Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Posts tagged ‘Goa’

#1 Thing to do in Goa – Check out Every Beach You Can!

Goa Beaches

Goa Beaches

Goa is a tiny sliver of land on the west of India and is rather famed for its beaches. So when you visit the state, what else would you rather do than hit the beach, frolic in the Arabian sea and lounge on the soft sand. When you’ve done dozing in the shade of a palm tree, grab a beer, tuck into some Goan food at the quaint palm thatched shacks or just go for long strolls to vibe with the sultry sea breeze.

Goa is administratively divided into North and South and the 101 kilometers of coast line is dotted with a number of lovely beaches.

Beaches in North Goa

Goa Beach_2From way up North, you start with the fairly isolated Arambol, Mandrem, the Olive Ridley turtle nesting site of Morjim, Vagator and then on to Anjuna famed for its flea market. The fort of Chapora turns into a rocky outcrop that reaches out to Baga, Calangute draws the marauding throngs, Candolim and Sinquerim where you bump into Fort Aguada, which is a rather pretty place. Round a little bend, Coco beach at Nerul and then you jump over the river Mandovi and its Miramar on the suburbs of the capital city – Panjim. Dona Paula is not much of a beach really, further down is Bambolim and Sridao, which are  wonderfully private little beaches and then you plunge into the river Zuari that actually divides the North of the State from the South.

Beaches in South Goa

Goa_Beach_3In the South you begin with the lovely and quiet Bogmalo, Velsao, the infamous Vasco, Majorda, Betalbatim, crowded Colva where all the hordes descend for a flavor of the south of Goa. Then on to the five star locales of the South, Benaulim, Varca, Cavelossim and Mobor, the picturesque Betul and Canaguinim. At the extreme south of the state, you encounter the secluded yet gorgeous beaches of Agonda, the coco huts of Palolem and then Talpona.

This is indeed a tall list of beaches to visit in a single trip and a great reason for you to visit Goa again.

To move around, hire a bike, they are rather inexpensive or if you’ll a larger group a self-driven car would be great. This should help you travel cost-effectively. Hiring a car with a driver is exorbitant in Goa, and public transport is pathetic.

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Things to do on the beaches of Goa

  • Wear light, loose casual clothes that dry quickly. Avoid expensive clothes as the sea water would seriously damage them
  • For footwear, a pair of rubber or plastic slippers or thin sandals would ensure they are not ruined even if they get wet
  • When you’ve on the beach take time to relax, it’s an extremely beautiful place to be at, especially during sunrise and sunset
  • Keep your camera at the ready and take lots of memorable pictures
  • The sea is relatively calm in Goa, except during the monsoons, so you could have a great time and venture in a bit if you are a good swimmer
  • The shacks are lovely places to hang out at, most offer good music, but they can be expensive and the food is not always the best
  • The lady hawkers trawling the beach sell lovely accessories at really low rates. Just the place if you are looking for a bargain
  • Carry lots of suntan lotion to ensure you don’t get sunburnt, a wide brimmed hat will be most useful too
  • Don’t just abandon your belonging and get into the water, your stuff could get stolen

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Things not to do on the beaches of Goa

  • Don’t litter the beach with beer cans, glass bottles and plastic. If you don’t find a bin, you will have to wait and dispose of the waste at your hotel
  • Do not stare at people, irrespective of how they are dressed or their skin colour. It’s just not cultured or polite – most of us Indians just don’t get this, do we?
  • Avoid getting drunk and getting into the sea. Just stay hydrated, that’s going to be difficult enough in hot, humid Goa
  • If the lifeguard waves you away from the water, take the advice. They are unlikely to be able to save you in case you find yourself drowning
  • Avoid getting into the sea after dark, it’s just not safe

If you are looking for a unique stay in Goa, that is homely, cost- effective and safe, book into a homestay. Like our Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/goaallyear and contact us at lilliandcosta@gmail.com

Homestay in Goa

Goa has become an ‘all year’ holiday destination. Be it rain or warm sunshine, it is still a pleasure to ride around or just bask on the beach and relax.

And because Goa is home for me, it comes with dual benefits. An opportunity to catch up with family, and also rest my sore eyes and raw nerves.

Millions of Indians and foreigners feel the same, and if you plan to head down to Goa for a day or two, here is a place you can stay at, other than in a hotel.

My husband and I have put up our 2 bedroom flat, located in a housing complex of Mapusa, up AirBnb. – here is the link to our place – https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/7644780

You can also like our page on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/goaallyear

To book my place you can email me at lilliandcosta [at] gmail.com

Our Apartment in Mapusa is

  • 16 kms from Panjim (30 mins drive)
  • 47 kms from Margao (1 hr drive)
  • 38 kms from Vasco (49 mins drive)
  • 9 Kms from Anjuna (18 mins drive)
  • 10 kms from Calangute (20 mins drive)
  • 13 kms from Morjim (23 mins drive)

Staying at a home rather than in hotel in Goa offers you an opportunity to experience a different slice of Goa. A more unvarnished, domestic experience.

If you are holidaying in Goa for the first time, I could advise you on places to stay, foods to eat and means of transport.

A homestay can also be fairly cost-effective and lets you spend more shopping and eating, rather than on your accommodation.

A few pictures of our Homestay in Mapusa 

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Is it Time for the Indian Hospitality Industry to Tap into The Domestic Market?

Tourism makes for 6.8% of India’s GDP and the government has big plans to expand this share. The country has 30 world heritage sites, 25 bio-geographical zones, 7,517 kilometers of coastline for leisure travelers and rapidly growing cities for business travelers as well. The current government wishes to develop a number of tourism zones and the mid-market hotel industry is gearing up to tap into this growth.

Even though the country drew just seven million foreign tourists 2013, and is ranked 42nd in world tourist arrivals, the Indian government continues to focus largely on international tourists. In an attempt to boost the number of international arrivals, the government recently introduced a policy of ‘visa on arrival’ for travelers from 43 countries. This is additional to the 13 countries which were initially eligible. It is hoped this will increase earnings for the third largest foreign exchange earner in the country.

ImageBut foreign travelers are susceptible to the vagaries of more complex aspects like political situations, diseases and government advisories. A case in point is the tiny state of Goa located on the west coast of India. This state has seen many waves of international travelers. In the 90’s it was the Germans, later it was the Brits and more recently the Russians. The industry however was hard hit this year when 400 or so Russian charter flights were cancelled due to the political instability in the country and devaluation of the ruble. Now the Goa tourism industry is actually evaluating the idea of changing focus and marketing to newer feeder destinations not affected by economic slowdown and political instability like China, Singapore and Australia. But while governments chase foreign exchange, could they be ignoring a significantly large domestic feeder market that is better positioned to boost the tourism industry?

Discovering the Domestic Tourism Market

India has a billion domestic travelers and 600 million of them are millennials (twice the population of the United States!). Millennials is that population of young Turks between the ages of 18 and 34 years. This population segment is well-documented for their likes, dislikes and bold tastes, especially with reference to the travel and hospitality industry.

The advantage of tapping into this sizable Indian travel population is obvious; we do away with the punishing vagaries of international events, and grow the tourism industry on domestic revenue. The ripple effect would be circling right within the large boundaries of India.

Preparing for the Indian Millennials

But getting the hospitality industry in India to cater to the domestic leisure traveler would require a fair bit of reorientation. This is because domestic tourists are looked upon as price conscious, almost like budget tourist. The Indian hospitality industry also needs to better understand their millennial guests before effectively catering to their needs.

The Indian millennials have an ongoing love affair with their mobile phone, which is swiftly being upgraded to a smartphone. They are hungry for information and social interaction. But being rural India has a mobile internet penetration of less than 10%. This is an excellent growth opportunity that the tourism industry can tap in and cash on to.

Millennials are confident, have strong leadership traits, are technology savvy, love to travel especially to exotic places, are always on the lookout for a wow experience, are demanding of high quality personalized services, loud about their opinions- so make sure they are always happy, and have the spending power to meet their whims.

Serving the millennial guest requires panache, finesse and of course technology. It is here that hospitality, the ‘people and service’ centric industry could face a hurdle. The hospitality industry has historically been a laggard at adopting technology, but with their potential guest tapping away on their smart phone and tab, they hardly have a choice.

New Age Technologies for New Age Guests

Technologies like mobile, cloud, and social media can enable the hospitality industry to transition from a reactive to a proactive service provider and attend to their guest in a real-time and personalized manner. For example, imagine your front desk staff greeting a person by name and letting them know that the hotel is currently hosting a Kerala food festival even though the guest has checked into your hotel for the first time. Well there are solutions being made available that gathers information on your guest after the reservation, this information is made available to your front desk staff, and voila, you are not only building loyalty before the guest has even entered their room, but upselling as well.

Now, there are also mobile apps that allow hotels to check-in a guest even as they are on their way from the airport, or check them out while walking them to their cab.  Many large hotel chains already have apps that allow guests to interact with the hotel by making requests or ordering services. But technology is being democratized rapidly, and now, you don’t have to be a large five star hotel to access mobile, cloud and social media technologies, these are being made available to independent, mid-sized and small hotels as well. Planned as plug and play solutions, digital technologies are allowing hotels to not only leverage the internet, but also the sizable in-house database of guest information to create a comprehensive guest profile and take service to a new level of personalization for the millennials. Is your hotel ready for the big change?

Discover the Technology behind Your Hotel Stay

Goa is one of the smallest states in India, and little more than a dot on the country’s map. Yet did you know the coastal state played host to over three million visitors last year? The internationally renowned holiday hotspot attracts guests both from abroad and the expanding Indian middle-class, and the 101 kilometers of Goa’s coast has an impressive density of 3000 hotels!

ImageWith guests flooding in, the state has all types of hotels – from luxury to lodges. The high frequency of visitors and high occupancy rates means few hospitality properties can manage without software. Yes, behind your wonderful hotel stay, there is software and technology that notes your bill at the bar, food ordered up to your room, services availed of at the spa, and clothes you sent for laundering.

When your stay at the hotel ends, the software will send out a ‘Thank you’ SMS. The hotel will continue to stay in touch with you and wish you on your birthday and other special occasions. Expect to receive emails or SMS’s on special offers and discounts at the hotel, and when you come back next year with your wife or friends, the hotel staff will greet you by name.

Thanks to the hotels guest history feature. Hotel staff will already know the newspaper you like to read, the type of pillow you requested during your last visit, and even the drinks and food you enjoyed at their restaurant. At last, you are not just another revenue figure; you have found a little comfort zone away from home.

Hotel staff come and go, shifts change, but your favourite hotel knows your needs.

All this is made possible by a large hotel property management system that works ceaselessly – day and night. Did you know, a hotel property management system can be fairly complex, and includes software modules like Front Office Management which you can encounter at the lobby, Point of Sale in the restaurant, Accounts Receivables to manage payments, Finance Management, Housekeeping, Inventory Management, Telephone Management, HR and Payroll, Food and Beverage Costing, Quality Management, Banquets and Conferences, Sales and Marketing and more.

Yes, almost every department of your hotel is managed by its comprehensive property management system. This may seems strange, for all you see are smiling hotel staff at your beck and call. But it is precisely this software, which manages the large number of hotel operations and enables its staff to serve you well.

Added to this massive software that runs the hotel almost seamlessly, are a host of other applications too. From key cards, to fancy tablet based e-menu applications to wow you with sumptuous foods, mobile check-in so you walk straight to your room, to customized in-room entertainment. The list can go on.

The Indian Middle Class is traveling

As the Indian middle class expands, it is expected to exceed 600 million in India. This is a spurring growth in the travel and hospitality industry. The recent economic downturn may have curbed the construction of five-star hotels, but the mid-market segment of four and three star hotels is booming. Research[1] shows the millennials – those born between 1980 -2000 are expected to be avid travelers, love urban locales, travel in organized groups and use mobile phones and social media to post travel reviews.

You may expect to see more technology making its way rapidly into hotels with wi-fi and mobility apps. From the hoteliers perspective software as a service (SaaS) is the next big thing.

How safe are the details you give your hotel?

However, everything is not hunky dory with the hospitality industry. More recently, hotel software has come under the scanner for being vulnerable to hacking. Yes you read right. Hotels see hundreds of guests each year. Larger the hotel, bigger the size of their database. Cards – debit and credit- are the easiest and arguably the safest mode of payment, yet it is exactly this information that attracts hackers. Trolling the web for systems they can break into, and data they can easily steal and sell, hackers find hospitality property management systems easy to breach.

1Doug Meal, partner at Ropes & Gray, says “data breaches at hospitality-related businesses account for as much as 40% of all data security breaches.”  Thankfully there is a way around it. Some countries require hotel software to be PCI DSS compliant. This means payment card details are stored in an encrypted format and are thus hacker proof. India has not enacted this legislation which requires hotel software to be PCI or PA DSS compliant. However IDS NEXT, a hotel software provider with over 26 years of experience providing hospitality technology that has a large presence in the Goa hospitality industry is PA DSS compliant. This obviously is not only a huge benefit for the hotel industry, but for guests visiting these hotels too.

Aam Aadmi Party’s Questions to the BJP in Goa

This statement was released by the Aam Aadmi Party Goa <aapgoa@gmail.com> just prior to Sunday’s BJP meeting. addressed by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, in Goa:

Press Release
Margao Goa

In view of the upcoming “Vijay Sankalp” rally to be held in Goa by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Shri Narendra-ji Modi, the Aam Aadmi Party would like to pose the following questions for the BJP and its Government in Goa.

1) Why has the BJP Govt. delayed in finalizing the Regional Plan for Goa?

2) When the Goa Govt proposes to prohibit entry for Goans into casinos on the grounds that gambling is a vice, is it not anti-national for the BJP to encourage the rest of Indians to be addicted to casinos? The BJP should clarify whether they consider casinos to be “bharatiya sanskriti” or drop the word “bharatiya” from its name.

3) Why does the BJP as a political party oppose the CIC order to bring it under the purview of RTI? What does it have to hide?

4) Why was not a single case filed with the Lokayukta against illegal miners identified in the Shah Commission Report and the PAC report?

5) Why haven’t any proceedings been started to recover the Rs. 35,000 crores looted from Goa as per the Shah Commission Report?

6) Why did the Goa Govt betray the BJP’s written promise to amend the Goa Lokayukta Act on the lines of the Uttarakhand Act, even after an AAP delegation handed over a ready draft of the amendments to the Hon. Chief Minister as requested by him. Are the promises of the BJP not even worth the paper they are printed on? (see attachment)

7) Why has the implementation of the Right to Services Act been postponed numerous times?

8) Despite expensive foreign “study tours” and numerous assurances on the issue, why does piled up garbage continue to be the biggest tourist attraction of Goa?

9) Why has the written promise by the BJP to strengthen the Gram Sabhas and enact appropriate amendments in tune with the 73rd amendment not even taken up by the Goa Govt so far? (see attachment)

10) Why is the Goa Govt still dilly-dallying on settling the Mayem Evacuee Property issue?

Rampant Construction in Goa Finally Takes a Toll

The people of Goa have long been concerned about the construction boom in the state. Wealthy folks from all over India, particularly the big metros of Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore, with huge incomes have bought into the ‘tourist paradise’ glitz and glamour and have been over the last decade or so been mopping up apartment block after block. These flats remain closed all year except for a few days in the summer or during Christmas.

ImageWith row upon row of locked residential apartments, the government has escaped with no planning on infrastructure. Tiny pipes still bring water inadequate if the entire block had actually been occupied. Poor power supply continues to persist, the telephone lines are bad, and so is the mobile phone signal. Garbage collection and disposal is pathetic.  And yet, if you wish to buy a flat in Goa, expect to pay fairly inflated rates.

The collapse of the building under construction in Canacona in early January 2014 is symptomatic of this rot that has been plaguing the construction industry in the state for years. Feeding on the crazy demand for holiday homes, builders like vultures have come in from neighboring states. Their marketing infrastructure is easily able to pull the wool over the eyes of potential buyers with money to dispose but ill-informed about the quality of the construction being undertaken. These builders in turn know that they are not there to stay but rake in the profits. The result, 25 dead, a number of injured and people still trapped and unaccounted for as a five story building caves in like a pack of cards. The adjoining building has also developed huge cracks and the government plans to immediately demolish it.

The construction workers killed on the project are mostly poor migrant daily wage workers. Insurance would be unheard off; they had come to Goa with the hope of a better life. Now they have lost their lives. The construction industry in Goa has long functioned not without political patronage. Every builder pays lakhs to convert the land, get permissions from the electricity and water department; they pay more money to get occupancy certificates. So while builders fill their coffers by cutting corners on construction material, politicians fill their coffers with bribes. The consumers are fooled into parting with their hard earned money, and the poor construction workers pay with their lives.

It is a sad path we in Goa have chosen to walk down. A path where our villages have turned into concrete piles, where people with no commitment and love for the village flood in like rampaging locust, where suddenly there is a water and power shortage, and garbage everywhere.

The reality of this disastrous situation hit me a couple of years back when I tried to buy a small flat in Goa. Better known builders had flat starting from 60 lakhs and above and when I told their sales people my budget was half of that, they slammed the phone on me. I then turned to a couple of brokers. The brochures they sent out offered rates even more fabulous than the builders. “But I work in India I protested, I earn in rupees, every one of which is taxed, isn’t there any place for me in my own state?” the brokers immediately removed me from their mailing lists. When I asked the sales folks of these builders’ questions that any buyer should ask, I was told, “There are customers who send over the down payment without seeing the site”. “Oh really,” I had to remind the marketing folks, “I am handing over to you the last few years of my earning, and committing to you the next few years of it as well, why then should I not quiz you to my heart content.” I was deeply frustrated and disappointed with the response.

Later, I did manage to buy a flat at a reasonable rate, the only reason I can pay the EMI on the loan is because I work outside Goa. I still feel purchasing housing in Goa is beyond the reach of most peoples income in Goa. Why? Because some druggie believes Goa is ‘happening’, some party animal believes Goa is ‘Yo’, because someone with unaccounted money believes he can account for it if it becomes brick and mortar in Goa. In the process, housing construction comes to a halt and fancy holiday homes with swimming pools and gyms, gated condominiums are all you can buy. And what about the Goans, trying to find a home in his state?

I find the ‘hype’ around Goa honestly absurd. It’s a hot, humid coastal state. There are better beaches in other parts of India and I have seen them in Kerala and Karnataka as well. The weather is unpleasant expect from October to Mid-Jan, I hate coming down to the state in summer. So cut through the crass marketing hype, and the Goa sold in the expensive brochures is the proverbial Shangri-La – keep searching. The only reason I continue to love Goa is mind sizzling heat & humidity and its dank, moldy rains is because there is nowhere else I feel like I belong.

It’s about time the world got to know this puffed up, fluffed out state they see in tourist brochures. Learn that this beautiful state has been barbarically pillaged for its sun, surf and sand and the greed that hides behind it all. This greed has been the bane of peace loving, caring, cultured Goans.

More Reading

Man behind Goa collapse finished 5-flr Ulwe tower in 6 months flat (Mid-Day.com)

http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/cover-story/Man-behind-goa-collapse-finished-5-flr-ulwe-tower-in-6-months-flat/articleshow/28462479.cms

Stench of Garbage Breaks Up a Reverie

DSC_9846I remember my village of Saligao as idyllic. In so many ways it still is. Gentle rolling hills full of cashew trees, a sprawl of a thousand slopping roof houses and the soft sight of green paddy fields making waves in the breeze. Coconut trees dot the village and drainage trenches that turn to streams each monsoon. It’s a calm village, full of a gentle people, each busy with trying to carve out an honest living.

DSC_9757 DSC_9833I remember the hills of Saligao the most, for that’s where folks took their goats and cattle for grazing and that’s where you went to snack on the rich fruits of cashew and Jambuls. As little kids, you looked up into those huge trees and imagined vampires and ghosts. Those solid tree trunks took on menacing shapes. We scrambled up and down smaller trees, and I remember playing house as the goats grazed on the rich grass. There were flowers of varied hues and fruits that looked pretty, but you dared not eat. As we played, we could hear the incessant thud of wood being cut, then, villagers relied heavily on this hill for firewood. I remember the night air filling with the eerie howl of foxes and wondered if like the grandmother in red riding hood, they could get near enough to devour us.

DSC_9847Each cashew season, we went into the hill to sneak out a few cashew seeds which we carefully dried out and roasted. On a rainy day the fragrance of roasting nuts filled the neighbourhood and it was delicious. Cashew juice is also extracted to make alcohol, but before the process of fermentation begins, it makes for an interesting, non-intoxicating drink.  I remember taking glass bottles and going up to buy ‘niro’ as we call it.

Sometime later the hill was fenced off. The forest department took over, cattle and goats were prevented from going there to graze, guards prevented people from cutting stacks of fire wood and new trees were planted. The green cover got denser, we could now hear the distinct call of peacocks, and those who saw them admired their large, rich plumage. It seems rabbits thrived, the wild boar, once excessively hunted returned to feast on the succulent cashew. The endangered monitor lizards roamed free, the dwindling foxes were back again in large numbers. In the thick foliage of creepers, wines and massive trees one can hear the call of many species of birds. Yes, it’s idyllic or almost, for a decadent industry crept in, unobtrusively and nonchalantly like a breeze, it is a so called clean and green industry, it is glamorous on the outside, but a cesspool on the inside and it is called Tourism.

DSC_9784 DSC_9736My village boarders the world famous village of Calangute, better known for its crowded beach, and when the tourists have come and had their fill at the hotels crammed into a few kilometers of space, trucks of waste find their way closer into my relaxed, sleepy village. The garbage has been dumped on the crown on my idyllic village for over a decade now, unsegregated, rotting, untreated, all types of waste. An abandoned quarry that is alight all year round, sending up plumes of smoke in the middle of a picture perfect scene of thick grass filled with morning dew, scampering rabbits, chasing foxes, scuttling birds, languid water buffalo and mud-puddling butterflies.

The stray dogs and scavenging raptors have made the garbage dumping ground a war zone, the rising clouds of smoke has injected toxins into the air, and the fly ash has seeped through the red laterite rock and contaminated our famed, medicinal Salmona spring. Yet local people with no access to any other means of portable water continue to consume it, even as the contamination seeps further into the ground. The people protested, albeit feebly and the garbage dumping continued, unabated, year after year, leveraging the unassuming loopholes in the law and the superficiality of boundary lines.

Now the famed village of Calangute is tired of the charade and wants to wear its pride and forex contribution to the state coffers on its sleeve. No more sneaking into your village with our stinky trucks of garbage they say. We are going to ride in with pride and as victors; we are going to dispose of our waste at a modern day ‘garbage treatment plant’, and they have brought their Goebbel’s along with their magical bottles of star dust.

Pictures of Saligao courtesy Nagaraj P

Pictures of the garbage site courtesy  Dean D’Cruz

ImageAnd the script is not new here. It is exactly what the capital city of GoaPanjim did to the tiny, exuberant village of Curca, not so long ago. Under the guise of a World Bank funded project, day in and day out, they strong armed their way in, with trucks carrying tons of waste. Feel privileged, it’s from the capital city, it’s the waste of the elite they seemed to taunt, as they dumped their contents into an open abandoned stone quarry on the crown of the village. A tiny vermi composting unit stood in a corner, a farce and façade rolled in one.  And then I looked on at what was to be my first glimpse of proverbial hell, a little hut of rag pickers amidst the swirling smoke of burning garbage, as dirt smeared folk rummaged through massive stacks of garbage, trying to eke out a nasty living.

So I need no soothsayer or fortune teller to tell me how this is going to end. It’s a well-worn script and it’s going to be played out with a foretold conclusion. My village of Saligao is going to be the newest goat at the sacrificial alter of tourism or development, however you want to see it.

There are always those with miserably short memories, there are always those greedily yearning for those pieces of silver, and there are always those who arduously pave the way to hell with their good intentions, I think this lot will win, against the prophets who have not been acknowledged for many decades in their own village, and will not be now. And my village of Saligao will live on in a corner of my mind, a little of it dying each time a new truck comes by and empties its rot onto the softest grass and putrid pungent stink fills the crisp clean air, and the reverie of a wonderful village is broken.

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Holidaying in Gods Own Country

Statistics on tourism in Kerala are all UP!! According to figures put out by the Government of Tourism, Kerala saw an 11.18 % increase in foreign tourist arrival in 2012. Domestic tourist arrival was up by 9.15%, so were foreign exchange earnings, which grew by 11.18% and total revenue from tourism grew 9.74%. Not bad during recessionary time and I’m not surprised by the numbers.

Its balmy winter in Bangalore, but we decided on an extended weekend in Kerala. We were driving down there for a colleagues wedding. Five in the morning, dawn is ready to break and our Punto rushed to get out of the city before it awakes. Beautiful four lane drives, mist flanking the road, plants lining the highway and occasionally a bright bunch of flowers too, the characteristic granite reliefs of the South, some excellent music and we were cruising at 100 kms per hour. Thank you Reeves Mathews for wonderfully managing the wheels!

A huge breakfast of blueberry pancakes, fresh fruits and croissants, at Salem and off we shot for lunch in Palakkad, Kerala. Simple yet tasty fair beef fry and parotas, on bone chain plats at a small yet well maintained restaurant along the highway, some awesome view works well with the wonderful food.

We were in Kerala for three whole days, all in Palakkad district, and we never encountered a bad road! Tree lined roads, with dividers and reflectors, 98% of drivers are well behaved and this is another feather in Kerala’s cap.

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After my first encounter with beef, I decided that the weather, which is hot and humid like all coastal places, is just not conducive to red meat. And boy, was it the right decision. For subsequently, we really pigged out on some of the freshest and tastiest fish I have ever eaten. No small feat, considering I come from another coastal state just up North – Goa.

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Unlike Goa, Kerala is neither overpriced, nor nauseously commercial. For hours you drive through villages of pretty modern homes, all painted in bright hues, and sitting midst a generous garden. The crush of people that you see in cities like Bangalore, is thankfully missing, the air is fresh and when the humidity gets to you, stop by for some tender coconut water, pickled pineapple or even tangy Amala. How’s that for a healthy snack?

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We stayed at a beautiful hotel called Devaragam in the holy town of Guruvayur. Quiet, lovely airy rooms, polite staff, pleasant décor, and affordable, its shouting distance from the temple. December – January is Sabarimala season in Kerala and devotees invariable stop over at Guruvayur too. That explained the rush at the temple.

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The Guruvayur temple is a very popular Krishna temple and is amazingly small and filled with wooden carvings and frescos. It reminded me that the temple was probably built for a much smaller population. It is auspicious to get married at this temple, so each year hundreds, or probably thousands of couples tie the knot here. Strangely, the religious ceremony lasts for 3-4 minutes and then it’s the turn of the next couple!

Post the wedding, which was an elaborate, grand occasion and typically Malyalee from ‘Oh My Gold’ fame, we drove down to Snehatheeram beach. Narrow, clean and uncrowded, the Snehatheeram beach mostly sees the local population and a few fishermen mending their nets. The beach is lined with coconut trees, the sand dunes and their vegetation still intact. We saw just one foreigner in all our time there, how she located the place is probably a credit to Google maps.

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The next day saw a long drive along hairpin curves to Thirapally waterfalls. It seems some scenes of the Hindi movie Raavan were shot here. It’s a huge gushing barrage of water and you can see it both from the top of the fall or experience its might by going down to its foot.

Some great company, a sure driver who enjoys the road and Kerala can be super fun, affordable and of course memorable too.

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Grow Your Own Carrots

Grow your own carrots…. I love the lyrical ring of this topic, almost like I am preparing to launch out into a HR motivational blog post;)

The other day, I saw a mail in my inbox about a course the Agriculture Department of Goa was to conduct in my village, on how people could grow their own vegetable garden, and it really got me thinking.

Really, they are now teaching and encouraging people to grow their own vegetables! Wow, there was a time when everyone grew their own vegetables. In the monsoons, when the water was plentiful, what a delight to work in the garden, putting mud to hold up the little shoots of Lady Finger. Put sticks to lead the pumpkin creeper up on to the roof, build a little lean-to for the cucumber creeper, we looked forward to the bitter gourd, tomatoes and chilies. If the heavy rain washed the plants away, we would plant them all over again. We competed to see how big the soup plan leaves would grow, and we each had our pet plants.

Looking back, I think that time in the garden taught us a lot about nurturing, growing, loving nature, being self-reliant, dirtying our hands, experiencing joy in physical labour, enjoying the fruit of labour, respecting the activity of food creation and food itself. Our parents worked by us, wordlessly teaching us all this, filling pans with manure, gently feeding it to plants, watching out for caterpillars and ensuring they didn’t eat up the fledgling plants, learning that the earthworms where good and nitrated the soil. And when the vegetables grew in profusion, we plucked them all with great pride, ate hearty meals, shared the extra vegetables with our neighbors and brought about a sense of goodwill.

We may not acknowledge it, but plants have a lot to offer us, and if you have played Farmville, it has loads to offer you. I still remember, how some of my colleagues in the middle of their crazy work schedule, set alarms so they could go water plants, harvest their crops, sells them for money that would buy seed. After trying it for some time, I thought it was silly, this simulated, computer game. But Farmville probably became a huge hit because it fulfilled a need – a need to nurture, care and watch life take root and grow. You don’t have to be ‘virtual’ about your needs any more, make it real with a pot on your veranda.

In a time when the cost of food is spiraling, a small patch of vegetables or a few pots on your balcony is a fantastic idea. Vegetable gardens were key to urban sustainability in Cuba and it’s a concept worth replicating. Looking deeper, I think a few vegetable laden pots would be a good way to add green fauna in a city that is constantly getting denuded. If you are lonely, I suspect, plants would make super cool companions too.

In a time when children no longer have parks to play in and hardly have any contact with nature, here is your opportunity to bring a little bit of green, back in their life and yours. No matter how small a place you live in, there is always place for a pot or two. How about throwing in a few chilly seeds? We gift our kid’s puppies and birds, how about gifting them a pot and a few seeds of flowers and vegetables.

Are you ready to grow your own carrots, chillies, cucumbers, pumpkins…. ?

When It Rains, It Pours … In Goa

Come mid –June and the South-West monsoons descend upon Goa, and you can’t truly understand what that means unless you are there. The tourist brochures and languid, sultry pictures of waving palms, happy people, parties, little boats and great fish, lull your senses into somehow believing that this is Goa all year round, but if you happen to arrive there anytime from June to August, be prepared for a shocker.

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As I nested into the Goa bound Bangalore bus, I was heading to a monsoon whose ferocity and viciousness I had all but forgotten. The monsoon in Bangalore is a myth, which keeps getting larger by the year; we don’t carry umbrellas or rain coats and if there is a sudden downpour we just wait it out. The longest it’s rained here is half an hour and so no Bangloreans wears rainy shoes.

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At the border we were welcomed by dark clouds, the premonition of doom and it began raining so heavy the windshield of the bus turned opaque. The wipers zoom back and forth, and the rain gushing down in torrents, giving just a second of visibility to the driver.

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Looking out of our window, it was like heading into a surreal place. The barks of trees were slippery black, the leaves heavy and droopy; there is a flourish of life as nature tries to capture lost territory and every little spot, except the grey, smooth road had turned green. Everywhere you cast your eyes, its green, green, green in different shades and shapes, but it’s pleasant, smoothing, almost calming to the mind.

The sky stays an angry gray through many days. The cloud cover so thick, not even a blush of sunlight penetrates its strong armor. Goa has a significant population that works abroad, and having lived there for some time forget the ferocity of the south-west monsoons. Often, they build houses in the new fancy styles they may have encountered abroad – flat rooms, courtyard covered in tiles – and when the monsoons rule supreme for three months each year, you see these homes cowering in fear of destruction. Huge structures covered in plastics of yellow and blue, the windows all wrapped up, their balconies and verandas shielded from the lashing rain; the tiles gone deep green and dangerously slippery and for a brief time nature wins.

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In such inclement weather, you would think the population of one and a half million would slow down their lives, and burrow in for some cozy rest. But no, school children trudge on like little turtles. Colorful raincoats protecting their lovely new books, people head to work, driving many kilometers mostly on their two wheelers, the place is abuzz with vinyl mushrooms, and man fights to retain his superiority.  It’s a constant battle, man and nature fighting to win. In days gone by, people prepared, and stored food for the monsoons. Transportation was a problem then, and everyone was engaged in agriculture, not so now and people who about their daily life, making the rains an integral part of it.

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One of the main highlights for us in the monsoons, when we were kids was to set little paper boats afloat in the storm water drain that ran by our house. The water gushed by with a strong gurgle and we competed to see whose boat went furthest. The rocks in the drain were the main obstacles and led to the sinking of many newspaper vessels. The monsoons were also a great time to take our rudimentary fishing rods and head to little ponds that formed again through the network of storm water drains. A piece of earthworm for bate and we would sit around for hours waiting for fish the size of your index finger to tug at our line. Fish is scarce in the monsoon, and all the fish was taken home by one of the kids whose mother actually cleaned and cooked them.

The fields are flooded by the incessant rain, and field crabs and muscle flourish – amazing that pesticides haven’t yet decimated them into a hot, spicy, coconut curry.

While being great fun for kids, the three whole months of rain are hard work for the farmers. Organic manure is still extensively used, and you can see folks with baskets of cow dung on their head, walking off to their fields. Ploughing is still done with oxen and buffalo, with the wooden plough held down by a man standing at the end. The sowing of paddy seed is down by hand. The pigeon population has grown exponentially claim many, and you see men and women, weathering it out in the incessant rain to prevent the newly soared paddy from being devoured by these little feathered pests.  Soon, women will wade into shin deep water to begin transplanting the young crop, then the weeding, fertilizing, weeding again, followed by constant monitoring that the little mud banks around the field are holding strong. Rice needs to constantly have a few inches of water so that it grows well – ah it’s a treadmill. When I see the work put in by farmers, I hesitate to waste even a grain of rice, one cannot help but remember the manual labour, through health and sickness  that goes into growing that food. In other parts of India, it is the loss of these very life sustaining crops that drives farmers to despair and suicide, touch wood, Goa has been shielded.Image

For three whole days we battled the inclement, hostile weather, as we had loads of outdoor work. The loud patter on my raincoat, as I huddled pillion on a two-wheeler. The rain comes down in sheets and one needs to bow their head in submission to keep the face from the incisive, sharp rain that hits you with the force of acupuncture needles. The rains seeps through the strongest raincoat, soaking your hair, your clothes, you can feel the dampness taking over, your body shivers with the discomfort and you usually come out of this downpour shaking yourself like a wet dog and feeling as forlorn as a wet cat. But that’s the monsoon in Goa and for a short break, offers up its own charming experience.

Pictures by Nagaraj Papanna

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