Khajuraho – offbeat and mesmerising

When one has travelled as much as I have, it becomes quite commonplace to plan for new travel destinations and one may get a sense of, “been there, done that”. Khajuraho was quite different though as it was something both Lipi and I wanted to do for a long time. Now that we are done with the trip, I can only say that it met our expectations in full measure. For those interested in going there this post will be helpful.

Coming to the actual travel, we started on 20th February morning from our home in Hyderabad. The short ride to the airport is always exhilarating in the morning on the ORR expressway. Hyderabad airport is now crowded at most times but, as regular travellers, we have now learnt to take these in our stride. Once we were through the Security check, we headed towards our oasis in the airport – the Plaza Premium lounge. this provides relative serenity in the hustle and bustle of the airport as well as great food options at most times of the day. Fortified by the breakfast, we boarded the flight and did what we normally do – Lipi catching up with her sleep and me with my reading. We made a short stopover at Noida at my mother-in-law’s place and had a great lunch there. She also insisted on packing some dinner for us which came in rather handy later on.

Our train journey by the UP Sampark Kranti Express was uneventful but we were privy to some rather interesting conversation on Khajuraho, courtesy some local people who were travelling with us. When I woke up it was rather dark and the feeling I had of closing in on our destination was quite thrilling. The train reached Khajuraho station fairly early in the morning and just as we came outside we were accosted by a person named Jainam who wanted us to get into his car to reach our hotel. Though I did not have much faith in the sheet of paper that he proffered, 200 Rs seemed a reasonable fare and we set off. The journey by car was short and we saw the two airports, national and international, on our way. The road leading to our hotel Isabel Palace was a dusty one and I started wondering as to whether we had made a good choice of the hotel. However, the interiors were quite good and we were given a room immediately even though it wasn’t 8 in the morning yet.

The hotel had a fixed menu breakfast on the terrace. You could view the Vindhya hills at a distance and paddy fields up close. The 360 degree view along with the tasty Indian breakfast of stuffed parathas and pooris started our day on the right note. We had worked out a deal with our guide cum driver Jainam and soon set out to see the star attraction of the trip, namely the temples of the Western group first. It was only a short drive from the hotel, in Khajuraho most distances are short. The immediate road stretch in front of the temple complex has been cordoned off for vehicular traffic and this is a good step. Tickets were cheap but the official Guides really expensive. We still got one as it is always good to hear from them and it proved to be a good decision. Apart from giving up the details of temples and the sculptures he also doubled up as our official photographer for the day and snapped quite a few pictures of Lipi and me. This was nice as we normally end every travel nowadays with very few pics of us together.

The Western temple complex has most of the temples standing today and is really the UNESCO world heritage site. The temples are all in pretty good shape and have been restored well where needed, the landscaped gardens look beautiful and due to the lack of massive crowds you can set your own pace. We started with the Lakshmana Temple which is dedicated to Vishnu and has a few smaller temples in front of it. The Varaha Temple, dedicated to the third incarnation of Vishnu as a wild Boar is small but has a huge statue of a Boar which is rather impressive. The carvings along the Lakshmana temple contain a lot of erotic sculpture for which Khajuraho is widely known. While these are rather explicitly depicted, the overall numbers would probably be less than 10 %. Also, the sculptures are really about everyday life and it seems that sex was dealt with and spoken of quite openly during the times the temples were built.

About 200 metres from the Lakshmana temple is the most famous temple of Khajuraho and easily the most majestic one in structure and stature. My memories of it stretched long back to my school days when I read about it in my Cultural history classes and was quite impressed by it. In real life it was even more impressive than what my imagination had allowed for. The Jagdambika temple next to it is on the same raised platform and the duo clearly dominate the Western complex. Just going around the temples and staring up at the rising Shikaras will inspire you with awe. Add to it the richly carved panels with the intricate sculptures and you realise the extent of the artistic and human endeavour that went into creating these masterpieces. Muslim invasion had desecrated the shines but even those callous souls probably could not bring themselves to destroy such beauty.

The rest of the temples were nice too, the Chitragupta temple and the Vishvanath temple being noteworthy. The Dance festival has the Chitragupta temple as it’s fantastic background and we witnessed that in the evening. After the Western group we went to the Southern temples and the Eastern Jain ones. While these were quite impressive too and the Chaturvuja temple was unique in the statue of Vishnu with 4 heads. The Jain temple complex was really serene and nice though architecturally not so striking maybe. The temples done we proceeded to have lunch at Agarwal’s which was a great vegetarian restaurant and had a variety of Thali’s and other fares to choose from. The simple thali we chose turned out to be quite sumptuous and rounded off the morning experience.

After some rest at the hotel we were back to the temple complex in the evening. We first went to the only temple in Khajuraho where worship is prevalent and saw the 9 feet Shiva lingam made of sandstone, glistening due to all the polish it has got over the years. The evening Arathi was just starting as we came down the steps and the music with the chanting along with all the devotees clapping to it was a heady mix. Next stop was the Khajuraho Dance festival which was really more of a Fair. There were stalls put up from different states with all kinds of textiles and handicrafts, there were food stalls ans an Art Mart featuring work of many artistes. The Dance stage was impressive and had the Chitragupta temple as it’s beautiful backdrop. We saw three performances of Bharat Natyam, Kathak and Manipuri dances and each one held our attention completely. The entire experience was a surreal one and exceeded all expectations that I had of it. If you are a lover of art and culture, you must visit Khajuraho dance festival at least once.

Dinner was at well known Rajah Cafe run by a Swiss. We had some chicken Brochette which was quite good along with another chicken dish with Rotis. After a restful night we were off the next day on nature trail. First stop was Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary which has some wild life and apparently a lot of crocodiles. Even though we did not see any crocodiles there, the views of the Ken river and the different small lakes that it forms within the sanctuary were hugely worth it. Lipi did not want to climb the watch tower but I decided to test my fitness by doing so and was rewarded by some great views. The Raneh falls did not have any waterfall as the monsoons last year had been almost absent. However, this allowed us to see the Canyon properly and the sheer scale, variety, colour and arrangement of the rocks were truly remarkable. Quite possibly the only place in India where you would get to see this. After lunch we were at the Panna Tiger reserve in a Gypsy and with a very knowledgeable Guide. Panna is uniquely beautiful due to the Ken river that runs through it. This also has several alligators and crocodiles along with a host of water birds. We saw Herons, Kingfishers, Storks, Cormorants and Peacocks just to name a few. Deer of different types were in abundance starting with Nilgai, Sambar, Barking deer, spotted dear, Barasinghas etc. It was a great sight to see a couple of young deer in full flight with both feet off the air. Though we heard some people seeing the tigress and two cubs and waited patiently on a long vigil by the Ken river, the tiger eluded us. The whole park experience was rather nice though and catching the sunset as we were exiting the park was really the icing on the cake. The long drive back and the exhausting day necessitated an early dinner and we were off to sleep quickly.

The final day was reserved for Museums but unfortunately two of these were closed for the day. We did get to see the Tribal museum which had some really nice stuff in terms of paintings and handicrafts along with implements of day to day use of the tribal’s. Lipi went off to buy some souvenirs from the market while I took another look at the Western group of Temples in order to look at some sculptures closely. Another sumptuous vegetarian lunch followed and we were back to Khajuraho station soon. The station facade is in the shape of a temple and is apt for the place.

The train journey back was good as we met an old couple who have been coming to Khajuraho for several years and it was nice of them to share some of their dinner with us. Next day we stopped by Lipi’s place once more and made it to Hyderabad in the evening. It has been a great trip that had everything – culture, heritage, nature, wild life all rolled into one.

We are looking forward to the next trip in a few days time – complete change of setting as we will go to Goa now.


A travel plan for Khajuraho

I am passionate about many things in life, but if I had to choose one it would definitely be travel. Over the years we have travelled to a lot of different destinations, both inside and out of India. I always look forward to a new year thinking of the new places we may get to visit or the old ones where we may rediscover new experiences. In 2018, one of the places I had on my radar was Khajuraho and I am happy that we are going there this week.

Planning for travel is one of the activities I truly enjoy and, over the years, I have got pretty good at it. This time, the idea of a Khajuraho visit came to me in January. My mother-in-law, who is normally with us in December and January to avoid the Delhi winters, was leaving on 11th February and our daughter Rinki was coming back home after completing her BM program at XLRI on 27th. So we really had to go in the intervening period. What really sealed the deal for me was seeing the news of the Khajuraho Dance festival being held this year between 20th and 22nd February. I am a great fan of all types of Indian cultural performances and one of my great joys was to watch the dancers perform in the Mamallapuram Dance festival when we were in Chennai. The Khajuraho dance festival seemed like the perfect occasion to visit there.

Life today has got much easier due to the amount of information present on the internet, especially if you know how to search for it well. I normally start by reading up on the place first to get a general sense of the location, transport options, sightseeing options etc. Next, I search for any travel blogs written about the place and also the itineraries by different tour operators. This gives me a rather good idea about how many days we will need at the place, travel options to reach there, food and stay options. Once I am clear on these I plan my itinerary and check on the dates, travel options and bookings.

Here is how I planned for Khajuraho:-

  • Based on my readings I decided that 3 days will be enough to visit the Khajuraho temple complexes, view performances at the dance festival as well as go for a half day safari to Panna national park.
  • From Hyderabad the logical way to travel will be through Bhopal or Jabalpur. However, both involved long train journeys and expensive flight tickets with not very convenient timing. It did not make sense to travel 2 days for a 3 day trip.
  • As there was a good night train between Delhi and Khajuraho, I decided to do the unusual and go through Delhi, despite it not making geographical sense.
  • I booked the tickets for the train both ways first and then looked at the flight options. As I was having some flexibility of dates, courtesy some stay options in Delhi for night stays if needed, I was able to get tickets at great prices.
  • Next step was to book accommodation for 2 nights in Khajuraho. I looked at Trivago site to get a good deal from
  • Final step was to book the evening safari at Panna national park through the online facility in the MP government site. This is a great option as you can do things directly yourself without getting entangled with touts etc. 

Now finally for the costs:-

  • Train costs were 1920 Rs for onward journey in AC 3 Tier and 2720 Rs for the return journey in AC 2 Tier.
  • Flight costs were 9800 Rs for both legs of the journey 🙂
  • Hotel cost for 2 nights was about 4200 Rs.
  • Safari permits were 520 Rs, Jeep and Guide costs will come to another 700 Rs or so.
  • Food, taxis and incidental expenses will be in the range of another 7000 Rs or so.

So at an overall cost of 27000 Rs or thereabouts we are leaving for a reasonably comfortable trip to a long awaited destination. Must say that I am feeling quite kicked about it.

A passage to Konkan coast

We are just back from our Konkan travel and, all things considered, it was probably one of the best vacations we had in recent times. It had been a long cherished desire of mine to view beaches of the Arabian sea from all States and, over the years, I had covered Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Diu and Gujarat. As for Maharashtra, my forays were limited to the Mumbai beaches and I was very keen to visit beaches on the Konkan coast.

People who are interested in the travel planning can read about it here. Travel logistics are covered in this post. In the present post, I will cover the actual trip which started on 20th November early morning and ended on 25th November evening.

Our flight to Goa was at an unearthly hour of 5:40 AM, so we woke up at 2:30 AM and were in the car by 3 AM. In the morning hours drive on the ORR is a pleasure and we reached quite fast. Hyderabad airport was rather crowded even at that hour and it took us a fair time to get through security check. As is our practice nowadays, we headed to the airport lounge. It was way too early for breakfast but there were enough food items along with some decent coffee. Thankfully the flight was on time and we reached Goa in an uneventful manner, catching up on some lost sleep of the night before. Goa is like a second home to us, courtesy our Timeshare and our son Ronju studying there. This time we went to the Colva beach after picking up Ronju from BITS. Sitting at the beach shack, savouring some breakfast while watching the sea and catching up with Ronju was a great way to kick start the vacation.

Our train was from Madgaon at 12 noon but the winter timetable had changed it to 2:30 PM. Though it was a trifle bugging, as experienced travellers we take things in our stride and had a fairly interesting lunch in the station outlet Benjoes. The train ride was a short one, we reached Kudal at around 4:30 PM. Our first experience of the views from the train were quite favourable, especially the backwaters and the lush greenery of the western ghats. From Kudal the only viable option for Tarkarli travel is an auto rickshaw and having engaged one, we reached the MTDC resort around evening.

Tarkarli is a nice place, though a little desolate and the MTDC resort has great location. The Konkani cottage which we had booked, overlooked the sea and you could just take a 50 meter walk to reach it. Service at the resort is quite good and prompt, though the room could have done with better upkeep. The restaurant has been let out to a private party and we got friendly with the Chef there. Food was generally good to taste and the fish/prawns were great though a trifle on the dearer side. These places are all about experiences though and we had our fill of it in the 3 days we were there. Sitting in the Gazebo and having dinner while listening to the sea, wading through the sea waves along a long and isolated beach, lying on a hammock with the sea breeze rustling the tree leaves – you can take your pick, I liked all of these.

Tarkarli has two main activities and we did those in the two days we were there. First is seeing some nearby beaches and the Sindhudurg fort which you need to reach via a ferry. While the beaches were nice the fort was spectacular. I was glad of my fitness levels as it takes a fair bit to climb the fort walls, in order to get views of the sea. However, such efforts were greatly rewarded by the absolutely glorious views of the Sea which you get to see. Shivaji had great foresight with building this fort and it was one of the main reasons why the Marathas were able to hold on to their own against the naval threat from the colonial powers. There is also a beautiful Rock garden worth visiting, mainly due to the sea views again, though the landscaping here is brilliantly done too.

When in Tarkarli, one must do the boating in Karli river and see the notable points namely Dolphin point, sangam where the river meets the sea and Tsunami island. The ride through the river and the sea in a fairly rickety boat was quite an adventure and the sights of the villages and the various moods of the sea made the exercise worthwhile. We engaged in some water sports activities available in the Tsunami island. The speed boat and water scooter were predictable but the Bumper boat ride, where you sit on an inflated rubber sofa and are dragged at great speeds by a speed boat was definitely adrenaline pumping and hair raising. In the evening I also tried para motoring where a jeep pulls you hanging from a parachute. Quite an experience !!

Ganapatipule is about 200 Kms from Tarkarli and we hired a car to take us there. Even though this was a bit on the expensive side, the coastal route was replete with temples, beaches, backwater stretches and lush greenery. The combination is rather unique and I doubt whether we will have something similar elsewhere in India. We had our lunch in Ratnagiri – once again the ubiquitous fish thali, which we were getting rather used to. The drive from Ratnagiri to Ganapatipule is a very nice one with great sea views again from a height.

Ganapatipule beach is really the best beach I have seen. It is a white sand beach, stretching across a long way and as it can be only accessed easily from the MTDC resort, it also gives you a splendid sense of isolation. Lipi and I took long walks on the beach, watched two glorious sunsets and marvelled at the myriad hues of the sea. Our room was on the first floor and the balcony provided magnificent sea views. If you are too lazy for activities, just sitting on a chair and watching the sea waves will be an excellent idea. The in-house restaurant, Tarang, is run very well and has great food selections. 

Right next to the beach is the famous Ganesh temple, visited by countless devotees all over the year. If you are a religious person you will be deeply moved by the reverence showed by the worshippers there. Even otherwise, the location of the temple as well as the idol of the deity’s Mount makes it a very unique shrine. Do not miss out on the laddu which is given as prasadam here. In addition to the temple, an open air museum named Prachin Konkan, depicting how people lived in a typical Konkan village in early times is worth a visit. We also went to a new wax house, having some wax figures created by an American sculptor. It is a novel attempt though you can be excused if you think that the similarity to real life is not a great one. 

It is possible to visit the Jaigad fort and a couple of other beaches but with limited time at our disposal, we wanted to maximise our experience of the beach. Soon it was time to bid adieu to the place and, once again, the journey to the Ratnagiri station offered us great views of the Konkan coast. The vastness as well as the beauty of the Arabian sea has no better viewing point than this journey. We boarded the Jan Shatabdi train in the Vistadome coach – it is one having large windows and glass all around for maximum viewing surface. Despite the high cost of tickets, it is absolutely worth it and allows you to view the western ghats as no other mode of transport will do. Through this travel one can appreciate how tough it must have been to build Konkan Railway and how significant it has been for the lives of the people in this region.

All too soon, the train journey ended and we were back in Madgaon. A taxi ride to the Goa airport, an Air Asia flight to Hyderabad and finally another taxi ride saw us back home on Saturday evening. It was a matter of only 6 days but the experience was for a lifetime. Konkan coast can be addictive and I am sure we will be back in the near future, there is so much to see yet.

In the meantime, I will plan for other travels – it is the elixir of good living that keeps me motivated to carry on the other parts well. 

Travel to the Konkan coast – the logistics

In the last post I had outlined the way I arrived at the plan and the route for our Konkan vacation. Once this phase is over, the next tasks are to look at the bookings. In general you will need to book for transportation and accommodation. Of course, there is the issue about local conveyance as well but we normally deal with that when we reach our destinations – it is easier this way as you have greater options.

As I said in the previous post we were fine with the dates and did not need a fixed itinerary. As such I started with the air bookings. Let me take you through a step by step process so that others would be able to follow it easily:-

  • I started by checking any 6 day range where the morning flight to Goa and an evening flight back to Hyderabad were reasonably priced. You can do this through many websites.  and are normally the ones I choose to look at.
  • In the first one you have a convenience fee of 300 Rs per ticket which is not there in the other one. However, the first App lets me get some cashback on the tickets as long as the charges are 6000 Rs plus.
  • In this case the cashback was not working out so I booked the EaseMyTrip deal.
  • We got a really early flight to Goa which will leave us enough time for reaching Madgaon station. Similarly, we got an evening flight from Goa.
  • Ideally one should book about 60 days in advance to get the best rates but we started plans a little late for this trip. Even then the overall cost for the two of us came to about 10000 Rs which was reasonable.

Before booking the ticket I had checked the accommodation availability for those dates – 3 nights in Tarkarli and 2 nights in Ganpatipule. I chose the Maharashtra tourism properties as they had the best location and normally these places are tourist friendly. You can do only booking at the Maharashtra tourism website. This proved to be quite a bit expensive based on what rooms we chose. Unfortunately, the GST rate reduction had not happened by then so that was a double whammy. The total accommodation costs came to about 16500 Rs. Of course there were cheaper options in these properties and you can also look at other staying alternatives. However, these places and the rooms were aligned well to what we were looking for in a vacation, so it was all right.

The final part was the train bookings. We booked a chair car from Madgaon to Kudal and a Vistadome coach seats from Ratnagiri to Madgaon. I had again checked the availability before the other bookings and had been relieved to see that there were enough seats. The First journey was 670 Rs but the other one was rather expensive at 2520 Rs. However, travelling by the Konkan railway has been a long cherished desire and we definitely wanted to try out the Vistadome coach.

What are the other costs that will be associated with the trip. There are quite a few, but the ones I can think of right now are as follows:-

  • Food – both of us love food and we are looking forward to sampling both Maharashtrian and Konkani cuisine. 
  • Transportation from home to airport, Goa airport to Madgaon station and back.
  • Local transportation from Kudal to Tarkarli, sightseeing in Tarkarli, travel to Ganapatipule, sightseeing in Ganpatipule / Ratnagiri etc.
  • Backwater and sea cruises + other water sports.
  • Buying some souvenirs from these places.

While I do not really know what will be the costs here it will be safe to assume a figure of 20000 Rs or so. That will bring the overall expenses to the trip at 50000 Rs or so. Is is a tad excessive? Well, it can be done a lot cheaper but that depends on you.

For me, this is an amount I am willing to spend and am looking forward to our trip with great anticipation. I’m almost definite it will be well worth it and will update the readers through a travelogue once we are done.

A travel plan for Konkan beaches – the conception

People who know me, either personally or through my blog, will be aware that I am an aficionado for travel. Seeing new places and the whole exercise of conceiving and planning for travel really gets me excited. The actual travel is rejuvenating but even the anticipation which starts with the plan is great. Many people have asked me as to how I plan for my travels and in this blog post let me talk about the trip we are planning to undertake in the near future.

While there are several great places to see in India, beaches have always held a great interest for me. India is blessed with a really long coastline, three glorious seas and countless beaches to choose from. Over the years we have covered a lot of beaches starting from Kanyakumari to Digha on the east coast and to Mandvi on the west coast. On the western coast we have done Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and even Diu/Gujarat beaches but not the ones on the Konkan coast. Maharashtra beaches are less visited but they are very highly talked about and I have wanted to go there for a long time. As our anniversary is in late November, it seemed as good a time as any to plan this out.

For making a travel plan, I first read up to gain knowledge about the area in order to decide on the places to visit as well as the activities to engage in. There were some good travel blogs available for Konkan travel as well as great websites with a wealth of information. The Konkan coast stretches from Mumbai to Goa and there are several great beaches along it. However, two major ones are Ganapatipule and Tarkarli and with the time at our disposal being a maximum of 5-6 days, I decided to stick to these two. Based on the blogs I viewed it seemed that 2 nights both in Tarkarli and Ganapatipule would be adequate to cover what we would want to see there.

One the broad plan is there, the next step is to figure out how to reach there and which route to follow. Here again, the blogs and the road maps of Maharashtra were a great help. As trains to those parts from Hyderabad are few and take too much time we were able to rule out that option. The bus was also rejected for the same reason as the journey to Kolhapur by an overnight bus would be an exhausting one. I was quite keen on going by our car as I like driving and we have not gone on a long drive for ages. However, my wife Lipi was not keen on a 9 hour drive to Kolhapur and further to the Konkan coast. It would take 2 days to get there and back and 2 nights stay in Kolhapur too. Also, I saw that the new Vistadome coach has started on Konkan railways and we were keen to try that out. We had a great experience recently in a similar coach when we went from Vizag to Araku valley. Read about the details in this post if you are interested.

For Tarkarli it is convenient to go through Goa, from where you can take a train or car. As the Vistadome was not available easily on the days we searched and the timing was not good, we finalised on the following route:-

  • Travel by air from Hyderabad to Goa on Day 1.
  • Take a train from Madgaon to Kudal on Day 1.
  • Reach Tarkarli from Kudal by car/auto on Day 1.
  • Stay at Tarkarli and do activities / excursions on Day 2 and Day 3.
  • Reach Ganapatipule through Ratnagiri on Day 4 afternoon.
  • Stay at Ganapatipule on Day 4 and Day 5 nights.
  • Travel between Ratnagiri and Madgaon on Day 6 morning in the Vistadome coach.
  • Catch the evening flight from Goa to Hyderabad on Day 6 evening.

The above plan would accomplish all that we had in mind, though it would be a little expensive due to air travel etc. However as it was not a priority issue for us we were able to fix on this plan. Note that the dates were not fixed as they would depend on the bookings etc. Fortunately, I am rather flexible with my time nowadays, so it does not really matter when we start the trip.

We had to take care of the actual travel logistics next in terms of the transport and hotel bookings. Let me write about it in the next post.

A Goan sojourn

Travel is really what keeps me going and my family likes it too. Of late, with college going children, it is somewhat difficult to plan family vacations but we do what we can. On the other hand, it does give Lipi and me enough flexibility to plan our travels. We have been going to Goa every year since 2014 and have just come back over the weekend from another trip which was both relaxing and rejuvenating.

Why do we go to Goa so often? Well, for starters, it is a great place for visits and we have a Timeshare with Karma Royal who have most of their resorts in Goa. Since 2014 an incremental motivation is our son Ronju being there for his college in BITS Pilani, Goa campus. It has made sense for us to take our week in Goa so that we get to meet him briefly as an added bonus. Karma has 4 resorts in Goa, so we can rotate these as desired.

This year, we went to Goa between 5th and 12th August. As is my wont, I planned the trip way back in February and this resulted in us getting a good unit in Royal Palms as well as getting air tickets at very decent rates. In fact our total air fare came to less than 9000 Rs. The unit was practically free, though we have to pay a great deal of maintenance on it for having this ownership. As Ronju would stay with us for a couple of days, we took a one bedroom unit this time. It was spacious with a separate sitting area, kitchen, bedroom and washroom, apart from the two balconies. The resort is near Benaulim beach and is landscaped quite well, with a nice swimming pool, restaurant and bar.

Coming back to the actual trip then – we started on 5th and spent some time in the Plaza Premium Lounge before boarding our flight. Our credit cards allow us to do this and it helps us to avoid having overpriced and often, not so good, meals at airports. In this instance we had a pretty decent late breakfast which was still being served there. The flight only took an hour and we were soon in Goa airport. We booked a pre-paid taxi, picked up Ronju who had come there and were soon on our way. It was a good ride and I always find the localities in Goa quite interesting, especially that most of them have a lot of greenery. The check in was smooth, us being members and all, and we settled into our unit which was to be our home for the next 7 days.

The first evening we went to the Benaulim beach which is our favourite haunt. The beach has two good restaurant, namely Johncy’s and Pedro’s. We normally prefer Johncy’s as it is closer to the beach and offers both great food and views. After an early dinner, we went to the local superstore to stock up provisions for breakfast etc. The final stop for me was a liquor shop, every locality of Goa is dotted with these. The rates are great there, was able to buy 500 Ml Kingfisher cans for 50 Rs and a bottle of Blenders Pride for 475 Rs.

Ronju was to go off on Sunday evening so we made a trip to Kolva beach on that day. Unlike Benaulim, where the crowd is less, Kolva is a pretty happening beach with multiple shops and water sports options. We were unable to catch the sunset courtesy the dark clouds but it was a good way to spend the evening. Later on we went for a longish walk towards Margao and had dinner at a local Goan Cafe. A great thing in Goa is that the food is almost universally good, whether you eat at a high end restaurants or in a beach shack. Also, almost any restaurant worth it’s ilk is automatically a bar too.

Once Lipi and I were on our own, life settled into a rhythm for the next 5 days. I would wake up early and go for a morning walk along the beach while Lipi luxuriated in the knowledge that there was no real need to get up if one did not want to !! I always find walking along the beach, listening to the sound of the relentless waves rather relaxing and there are few better ways to spend time. We would normally have breakfast in our unit though one day we broke the routine and went to Pedro’s for brunch. The Spanish omelette there with Ham, potatoes and onion is simply divine though their Hot Chocolate could do with a lot of improvement, greater quantities of chocolate being one of them.

After breakfast we normally went out for some sightseeing or just relaxed in the resort. One day we hired a car and went off to Agonda and Palolem beaches which are about 40 Kms from the resort. These are probably the best beaches in Goa, especially Palolem which extends over a large area. The restaurant called Silver Sands is placed quite strategically and we had great views of the sea while sampling Golden Fried prawns and Goan fish curry for lunch. Apart from the beaches, the journey itself was a memorable one, long winding roads through Goan villages, forests and some hilly terrain too. This was a case of both the journey and the destination being equally worthwhile.

Another day we went to the Bigfoot museum which is a must see for anyone visiting Goa. This is an open air museum having a model of a typical Goa village with life size statues. You get to see the various facets of their daily lives and the commentary is both crisp and lucid. We probably learnt more about life in Goa from the museum than we ever would by reading books etc. Most importantly, it is really something one can enjoy and completely challenges the drab way in which most of our museums are presented. The Old Portuguese Mansion, next to this museum is also worth seeing. You will get to know a great deal about how Portuguese noblemen lived in Goa. The distinction with how the Britishers  lived is quite evident. Interestingly, many such houses dotted all over Goa are still lying empty as their owners neither stay in them nor have they disposed off these. We rounded off our museum visit with lunch at Nostalgia, a speciality Goan restaurant.

Among other activities at the resort, I introduced Lipi to playing Pool one day. She acquitted herself rather well and will get better with practice !! The wi-fi in the resort was good so we could post all our pictures rather easily on Facebook and I also got to do some work. Lipi too was able to order some stocks when the market fell precipitously over the week we were there. At other times I may have got worked up about my portfolio declining badly, but when you are in Goa you tend to take a relatively laid back look at such things. I did manage to catch some cricket and the hyper debates on TV too.

All too soon, the week came to an end and we were to travel back to Hyderabad on Saturday. As our flight was only in the afternoon, we combined a trip to the Bogmalo beach and Naval Aviation museum with the airport drop. Bogmalo beach is relatively less known but quite nice, we saw it for the first time in this trip. We had Kingfisher strong, Watermelon juice accompanied by vegetable pakodas as we watched the sea for the last time in this trip. It could have been rather poignant but we will be back soon.

The Naval Aviation museum is one of it’s kind in Asia and outlines our Naval history in a great manner. The aircraft  shown are real ones and have a glorious history, especially with relevance to the 1971 war, where the Navy played a decisive role. If you are in Goa do not miss this and be sure to look at the photographs and the models too.

Our return was good and uneventful and we were back on a Saturday afternoon to Hyderabad. This was a really good trip with all the ingredients in a great cocktail of experience – family time, good food, great beaches, culture, history etc. We will now wait for the next travel.

Vizag & Araku valley – a journey less traversed

The beauty of travelling in India is you find hidden gems every once in a while and this is an absolute bliss for any seasoned traveller like me. I first came across Araku valley in the year 2004, courtesy an article I read about offbeat train journeys in India. At the time I could not take the Vizag – Kirandul passenger as it was booked fully and travelling with 2 young children without reservation was not practical. We did visit Jagdalpur, Araku Valley and Tyda by road but missing on the train journey was a regret.

Life, however, does give you a second chance often and when both children, now college going and young adults, were home for a couple of weeks at the same time, a rare occurrence by itself nowadays, I thought it would be a good idea to plan a short trip. Given the time constraints, we could only go for 4 days or so and I was thinking of where to go. A news item stating that an air-conditioned chair car coach in European style has been added to the Vizag-Kirandul passenger helped to make up my mind.

The plan itself was simple, given that there is nothing I love doing better than making travel plans. It gives me a great high to anticipate the travel in the future. In this case, as we had only 4 days due to my Consultancy work and Ronju’s internship, I decided to fly to Vizag. We got really good rates for the air tickets, around 12000 for the 4 of us. As we had to take 2 rooms for 3 nights, one in Vizag and 2 in Araku, that turned out to be quite expensive. Here too, I was happy to book the AP tourism property in Rushikonda beach, as last time we were not able to see the beach properly due to the Tsunami, which happened on the very day we were in Vizag.

On the starting day of the trip we reached Vizag early in the morning, both the flight and the journey to our resort with Uber being good ones. Vizag is one of the cleanest cities in India and is also blessed with a great location, the roads to our resort skirted the Bay of Bengal for quite a while. The AP tourism facility at Rushikonda beach has a great location too. The Deluxe rooms we had booked were at a higher level and the full length windows provided us with amazing views of the sea. If you have a plan to visit Vizag this is the place to be – you could literally sit on the sofa and look at the sea all day. Getting down to the actual beach proved to be a good exercise for all of us, Ronju showed that he is both the youngest and also the fittest in our family currently. The beach is nice with some activities for water sports available. We took a speed boat ride which was quite an exhilarating one and we did not really mind the fact that we got drenched a bit.

After a pretty good lunch at the restaurant and the customary rest that Lipi must have in the afternoon, we took an auto and went over to Kailashgiri hills. You can go up this place by a cable car and there are a lot of gardens, eating joints and most notably huge statues of Shiva and Parvathi there. While most people come from a devotional standpoint, the views of the Bay of Bengal from these hills are simply stunning. You will probably not get better views of the Bay than this and the myriad hues of the sea are all depicted in a brilliantly resplendent manner from the viewpoints here. Evenings are the best times to be here, we had some rather good snacks before getting back to the hotel. An early dinner was important as we were to travel to Araku the next morning.

The transport to the Vizag station next morning was an Auto and we got to see the city a bit more, along with some nice morning views of the sea reflecting the morning sun. At the station, our coach fulfilled all my expectations. It had great seating, large windows throughout for best viewing, good air conditioning and also nice catering to boot. The journey which followed is definitely unique in several ways, even for someone as well travelled as I am. The train chugged it’s way along the Eastern Ghats and at times through it, by way of the numerous tunnels that have been dug. The tunnels came in all sizes and were always having the element of surprise. In between we were treated to the exquisite natural beauty of the Eastern ghats, both the hills and the valleys being covered with a lot of greenery. On the way we crossed a few stations at great height, in fact one of them ,Shimhachalam, is the highest in India. The train has to go at moderate speeds due to the terrain and this gave people a lot of opportunities in clicking some nice photos.

The resort in Araku had very nice views of the surrounding hills too and our two rooms were side by side with fairly large terraces. One word of caution here – Araku is a small town and you will not have many food options. The resort only had a vegetarian thali option for lunch, though dinner was slightly better with Chicken dishes being available. In the late afternoon we went to see the Tribal museum that has several items dealing with how the different tribes in AP live. The models of the houses and other facets of their culture have been depicted really well. This place is a must see if you are in Araku. We also saw the Coffee Museum which captures the journey of Coffee from the planting to the brew that we consume in a nice manner. Of course, the restaurant there was an oasis in the otherwise limited options of food around !!

Next morning we visited the Chaparai water flow , a short ride away from our resort. This place has the water rushing through different levels which are not high enough to be called a waterfall. The flow of the water is strong and the sylvan settings make it a nice place for spending some time. Thereafter we went to the Padmanabha gardens which is also a must see location if you are in Araku. The sheer numbers of trees and flowers there are amazing and the maintenance is quite commendable. Lunch this day was humdrum again, though we managed to get some chicken fry in a local joint. For dinner, a hotel guy had arranged some Bamboo chicken for us. This is an unique preparation and speciality of this region. The chicken is marinated with spices and put into hollow of Bamboo stems, which is then put into an oven. The overall result is quite nice and we were glad that we tried it out.

The final day was hectic and long. We started from the resort after breakfast, visited Ananthagiri hills and the waterfalls there, travelled further to Borra caves and then made our way to Vizag and the airport. Borra caves with the stalactite and stalagmite formations are again a must see. You will need to have good fitness levels to reach all parts of the cave and I was happy to be able to do so.

Our wait at the airport was long but interesting as India put it across South Africa in the Champion’s trophy match. We reached Hyderabad past midnight, weary but very happy about how the trip had gone.

It was everything a great trip should be – travelling with the whole family which is a rarity nowadays, travel novelty such as going in the new coach commissioned to Araku, great natural beauty, a relatively offbeat location, new food samplings such as Bamboo chicken and significantly cooler climes.

Travel is an elixir for the weary soul with regular activities and even a short trip, if planned well, can rejuvenate the body and mind. The current one has been particularly good in that regard.