. In a monochrome garden flowers are of course almost entirely absent while European gardens bear bright colors. However, despite the differences in form and style, a good Japanese garden invariably reveals three fundamental characteristics – naturalism, asymmetry and a drawing together of natural and architectural forms into a unified harmonious composition. It is a work of art built on a human scale and naturalistic in content but subjective in spirit.
Although the special quality of the Japanese landscape is naturally also reflected in the garden, one of the most striking elements in this landscape is water and stone arrangements. Water fulfills the special function in the garden of making more tolerable the heat of the Japanese summer.
The Roshanara garden belongs to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Some other small gardens or portions of Japanese style were developed at 1 Safdarjung Road, Qudsia garden and in other parts of India. An important addition of Japanese garden in India could be Kalyani.
It is true that there are problems galore when it comes to developing the Tourism industry in a state like West Bengal. What is heartening though is that there seems to be awareness in the minds of the people as well as of the government of West Bengal that everyone has to unite together, whether he or she is a sage or an ordinary person. With the people’s power and the power of grassroots institutions, the deteriorating tourism standards can be arrested and improved upon. Apart from the government, NGOs and International organizations also have to share the responsibility and help and guide the local citizenry in developing a sound and sustainable tourism platform for West Bengal.
One of the key areas in terms of tourism development in West Bengal is creation of a more appropriate form of tourism to replace “Mass Tourism”. Appropriate Tourism is a kind of tourism that is more favorable and beneficial to the local community and the challenge ahead for West Bengal’s tourism industry is to implement and establish Appropriate Tourism at the ground level.
The future relationship between tourism and environment is going to be the key issue for West Bengal’s tourism industry as it will be for the rest of India and the world. Being sensitive towards environment in our pursuit of pleasure in the hills and dales, beaches, grassland and fragile areas would be the wise thing to do.
by Subhasish Chakraborty
Recently, I had the good fortune of visiting the western most state of India – Gujarat, courtesy the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. Being a Travel Writer from metropolitan Calcutta, I was scheduled to visit the entire length and breadth of the state of Gujarat. However, I had a particular fascination to visit the Kutch area, which I knew were the home of the nomadic Rabari people.
I had first heard of the fascinating lifestyle of the Rabaris from my archaeologist aunt who spent many years in Gujarat in the 90’s decade. Ever since then, I had a burning desire to know more about the Rabari people. So the first thing I did upon my arrival at Ahmedabad was to request the Tourist Officer to provide me with an opportunity to spend more time at Kutch, which is where most Rabaris live.
We started our journey to Kutch, Bhuj to be precise early in the morning. It was to be a backbreaking 6 hours drive from Ahmedabad. But thank god, the road was excellent and the drive was beautiful too. By the time we arrived at Bhuj Tourist Bungalow, it was evening.
It would be appropriate to mention that Bhuj was the scene of massive destruction during the devastating earthquake of 2001 and my guide Pavitran told me that more than 7000 people perished. I saw a lot of multi-storied buildings with huge cracks but people still continued to live in those apartments. But the heartening fact was that thousands of quake-proof houses had already been built in the Bhuj area and many more were on the pipeline. In fact, the sheer magnitude of the developmental work that has taken place in Bhuj alone that it would be rather difficult to comprehend that for the first time visitor that this area was witness to one of the most devastating earthquakes in India’s recent history. Kudos to the administrators, NGO’s and all those involved in resurrecting Gujarat after the earthquake.
Next morning after a hearty breakfast we proceeded towards the Rann of Kutch – the heartland of the fascinating Rabari people. My guide Pavitran decided that we needed to drive 80 Kms away from Bhuj to a place called Parkar Vas, which is where the Rabari influence is strong. Also, it is a fact that Parkar Vas is the place where the renowned Kala Raksha Trust is located. Kala Raksha is a trust dedicated to preserving the present cultures of ethnic communities including the Rabaris through their traditional arts, in order to encourage understanding and appreciation. The trust is run by a selfless American lady – Judy Frater who has spent nearly 25 years living in Kutch.
As my car left the narrow alleyways of Bhuj to the deserted highway, I could sense an all-encompassing silence descending. The population was sparse and the landscape desolate. After traveling around 25 Kms. as the car took a sharp right turn, my resourceful guide Pavitran sprang up to life, literally shouting at me – “look up there, the Rabaris with their herd of Camels are marching forward”. Indeed, at a distance I could see groups of Rabaris were on the move probably looking for a quiet place to pitch camp. The men folk wore turbans and were dressed in white while the women wore black skirts with tiny mirrors embroidered on them. They all looked gorgeous.
The Rabari people are a mystery. A Rabari can be nomadic or semi-nomadic. In Kutch, there are about 2500-3000 Rabari families. There are two types of Rabaris – the Vagadias from Eastern Kutch and the Dhebarias from the Anjar Taluka. The white dress is common to all Rabari men.
Rabaris are illiterate. They have blind faith in religion. They are lovers of nature. They worship Mataji Sikotara, Momaya, Loladi, Bhed, Vankol, Amba, Khodiar and Hinglaj. Women do household work while the men folk are mostly in the desert with their sheep and camels. Rabaris do not trust doctors and use only Ayurvedic medicines. Rabari women do very interesting embroidery like Toran, Thela, Popat, Blouse, Gagra and also intricate decorations for camels.
I saw more Rabari women when we returned in the evening. It was dark and on the verge of a storm. I sat in a restaurant. It was a wide open shop really, staring into the colorful bazaar. Four Rabari women walked into the darkened Chai-shop (Tea shop). Not the ones I had seen before. One, an achingly beautiful young woman, with glowing brown skin and light eyes made more alluring by fire light. They sat across the aisle, the young beauty facing me. I caught her eye, one dazzling moment and smiled a greeting. She, for a second, seemed inclined to respond. But then I heard a hissed instruction – “Don’t talk to him!” and the girl lowered her eyes! “Right they are!”, I told myself in a euphoric mood. After all the hard working Rabaris gain nothing fraternizing with an urban city guy.
We visited Judy Frater’s Kala Raksha Trust and were very fortunate to find her at the reception counter at her modest cottage, which again was custom designed in the traditional Rabari style roundhouse. She has set up a museum and a production center within the small premises far away from metropolitan India with a handful of dedicated staff who work around her vision.
Judy was of the opinion that the Rabaris are gradually loosing their identity through constant invasion of urbanization. But she was hell bent to preserve their identity, which finds expression in the form of hand woven embroideries.
According to Judy – “ a wedding proclaims the best of a community through embroidery. The bride’s home is lavishly decorated. In the midnight ceremony the bride’s embroidery, only glimpsed beneath her veil, the groom proudly displayed dress and the uniform embellishment of guests, from adults to children, all identify them as unmistakably members of one community”.
Among the Rabaris, fashion has changed over time. Yet, at any given time it is important to conform to the current style of the community. Fashion includes choice of cloth and style of embroidery. The bride’s Ghaagharo/skirt worn only until marriage, is made from “Mashru pattern” traditionally used for that purpose. Her woolen Ludi/Veil is embroidered with medallions used only by the “Kacchis” and only for the veil. The bride’s outfit, the Torans, the girl’s blouse and the groom’s “Bokanni” scarf depict embroidery of the people of Kutch from 1960’s to 1980’s. The groom’s Adan/Jacket depicts the style of embroidery popular earlier, up to the middle of the 20th century among the Kacchis.
The ceremonial embroideries preserve the Rabari memory of their origins as desert-dwelling camel herders. The Rabaris embroider Camel trappings to honor their Camels and reinforce the legend that they once supplied Camels to the Rajput royalty.
Having spent long years in this part of the world promoting Rabari craftsmanship, Judy is much concerned to see the disparities of pricing in the international market for textiles. A hand woven Rabari bag costs around Rs.150/- in India but the moment these products reach any Western country, their price is ten times more and charged around $ 80. Also, it is a fact that the Western craftsmen are paid more for their end products then the Rabari craftsmen. It is this disparity of income that Judy is fighting for.
Legend has it that all the Rabaris once lived in Jaisalmer in the neighboring state of Rajasthan. Over the centuries they spread into many other states, integrating themselves into Hindu culture as they went, splintering into countless sub-castes, but always retaining their unique ways and differences.
Today it is clear that in modern India their way of life is in trouble. The Rabari population is estimated to be about 2,70,000. They now often keep only a few Camels for transport. Many earn a living by selling sheep and goats for meat, dung for fertilizer and wool. With open land filling up through development and conflicts with settled people increasing, more and more Rabaris are forced to give up their herds and look for other alternatives.
An early September morning in Kutch finds the Rabari camped in tarpaulin shelters, preparing for their annual migration they call the “Dang”. This is when groups from five to fifteen families set out with their livestock in search of greener pastures. The wander from autumn through the following spring, during the dry months between the Southwest monsoons. There is urgency to get all the work done in preparation to decamp. Women run barefoot over stones and thorns, chasing lambs. The shepherds pound the ground with their staffs and curse the sheep as they corral them into makeshift pens. Each shepherd has a slightly different call, whistle or shriek to call his flock and the noise is deafening. Then one watches the gentle firmness with which a herdsman will get a reluctant goat to suckle a kid and realizes how precious these animals are to the Rabari.
By day the Rabari men guard their animals from wolves and jackals. The forests are also crawling with bandits. At night the Rabari herds them together with their other’s livestock for protection against thieves. A pistol or a rifle is essential for protection, but most Rabaris have only their staffs and sling shots. Besides stealing animals, the bandits often kidnap women for ransom. The village police provide no justice since the system is rife with corruption.
In a typical village, their rectangular houses, called “Vandhas” are built in rows. The whitewashed mud walls and tiled roofs may have an appearance of starkness when viewed from outside. But within each house, the Rabari’s fondness for patterns is easily visible from the many geometric patterns that adorn its interiors. The tiny mirrors embedded into these mud-plaster patterns only enhance their beauty as they catch the faint glimmer of light streaming in from a small window or a low doorway. A home usually consists of two rooms and an extended verandah, which forms the kitchen.
The room at the back is normally used as a storehouse – a virtual treasure house of embroidered clothes and quilts in carved wooden “pataras” (chests); and the “Kothis” and “Kothlas” (granaries) made of mud and cow dung. The other room is mainly a living room decorated with embroidered Torans or decorated doorways, while the doors are covered with brass foil etched in myriad patterns. Often, the only piece of furniture that one might find is the carved, wooden cradle.
The community’s main stay is milk and milk products from their livestock, which they trade in. Besides, the Rabaris also trade in wool and leather in order to purchase commodities that they do not produce themselves
Kutch – the homeland of the Rabari people, is a mystical land. A virtual microcosm of the country’s vibrant cultural diversity. To me Kutch is a place where time appeared to have stopped. No visit to Gujarat is ever complete without a trip to this Northwestern district of Gujarat. The Rabaris of Kutch are renowned for their temperate nature and warm hospitality. For the traveler in you, Kutch offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually lead a nomadic life in complete harmony with nature.
As life goes on, spare a thought about the nomadic Rabaris of Kutch. If possible come and discover their land and you surely will go back with a changed perspective on life.
Traveler’s Fact File:
Bhuj is located at a distance of 310 Kms. from the state capital – Ahmedabad and is connected by both rail and road. Ahmedabad is well connected by regular flights from Mumbai and Delhi. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines etc…. operate regular flights to Ahmedabad. At the Ahmedabad airport, buses and taxis are easily available for hire.
The nearest airport to Bhuj is however Jamnagar, which is well connected by regular flights from Mumbai, the financial capital of India.
As far as accommodation is concerned, they are at best sketchy. But you can be assured of cleanliness, good hygienic food and stunning window views at this pretty Gujarati town. Apart from the Department of Tourism run Tourist Lodge, there are numerous decent hotels at Bhuj like the Mahalaxmi Guest House and the Panchayat Guest House. There is also a Circuit House that offers comfortable accommodation.
For further information on Kutch, please feel free to contact – email@example.com
by Subhasish Chakraborty
Coorg that much sought after hill station down south located to the southwest of the state of Karnataka, bordering with Kerala used to be a mini state in its own right until it was included in the geographical boundaries of Karnataka. In this region the undulating Western Ghats start to plummet down towards the sea and the landscape is dramatic with lush green valleys and the fertility of the soil is ideal for widespread growth of the finest quality of coffee grown in India.
The forests are rife with game and tourists to this part of Karnataka often encounter the resident wildlife in the form of Elephants, the famed Malabar Squirrel and the occasional Tiger. Gurgling mountain streams and cascading waterfalls, unfathomable ravines and coffee bushes, the region entices the holidaymaker from far and near who flock to this fascinating biodiversity hotspot.
Coorg is also the land of the exotic martial Kodava tribe who lead a fascinating lifestyle thereby nicely complimenting the picture perfect mountain landscape. Their rich folklore and legends are the stuff that dreams are made of and the friendly Kodavas have made many a visitor to their dreamland fall in love with their chiseled features and colorful attires. The sheer ecstasy of guests who take delight in being honored guests in the traditional Kodava tribal huts in the midst of undulating Coffee estates have charmed the discerning world traveler for more than a century.
Coorg is all of 2,564 Sq.Kms and is easily accessible from Banglore (243 Kms.) via State Highway 17 via the quaint towns of Maddur and Mandya. In fact getting to Coorg is half the fun as the drive from Bangalore to Madikeri, the Kodava capital is tantalizing to say the least as you pass through lush green paddy fields and the salubrious Karnataka countryside.
The Coorg Trail
This charming hill station is an ideal base from where one can explore the breathtaking vistas of Coorg. With the soaring popularity of Coorg as a much preferred holiday destination, hotels and resorts to suit every budget have come up in this impressive hill station.
Madikeri is renowned for the impregnable Fort Madikeri, which was built by Tipu Sultan in the 18th century when he reigned supreme in this part of the world. The focal point of attraction here is the minimalist palace of the erstwhile Lingayat rulers. Other places worth visiting are the Abbi waterfall and the Raja’s Seat. The later serves as a vantage point for ethereal sunset views and the distant Western Ghats make for a truly kaleidoscopic vigenette.
For an adrenalin pumping session of trekking through coffee plantations along the shimmering Cauvery River, a visit to the Coorg Wildlife Society at Madekeri is ideal as they have carved a niche for themselves when it comes to organizing Eco-friendly mountain treks.
Where to Stay: Coorg International (Tel: 08272-228071), Mojo Rainforest (Tel: 08272-265638), Capitol Village (Tel: 08272-225929), Hillyside Estate (Tel: 080-22990364), Ludwig Mahal (Tel: 08272-265629)
Escapades from Madekeri:
A scenic 48 Kms. Drive will take you to Tala Cauvery, which happens to be the origin of Cauvery and thus is revered by the natives. The picturesque backdrop of the impressive Brahmagiri Hills makes for truly aesthetic visual feast.
Siddapur, Coffee Estates and Golf:
Siddapur is the quintessential “Coffee Country” of Coorg and the spectacular mountain drive (19 Kms.) through Coorg’s famed coffee plantation estates is in itself a sight to behold. Time permitting, you would do well to go further upfront (12 Kms.) to Pollibetta, referred to as the “Mecca of Coffee Planters”. The more discerning tourists make it a point to also cover the “Golden Quadrilateral” consisting of Titimati and Gonikoppal, which is where some of the most scenic golf courses in the whole of Coorg are located.
The 9-hole Mercera Downs and the picture perfect Coorg Golf Links Course located at the charming Bittangala retreat are much preferred by the golfing enthusiasts. The 18- hole Bittangala Golf Course is ideal for an engrossing session or two of intense golfing and one also has the option to camp at the School Estate’s simplistic cottage across the golf greens.
Dubare Elephant Camp:
One of south India’s best-known Elephant Camp is located at Dubaree Forest Reserve and can be reached by driving 15 kilometers on the Siddapur Main Road. Here wild Elephants are domesticated and a variety of Wildlife experiences ranging from grooming of elephants to ecology and conservations are on offer for the discerning tourists.
Most visitors to Dubaree are fascinated by the “Command Demonstration” wherein the resident Elephants are made to obey commands made by the “Mahuts”(Elephant Trainer). Time permitting, you would do well to go on an enchanting Elephant ride in the lush green forest cover of Dubaree
Many visitors stay as guests of the Jungle Lodges & Resort, a pioneer in the domain of wildlife preservation in India
This quaint but colorful village located ideally in the southwestern part of Coorg is conspicuous by its evergreen rainforest and the favorable microclimate of the region means that it is home to hundreds of species of migratory birds, some even belonging to the list of endangered avian species. If you are looking for hideway far removed from civilization, Kakkabe would fit the bill perfectly.
Kakkabe is most renowned for its honey and produces and over the past century has carved out a niche for itself as the largest honey producer in the whole of South East Asia
Make it a point to visit Thadiyendamol, the highest peak of Coorg that rises like a sentinel at 5,730 feet above sea level. This part of Coorg is much preffered by the serious trekkers and on a clear sunny day one can bask in the uninterrupted vistas of the emerald coast. Soma Male, Mallamma Betta and Kakkabe Pass are some of the most popular trekking routes
A whiff of Kodava royalty can be savored by visiting the regal Nalnad Palace, which used to serve as an exclusive royal hunting retreat of the erstwhile Maharaja. This palace is conspicuous by its elaborate wooden architecture and exotic murals
While in Kakkabe don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit the Igguthappa Temple, believed to be very potent spiritually and the best part of the temple visit is the complimentary Kodava meal consisting of rice, sambar and payasam. The indigenously manufactured mango pickle only adds to the flavor of the meal. Igguthappa is the presiding deity of Coorg and the locals venerate Lord Igguthappa as the “Rain God”.
All in all a visit to Coorg is like the gateway to serenity and if one is looking for the calm of nature and immerse oneself in tranquility amongst endless acres of coffee plantations, the haunting wilderness or simply head back to your Kodava tribal hut and curl up, the myriad voices of nature will lull you to loosen up in the lap of nature.
If You Go:
Best Time to Visit:
Avoid the rainy season. The months between September to May are ideal.
Madikeri, the capital of Coorg is easily accessible from Bangaluru along the State Highway 17 all the way to Srirangapatna and on State Highway 88 to your final destination – Madekeri.
For further information on Coorg, please feel free to contact - firstname.lastname@example.org
by Subhasish Chakraborty
India is a land of stupendous dimensions. It is often said, India is not a country but a continent. The “Incredible India” marketing blitz launched by the Ministry of Tourism in all the major cities of the world as well as participation in some of the most renowned International Travel Fairs like the ITB Berlin, the WTM London etc…. have indeed paid rich dividends in terms of popularizing India as a tourist destination.
Travelers from affluent countries like USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Australia etc…are increasingly opting for luxury train travel as they believe the best way to discover India’s enormous variety and diversity is best explored on the ground level rather than flying aimlessly at rarefied heights of 30,000 plus feet high onboard airlines
Recently a team of 20 Archaeologists from France had come on a fortnight’s visit to India to attend an international seminar at the township of Kalyani in the state of West Bengal and thereafter proceeded to the city of Mumbai for a “Workshop on Archaeology” conducted by the University of Mumbai. I was entrusted with the task of guiding the group during their fortnight’s stay in India
The French have a sentimental attachment to the city of Chandannagore in West Bengal, which once used to be the headquarters of the colonial French rulers. After doing the rounds of the French City of Chandannagore, it was time to depart for Mumbai where prior arrangements had been made for their accommodation at the fabulous Taj Mahal Palace & Towers. And as a token of affection to the French guests, the Department of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra offered the entire group with a complimentary weeklong train journey aboard the luxury Deccan Odyssey.
The state of Maharashtra is one of the largest in India both in terms of population and area. Its booming capital – Mumbai, makes it not only one of the most important states economically but also a major arrival point for overseas visitors. Most of the state stands on the high Deccan plateau and historically this was the main center for the Maratha Empire, which defied the mighty Mughals for a long time under the leadership of Shivaji.
Given the highly priced tour package, it wasn’t surprising to see a majority of guests being foreigners from the affluent Western countries with the odd NRI in between on their mission to rediscover their native country, which they may have left long back.
As the train chugged off from the Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, the quintessential whistle blew its final salutation to all that was royal and grand about the state of Maharashtra. The train with its 21 royal coaches out of which 11 coaches are exclusively meant for passengers offered all the royal indulgences one would associate with the erstwhile Indian royalty. Apart from passenger coaches, the train also had an exclusive coach dedicated for conferencing and two coaches that served as royal restaurants. The Spa coach was meant for those inclined to rejuvenate their senses with the most relaxing of natural therapies.
We were given a warm traditional welcome and I had some light snacks and went about exploring the royal opulence that was on offer in the Deccan Odyssey. I stopped by at the well-stocked library, stepped into the elegant Bar and had a sip of my favorite tipple, ventured into the exclusive Spa coach and the gymnasium, and returned stupefied to my coach, completely bedazzled with all the regal aura inside the train
My frenetic exploration of the various coaches of the Deccan Odyssey made one curious bellboy laugh excitedly at me and I thought it would be prudent to take his help as a guide. Vishal who has been working for the Deccan Odyssey for the past five years made me aware of all the facets of this one-of-its-kind luxury train, like the ethnic style interiors as well as the architectural content of the royally designed coaches. Each coach is aptly named after some of the finest historical places and forts in the state of Maharashtra.
In course of my animated conversation with Vishal, the affable bellboy disclosed that the luxury Deccan Odyssey train is a joint endeavor of the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. and the Indian Railways. This train is ranked amongst the best luxury trains in the world and is up there with the likes of the Orient Express of Europe, the Eastern and Oriental of South East Asia and the Blue Train of South Africa.
The seven days round trip covered some of India’s most fascinating tourist destinations like Mumbai, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Goa, Kolhapur, Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad (Ajanta – Ellora), Nasik and Mumbai.
Our first halt was at Ratnagiri. From Ratnagiri we traveled in an air-conditioned coach to the picturesque Ganapatipule beach, which is considered to be amongst the most beautiful beaches in the coast of Maharashtra. As we passed through the meandering lanes of Ratnagiri, we were captivated by the town’s charming ambience. Ratnagiri is world famous for Alphonso mangoes, easily one of the best mango varieties in this part of the world, a majority of which is exported.
The Ratnagiri-Ganpatipule circuit is actually a fine blend of nature and history. Majestic Maratha forts, palaces and temples vie for attention with some of the most breathtaking stretches of virgin beaches you will ever encounter in India.
After a fascinating bout of sight seeing we returned back to our respective coaches and settled for a sumptuous lunch. Post lunch, the train once again chugged off leaving behind the splendid historical facades of Ratnagiri only to halt at Kudal station from where we proceeded to the heritage town of Sawantwadi
My French guests couldn’t stop marveling at the grandeur of the majestic Sawantwadi Palace, which we were told was built by the gallant Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsale III way back in the 18th century. Although photography inside the palace is prohibited, a few of my French guests could resist their instincts.
If the Sawantwadi Palace was Marathi royal grandeur at its very best, the Shilpa Gram (Crafts Village) was an eye opener to most of the foreign guests. The opportunity to view rural Maharashtrian craftsmen at work in the village was a unique experience for all of us. As a token of appreciation, most foreign guests bought handicraft items from the Shilpa Gram as souvenirs. By evening, with dusk gradually descending on Sawantwadi, a captivating cultural song and dance performance by the local artists of the village was the perfect parting gift to my foreign dignitaries.
We were back at Kudal railway station and hopped into our respective coaches. We were now entering one of India’s most beautiful tourist hubs – Goa, where the world comes to party. At the dinner table, my French guests were given a fascinating insight of Goa as a tourist destination by one of the knowledgeable guides of the Deccan Odyssey. I was surprised to know that most of them knew quite a bit about Goa and a couple of them had reportedly visited this enchanting state a few years back as backpackers.
After a relaxing night’s rest, we woke up refreshed in the morning and alighted at Sindhudurg railway station and hopped into a waiting air-conditioned coach that transported us to the Malvan jetty for a glimpse of the magnificent Ocean Fort, which used to serve as a strategic naval base during the rule of the Marathas. The fort was built in the period between 1664-67 by the courageous Maratha ruler Shivaji
After doing the rounds of the magnificent fort, we proceeded to the picturesque beach resort of Tarkali. The mandarins of Deccan Odyssey have included the Tarkali beach on the itinerary given the fact that most foreign guests are particularly keen to spend a considerable amount of their time at the beachfront so as to be able to soak in the balmy beach ambience. The beach is long and slender, ideal for sun bathing. After an impromptu lunch on the beach we proceeded to the fascinating village of Walaval to pay our homage to goddess Laxmi Narayana and were back at Kudal railway station where the Deccan Odyssey train was parked.
For a change, tonight’s dinner was strictly Marathi. The past 3 days we had a bit of the Continental, the Mexican and the nouveau international but never really savored the gastronomic delights of Maharashtra. Laid out on the table was the quintessential Bombay Duck or “Bombil”, which was fried to perfection by the train’s resident chef along with boiled rice and “Bhakris”, which is basically soft “Chappatis”. Other miscellaneous tid-bits were Rice Puris, Amboli, Urad Dal, Papad and Shreekhand (Sweetend Curd) etc…. that made our dinner sumptuous to the core.
On Day 4 we arrived at Karmali in the state of Goa and an air of expectancy prevailed amongst the guests. Our first stop was Old Goa or “Velha Goa” as it is popularly referred to. Old Goa has a distinctively Portuguese flavor and easygoing ways. It used to be the principal bastion of the Portuguese and is replete with many elegant churches, monastries and convents. This small Portuguese enclave is still one of India’s most touristically important places.
We went on a whistle-stop tour of Old Goa and visited the renowned Se Cathedral, The Convent & Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Church of St.Cajetan, the church of St. Augustine, The Church & Convent of St. Monica and other lesser-known heritage buildings.
We also visited the Latin Quarters at the capital city Panjim and my French guests marveled at the city’s colonial ambience. Panjim’s main attraction is the narrow winding streets, small cafes and bars and the occasional old stone buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
We retuned back to Verne Railway Station and had lunch onboard the royal restaurant and after a brief post lunch siesta were off to the nearest beach. We were given enough freedom to indulge in beach activities. Some splashed on the waves, some indulged in Wind Surfing and the more reticent ones enjoyed a session of beach volleyball. A Goan cultural troupe was invited to entertain the guests and after all that Goan razzmatazz we proceeded to Madgaon railway station to board the Deccan Odyssey for our onward journey to Kolaphur and beyond.
Day 5 and Day 6 were spent discovering the sights and sounds of Kolhapur and the city of Daulatabad. While Kolhapur is renowned for its 250 odd temples, the quintessential Kolhapuri Chappals and the distinct Saracenic style of architecture, Daulatabad is renowned for the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara, which is a kind of mock-up of the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world. My French guests were completely overawed by the intricate designs patterns like the Paithani, Bidriwork and Himroo and bought some fabulous handicraft items from the local craft showrooms dotting the city.
We were now heading towards the fag end of the royal train journey and reached Jalgaon station on the penultimate day of the tour. We hopped in to our waiting coach and proceeded to the world famous archaeological site of Ajanta.
Ajanta is an UNESCO declared World Heritage Site renowned the world over for its cave paintings and frescoes. There are a total of 29 caves, each one unique in its representation. The cave paintings dates back to the period from 200 BC to 650 AD. The shape of the Ajanta cave is semi circular resembling a horse’s hoof. The middle portion of the cave is conspicuous by the presence of paintings adhering to Mahayana sect of Buddhism and the rest of the paintings to the Mahayana Buddhism
Ajanta remained hidden from human eyes for thousands of years and it was largely due to the efforts of one British patron by the name of George Griffith who for the first time uncovered the mask of Ajanta to the rest of the world. The manner in which the stories and legends of the Jataka period is depicted through murals and engravings is truly outstanding and needless to say, in the present times commands the admiration of the entire world.
By noontime we once again assembled for lunch onboard the Deccan Odyssey and had a few forty winks as the train proceeded to Nashik Road station where we alighted and boarded a luxury bus that transported us to one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimage site – the Panchawati Ghat. It is here that the all-important Kumbh Mela is held. After doing the rounds of this all-important “Ghat” we boarded the Deccan Odyssey that was stationed at Deorali station for the last leg of our journey to Mumbai.
The past week, as we traveled together discovering some of India’s rich virile past, fascinating palaces and forts, breathtaking beaches and stunning architectural facades meant that we were all bonded in a unique manner, sharing the diversity of culture and heritage that each of us were bequeathed with. Today even after one full year had elapsed since we undertook that magical royal train journey, many of us still keep in touch with each other through telephone, E-mail and online chatting reminiscing about that memorable train journey.
Indeed a journey onboard the Deccan Odyssey is one of the world’s most unique train journeys. Are you up for the ride?
For further information and booking, please feel free to get in touch with email@example.com
by Subhasish Chakraborty
During my frequent trips to the Vedic Village Resort & Spa, I had the opportunity to appreciate what “Wellness” was all about. The manner in which the entire resort is designed, offers the very best of India’s holistic recreation heritage.
Located strategically in close proximity to the fast developing mega township of Rajarhat, the Resort is a mere 20 minutes drive from the Rajarhat Expressway and Kolkata Airport is just 11 Kms from the Vedic Village Resort.
I would often spend hours exploring every nock and corner of this dream Resort, sometimes accompanied by the Resort’s Marketing Head – Arindam Ghosh.
The main resort area is well spread out with impeccably landscaped gardens and there are exclusive enclosures for Bungalows, Lake Front Homes as well as Aqua Homes. The rather innovative Aqua Homes are any resident’s delight with custom built swimming pools and backyard garden. A special feature of the Aqua Homes are the roofed surface replete with greenery so as to keep the temperatures inside each of the properties moderate even during the scorching summer months.
As we took a leisurely stroll along the meandering walkways surrounding the graceful Bungalows, my friend Arindam revealed that most of the properties developed has already been lapped up by the city’s rich and the famous. The response from the Bengali NRI community too has been very positive and some of them have already taken possession of their dream homes. Due to a light drizzle, the earthy smell emanating from the Organic gardens surrounding the Bungalows was like a breath of fresh air to me.
The Bungalows and other residencies on offer are two, three, four and five bedroom affairs. The minimum plot size is 3.5 Cottahs and increases correspondingly with the addition of rooms. Most visitors to the Resort come to spend their weekends far from the din and bustle of the metropolis as they already have their ownership Bungalows at the resort.
A sneak look at the interiors revealed spacious bedrooms with state-of-the-art Porcelain tile flooring, Queen sized beds, writing tables, wardrobes, luggage rack and all the other amenities that a modern day visitor could ask for.
The Dining area with its luxurious sofa sets, an elegant center table, 6 seater Dining table, side boards and ceiling fans have been impeccably done up with matching décor. The attached kitchen with its exhaust fan, refrigerator, geyser and other modern day kitchen appliances were simply superb. While the toilets with exclusive Bathtub, shower curtain, exhaust fan, geyser and miscellaneous toiletries left nothing to chance and ready to usher in the discerning world traveler’s siesta with the best of Bengal’s hospitality.
The best part of the Resort is that approximately 95 % of the resort premise is verdant and full of greenery. While Organic Farming occupies around 4 acres of the resort’s landscape, there are facilities like multi cuisine restaurants, a well stocked bar, exclusive clubhouses and activities like swimming, basketball, bowling, badminton and an array of indoor games to keep the guests occupied in meaningful activities. I quite liked the Horse Riding bit.
However it is the Resort’s Spa, which over the years has carved a niche for itself in Kolkata’s competitive Spa landscape. In fact the Vedic Village Spa is the cornerstone of this resort and set in sylvan rural Bengal countryside that offers the enchanting charms of living in rural Bengal.
A bewildering array of therapies ranging from Ayurvedic remedies like Abhyangam, Shirodhara, Patrapinda Swedana, Herbal Face Pack, Dincharya and a whole lot more are on offer at this impressive Spa of Kolkata. The prices have been kept competitive and ranges from Rs.500/- to Rs.3500/-.
As far as Residential Vedic treatments are concerned, there are packages like the exclusive One Day Vedic Lifestyle, Oral Hygiene, Exclusive Yoga Sessions, herbal bath packages, and a whole lot more. I personally liked the rejuvenating “Snana” herbal bath package, which was not only great for my skin but the medicated oil that was massaged on my weary body gave me a new lease of life.
I was also witness to a veritable scamper for indulging in therapies at the Vedic Village Spa courtesy the weekend crowd of IT executives belonging to 24/7 genre of Software wiz kids from Sector 5, which is the IT hub of the state. In fact on the weekends, one can find a sizeable number of stressed out corporate executives, eminent Tollywood stars and others of their ilk indulging in rejuvenating Spa therapies at the Resort. The Residential Rejuvenation Packages come in durations of 3 Nights, 7 Nights and 14 Nights respectively
The In-house doctors have been specially trained in Australia and facilities for Live Blood analysis and Iridology are available at the Resort. The characteristic feature of the Wellness Therapies on offer at the Vedic Village Spa is the harmonious integration of Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Ayurvedic and the traditional Chinese techniques of treatment. This phenomenon is intended to heighten the awareness about the benefits of holistic and alternative medicines not only in India but also abroad.
If you have the penchant for experiencing the ethereal sight of the picturesque and make belief world of a rural Bengal hamlet with its dimly lit lights appearing like a million studded diamonds, stop by at Vedic Village and rediscover a Bengal you never knew existed.
The Village is best depicted in Rishi Aurobindoo’s famous poem –
“When you and I, we played together,
Who my playmate was I did not know.
Without a fear, without a shame,
Life in quiet ease did flow”.
For any further information on Vedic Village Resort & Spa, please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
by Subhasish Chakraborty
Having been born and brought up in Assam, a chance to visit my beloved National Park was like revisiting the paradise I left behind some ten years back when we relocated to Kalyani in West Bengal. The chance to speak in chaste Assamese and savoring the mouth watering Assamese cuisine was irresistible.
We reached Guwahati by the early morning Jet Airways flight from Calcutta and a coach was waiting at the airport to pick us up for our onward journey to Kaziranga National Park. The 6 hours drive from Guwahati to Kaziranga was beautiful as we passed by quaint Assamese villages, undulating hills and lush green countryside.
We checked in at the very popular Diphlu River Lodge, which has carved a niche for itself as far as providing high quality jungle hospitality is concerned. No wonder, the resort was teeming with foreign tourists. At the dinner table we discussed threadbare our itinerary for the week and retired for the night.
After our early morning breakfast, we rattled along the meandering jungle trail on our four-wheeled drive through the early morning mist. Since it was December, there was a nip in the air and as we traveled deep inside the forest we became excited at the sight of untamed One-Horned Rhinos grazing in the grasslands of Kaziranga.
This one-of-its-kind National Park has quite a bit of history attached to it. The history of Kaziranga goes back to the time when Lady Mary Victoria Leiter, wife of Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India visited Kaziranga. She had come here with sole intention of spotting the rare and elusive One-Horned Rhinoceros. But alas! That was not to be.
On Lady Victoria’s persuasion, Lord Curzon declared Kaziranga as a Reserved Forest in the year 1905 and the rest as it is known is history. From a little known Reserve Forest in the North-East of India to a Game Sanctuary (1950) and ultimately culminating with the status of a National Park in the year 1968, Kaziranga rose like a phoenix in India’s wilderness landscape. The ultimate honor or distinction was however the UNESCO’s 1985 declaration, designating the Kaziranga National Park as World Heritage Site.
Lord Curzon aside, any mention of Kaziranga would be incomplete without a reference to one of India’s greatest modern day naturalist – Dr. Robin Banerjee who single handedly catapulted Kaziranga National Park into a name to reckon with in the international wildlife landscape through his epoch making 50 minutes Documentary entitled – “Kaziranga” sometimes in the 1950’s. He went on to make 32 Wildlife Documentaries in all and in the year 1971 was awarded with the Padmashree from President V.V. Giri.
The Resident Forest Officer informed us that Kaziranga was amongst the first National Parks in India to conduct scientific research and census. The park has used state-of-the-art techniques like Satellite Imagery to ascertain changes in vegetation and other scientific assessment concerning habitat suitability for Ungulates.
Kaziranga is ideally located on the southern bank of the mighty river Brahmaputra, which happens to be the only male river in the world. The National Highway 37 passes by the sanctuary and the foothills of Karbi Anglong provide the perfect backdrop to the National Park. Rhino’s aside, the park is renowned for its rich bio-diversity.
As many as 35 mammals have been spotted at Kaziranga and there are at least 15 species that are on the verge of extinction. As we traversed deeper inside the forest, we spotted varied species like the Hollock Gibbons, Capped Langurs (they are cute), Bristly Hare, Sloth Bears, the Swamp Deer, Sambhar and Barasingha. If luck is on your side, you might even spot the elusive Gangetic Dolphins that are a treat to watch. As far as the big cats are concerned, a few exist here but then it is very difficult to spot them, as they are few in numbers.
The beauty of Kaziranga lies in the fact that it is covered with tall grassland and there are small streams and reservoirs (bheels) spread throughout the contours of the park. The Savvanah woodland, Deciduous forest, marshy water bodies and swamps only add to the beauty of the National Park.
A visit to Kaziranga is not only about wildlife. It is also about the colorful tribal culture that exists in this part of the world. You would do well to venture out of the National Park and visit any of the 39 odd villages that exist in the neighborhood.
Kaziranga has been eulogized not only by TV documentaries, but also by renowned writers of the stature of American Science Fiction & Fantasy author – L. Sprague de Camp. The renowned Assamese vocalist Dr. Bhupen Hazarika has mentioned about Kaziranga in some of his songs. So also the celebrated BBC environmentalist Mark Shand who did an exclusive documentary on Kaziranga’s first female Master Elephant Rider or “Mahout” appropriately entitled – “Queen of the Elephant”.
A visit to Kaziranga is filled with nostalgia of the bygone days as well as of a future, which is promising as far as forest conservation is concerned.
Traveler’s Fact File:
Getting There: Jorhat is the nearest airport, which is located at a distance of 98 Kms. Indian Airlines and Jet Airways have regular flights to Jorhat from Kolkata. Another option is traveling by air to Guwahati from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Kolkata and from Guwahati drive all the way to Kaziranga National Park. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Jet Lite etc. offer regular flights to Guwahati from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Kolkata. From Guwahati Airport coaches and taxis can be hired to visit the National Park.
Accommodation: There are numerous options to suit every budget as far as accommodation in Kaziranga National Park is concerned. The Government of Assam, Department of Forest runs a Forest Lodge – “Aranya” which has both A/C and non A/C rooms. The rooms are tastefully furnished with running hot and cold water.
Apart from Aranya Forest Lodge, there is the superb bamboo and thatch Diphlu River Lodge. There are 8 impeccably appointed double bedded rooms and 4 double room cottages. The Lodge offers the very best of Assam’s traditional style cottages designed in the shape of raised Machans with thatched verandahs. Almost all the cottages are river facing. The interiors are tastefully done up with intricate tribal weavings and high thatched ceilings.
There is also the fabulous Wild Grass Resort as well as Bonhabi Resort that offers quality jungle hospitality.
For reservations and further information on Kaziranga National Park, please feel free to contact: email@example.com
by Subhasish Chakraborty
Nestled along the warm and boundless blue of the Arabian Sea, Goa is breathless and mesmerizing. I was longing for a beach holiday for sometime, and so ultimately when I received the invitation from Goa Tourism to visit this little speck of paradise, I simply couldn’t refuse it. The invitation was godsent.
The first thing I did was drop in at my travel agent’s office for my air tickets.
But I was politely told that there were no seats available for the next 15 days, this being the peak tourist season in Goa. So ultimately the Travel Consultant with great difficulty managed a rail ticket for me.
I would have to travel to Pune by train, and from Pune by road to Panaji, the state capital of Goa.
The journey was indeed tiresome. It was evening by the time my bus reached Panaji’s Kadamba Bus Terminus. Though I was dead tired, the sheer salubrious air of Panaji invigorated me. I hopped into an auto-rickshaw and straight away went to Miramar beach, which is where my hotel was located.
Miramar beach is just 4 kms from Panaji city center, and my hotel, Miramar Residency was located right on the beach. After checking in, I straightaway rushed to the bathtub and had a warm shower. The shower made me relaxed and I lazily lay on my king-sized bed for an hour or so.
When the clock struck 9′o clock, I thought it was time for dinner. I was hungry as well. The bellboy told me that room service was available. So I called up Foodland – the in-house restaurant of Miramar Residency — and ordered a traditional Goan Thali comprising of King Fish curry and rice. But before grabbing my dinner, I wanted to have a sip of the vintage Goan wine Feni which is made of cashew and about which I had heard a lot from my friends in Calcutta. I ordered a bottle of Feni and it arrived in my room in no time.
After a sumptuous Goan meal, I finally rested for the night. I left my windows open so as to allow the sea breeze in. That night I slept like a log. The sea breeze was blowing at full blast and since I was a little inebriated with Feni, I felt as if I was floating in thin air.
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up to the chirping of the birds. I could clearly see the red molten ball slowly rising up across the Miramar beach horizon. It was truly an ethereal setting, but I could not spend much time at the beach since I was scheduled to go on a sightseeing trip of Panaji city.
My car came bang on time and I hopped into a brand new Maruti van. We first visited the Boca De Vaca Spring that is located right in the heart of Panaji city. The Spring is located next to the Mahalaxmi temple.
The most fascinating aspect of Boca De Vaca Spring is that no body actually knows the source of the water, and I was told by my guide – Krish that this particular Spring is 700 years old, which is indeed mind-boggling.
Our next stop was Dona Paula, which is about 7 kms away from Panaji city. The drive is beautiful and there are Portuguese style villas/houses on either side of the road.
Dona Paula is a secluded bay that offers a magnificent view of the Mormugao harbor. This idyllic rocky tourist attraction lies at the spot where the Mandovi and the Zuari Rivers meet the Arabian Sea. It is easily one of the most popular spots on the itinerary of tourists visiting Goa.
We could see a few ferries taking passengers across the bay. The more adventurous ones were busy with water sports activities. By the way, water scooters, boating, parasailing, yachting, windsurfing and fishing are available in this area.
There is a romantic legend behind the name Dona Paula. Dona Paula is the village where the lady of that name, Dona Paula de Menezes is believed to have loved, lived and died – a gory death in the second half of the 18th century.
The fishermen of the area have a marvelous collection of ghost stories about Dona Paula. On moonlit nights, they say – on pitch dark nights, say others – at the stroke of midnight, she rises from the sea and roams the area, wearing a string of pearls and nothing else.
It was 4 p.m. and Krish, my guide politely asked me whether I would like to venture out a little from Panaji city to a fishing village close by. I readily agreed because it would provide me with a once-in-a-lifetime’s opportunity to visit an authentic Goan fishing village. Krish suggested we go to Wadwad, which is where his ancestral house was. He further informed me that his father still lives in their Wadwad home and that he was a painter.
So off we zipped towards the sleepy fishing village of Wadwad, leaving the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Panaji. Wadwad is just 8 kms away from Panaji, and the drive was beautiful. We encountered a steep hill, and once we crossed that, we reached Krish’s place.
His father who is all of 75 years came out to greet us and offered me a glassful of Coconut water. And then we started our conversation.
Krish’s father, Namdev Phadte nostalgically recalled that he went away to Mumbai in 1944 for higher studies. In those days he used to travel by ship. His passion was photography and he got an opportunity to work under the tutelage of the well-known Parsee photographer, Nusarwanjee. Their he came in touch with Raghubir Mulgaonkar and began learning the art of painting with pencils and watercolour.
Namdev Phadte can speak chaste Portuguese. He had spent nearly 35 years with the Portuguese administration at Goa. He nostalgically recalled that in those days the Portuguese Government had brought cameras to shoot a film on Goa but alas there was nobody with the skills to operate those cameras.
With the passage of time, the Portuguese in Goa somehow came to know about Namdev and he was soon summoned to shoot the film on Goa on behalf of the Department of Tourism under the Portuguese rule. The film was done in the Portuguese language and was extensively sold in Portugal.
After the Portuguese left India, he started working from his modest home at Wadwad as a painter. Today because of his hard-earned reputation as a painter he is often requested to paint portraits of people from Goa as well as foreigners who visit Goa. But due to old age he takes a lot of time to finish his portraits. Nevertheless, once they are finished, each work of Namdev is a masterpiece as I discovered for myself.
After an eventful day, I finally got back to my hotel at Miramar beach and freshened up, and like every other Goan, I went out to have my fill of Feni at a local bar located very close to my hotel.
The following morning I got up late, and so I really had to hurry everything. That day I was to go on a whistle-stop tour of the world famous beaches of North Goa.
Our first stop was at Fort Aguada. Fort Aguada is just 10 kms from Panaji. This magnificent fort was built by the Portuguese to keep a watch over enemy ships. There is a lighthouse built by the Portuguese just adjacent to the fort. From the northern ramparts of the fort you can see the turquoise blue Arabian Sea right below. The Governor’s residence, Caboraj Niwas can be clearly sighted on a clear sunny day.
A little distance away from Fort Aguada is the queen of all beaches – Calangute. The moment we reached Calangute we could sense the ethereal laidback ambience of this world famous beach made so popular by the flower children. The streets are narrow and on either side of the road we could see a number of departmental stores, cyber cafes and traditional Goan open air restaurants. Foreign tourists on motorbikes were zooming past us, probably going towards Calangute beach where there was much activity.
Calangute beach is about 4 miles long and covered with palm trees. It used to be a hippy hangout during the 60′s and 70′s. Today the hippies have mostly turned into yuppies. But the beach is unchanged – pristine, serene, golden sand and sun. The beach is filled with average sun worshippers and their children. Fresh seafood is everywhere on sale.
After having our breakfast at Cafe Pedro, we started our onward journey. By afternoon we had covered Baga, Anjuna, Vagator, Morjim and Mandrem beaches. We didn’t spend much time at any of these beaches because we found them to be a little too crowded. My guide, Krish was of the opinion that Arambol beach was by far the most spectacular beach of North Goa and very quiet – not many tourists venture towards Arambol.
Arambol is indeed stunning. It has a charm of its own. What is more, there is no commercialism. It is at the center of the longest stretch of Goa’s northern strand stretching from the mouth of Tiracol River to the mouth of Chapora. Backed by swaying palm trees, it offers rocks in some parts, sand for the most part, and a fresh water pond close to the sea. The sand on the beach is soft and white and very popular with foreigners. A beach shack called itself a Menzes Moa’s Corner and a board proclaimed “Scuba Diving School”. The approach road to the beach is lined with shacks selling clothes and souvenirs.
The breaking wave height at Arambol is 0.8 meters; the foreshore slope in September is a moderate 1 in 30. Judging from the number of swimmers in the water, they felt that this was a safe beach.
After spending close to two hours at Arambol chatting up with friendly tourists at the beach shack and endless glasses of Feni, we returned back to Panaji. By the time we reached Miramar Residency it was pitch dark.
After a warm shower and a traditional Goan dinner, I retired for the night. I got up early next morning totally immersed in the romance of Goa. The more I traveled, the more I fell in love with the laidback Goan lifestyle. In Goa life is unhurried. There is no rat race, and the Goans abhor competition and pressure cooker situations. Here in Goa, life is one big party.
Goa is not only about beaches. Historically too, it has a lot to offer. Goa is well known for its magnificent whitewashed churches, temples and mosques, which are centuries old. The ten-kilometer drive to Old Goa or Velha Goa is an interesting one.
The most famous churches of Old Goa lie to the right and left of the road from Panaji: the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral. The Bom Jesus was constructed in the year 1594 and completed by 1605 by the Portuguese. In this church, three architectural styles have converged — Corinthian (Greek), Doric (Roman) and Ionic (Italian). The dead body of Rev. St. Francis Xavier is still preserved. Every 10 years the body is opened to the public for 45 days starting from 25 November to 10th January. Probably the body of St. Francis Xavier will again be open to the Christian world in 2004.
Opposite the church of Bom Jesus is the Se Cathedral. Se Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in Asia built by the Portuguese in the year 1650. Legend has it that St. Catherine was a beautiful Egyptian lady. But she was a nun. The king of Egypt wanted to marry her but since she was a nun she refused to marry the king. So later on, the king captured her and killed her brutally. The sheer brutality of St. Catherine’s killing by the king of Egypt is visually depicted in the main altar.
The importance of Se Cathedral is the Miracle Cross. The cross is still preserved and people who are sick or are suffering from incurable diseases still take away small pieces of the wooden cross and put it on the mouth of the patient.
I have always been fascinated by Indian architecture and my admiration for the South Indian temple architecture is immense. Here in Goa, I never imagined I would be able to witness the very best of fusion architecture, wherein the famed South Indian temple architecture blended so harmoniously with Goa’s very own Portuguese architecture at the magnificent Leela Kempinski hotel.
Since I was invited to visit this magnificent hotel, we headed towards Mobor beach via the beautiful Goan countryside. I was simply stupefied by the sheer authentic Goan ambience inside the hotel. Mr. Pascal Dupuis, the Manager was there to greet us, and we sat at the lobby, which directly faced the stunning beach.
Our conversation centered on the hospitality aspect and I was told by Mr. Pascal Dupuis that the Leela Kempinski Goa was a landmark hotel with an exclusive 12 hole, par 3 golf course and ever since its inception the hotel has endeavored for sustainable tourism practices by gainfully involving the locals.
The unique feature of the Leela Kempinski hotel is that it is a compact 5 star luxury hotel spread over 75 acres of impeccably landscaped topography offering the very best of Indian hospitality with a tinge of the fabled Goan warmth and generosity.
As we made an informal round of the hotel’s plush interiors, I was stupefied by the hotel’s impeccably appointed suites – Lagoon Suite, Lagoon Deluxe Suite, Royal Villa, the Club Suite and the truly opulent Presidential Suite. While the Lagoon Suite is conspicuous by its traditional Portuguese ambience, the Royal Villa with its master bedroom and an exclusive guest room was the very epitome of royal indulgences complete with Italian marble bathroom, sunken baths, Jacuzzi, exclusive living and dining rooms, a private pool and terrace that offers uninterrupted views of the golf course and the bay.
Being a Travel Writer has meant that I have been fortunate enough to visit some of India’s most opulent hotels but here at the magnificent Leela Kempenski Hotel in Goa, I was completely bowled over by the sheer richness of the artistic heritage that was a blend of Indian and Portuguese.
And when it comes to cuisine, I make it a point to gobble only the local delicacies and here at the Leela Kempinski’s signature restaurant – “Jamavar” that offers both Indian as well as local Goan delicacies, I found the Prawn based dishes to be of a very high quality. The best thing about Jamavar is that it is never too crowded and what impressed me the most was the elaborately decorated wooden screens and rare old-fashioned Jamavar shawls.
On the advice of the hotel’s affable Manager – Mr. Pascal Dupuis, we waited for dusk to descend, for that’s the best time to romance at the Leela Kempinski Goa. As the dim lights came on at the hotel’s exclusive Riverside restaurant, which is located in a truly idyllic setting – by the banks of the shimmering Sal River, everything was perfect – the locale, the ambience, the food (authentic Italian) and the starlit night sky. The only thing missing was my girlfriend.
We settled for an early dinner as we had to reach Panaji by hook or by crook as I had my air tickets booked for the next day to Kolkata. We were ushered in at the very laidback “Susegado”, which literally means relax and live a little in Portuguese and this idyllic restaurant does live up to that adage every bit. I feasted on the day’s freshest catch from the sea and being a fish-eating Bengali, I kept things pretty simple and truly savored the Tiger Prawn curry with plain rice. A live band was playing some vintage numbers from U2’s Joshua Tree album –“With or Without You” and after exchange of pleasantries with the courteous hotel staff, we left for Panaji.
I was now coming towards the end of my blissful Goan vacation. The next day I would pack up and leave for Calcutta. But the best part of being at Goa was that I was unhurried. There was no tension and no stress. Simply a laidback style of living which helped me recharge my batteries for the rough grind of city life. Goa will beacon me for a lifetime.
Getting There: Dabolim Airport in Goa is well connected by regular flights from Mumbai. One can reach Mumbai by Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Kingfisher etc… from Mumbai and take a connecting flight to Goa.
There is another alternative: From Mumbai you may travel by Konkan Railways to Goa (Karmali / Margao).
In Goa you will find a wide range of accommodation starting from budget to 3-star, 4-star, 5-star and 5-star deluxe. Many domestic tourists prefer government accommodation and so Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) has set up hotels and resorts in all the tourist spots of Goa. The rates are competitive without being too extravagant.
For further information and reservations, please free to contact:
Goa Tourism Development Corporation Ltd,
Dr Alvares Costa Road,
Panaji, Goa- 403001
Tel: 0832 2424001/ 02/ 03
Fax: +91-832-2423926 / 2420779