Goa Carnival Chronicles!

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In the height of the Hippie culture of Goa in the 60’s, 70’s and the early 80’s, the exhibitionist Hippies would sprawl around the beaches and then get up and join the Carnival parade in their barely there costumes. Some would even dress up as the much sought after Samba dancers. Goa has certainly toned it down in recent years to a more wholesome, family kind of entertainment and celebration.
In fact, the Department of tourism has made great efforts this year to advertise and popularise this festival with many novel ideas. There is a Samba Square in the heart of Panjim which has attracted the local families and youth with the foot tapping Samba music and a variety of food stalls.

The Food and Cultural festival, inaugurated on the 28th of Feb to kick start the Carnival celebrations highlights the cuisine and rich cultural legacy of Goa. There is an all Goa cooking competition with sponsored prizes that are being judged by a celebrity chef. The cooking competition promotes local cuisine and showcases the same to visiting tourists. The winning recipe will be displayed on Goa Tourism’s website and other social media.

Agnee, an Indian rock band, and other artists like Kailash Kher, Rabbi Shergill, Raghu Dixit Project and Sona Mahapatra are performing at the festival. A grand fashion show and a fire display is also included. This year’s edition also features street performances by musicians at various vantage points across Panjim city, a King Momo contest, and an increase in prize money from Rs 3.7 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for the best float.

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Bonderam – The flag festival of Divar Island, Goa

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A little background on this ‘one of its kind’ festival. The “Bonderam” festival is celebrated on the Island of Divar on the fourth Saturday of August every year. The word “Bonderam” originated from the involvement of flags. “Bandeira” is the Portuguese word for flag. It is stated that during the Portuguese rule in Goa there were frequent disputes between two sections of the Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade over property issues. These often led to violence and fights in the village. Subsequently, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of boundaries with flags.

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Summer Road Trip – Kakdagaad Haridwar

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Dinner is at a small Rajasthani Dhaba with really yummy food. One thing we have experienced throughout the trip is that the food has been consistently good in the small places and not once have we had any tummy upsets. It just reinforces my belief that one must have what the locals have in the places that they patronise… one really can’t go wrong then.

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Summer Road Trip – Devariyatal (Deoriatal), Uttarakhand

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Dusk is a beautiful time… especially in the mountains. The mandatory snaps are taken and Oooh and Ahhh over! We wonder what to do with ourselves without any light since candles are out of the question in tents when our guide comes with an LED lamp. It is really bright and good enough to play cards by. An engrossing evening indeed! In a while he gets dinner for us near the tent. We are very touched by this gesture. We see everyone else has had to go to the shop nearby for food but the ambience just outside our tents, near the water with an almost full moon shining is magical. He has even got the prickly nettle vegetable made which I had asked him about. This unpretentious yet delicious dinner and the exquisite atmosphere of this place will rank right up there as one of the most cherished moments of my life.

We are up before dawn in the hope that some of the misty shrouds have lifted enough to allow us at least a faint glimpse of the famed Chaukhamba. No such luck. To make up for it though, we hear numerous bird calls. Following them we head off towards the forest rest house. An enormous tree on the eastern bank of the lake with some of its branches hanging low over the water seems to be attracting a variety of birds. Many of them are taking turns in splashing around and having a quick bath right at the edge of the lake under the tree. We stand there mesmerised at the sight!

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Tour of Uttarakhand – Chopta Tunganath

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A little ahead we see the first shop on the track which is basically a place to have some tea, Buran juice (rhododendron juice) which is said to be good for the heart and some bottled water, biscuits and the like. Serves as a little place to catch your breath and soak up the picture perfect surroundings. Henceforth, these small shops pop up at regular intervals. We maintain a steady though slow pace and take very short breathers as we climb so as not to break the rhythm of the climb. Roughly half-way up, we take a longish break of 10 mins where we are treated to another lifer! We see a pair of Collared Grosbeak.

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Summer Road Trip – Auli, Tapovan and Kanchula Kharak

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Kanchula was a forest dept. Musk Deer breeding centre which is now non-operational. This is a very remote place with no habitation around but there exists a very nice bamboo cottage with two bedrooms and a common dining-drawing area for eco-tourists. [The cost per double-bedroom is Rs 650/-, making the cottage worth Rs 1300/-] This can be booked through the DFO, Kedarnath range, Gopeshwar. Definitely worth it!
On reaching we realize that there is no provision for meals and one has to drive to Chopta about 8 kms further away for food. We drive there and have lunch at a dhaba which is quite good. Situated on the Gopeshwar-Ukhimath road, Chopta is a beautiful little hamlet situated at the highest point on this road (2900 m). This route to Chopta offers a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and deep wooded valleys. This area gets copious rainfall annually and also sustains very high humidity levels giving a distinct character to its vegetation. The trees are moss laden and support good varieties of moist temperate plant life.

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Summer Road Trip – Badrinath Bound

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The first glimpse of Badrinath is mesmerising!! It is nestled between the Nar and Narayan ranges. The towering Neelkanth lies just behind the Narayan Parvat on which the Badrinath shrine has been built. In the pristine morning sunlight and the crystal clear visibility of this place, this brilliant megalith has a strange magnetism. I think everyone who visits this place must be a little bit under its spell. [Pic: Neelkanth] The little settlement haphazardly built around the temple is but a random patchwork of colours in a vast magnificent landscape meant to command… dominate… enthral… hypnotise… inspire… all at once!

The lofty snow capped peaks in the backdrop of the gurgling Alaknanda far below … this is the place which has so much spirituality that you can almost reach out and touch it. Nothing is godlier than nature itself!
It really puts things into perspective. One senses how small, insignificant and petty are human egos, wants and conflicts in a scale this extravagant. It is at once uplifting and calming… a place I felt at peace with myself and the world at large. The Himalayas in their splendorous beauty! I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

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Summer Road Trip – Birding in Lansdowne

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The next two days are packed with bird watching. The commonest of the birds around command our attention for they are new to us plains dwellers. The ubiquitous Himalayan Bulbul, Blue Whistling Thrush and the Russet Sparrows are everywhere. In fact, we do not see any house sparrows there at all! The Streaked Laughing thrush is trying to catch our attention by peaking at us from just beyond the tree trunk. The Black headed Jay is wandering around as common as the Rock Pigeon in the plains!

Meanwhile, two green birds fly up to a nearby tree. There is a distinct yellow on them and the flight indicates woodpeckers. We hurry and try to get in position for at least a record shot to identify the specie. The Lesser Yellownape it is! Hard on the heels of this pair is another pair, this one of the Brown fronted Woodpecker… birds are raining down on us hard and fast! The Himalayan Woodpeckers are also plentiful. The Grey headed Woodpecker makes an appearance… I am very happy. The bird count for the trip is increasing rapidly.

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Summer Road Trip – National Chambal Sanctuary, Morena

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We take a turn around the gardens which are alive with bird calls. The abundant peafowl with their splendid trailing tails compete with the woodpecker, kingfisher, parakeets and the babblers for our attention. Everything else takes a back seat as the children are uncomfortable in the heat of the day. When the situation does not improve till late evening and after nightfall (the ACs are not working in spite of the gensets!), we have dinner at the FRH (which is very good) and fall back to Morena for the night.

Picking up our guide at Devri, we are at the boat pool on the river by 0530hrs. The much anticipated safari is underway with all of us on the edge of our seats, craning for the first glimpse of wildlife. At that point, the sun has just risen and is casting a golden glow on the ragged ravines on the banks and the tranquil waters of the Chambal. Suddenly, the calm breaks and a gentle giant breaks the surface with an elegant roll… the Gangetic Dolphin! It is a blind creature which does all its hunting and navigation by sonar located in the bump on its head. Cameras are ready but shots are very elusive since the dolphins are very erratic sightings.

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Chandratal to Sarchu… a picturesque drive through Lahaul

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Just this morning I was overwhelmed to see the abundance that water has bestowed in the southern part of Lahaul. I thought that is glorious. And now I stand awestruck in this dry and desolate landscape where soaring mountains surround a vast high altitude rolling plain through which is a deep gorge and a river flowing through it… We are a little short of Sarchu and these are the Lingti plains where there is virtually no precipitation even in the winters…

And finally, Sarchu! There is virtually nothing in the place except a few tented camps during the summer months and a small army detachment year round. The wind howls making me burrow deeper into my jacket the minute I step out. We take a walk around the place and soak in its unique charm. But nature has been kind in all its adversity. Or maybe it is the stark unspoilt and unpolluted beauty that I am so taken with. Such places need no adornment, no embellishment. Just this raw, unadulterated nature is enough. This is a place one must travel to at least once in this lifetime!

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Goaing – from Goa to Delhi

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After the mandatory getting-lost-and-going-round-in-circles-before-finding-the-destination that we seem to do in most new cities, we reach our destination after 2 solid hours of wandering the drowning streets of Ghatkopar in a downpour worthy of …. Mumbai! The thing to note is that more time was spent in negotiating the traffic (read: stuck in traffic) than driving!

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White water rafting, Leh and Khardungla… Top of the World!

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And then it happens. We are warned that it is a really rough patch ahead and to be rowing as hard and fast as we can as we hit it. Before I know it, the rapids are upon us and …. I can see it happening in slow motion… our raft just rises up from the right front end and keeps rising. The two members on the right side fall on us taking all of us under with the raft overturned right on top of us. I tell myself there is no need to panic. The guides are trained and our protective gear is on therefore all I have to do is come up to the surface even if under the raft and breathe from the air pockets under it. Easier said than done. I come up and try to breathe and I can’t. Just swallow some water from my mouth so resolutely, I close my mouth and try to breathe in through my nose. No luck. It is as though the air had suddenly turned solid.

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