Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Goa : My brief trip to Colva beach

19th Jan, 2008. The outside temperature at Delhi airport was 10 degree. The gush of wind at the tarmac made me feel the biting cold. When I boarded the flight at Goa airport that afternoon, the temperature was a warm 31 degrees. I felt good that I could spend 3 pleasant days at Goa, away from the biting cold of Delhi.

Two of my days were spent at Betul in the south playing the role of a faculty. The days were spent delivering training at one of my company’s institute located on the top of a hillock at Betul. Because of the distance from Madgaon, I had opted to stay at the guest located at the Betul campus. This severely limited my evening options. Fortunately, the highlights of the India – Australia test gave me company. The campus provided a beautiful view of the Mobor beach on one side and open sea on another. Though Mobor beach has a resort, there was hardly any crowd. I guessed that it is a good spot if you want to spend a secluded holiday away from the beach crowd. One day I saw a photograph of Baga beach in north in a local daily. The title of the photo was that the beach is so congested that there was hardly any space left for free movement. It resembled a market rather than a beach. I would not like to be at such places to spend few quite moments.

On the final day, I found time to spend a few hours at Colva beach, which is the nearest beach from Madgaon. Even this beach was not crowded. There were enough people, mostly foreign tourist, but nowhere it was crowded. While the foreigners lazed around lying in shacks, Indian tourists were seen trying out water sports. I got a colleague who gave me company. After strolling at the beach for about an hour, we sat at a shack and sipped beer. One of the guy who lured us into a shack told us that they sell beer at 45 rupees a bottle. But when we had finished our bottle, they charged us 55. So confirm the prices at the counter. Do not take the words of the guy standing outside.

The economy runs on tourism. So as a tourist you can afford little mercy from those making a living out of tourism. You should be ready to shell out few bucks. Taxis are prohibitively costly. Though they quote Rs.10/- per kilometer the bargain rate is Rs.8/- per kilometer. But there are many catches, like you will have to pay both way fares and also there are standing charges. Thus you will have to use public transport like bus for moving around in Goa.

I did a search of accommodation around Colva beach. Most hotels are located some 100 – 200 meters from the beach. But few hotels like, Colva Residency, owned by Goa Tourism is located almost on the beach. At least it is beach facing. This is not a bad place to stay. However moving around may be a problem from here. To me there is no point moving around in Goa. The only reason for going to Goa should be to have a holiday by sea. Goa is about beautiful beaches, the clean sea and nice crowd. You will find monuments everywhere, but not such beautiful beaches. Staying close to the sea is important so that you can take a dip whenever you wish. Whether you spend the day at Colva or Palolem or Calangute is almost meaningless. The choice is between a crowded spot and a secluded spot.

Anyway, this was my first visit to Goa. Being a brief one, I have not much to write. I did not carry my SLR, but took only my small P&S. Still I took a couple of good shots. I am planning a holiday with family later this year.

Accomodation in Europe

Evolution of online accommodation booking sites have made travel planning a lot easier. I keep checking such sites for bargains. I had come across one such site for tourists bound for UK and some other European nations. The site named ‘Cheaper than Hotels’ offers you the choice of several types of accommodation. You can find accomodation in UK, France or Germany through this site. In fact the site offers accommodation for a wide range of places, including India. I had tried the site and was surprised to find hotels for Delhi, India as well. I choose the option of 3 star and below. Names of the hotels that pop up for Delhi are not seen even in Indian travel sites. This is because Indian sites offers only big star hotels which are beyond the budget of most people. But ‘Cheaper than Hotels’ search included some 1 star hotels. Only problem I had observed with the site was that the prices are not in INR. But the site is good and worth giving a try.

Seven Wonders of the World

What had happened to the Colossus of Rhodes, listed as one of the original seven wonders ? The massive statue, perhaps about 100 feet tall, which also supposes to be an inspiration for the Statue of Liberty, has been an object of mystery, imagination and debate.

In fact, there are several categories to the Seven Wonders of the World list. The earliest documented is that of historian Herodotus (484 BC–ca. 425 BC), and the scholar Callimachus of Cyrene (ca 305–240 BC) at the Museum of Alexandria, made early lists of "Seven wonders" but their writings have not survived, except as references. The Colossus of Rhodes, find mention in that list as one of the seven wonders. The Taj Mahal features in list of modern Seven Wonders.

The colossus is long gone. But because of its rich history, the Rhodes island has grown to be one of the popular tourist attraction in Greece. Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, situated in eastern Aegean Sea. In fact all the islands in the Dodecanese group of islands have a rich history.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Off to Goa

Heading for Betul, Goa on an official assignment for next 3 days. I understand that there is not much to see at Betul. In fact I am told that the ONGC campus at Betul is the most beautiful place there. But, may be, I get a chance to spare some time for Colva. Anyway, this is my first trip to Goa. So I am looking forward to it. Further, it will also help me planning the family trip I am planning later this year.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bharatpur : Keoladeo Ghana National Park

Once inside the Keoladeo Ghana National Park for birds at Bharatpur, I had realized how beautiful this place had been 3 / 4 years back. But no more. The place is crying for water. Migratory birds have gone away. They may come again next year because they have been coming here for centuries. If situation do not improves then probably they will never come to this place again.

Bharatpur has been India’s only national park for birds. I remember reading about Bharatpur in my school books. The lake, surrounding wetlands and water bodies have been attracting large number of migratory birds for centuries. A wide enough metallic / black tar carpeted road runs across the park’s length. Several other well constructed peripheral roads lure you to explore other areas of the forest. The main road runs right through the main water body. Thus this probably gave visitors excellent opportunity to watch the birds from very close vicinity. The deserted nests atop the acacia tress are barely few feet away from the road. Further one could even enjoy boat rides through the canals to get still better views. Compare this to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary near Gurgaon, where I went last month. The lake was very far away from the trek. Thus you do not get a chance to see the birds from close. The park authorities at Sultanpur have constructed 2 approach roads to let you get close to the water. But birds decide to stay away from these points. So all that you can see at Sultanpur, is large groups of birds several meters away. You need a good binocular. But it certainly was different at Bharatpur.

Unfortunately, the water in Bharatpur had dried up. Jungles of bushes and thorns have come up in areas which once used to wetlands. The ricksaw puller– cum guide told us that it had rained very little for last two years. But you can understand that it probably had not rained for many years, because the jungles and bushes are well growned. Up somewhere there is a dam which used to feed the lake. But water is not coming from that because of some political issues and agitation. In an effort to provide some succor, the park authorities have set up two deep tube-wells operated by DG sets, which keeps pumping water day and night into the canals. How can you fill a lake with water from tube well. Yet, most of the animals and birds that we got to see in the park, was seen around these two spots where water has sustained the wetlands. We saw several birds, herds of Sambhar deers and Nilgais feeding in water some 30 – 40 feet away. I must admit that this is the best view of Sambar deers I had ever had in wild. They were so relaxed, almost like domesticated. I had few fantastic photos of 3 Sambhars waiting to cross the road.

The ricksaw puller- cum - guide introduced to us many varieties of land birds seen on trees along the road. We have grown up seeing most of these birds in backyards at home (in Assam, not Delhi). Thus they had very little appeal to us. But we had enjoyed the atmosphere and feel of the jungle. It was unique in its own way. Apart from those common birds known to us, this is list of what else we saw : A fair of Saras crane which was really special. A Black Ibis, a pair of Rhodesian ducks, 3 midsize cranes, several Indian Mud Turtle, 2 different species of owls.

How to visit the Park :
You can visit the park either by riding a ricksaw or hire a bi-cycle. If you hire a bi-cycle, then you should also hire a guide. You will not see anything without a guide. The ricksaw pullers are trained as guides. Rickswas are available at the gates of the hotels or also at the gate of the park.

We had hired a ricksaw right from the gate of our hotel. Ricksaws can be hired @Rs.50/- per hour. Be assured that a trip will last about 5 hours. They will take you around 10 -12 km inside the park at a very slow pace. They certainly want to extend it as much as possible. But the slow traveling also helps you in spotting many varieties of land birds. We started the trip at 7:30 am, which was just after sunrise. The entry fee is Rs.25/- per head per trip. Children upto 15 years is free. The best thing is that there is no charge for still camera. For God sake, do not carry handycams.

We came back to the hotel for lunch. After lunch, we went to the park again at around 3 pm. This time we had hired bi-cycles which are available at the park gate @Rs.25/- per trip. I rode a bi-cycle after several years. It took few minutes for me to get adjusted to the cycle. I took Swathi with me while Mono rode a lady’s cycle. We knew the jungle well by now. So we rode at our pace and went straight to the spot where there is water. This cycle ride was one of the best parts of the trip. We rode into one of the by-lanes and had met some Nilgais returning home at sunset. I shoot a couple of not-so –spectacular sunsets. By the time we were back at the gate, it was almost dark.

Accommodation at Bharatpur :
There are several hotels located within 200 meters from the gate of the national park. This landmark is called Saras chowk, because of the RTDC hotel by the same name. This point is on the Agra – Jaipur highway and is located some 4 -5 km from the railway station. The railway station and the main town is on the other side of Bharatpur. Do not stay in the main town. You should come to this Saras chowk. To my estimate, there are around 10 hotels here. You can easily find accommodation here and it is not very costly either. We had traveled from Agra by a cab. The driver took us to Hotel Pratap Palace. We got very good room @Rs.500/- nett inclusive of taxes. Such rooms were quoted 1200 & above in Agra. Do not book online as rate quoted on the net are very high and also you lose the option of on the spot selection. The location is away from the town and crowd. We had stayed there for 2 nights.

There also is an Ashoka group hotel, probably by the name Bharatpur Ashok, located inside the park. This is an ITDC Hotel and is costly, in fact very costly.

Bharatpur town :
It had very little worth seeing other than the national park, which also is fast losing its charm. But located just 170 odd km from Delhi, it is a good drive out weekend gateway. There is fort named Lohagarh Fort, which appeared to me very ordinary. We had tour of the town on a ricksaw by paying Rs.50/-. Pritam Singh, the ricksaw puller took us to the market, to the Lohagarh Fort and to the Ganga Temple. The town reminded me the narrow laned market at Paltan bazaar in Dehradun. All the shops are in the market only. There is no shop around the hotel area, not even a pan shop to buy cigarettes.

The most notable thing you will observe in Bharatpur, is that most of the ricksaw pullers are Sradars or Sikhs. The image of a Sikh conjures up in mind the image of big 8 – 10 – 16 wheeler trucks riding majestically on the highways, not ricksaws. But here they are pulling ricksaws for livelihood. I could not stop asking Pritam Singh about it. In his middle age, Pritam Singh told me that his parents have migrated to Bhatartpur during partition. They could afford other livelihood earlier. But now they had no other option. And they are in real danger of losing that too as number of tourists are dwindling every year.

(Read more about Bharatpur on my second trip artcile on this link)