Thursday, 25 October 2012

Durga puja 2012

Its been two years in a row that we are away from Kolkata during the Durga Puja.For the Bengalis, Durga Puja is the most grandest festival celebrated around September-October. So basically irrespective of geography, wherever Bengalis are, there is a big possibility that there would be a Durga Puja near by. 

  Bangalore, which is around 1900 Km from Kolkata, hosts a number of Durga pujas. And some of these are quite famous. So this year we decided to do puja hopping in Bangalore during the festive days. 

  A little background of Durga Puja:
  Goddess Durga is regarded as the epitome of power in Hinduism. Every year she is worshiped so that people can gain energy and determination to end evil and flourish everything good. Devi Durga(Goddess Durga) is depicted in different forms among Hindus. In Bengal(West Bengal,a state in India), the form of Durga that is worshiped during this festive season, is Mahishasuramardini. In this form the Goddess can be seen slaying the devil Mahishasur. You can get a detailed idea at: . 

  Generally pandals are crafted to house the Goddess. Over the years this festival has turned into a major art form in Bengal. Streets are lit up all over the cities and the villages. Pandals are crafted very artistically which sometimes take even a whole year to build. 

Some pandals are more popular than others.The popular ones attract people in hordes. These are done on a magnificient scale right from the pandal interiors to the idols.

  The three pandals we visited in Bangalore are at 

  • Sarjapur road
  • Near Ulsoor lake
  • At Whitefield inner circle
  The last one is not that famous but is near to our residence. So it was easy to access.

  What we first noticed in all these puja pandals is that that Idol, the pandal and the decorations are not given utmost importance. Rather the more important things are the cultural programs and the food stalls that accompany the pandal during the festive days. And this is quite justified. 

  Bengalis are born gourmets. So being away from homeland, which is Kolkata, the pandal hoppers are bound to get attracted to pure Bengali cuisine. And its not just Bengalis, people from other parts of India also enjoy Bengali cuisine. So the dominance of the food stalls are very much required in Bangalore pujas.

  As Kolkata is regarded as the cultural capital of India so having a full fledged stage for cultural programs adjacent to any pandal, seemed to be just in harmony with the Bengali rhythm of life.

  On Saturday, we visited the durga puja near Ulsoor lake. Its organized by Bengali Association of Bangalore. As it was the first day of puja, the pandal and the shops where still being fine tuned to their places.

  On the next day we set out to see two pandals, one at Sarjapur Road, and the other at Ulsoor lake again. The puja at Sarjapur road is organized by SORRBA. There was a mad rush at this pandal. However, we enjoyed the visit to this pandal and moved on to revisit the puja near Ulsoor lake.

  This time the pandal near Ulsoor lake was all set up properly. There was a cultural program going on by the adjoining stage. We enjoyed that as well. Before leaving the pandal, we brought to jars of pickle from one of the shops at the pandal. It was 11:30 PM when we reached home.

  Our last day of pandal hopping was on Tuesday. We tried to revisit the pandal near Ulsoor lake once again. But because of lack of parking space, we had to return. On our way back we quickly dropped by our neighboring pandal at Whitefield. Enjoyed the cultural program there for some time and got back home.

  Over all, we enjoyed the Durga Puja of 2012. However, it could have been even better if we had spent the time in Kolkata.    

  Here are some of the snaps from the past few days:
SORRBA Durga Puja

Bengali Association Durga Puja

The crowd at Bengali Association Durga Puja

The Puja Stage at Bengali Association Durga Puja

Cultural program at SORRBA Durga Puja

Fashion Show at Bengali Association Durga Puja

Dance program at Bengali Association Durga Puja

The anchor at Bengali Association Durga Puja cultural program

The ground, the people and the zoo-zoo at Bengali Association Durga Puja

Angry Bird with Happy Man. At Bengali Association Durga Puja

One of the pickle stalls at Bengali Association Durga Puja
Pickle and toffee at the pickel stall. At Bengali Association Durga Puja 

The God and the Common Man. Taken at Bengali Association Durga Puja during afternoon of Shasthi.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Our Goa Trip

Too much of anything is bound to get one bored. Ever since we came to Bangalore, we were seeing too much of Mountains or Hills. It started with Nandi Hills and followed till Coorg. We needed a change. 

  So, we decided to change the theme of our next trip; change it straight to beach. India has several beaches all around its coastal line, However, only one place in particular has practically become the epicenter of our thought process when we think of beaches in India. Yes, its Goa.

  Obviously, we hit the road with our Good old sparky. Going out on a trip with our sparky gives us the indulgence to stop anywhere anytime, relax and enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.

  Though the Goa trip was actually a medium sized trip, given that it was only from Thursday of one week to Tuesday of the next, it was a heavy duty one. There were so much to enjoy; and we did enjoy. So we decided to break down our Goa blog into five individual blog posts.

  Here are the links to the individual blog posts. Enjoy.

Sunset as seen from Mandovi River cruise.

Sunset at Colva beach
  The Route:
  After consulting several blogs and articles, we decided to travel on NH4. And it was a good decision. The road is very good. The only problem with the road is that from Hubli to Devanagere, there is practically no restaurant/dhaba or petrol pump. So keep this in mind so that you can take break and food before and after this zone. From Hubli we came down to Karwar through NH67. And from Karwar to Goa it was NH17. The road from Hubli to Karwar passes through Anshi National Park and its really beautiful. Just don't stop and don't be too curious to click a monkey, because they get curious too.

  The unplanned halt:
  We never planned to halt at Karwar. But when we reached there by the late afternoon, we were awestruck by the beauty and peace at Karwar. It was like a Bonus prize for our trip. So we spent one night at Karwar before moving on to Goa.

  From Karwar we moved straight for North Goa. North Goa is very crowded. But that doesn't mean that its not enjoyable. Its fantastic. We stayed at Calangute and visited the nearby beaches like Anjuna, Vagator. We also made a quick round of Aguada fort. 

  From north Goa we moved to Old Goa. The churches of Goa are magnificent. Spent a lot of time seeing each of these churches. By the evening, we were on the Mandovi river cruise on Santa Monica. The sunset from the cruise is so relaxing that you have to be there to know it. We stayed at Panaji, the capital city of Goa. 

  Our last destination on Goa trip was to see the beaches of South Goa. We decided to drop the anchor at Colva beach, the famous long stretched white sand beach of Goa. Its far more beautiful than the descriptions in travel magazines. When in Colva, its a good idea to wake up early and hit the beach. You can see fishermen doing there daily chores which is a great thing to experience. On our last day in Goa trip we quickly detoured to Palolem beach for a brief hour long break in our journey. Palolem is very beautiful and a little different from the other beaches. Its concave shape gives it a distinctive look. 

  We reached home(Bangalore) at around 1 O' clock at night. 

  The Drive:
  Goa is around 700Km from Bangalore. It took us 11 hours to reach Karwar from Whitefield, Bangalore. However, on the day of our journey back home, it was around 10 hours from Goa. As the road is very good, you can easily keep constant speed and the fuel efficiency would make you happy. Just be cautions as the same road back to Bangalore has some pot holes; so better to keep your high-beam on.

  The Stay:
   Throughout our Goa trip, we stayed in GTDC hotels. The hotels are safe and clean and strategically placed very closed to the sea beaches. In Karwar, we stayed at Hotel Premier and the experience was really good. 
   Here are the details of the hotels:
   Calangute - Calangute Residency(Annex) - 227-6009
   Panaji - Panaji Residency - 222-3396/7103, 242-2974
   Colva - Colva Residency - 278-8047/48, 278-1139
     Karwar - Hotel Premier -  (08382)-229 925, 094481 39962

   STD code of Panaji is 832, Marmagao is 8342, Karwar is 8382. 

  The Experience:
  Goa is very much crowded and commercialized. However, even in the crowd and chaos we did find relaxation. Maybe that is the nature of the sea. It does make feel you relaxed. Our over all experience of Goa was fantastic. From the Gothic churches to the casual beaches, from the mouth watering sea food to the charming river cruise, it was fun and relaxing all the way. The overall nature of Goa and Goan people is very relaxed and happy. So when in Goa you naturally become a goanese. And that's the biggest gift you get from your trip.

South Goa, beach lovers paradise

After the fantastic time we had in north Goa, we headed for old Goa and it was even more majestic. Now it was again time for the beach. So south Goa was where we headed next. Well, in case you have directly come into this blog post, you might want to visit our posts on north Goa and old Goa and the churches of old Goa.

  When we left Panaji and drove towards Colva beach, the surrounding slowly became very quiet until we reached Marmagao. Marmagao is a city in Goa full of hassle and bustle. If you are coming from north Goa, you have to take a right at Marmagao to get to Colva beach. We chose Colva because of two reasons; one was that it is famous for its long white stretch of beach, the other was that Colva also had one GTDC hotel right by the beach. 

  When we reached Colva beach, the first thing we did was checking into the GTDC hotel. By far, it was the best GTDC hotel among the ones(Calangute and Panaji) we already stayed in this trip. And to our surprise we were given a cottage with nothing except a very low fence to block our view of the see. And the view was breathtaking. 

  Withing half an hour from checking into the hotel, we were on the beach. This was a different beach. Wide spread, bright white sand and colours everywhere. When we reached the beach, it was around 4 O' clock at afternoon. The beach was full of small creatures of sea. The majority was of star fish and hermit crab. They were in hundreds, if not thousands. 

Varieties of sea shells

A star fish and a different kind of crab

A star fish among thousands of sea shells

  We strolled across the beach almost till 6:30 pm. Although the evening was cloudy, the sunset was pretty relaxing.

The Colva beach

Watching over everyone, always

The beauty of Colva beach

One of the fishing boats at Colva beach

Sunset at Colva beach

Two fishing boats at Colva beach
  Walking and that also on the beach is definitely going to do one thing to you for sure. Its going to make you hungry, very hungry. We got hungry after our close-to-four hour walk on the beach. So we decided to go for some snack at one of the shacks by the beach. The experience with the shack was mixed. We liked the innovative and casual way they designed the shack. There was a projector and a cricket match on it. There were dresses on sale as well. The thing we did not expect was the price of the food. The sea food in these shacks generally don't have price printed by them. Rather you would find something like "price according to season and size" next to each food item. They brought a plate of fresh fish(uncooked) and told us the price if we wanted those cooked. And to our surprise, it was around 5 times higher than the price we found in Calangute. Anyway, we were hungry so we ordered something. 

  It started raining by the time we finished our overpriced meal/snack. So we got kind of drenched on our way back to the cottage. For dinner, we went out looking for reasonable restaurant and we found one. Though not absolutely reasonable, it was not that overpriced. We enjoyed a good sea crab dish. After that, it was a good night's sleep.

  The next morning, we hit the beach pretty early. And the beach was much less crowded. But the sea creatures were also gone. Maybe they appear only during the afternoon. The surprise, though, was something we never expected. It was the time for the fishing boats to return to the shore and bring the last night's catch to the wholesale market. The wholesale market is also right on the beach. Fish was everywhere. We saw how the fishermen clean their net, how they clean the fish right at the market, how they sell fish. And there were different types of fish; prawns, king fish, mackerel and many more.

A fishing boat being pulled and pushed to the shore
Stacks of fishing net by the beach

Cleaning of fish at the wholesale fish market.

Thousands of prawns at the fish market

These fishes are being dried
Arrangement to make dry fish

Spreading fish to be dried.
  The morning on the beach was fantastic. However, we had to keep an eye on the watch as this was our last day in the Goa trip. We quickly grabbed some breakfast and tea and were ready by 11 am, ready to leave Colva. 

  We decided to visit Palolem beach on our way back home. We've heard so much about this beach, that we just couldn't miss seeing it. 

  Palolem is about 40 Km from Colva. So it was a nice break for the journey. Parking fee was Rs. 25 (approx).

  The beach of Palolem is just beautiful. Its kind of different from the other beaches. The shape is a bit crescent, so perfect for taking breathtaking pictures. One part of the beach forms a kind of island and we could spot some huts in there as well. We also noticed several water sport arrangements on the beach. The number of shacks seemed more on Palolem. Palolem is a smaller beach than Colva. And personally we liked Colva more, mostly because of its vastness and the sea creatures on the beach. However, Palolem has its own beauty and is distinctively different from the other beaches. There are resorts and hotels available in Palolem as well, so spending a night there should be worthwhile.
Palolem beach

Fishing boats and other arrangements at Palolem beach

Boats for water sport at Palolem beach

Palolem beach
  So with the closure of our quick hour long trip to Palolem beach, we returned on the highway. Almost 10 hours of drive was ahead of us. We reached home(bangalore) at around 1 O' clock at night.

Karwar, on our way back home

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Old Goa, majestic beyond words

After we set off from North Goa we headed for Panaji which is considered a part of Old Goa. The distance from North Goa to Old Goa is roughly 15 kilometres and though the road is good but we got struck in a jam for sometime.

  We planned to stay for one full day in Old Goa. Panaji is a small but beautiful city. It has many buildings made in Portuguese style. The itinerary for the day included visiting some of the churches of Goa and a sunset cruise on the Mondovi river, the ticket for which we had already bought from our hotel in Calangute.

  So from North Goa we drove straight to Old Goa via Panaji where all the beautiful churches are located. The road from Panaji to old Goa is very beautiful as you drive along the Mondovi river to your leftWe saw the Basillica of Bom Jesus, a spectacular church built by the Portugues in the 16th century. The basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. We also visited Se cathedral, Church of St Catherine, museum and Church of St Francis of Assisi. It took us almost 4.5 hours to see the churches in detail. There were some more churches which we decided to see the next day. 

The churches are open from 9:30 AM to 5 PM everyday for public viewing. The entry is free but for the museum you need to buy entry tickets worth Rs 10 per person. Photography is also allowed inside the churches but not inside the museums. We wrote a detailed blog post on the Churches of Goa. You can get more info/pics in thas post.

Bom Jesus Basillica
  We headed back to Panaji where our boat cruise was supposed to start. We already had the tickets for the sunset cruise which starts from 6 pm and is a one hour boat ride on the Mondovi river. There are many other cruise slots
available like sundown(7:15-8:15 pm), dinner cruise(8:45-10:45 pm)We booked tickets for the launch Santa Monica.

  Since the cruise was scheduled to start at 6 pm so we were told to report to the ticket counter of Santa Monica at the jetty at 5:45 pm. The jetty office is just below the main Panaji flyover. Apart from santa Monica there were ticket counters of many other boat services like Paradise and all. We reported to the counter at 5:45PM. There is a paid parking near the jetty where cars/bikes can be parked.

  The seating arrangement on Santa Monica is on first-come-first-serve basis. If you come early you can choose your seats but if you are late then you have to be happy with whatever seat is left. Consider yourself lucky if you can grab
a seat by the sides of the boat from where you can see the sunset. There were some boats with open roofs but unfortunately ours was not.

View of sunset from inside the deck of Santa Monica
  Once the boat starts the crowd will be greeted by a DJ. There will be performers who will dance traditional Goan dances. You are also solicited to join them. The experience of catching the sunset from the river is amazing. The boat will go along the scenic river banks and every moment of the boat ride is very enjoyable.

Performance on Santa Monica

Traditional performance on Santa Monica

  As the sun sets, the boats will get lit up and you will get to see similar other boats on the river all lit up brightly by colour bulbs and the light getting reflected in the waters. The several advertisement boards also
get lighted up giving the Mondovi waters a different feel. Food and other beverage are also available on the cruises but have to be brought.

Sunset on Mandovi River, as seen from Santa Monica

One of several boats on Mandovi river; just after sunset

  As we were getting down from the boat there was another very long queue of people excitedly waiting to get in. We checked in our hotel Panaji residency(owned by GTDC), strategically located overseeing the Mondovi river. The hotel has an open air restaurant and from there we could see the boats cruising on the Mondovi river. There are also many casinos that we could see from our hotel.

  There are many tour packages available from GTDC like the Dudhsagar Falls tour, North Goa tour, South Goa tourThese can be booked from any GTDC hotels or office in person. The tour buses/jeeps will pick and drop you at the
GTDC hotels. You can also avail considerable discounts on this package tours if you stay in GTDC hotels.

  The next day we planned to see the remaining Churches Of Goa that included St. Augustine Church, Church and Convent of Santa Monica, Church of our Lady of Rosary, Church of St. Cajetan, Arch of Viceroy, Panaji Church along with Miramar beach and Dona Paola.

Miramar beach, Panaji. After sunrise.

A view from the top of Dona Paola. After sunrise.
  Miramar beach is located in Panaji. Since we went there early in the morning we saw many locals doing their rounds of morning walks on the beach. Dona Paola is also a nice view point a little far from Miramar. On the way we saw the statue of Abbe de Faria who is considered the father of modern hypnotism. The statue shows him hypnotizing a lady patient.

Abbe de Faria
  Further from Miramar beach is Dona Paola from where one can have a fine view of Marmugao Harbour. It is a place where two rivers meet the Arabian Sea. Some bollywood movies have also been shot here and it is a favourite place for tourists.

  So with the visit to all the beautiful churches, enjoying sunset on a boat cruise and stroll on beaches our Old Goa tour came to a happy end and we headed for South Goa.

Things that you must see in Old Goa:
Churches in Old Goa:
Se Cathedral 
Basilica of Bom Jesus
Chapel of St Catherine
Church and convent of St Francis of Assisi
St. Augustine Church
Church and Convent of Santa Monica
Church of our Lady of Rosary
Church of St. Cajetan
Arch of Viceroy and Panaji Church

Things that you must do in Old Goa:
Mondovi river cruise
Enjoy the Goan cuisine

Friday, 12 October 2012

North Goa, full of sun, sea and good food

Our Goa tour started from North Goa.

  On reaching Panaji we crossed the Mondovi river and drove staright to Calangute. The distance from Panaji to Calangute is almost 15 kms and the road condition is also good. Also driving to any beach in North Goa is relatively easy as you have direction markers everywhere on the road and also
people are very friendly and helpful.

  We reached Calangute around 3:30 PM. The road near the beach is bubbling with tourists and various shops that sell everything from fancy beach wear, beach accessories like sunglasses, hats and all.... to goan handicrafts, readymade seafood(yummy), tattoo shops and lots more. The road is also crowded with tourist buses and cars.There are plenty of budget hotels and homestays in Calangute.

  Since we did not book any hotel in advance so we first went for hotel searching. The best hotel in Calangute is undoubtedly Calangute Residency owned by GTDC. It is located nearest to the beach and from the cottages you can have a slice of the sea anytime. Though it was not the season but still there were no rooms available in that hotel. The hotel manager directed us to another hotel, very near to Calangute Residency, also owned by GTDC. It was Calangute Residency(annex). This time we were lucky. There was only one room available and that too only for that day. Since we had planned to stay in Calangute for one night, this was okay for us.The room charge was Rs 1040 per night in off season (I hope I remember correctly)

  It is good to know that the checkout time in hotels across Calangute is 10 AM. Only for hotels owned by GTDC the checkout time is 12 noon. 

  After getting some rest in the hotel we went to the beach. The beach is very popular among tourists and so is a little crowded even during off season. The beach has life guards like most beaches in Goa and if you walk along the beach for some 1 kilometres you will reach Baga beach which is a much less crowded beach.

Calangute beach. Sunset.
  We saw people roaming around in Goa in rented bikes and cars. Bikes can be rented for as little as Rs 200 a day (depend on your bargin) but the person taking the rent must have a valid driving licence. In Calangute sea food is damn cheap and tasty. The food prepared in the small roadside shops are tasty and very easy on the pockets. We enjoyed a medium sized pomfret fry for as little as Rs 80 and the food quality was really good. The roadside shops sells various seafish, crab, prawn, chicken fries.

  In Calangute, there is a 200% chance that you encounter people trying to lure you with attractive offers like free resort stays, complimentary dinner etcBy luring with the offers they will later try to sell time shares and we would definitely recommend not to fall into their trap. Its always better to ignore them from the very beginning.

  The first half of the next day was reserved for seeing the other major beaches in North Goa namely Anjuna and Vagator. We started pretty early; at around 7 am.

  Anjuna beach is some roughly 9 kilometres from Calangute and to reach there you have to go through Anjuna village. There are plenty of homestays near Anjuna beach. Anjuna is a beautiful red rocky beach. The beach is made of big red colour stones and coconut trees line the entire beachline. Though very beautiful, it is not a beach for sea bathing or strolling.

Anjuna Beach

Anjuna Beach

Texure of the rocks in Anjuna Beach.

Anjuna Beach

  From Anjuna we went to Vagator beach which is very nearby, approximately 4 to 5 kilometres. This beach has yellow sand and black rocks. There are also many water sport facilities available.

Vagator Beach

Vagator Beach

Vagator Beach

Vagator Beach

  From Vagator we went to see the Aguada Fort. For that we had to come back to Calangute and from there take the road that leads to Aguada Fort. Anjuna/Vagator beach and Aguada Fort are on either sides of Calangute. Fort Aguada was a Portuguese fort and is now protected by the Archaeological Society of India. A nice view of the Arabian sea can be obtained from here.
Next to Aguada fort is a lighthouse which can also be visited. The Sinquerim Beach is also located near to Aguada Fort. It is an upcoming beach.

Aguada fort. Entrance.

Aguada fort. Stairway.

Description written on the top of the fort.

Aguada fort. Top.

Agauda fort. Top.

Entrance to light house at Aguada fort.

View of the sea from the top of Aguada fort.
  It was almost 10 am when we reached our hotel. The check out time was 12 noon so we hurriedly packed our bags and went for a heavy breakfast.
We booked two advance tickets for the sunset cruise on river Mondovi from the hotel reception. The price for each ticket is Rs 150 but for guests staying at any GTDC hotel the price is Rs 100.

  We bid adieu to Calangute and proceeeded towards Old Goa. Our next mission will be to see the churches in Old Goa.

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