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Monday, February 28, 2011

Rocks and Reflections in the Arabian Sea

If you are travelling in Goa, be ready for some of the fantastic sights that this coastal land throws at you. It is extremely rare for someone not to come across such surreal sights.


And hence in line with the tradition, I saw plenty of these classic moments in time. This reflection on the Arabian sea against the silhouetted rocks on it are one of those pristine moments. I was treated to this sight when I was walking along the Cola beach in South Goa one late afternoon.

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Fisherman’s Zone at Cola Beach, South Goa, India

Beach holidays, always seem to give me the opportunity to explore the coastal local life. This local life, in most cases revolves around the sea and in the case of South Goa it is no different.


It was at Cola beach that I got to see this local life live in action. I was walking along the Cola beach when I seemed to have walked right into the fishermen’s zone of the beach.


There were folks mending fishing nets, repairing fishing boats, sorting out the knots in the entangled nets or just sitting in the shade and enjoying a cigarette.

 
My inquisitive and extrovert self took over and befriended these fishermen. Soon we were talking about the daily fishing trips, the daily catch, their lifestyle, their modes of entertainment and other things that ran across multiple topics.


It was during these conversations that I found out that these fishermen go out into the sea three times a day, though may be in shifts. One is early in the morning and the other is late in the evening. The third one is when they spend the night in the sea.


Most of their fishing patterns are closely associated with the tide’s time and cycle as that is when they get their best catch. A group of four fishermen catch about 100-200 kilograms of fish each day. Some of it is used for consumption within their families while the rest is sent to the market for sale. These guys love to unwind in the evening with some cashew fenny (local alcoholic drink) and some traditional dance and music.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shimmering Sea views from the coastal roads of South Goa!

The swaying casuarinas, the blue skies, the golden sands of the beaches and the vast blue sea is what comes to mind when one thinks of Goa. But, if I were to add another not so well known dimension, I would say that a ride through the coastal and hilly roads of South Goa offer great vistas.


These roads are not the NH 17 highway, but the road parallel to it and one that kisses the coastline. These roads are small and quiet, but are very well paved. They cross innumerable rivers and streams and offer splendid views of estuaries and fishing villages.


In the middle of all this, these roads take you up and down through winding hills overlooking the sea. It is at such hilly sections that one gets to see the shimmering seas. This shimmering view is so pristine that one can gaze at it for hours together.


In addition, these coastal roads move through waves of mangrove forests and coconut palms making it a very scenic drive.


The best part about these coastal roads of South Goa is that it gives you the opportunity to explore the various beaches of South Goa, namely, Galgibaga, Rajbaga, Patnem, Colomb, Palolem, Agonda, Cola, Cabo De Rama Fort and others.


So, if you have a two wheeler and if you have a week or more to spare, you can comfortably explore and enjoy South Goa at your own pace.

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Cabo De Rama Fort, Canacona District, South Goa, India

At first glance, this fort resembles the fort depicted in the Dil Chahta Hai Bollywood movie, but it is not the same. The Dil Chahta Ha fort is the Aguada Fort situated north of Panjim, while this one is the Cabo De Rama Fort situated in the Canacona district of South Goa.


The name though comes as a surprise as most of Goa has Portuguese or Christian names due to its rich Portuguese history. But, this place has a different history altogether and that too dating into ancient times.


It is believed that in the age of the Ramayana, Lord Rama and his wife Sita took shelter inside this fort during their 14 year exile from Ayodhya. And it is this moment in history that gives the fort its name.


This ancient fort is also known as Cape Rama. The Cabo De Rama Fort was first occupied by Hindu rulers who spread their empire all over India. The fort has exchanged hands between Hindu, Muslim and Portuguese rulers and has seen some of the most gruesome battles fought in history.


The Portuguese rulers waged battles against the Hindu rulers and established their right over the fort around 1763. It was abandoned when the Portuguese left this place. Later, this fort housed a government prison till 1955 and was abandoned again. Today, this fort is in ruins, but its natural beauty and scenic setting attracts tourists of all types.


The western side of the fort commands a stunning view of the Arabian Sea. In fact, it is this very view that gives you an idea of the fortress like design of this fort. It is a short 10 minute hike from the main entrance/parking lot to reach this western side.


One can also walk around the different trails to explore the various parts of the fort. There is a chapel that you will discover as soon as you enter the fort premises. This chapel is still in use and its white structure is a stark contrast to the black fort.


If you keep walking around the fort perimeter, you will keep discovering new places and view points. One can also walk right on the fort walls, though this can only be done if you trust the ancient wall structure.


At certain places, one can still see turrets and cannons that were used when this fort was fully functional. At other points, there are more view points that make you gape in wonder. I walked across nearly the entire fort area and found this fort to be mostly in ruins.


Most of the fort area is today covered in trees, but it is the fort walls that give the fort its character. I guess Goan red soil is the key element used in the construction of the fort walls.


Overall, the Cabo De Rama fort is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be holidaying in South Goa. Its fabulous sea views are totally worth the short hike in the warm Goan Sun. I would definitely recommend this place for a half day trip if you are the exploring kind. If not, you can just stop by for a short trip.

Cabo De Rama Fort is situated about 18 kilometres from Palolem Beach. Regular Bus services are available from Madgaon to Cabo De Rama. Cabs can be hired from Canacona or Palolem.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where the river meets the sea...

It was fantastic to see the river meet the sea at Cola beach against the setting sun. In fact, it is this very river that gives a unique charisma to the Cola beach.


The small river splits this beach into two nearly equal parts. For the sake of tourism, the river has been blocked at one end and that forms a pool. When it meets the sea, it is a small stream that moves silently over the beach sand only to be splashed around by the rowdy waves.

 
It is quite an experience to see this union of fresh and saline water. The soft rays of the evening sun added a golden glow to this entire setting making this union of water bodies a very beautiful sight.


Cola beach is one of South Goa’s more remote and private beaches. It offers both a backwater and a beach feel. It is situated about 10 kilometres from Agonda beach and about 15 kilometres from Palolem.

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Palolem Beach Market–Listen to the Music Beats!

Palolem beach market road is a colourful and vibrant zone. It has everything from cloth shops, wine shops, bars, restaurants, pool bars, internet parlours, grocery shops to gift items and many more.


But, within all this also lies the shop that sells musical instruments. Such shops are generally non-descript, but they symbolize the true Goa with its music and jiving to the beats.


It gets even better in the night when the entire market is illuminated and musical instruments are played at different corners. Makes your evening so much more enjoyable, not that it was boring in the first place.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magic Italy–Fine Italian Dining, Palolem Beach, South Goa

If you are holidaying at Palolem in South Goa and wish to indulge in some fine Italian dining, then look no further than Magic Italy. This Italian restaurant is situated on the beach road of Palolem’s main market.


The place is not easily noticeable, but if you ask any local, they will correctly point you to the restaurant. The place has a decent ambience, but nothing extraordinary. But, when it comes to the food, they are truly magnificent.


Their specialities are ravioli and pizzas. Even their fettuccini and pasta are quite popular. And to add to this they carry a great range of vino (Wines). The menu card says that all herbs, condiments, cheese and olive oil have been imported from Italy. Well, that statement must be true as this place is always bustling with customers, especially foreign nationals. And all this fine dining experience comes at a very reasonable price. They are nearly the same price as the beach facing restaurants at Palolem. I had dinner a couple of times here and came back very pleased and satisfied on both occasions. I would recommend you try this place out if you happen to be at Palolem in South Goa.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Agonda Estuary Moments, South Goa

The internal coastal roads from Palolem Beach to Madgaon make for a great coastal ride. These roads take you through thick forests and mangrove tracts and over calm rivers that join the Arabian Sea close by. And then you also get sneak peaks and panoramic views of the splendid ocean right from the highway.


I was on this very highway, riding from Palolem to Madgaon, when I stopped over the Agonda River bridge. It is here that you can see the river meet the sea close by. In fact, the estuary makes for a great setting with the hills in the background and a curved entrance into the sea.


On the other side of the bridge, the river is surrounded by mangroves, evergreen trees and coconut plantations making for a splendid setting. And in this view, we could also see a lot of fisherman boats either moored on the river or docked on the river banks and these boats added a great deal of colour to the entire location.

 
I was lucky to see this estuary and river view at different times of the day and each time it wore a different colour and depicted a different mood. The soft orange hues on the water during sunset is my personal favourite.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Galgibaga Beach–The Turtle Nesting Beach, South Goa, India

This is possibly the cleanest beach I have seen on the Indian mainland and am also amazed at its smooth silver sands. These are two traits that you predominantly see on island beaches and very rarely on mainland beaches.


And I guess this is the reason why the Galgibaga Beach is an important turtle nesting site in Goa. And it is for this very reason that tourism infrastructure is not allowed to develop here.


Hence, unlike the more crowded beaches of Goa, it is here that you will not even see a single shack or hut near the beach. There are only three restaurants close by and they are situated a fair distance away.


But, it is this privacy and cleanliness that adds a zing to this beach. If you happen to visit this beach between Dec and Feb, you might be lucky to see some turtle nests/eggs, though it is advised that you do not touch any. At other times, you might get lucky and see the olive ridley turtles making their way across the beach. The entire area comes under the purview of the forest department and they work hard to ensure that the turtles reach the sea safely upon hatching.


This sea is also great for swimming as long as you stay within the stipulated area. Lifeguards are available on this beach to ensure your safety. It is recommended that you don’t venture out close to the Talpona river side as changing tides might bring in under currents.


During weekdays, you will hardly see an tourists around. On weekends, this beach sees some visits from locals. So, if your idea of a beach vacation is a quiet, philosophical, meditative and a great beach, then Galgibaga is the perfect place in the Canacona district of South Goa. All you need is to carry your towels, umbrella, sun shade, etc. and you will have a fantastic time. Please ensure that you carry all your litter back to the city.


Galgibaga Beach is located about 18 kilometres from the city of Canacona (locally called Chaudi) in South Goa. It is best to take the internal coastal and more scenic roads to reach Galgibaga Beach from Palolem Beach. The Galgibaga Beach is to the south of the Talpona river estuary. Though, you can also travel on NH 17 from Canacona and take the winding road to Galgibaga.

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Abstract Photography from Cabo De Rama Fort, South Goa

This is one of the more scenic locations in Goa and the Cabo de Rama fort in itself presents a Dil Chahta Hai like look and feel, though the ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ movie was shot at the Aguada fort, which is closer to Panjim.


And this scenic location presented great nature photography opportunities for me. It was during this visit that I got to indulge in some abstract nature photography.


Here I got to keep a barren tree in the foreground and the stunning and emerald Arabian Sea view in the background. I took this frame in both colour and monochrome and feel that both look equally interesting. What do you think?

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Incredible World of Toys at Channapatna, Karnataka, India

I have crossed this small town of Channapatna at least a thousand times if not more in the last decade, but have never bothered to explore it. The best I have come close to this town is have a cup of tea in the early mornings. And I am kicking myself for not having explored this place earlier given the umpteen number of opportunities that I had.


And the reason I am so livid with myself is because this smallish town produces an incredible range of toys for kids across the world. In local parlance, this town is called as goMbegaLa ooru, which when literally translated from Kannada to English becomes the ‘town of dolls’ or in more generic terms is 'the town of toys’.


Did you know that toys from Channapatna can be found in the White House? Did you know that the toys of Channapatna feature in every major exhibition showcasing Indian crafts and goods? Well, the answer to both these questions is YES. Michelle Obama, during her recent trip to India was very impressed with these toys from Channapatna and bought some of them to take back to the White House as mementoes.


I was aware that Channapatna was known as the toy town as huge banners on the highway deliver this message and one can also see a line of toy shops adorning the highway, but I was not aware of the class and the creativity involved until me and my friends visited this town as part of a Sunday day trip.


The idea was to stay away from the toy shops and get closer to the factories where these toys are manufactured. We entered the town with the idea of seeing huge factories with hundreds of workers churning out these wooden toys like an assembly line. But, what we saw stunned us totally.


In reality, the entire toy making industry is a small scale industry. Some are so small that the work is done right outside the homes of these skilled artisans. But, the majority of them are shops where four to six people can work together.


We found out that there were manufacturing facilities that developed just a few products though they delivered market ready products, but on the other hand, there were also other production setups that manufactured components of an overall product that got assembled in larger factories.


During my conversations with these skilled artisans, I found out that this craft of making wooden toys is an ancient family tradition that has survived many generations. But, a decade back, the entire industry suffered because of huge competition from the Chinese toy market to the extent that these toy designers had to shut shop and go elsewhere in search of their daily bread.


But, when the world found out that the Chinese toys were not safe for children, the demand for Channapatna toys picked up again as they are totally safe for the kids. Built using wood and vegetable dyes, these toys from Channapatna do not have any sharp edges or use any chemicals that can inflict damage to a kid.


To give you an idea of the raw materials used…they use Doodhi Wood (or Milk wood because of its whitish colour), which is a very soft and light form of wood that can be carved easily. Then they use vegetable dyes for colouring the woodwork. And for polishing, these folks use a certain blade of grass that comes with high abrasive properties. So basically, a total environment friendly setup.


In terms of production equipment, they have overhead belt drives that is driven by a small motor and one end of the belt drive converts the vertical motion into horizontal circular motion. This is where the craftsman attaches his block of doodhi wood and sets it along a metal vice. Various measuring devices are used to measure the dimensions, angles, planes, etc. For chipping they use a combination of a chisel and a file. For colouring, vegetable dye pieces are used while the wooden block is rotating.



Today, the Channapatna toy industry has so much demand that they are exporting more products to Europe and the United States and keeping less for the local market. A lot of NGOs and other companies have provided them with designs of global standards and have guided them to produce world class toys. And all this has led to a massive revival in the fortunes of these toy manufacturers.


Now, when you think of the toys here, these are not just your typical wooden dolls and showpiece items. Instead, they are also mathematical games and puzzles that can challenge the mind of a kid studying in the tenth grade. To be frank, some of them can also challenge the grey cells of adults.


To cite examples, they have shining models of Abacus, Towers of Hanoi (Tower of Brahma), Tic-Tac-Toe (Tick-Tack-Toe), Jigsaw puzzles, building blocks and many more.


Did you know that Microsoft India is one of Channapatna’s biggest customers? Apparently, they source a lot of mathematical games and puzzles as part of their drive towards education to all children and use these toys to impart knowledge and education to the under privileged children of the emerging markets of the world.


Personally, I was stunned when I heard the factory owner mention that Microsoft was their customer and totally refused to believe him, until he showed me game designs provided by Microsoft to his company.


In terms of movable toys for young children, they have the Great Indian train on wheels, Tortoise trains on wheels, Rabbits, Train Engines, Tops, Cars, motorcycles, Hit Me Doll, Rocking Horses and others.


In terms of showpiece items, they have vintage cars, candle stands and I am sure they have many more. The candle stands/vases are a treat to the eye as they are immaculately crafted with a chromium plated bottom. The factory owner was telling me that nearly all of them are exported to Europe as there is a huge demand for such candle vases.

 
During our visit to these toy factories, we were lucky to see the live production of the candle vases and the the tops. Both of them were seen in different toy production houses, but the creativity was simply outstanding. The only thing that came in the way was the saw dust flying all around, but we were so glassy eyed that the dust hardly mattered.


The tops that you see in the pictures above was created in five minutes flat right in front of me. And that includes cutting and shaping the wood, colouring it, polishing it and making it a market ready product. And all this was done by the hands of this wood magician.


If you get a chance to take a closer look at the Channapatna top, you will appreciate the fact that it has no sharp edges, it is very prettily coloured and shiny, has a simple idiot proof design and is very light. Wish I had such tops when I was a kid. I would not have been beaten up by my parents for creating holes on the dining table and other wooden furniture where my heavy top with the nail bottom used to spin.


Channapatna is one place where no one will ever get bored. And it is a given that the child in you will surface from within and become one with the surroundings. And then you also have the option to see how these toys get made and the skills and creativity involved in making them. Don’t miss this place like I kept missing for over a decade and then end up kicking yourself for those lost opportunities.


Channapatna is about 60 kilometres west of Bangalore on the Bangalore-Mysore road and it is just after the Sholay town of Ramanagaram. The toy industries are located on both sides of the highway, though it is best advised to ask the locals for directions. While asking, do remember to ask for directions to toy factories and not toy shops or emporiums. Locals can converse in Kannada and Hindi.


Nearly all the toy factories (big and small) are open from Monday through Saturday except for national or state holidays and the small factories are open on Sunday. Even if they are closed, the owner might open it if interested travellers come along. Toys can be bought directly from the toy factories for a cheaper price, though you can still bargain if you want to. And if you still need more information, feel free to reach out to me through the commenting system below.

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