Goa – The backyard binge

Remember as a kid when your backyard transformed into a land unexplored?… where adventure and discovery awaited with every new corner and at every new sight?

As a kid, we were blessed to spend a few months every year in Kerala (India) where the backyards extended into acres of mystery and magic- we spent hours climbing trees, finding new camp sites for our secret club and discovering all kinds of species of bugs, birds and bandicoots!

Life takes over and you have to grow out of all that but somewhere that sense of thrill still remains! And this time, in Goa, we rediscovered that!

Indus rider and its founder Arvind Prabhakar are dedicated to open up the experience of Goa and its true culture to the traveler that can tear away from the sun, sand, seafood and experience an all new Goa- the Goan susegad way of life.

Arvind has a very contagious mischief about him. Its like, as a kid, when you met that friend for the first time and knew instantly that this was going to be fun! Goa holds very close to Arvind’s heart and biking even more so… so the idea of island hopping in Goa on motor bikes was a win-win all the way.

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Our stay at Aldona– a village in Goa was at a traditional Portuguese house which is now run as a home stay- the only olive. The high ceiling, archways, wooden steps leading to the attic, the red oxide benches, the easy chairs and the serenity of the sounds of the village life was the perfect appetizer to our “all you can explore” biking binge.

 

Saddled up on our motor bikes all excited to island hop, we met Aroo (AKA Arvind Prabhakar) at the Corjeum bridge where he briefed us about the tour. The 3 ferries and 7 islands motor bike tour was all about discovering the many islands from Old Goa to Aldona via the ferry network that was once probably the only means of transport that connected all these islands on the Mapusa river.

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Our first stop was the abandoned ferry of Corjeum. Under the shade of the trees, Aroo’s stories took us in time to the days when Goa depended solely on these networks and how life was lived, life changed and life is today.

We were joined by Atul, a wildlife conservationist working with otters in the mangroves of Goa through an NGO known as wildotters. It was amazing to learn so much more about a species that I honestly didn’t even know existed in Goa! The work done by Atul and the NGO to create a coexistence between human and wildlife was commendable and the otter stories were extremely entertaining and informative. Although I tried really  hard, I couldn’t spot any otters in the mangrove!

Ferry with Sherry (my travel buddy), every time we hopped on one was the tagline of our trip! The flat bottomed ferries run like clockwork, maneuvering the tides, keeping the romance of wading from island to island whilst soaking in the beauty of the river.

We rode on and off ferries, through winding roads flanked with golden fields and lotus ponds all the while taking pit stops to listen to more stories. There were old forgotten churches, houses that had seen many generations and old banyan trees that witnessed history unfold.

We biked through the islands of Oulalim, Nachinola, Pomburpa, Charao and onto another abandoned ferry port at Narao. We sat like school kids listening intently and in awe of Aroo’s knowledge of the history of Goa and the passion with which he made us relive it. The abandoned boats, the mangroves and the occasional canoe passing by added the perfect backdrop to kindle our imagination as we took in the stories of the Adil Shahs, the African slaves, the Sardesai’s and the adventures of Afonso de Albuquerque. I would have taken down notes had I known that there was a quiz at lunch time!

Lunch was a welcome break as we chugged down some chilled Kings beer at a local restaurant called the Bradlee’s that served authentic Goan cuisine.

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After a good round of “who was paying attention” quiz, we hopped back onto our bikes and headed to the famous Diwar Island. Here, through winding roads we rode uphill to the site where the church of Diwar or the Church of our lady of compassion overlooking the Mandovi river. Quiet and serene the river paid homage as it passed by the stately looking church and the gong of its bell. The sun softened and sparkled like stars on the river as we breathed in the beauty of this beautiful Goan backyard.

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At the end of the tour we had made a good friend and learnt a lot more about a place that we used to only see as a beach get away. Our love for Goa, its people and its culture had found new depths.

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Sunrise at Angor Wat, Cambodia

There are some things that you must do in a lifetime… climb the great wall of china, swim in the Maldivian seas, sleep in the lap of the Himalayas….and watch the sunrise at the temple of the Angor Wat.

Cambodia’s mystical aura will engulf you long after your trip has ended…and resurface every time you think about it again. What is that mystery you felt while you walked through the temples, stood at its beaches or waded through its floating villages. I wish I knew… and then again the mystery is so much more romantic.

Most tourists who visit The Kingdom of Cambodia stay either at Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia or Siem Reap, the best place to stay if catching the sunrise at Angor Wat is your priority.

Siem Reap, where we stayed is all about entertaining the tourist in you. From the jovial cab drivers to the courteous staff at the boutique resorts and to the mischievous waiters at your favourite watering hole, each one of them depends heavily on how much you tip them…. ironically, this rich and diverse country is terribly poor and poverty has become a marketing tag-line.

Take a few hours to do some serious digging for a place to stay. There are several little boutique resorts tucked away into the city which are simple but cosy and will give you a more authentic Cambodian experience than any 5 star hotel would. If you are worried about safety, don’t be. Cambodia is very safe, leaving the odd petty pick pocket! We found a little gem with a beautiful pool and a duplex room called The Mulberry hotel where a bunch of smiley faces made sure we were comfortable through out our stay with them.

There is something to be said about not having to dress up to get out in places like this… wander out in your sandals, totter back in clothes comfy enough to sleep (read pass out) in! The pub street is a must go to let your hair down and meet people from all over the world. Every bar – big or small trying its best to lure you in. Hop! that’s the only way to do justice! Like the sign on the Angkor WHAT bar says “promoting irresponsible drinking since 1980”

The pub street is also a very good place to dig into some scrumptious food- yes, you do have the hawkers with the crème de la crème of the creepy crawly cuisine if you are into that. But otherwise, I would highly recommend the Khmer family restaurant for some good “Pho” or traditional Cambodian cuisine. If you are looking for some traditional entertainment as well while you chomp away, try the temple club on pub street. There is no need to worry about drinking at this temple… the only worship that happens here is “all hail the ale!”….

As wonderful as the performance was and the food tasted… and as easily as the drink went down, I was extremely distracted by this one beautiful smile…

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A shopping binge at the Angkor night market is a must. A perfect place to pick up your crocodile heads! O yes and also the fake Kiplings!

A pub crawl before an early morning temple trek is a bad idea so make sure you space those two out.

When you wake up at that unearthly hour to make sure you don’t miss the first rays of the sun as they light up that beautiful tip of the Angkor Wat, it will seem to you like you are the only one who woke up… until you reach the temple grounds… that’s when it all sinks in… people from far and wide travelling millions of miles to see this same sun that rises in their country and yet that same act made so magical by the way each tier of the temple gets lit… bathing in golden rays the temple comes to life giving out so much positive energy as if it were a storehouse of everything you needed to recharge your tired mind….

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 The temples of Angkor is a day long trek and its not till I got to my room, did I realised how much my feet hurt. Walking through each of the temples, strewed a few kilometres from each other was like discovering a different world, reliving a different era, imagining a world where such beauty was conceived, carved, erected and brought to life.

 

Walk bare feet on the cold stone that holds the foundation to a rhythmic repetition of columns and go back in your mind to a world where life had no responsibility…where the monkey king in his broken down temple in the Jungle book sang…”I’m the king of the Jungle… the Jungle V.I.P…”

There isn’t much left of the economy and Cambodia is very dependant on textile trade and tourism. This to me seems like a real shame seeing the works of the artisans, the sculptors and the artists at the Angkor artisans museum. A little soci0 and eco friendly tourism goes a long way… So do stop by and understand the arts, appreciate the hard work and support the cause. God is in the details as the famous quote goes- after you see it in the temples, you cannot but appreciate the people who keep it alive today.

If you enjoyed the sunrise at the Angkor Wat… make sure you catch the sunset at the floating village or Kompong Khleang. I can assure you as you reach the banks of the river that will take you to the open sea, the sheer chaos, smells and ocean of tour guides will make you want to run for your life. But stick it out… buy that ticket and wait your turn. The world that floats is a world that is difficult to conceive.. where ice cream boats replace ice cream trucks, dogs swim from one house to another, children wait for their ferry to take them to school… a school without play grounds and yet laughter rings from the classrooms!

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We were lucky to get a sportive ferryman whom we persuaded to allow us to take the wheel for a bit and sit on the tip of his boat’s deck while we watched the beautiful sun that bathed the temples melt into the sea…

…..and melt it did….

While you are at the pub street look out for the guy on the cycle that sells tickets to the “smile of Angkor” show or book it online, but make sure you catch it before you leave. An interesting musical theatre into the history of Angkor, passionately put together and beautifully curated by the local talent, reminds you that art does not need language to speak or be understood.

….be warned… the smile of Angkor is contagious….

Himachal Pradesh- Off the beaten path!

I sat at my dear friend Sherry’s ever so inviting terrace over a cup of hot coffee and we were as always talking about travel…. she was telling me about her bike trip (sherry is an awesome biker by the way!) to Nepal. She described the mountains and stopped short with a little gasp when I said… “I’ve never seen the mountains in India!”…. That was the start of my most memorable trip to the beautiful magnificent Himalayas!

Four girls (Sherry, Monisha, Bidisha and me)… back packs… and a ticket in an out of Delhi… in between… ten days in the mountains with absolutely no planning! Spontaneous is the best travel plan!

The best way to get up to the mountains (The Himachal Pradesh side of it)… well the most scenic way is to head to Kalka railway station and take the toy train to Shimla. I have never seen a cuter train.. a smaller train… a slower train… and never wanted the train ride to last forever as the scene just kept getting better and better!

The toy train takes you to Shimla- the honeymoon capital of India. Many romantic scenes of renowned Bollywood movies were shot here and for good reason. Shimla has maintained its quaint British architecture and quiet way of life despite the tourism. We were lucky to have a friend there, Anil Bharadwaj (You can find him at Bandbox heights and valleys, No 9 , Mall road), who hooked us up on a beautiful offbeat soul searching trip with an even more wonderful driver whom we lovingly came to remember as Gogi Bhaiya!

Our road trip looked something like this… Shimla- Sarahan- Kamru-Rakcham- Chitkul-Nako- Kalpa- Chail – Shimla. This took us through the Sangla valley and the Kinnaur Valley … from green mountainous regions, through valleys that were bursting at spring time and upto mountain deserts. Although we didn’t have quite enough time to reach the Chandratal lake at Spiti Valley that we were aiming for… we definitely left with a backpack full of unexpected discoveries and a plan to head back for more!

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The first time you are on the roads in the mountains, the sheer scale of everything is a lot to soak in… The Himalayas are larger than you ever imagined, the roads are narrower and the river Sutlej running miles below is angrier…and suddenly you feel tiny… and your problems even tinier! I was in awe of the muddy but steady roads that swirled in and out of mountain cut outs making our way to the gateway of the Kinnaur Valley- Sarahan.

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The Himalayas is a very mythical place where most stories of the fiber of every village’s existence revolves around Hindu or Buddhist mythology. The village of Sarahan is a small temple town where stands the Bhimakali temple. Stories ranging from the temple being a manifestation of the Goddess Sati who’s ear fell at this place to Lord Krishna having battled Lord Shiva here and many others to listen to while you explore this wooden temple engulfed in smells of sandal wood and fragrant flowers with small staircases leading to the figurine they worship as Maa Kali. The serenity of this temple makes it hard to believe that human sacrifice was carried out here till the 18th century!

The temple has an ashram wing which I highly recommend for stay. It has the proverbial Indian “running hot water” which basically is a little lad running to your room with a bucket of hot water!

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Outside of Sarahan is a little village called Kamru known best for the Kamru Fort which stands at the foot of the Kinnaur Kailash and houses around 3 crore Gods and Goddesses. Its a bit difficult to find on your own but the view is well worth the effort!

The highlight of our trip to Kamru, besides being apple season (Some of the worlds best apples come from the kinnaur valley), was that it was the month of the flower festival (Phulaich festival). During the flower festival, the young brave lads of Kamru go hunting into the forests to find the rarest of flowers and wear it on their hats or coats. The rarest flower wins and is offered to the deity. People of all ages sing and dance around the temple complex.

 

It took us a while to climb up to the temple…. almost as long as the 60 year olds of that village! Kamru village welcomes you with both Buddhist and Hindu God carvings on its entrance archway which leads up a flight of steps to the temple. This flight is packed on either sides with apple orchards, cobbled houses, wooden barns and cow sheds… a picturesque walk to an even more picturesque event!

Apples… Apples… Apples…. as we drove on out of Sarhan to Rakcham… Bidisha taught us a Pahadi (mountain) song on our way that we sang at every leg of our trip at some point!

Hun chaliya dyun ke chali….

Himalay na choraa….

Balma tujhe nachan lage….

Jyun nache mun moraa….

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I have travelled to many places within India and abroad and till date Rakcham remains my favourite! Winding down from the mountain, the village of Rakcham appears in front of you like a picture from a story book! It is at the foothills of the Himalayas …. a beautiful valley with a river following along its middle and countered landscapes on either side in a myriad of colours!

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The people in Rakcham strongly believe in the Mahabharata. It is said in the mythological story, that the five Pandava brothers entered into a competition (swayamwara) dressed like Brahmins to win the hand of Princess Draupadi. The task was to string a mighty steel bow and shoot a target on the ceiling, which is the eye of a moving artificial fish, while looking at its reflection in the oil below. Most of the princes failed, many being unable to lift the bow. Arjuna (one of the Pandavas) however succeeds. The Pandavas return home and inform their mother that Arjuna has won a competition and to look at what they have brought back. Without looking, Kunti, their mother, asks them to share whatever it is Arjuna has won among themselves. Thus, Draupadi ended up having five husbands.

In the village of Rakcham, this practice is followed to date! All the sons in one nuclear family are married to only one bride!

This may also be the reason why alcohol is brewed in every household all year round! The base of the alcohol depends on season- apple, flowers, wheat… However, the making of this potent mixture (trust me this is far more potent than tequila!) is by using a home mill… grinding these with the help of the river- the gushing water that comes from the mountains and flows in a rush turning the mill.

The Banjara camp would be the ideal place to stay but needs to be booked in advance. You can walk to the dry patch in the middle of the river and stick your beer bottles in the icy water to stay chilled…. Put your feet up and take in the beauty of the river with shades of orange, yellow and green pastures on either side and prayer flags fluttering in the wind carrying prayers upto heaven… I don’t see why though.. It feels like heaven already!

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We woke up the morning after to see a thick candy floss of clouds hanging over the mountains… and as we sipped our morning tea… the clouds parted and for the first time I saw the Kinnaur Kailash mountain top…

My beautiful buddy Sherry makes furry friends everywhere we go… and so she had to say good bye to these two cuddly puppies of course…

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Leaving the green foothills of the mountains we headed up to the snow deserts of Nako through roads that seem to becomes narrower and more rubbly! We planned a stop for lunch at Chitkul– a little village which is at the border of  the Indo- China L.O.C.

Driving upto the mountains is not for the faint hearted… The drop down is awe inspiring and mind blowing all at once. We in India believe a lot in fate so we don’t exactly put much safety parameters… although today the roads are way better than years ago! We even had Mr Michael (whom we lovingly referred to Michael on a cycle!) as  who managed to keep up with us all the way up on his bicycle!

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The road to Chitkul was well not really a road… It was more of a rugged path where we were greeted by a huge herd of very inquisitive Pashmina sheep! As the jeep went closer they all clambered up onto rocks on the sides- standing on tiny rocks as if they were doing an acrobatics act for us!

Quaint little village, Chitkul – going about its life completely oblivious of a Line of Control between India and China on the other side of the hill! So serene and peaceful…

As we drove on up to the top of the mountain, I was almost sad to see that there were no more tall pine trees dotting our way. There is some sense of security in seeing them stand on that rocky terrain braving wind, snow, landslides- Its the feeling you have as a child when you walk behind your father in an undiscovered territory!

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And when the peaks of the magnificent Himalayas start to appear… make sure you stop… stare… kneel… sit and hang your feet over the edge… anything… But stop… breathe in that pure energy and let all your worries disappear into its magic… and be sure you will revisit it in your mind many times hence…

Nako is the largest village at an elevation of over 3500km and spreads out around the Nako lake. The people live in houses made of stones mostly and move down onto warmer grounds in peak summer when the whole village gets snowed in. Nako houses a monastery which dates back to the 11th century where rituals are still followed in the same manner as then. The artwork which are the Buddhist scriptures are still clear in the oldest part of the monastery.

The people of Nako were so warm and friendly. We stayed at the Knaygoh Kinner camp a  walking distance from the village where we were greeted into homes for a cup of hot tea… The lake shone in the sun smiling for us …

Time flies when you are having fun… and soon it was time for us to head back to Shimla to make sure we don’t miss our flight home… I think each one of us had to price ourselves away from the mountains… But we left with a promise to return and a heart full of pure positive energy… the kind you can only shop for at the Himalayas!

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My beautiful sky…

My beautiful sky holds me in her warmth as I spread my wings to fly

Always there to put the wind beneath my wings when I feel I will fall

Rays of sunshine through the clouds – her angelic smile

I have never seen a more beautiful sunset than through my sisters eyes….

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Happy birthday sis… Thank you for being my beautiful sky! :*

 

 

 

Beijing, China

 

There is a world out there very different from yours where life is lived differently and stories are woven differently… and Beijing was like walking through one of those mystical stories…

A world closes when you enter Beijing… You can no longer access your daily dose of Facebook, Gmail or google….and then another world opens up… one which is tailor made for the residents of Beijing… everything is controlled and yet everything seems very peaceful in its constraints.

If you hear “Beijing” and think of monuments in red and green, old men with long thin braided beards in even longer silk robes, tight lipped faces and hot Chinese soups… Well you are not too far from the truth… What is fascinating are the stories behind it…

My dear friend and business partner, Hema and I arrived in Beijing on a whim, tearing ourselves away from work in Guangzhou for a three day trip. One of the best decisions we have made, as otherwise, we would have left China with  a completely different and unjustified image of it as an industrial country.

Walk out of Beijing airport and be greeted (so to speak) by a whole herd of shouting taxi drivers- this is the thing with China- they all seem like they are angry and shouting all the time when really they are just talking! Once you get used to it (it takes a little getting used to) and don’t take offence to it anymore… life can move onto other things 🙂

Beijing doesn’t have the best public transport system and not too many people speak English so pick your place of stay well. We stayed at Wangfujing which is walking distance from all the shopping and close to Tiananmen square. I would also highly recommend home stays in old Beijing town of Hutong to experience some traditional Chinese living.

Beijing comes alive at night and its not the usual clubbing and pubbing…. The streets of Beijing are filled with people dancing… Yes I was shocked too… You will find people in groups near the cathedral… in front of the mall… along the footpaths… doing the waltz, line dancing, jive, hip hop…even if you cant shake a leg… be sure to join in!

Street shopping and street food is a must in China… Even if you don’t fancy a plateful of worms, insects, duck…. the sights of stalls lined up with a range of flora and fauna to devour cannot be missed!…  And if you have a rubber lining inside your tummy… You must dare to try some…. However, if you are looking for something to lift up your spirits, head to Dongcheng district.

Put your shopping shoes on and get set to bargain whether on the streets or in the whole-sale malls… You can strike up mean deals on Gucci, Armani, Kipling, Diesel or any other brand that you so fancy- replicas of course! If the world has it… China does too! A good place to find it all under one roof is at the Silk street. A word of caution: don’t get taken for a ride!

But the real beauty of Beijing lies in its monuments and their mystical stories spanning many dynasties….

The forbidden city on a weekend looks like the whole of China and their uncles and aunts have all decided to come to this one place! So if you have a choice pick a weekday. Once you swim through the sea of people without losing an eye to the many umbrellas and get your tickets to enter this magnificent complex, it then transports you into another world… Stepping into the forbidden city through massive red gates is an honour because if it were a few centuries ago, your head would have been cut off!

The story goes that the Emperor was to be the only real man in the forbidden city sent down by the Gods to multiply and procreate…add to his lineage … To make sure this was so, the men who were hired to guard the Emperor were operated on and converted to eunuchs… Their family jewels (read genitals) were preserved in a bottle till the day they died… At which point a family member could BUY this back to bury him as a man! FUN FACT!

This complex, with its even more complex stories, spans into hectares of land so be prepared for some good walking through the halls of harmony, the palace of heavenly peace, the palace of tranquillity, the Imperial gardens and much more….

The temple of heaven is approached through a beautiful garden and stands tall in a gorgeous blue and red colour depicting the skies and the heavens alike. This temple built in the Ming dynasty was one of the most important sites for prayers where emperors used to gather to pray for a good harvest. The correlation between the universe and the earth, the calculations of the same and how the structure is built to be a powerhouse based on these facts is quite fascinating and worth reading up about before heading there. If you are a morning bird, you could watch Tai Chi in the garden. We didn’t get our collective butts up in time but were privy to some singing and dancing in the gardens after our exploration of this magnificent structure!

One of the prettiest places in Beijing is the Summer palace. Its quite a lot of walking but we were completely engulfed in the stories our wonderful guide Craig (everyone has a fancy English name for convenience) had to tell us! The summer palace abuts a large serene lake with a hilltop Buddhist temple called the Longevity hill. The story goes that the emperor wanted to make the most beautiful imperial garden for his mother and so dug up the land to create this lake… the remains of that mound is what the temple sits on.

The summer palace was used also for the Emperor to sow his seeds (so to speak) to help increase the population of his country. The Emperor along with his guardian eunuchs would travel to the villages where families would display their girls for the Emperor. It was considered an honour for the family if the Emperor picked their daughter to help in his kingly duties to procreate! The girl was then wrapped in nothing but a silk cloth and brought to the palace. The Eunuchs stood outside and took notes of the conversation in the room lest the king gives away any secrets to the damsel! Another fun fact!

The summer palace was also used by the Empress Dowager Cixi who was better known as the dragon lady. She was considered to be the reason for the fall of the Qing dynasty. What I found fascinating was that she insisted that her every meal had 40 dishes! A large part of these dishes were only there to excite her senses of smell and vision- colourful, fragrant dishes… that were not for consumption! Funny fact!

No trip to Beijing is complete without braving the climb up the Great Wall of China. Now this could be called a climb or a near death experience depending on your fitness level. Imagine my surprise when I was breathless after what I thought was a good climb only to be told we have reached the foot of the climb up! This monstrous mammoth mind blowing creation is almost impossible to have been built by mere humans! Each step is of a different height so you cant keep a steady pace! When I reached half way up and felt my heart pumping outside my chest and my brain telling me “are you trying to kill yourself?”… I see this beautiful and calm little woman all of 75 years old walking down after her climb up! That was all the inspiration I needed! IMG_8687.JPGFor most Chinese the climb up the great wall is a pilgrimage and you would know why when you get up there and see the stone that says “until you reach the great wall, you are no hero” – written by Chairman Mao. I don’t know about being a hero but the view is to die for!

Before you leave Beijing make sure you get your dose of good Peking duck, some Jade jewellery, an enlightening session on the art of tea drinking and an eyeful of the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy and music.

….and when in Beijing…. bring out your communist cap and make a communist buddy!  You must!

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The beaches of Algarve, Portugal

“Tranquillity is a beach state of mind….”

If the beach can lift your spirits in an instant like it does mine you don’t want to miss visiting Algarve in Portugal. 160kms of beach- need I say more?!

We drove from Seville in Spain to Algarve on a beautiful road that curves, dips and rises almost like it’s doing a waltz with you. The landscape, as you enter Portugal, instantly changes into undulating patches of shades of green with an odd yellow Portuguese house popping out at every few intervals and grazing sheep dotting the uneven pastures. This is one road on which you would not mind taking your time to reach the destination…

We reached Albufeira in Algarve just before sunset where we were booked into a lovely apartment close to the beach. AirBnB is a brilliant option if you are wondering where to stay in Portugal. If you don’t mind frying your own eggs and doing your own laundry, I highly suggest renting an apartment.

It was new years eve the day we reached Albufeira and I think we were in the perfect part of Algarve to bring in the new year because the party was on the beach with a concert and fire works from the ocean. Although I had to drag my two chivalrous men out into the crowd, I think they were happy I did… Or atleast they humoured me well! 😉

We also discovered that a good place to dance until the early hours with a one man band playing music from the 70s and 80s is Sir Harry’s pub. Nothing fancy nothing new …. Just some very happy people and some retro music!

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The beach of Albufeira or Praia do Tunel is accessed through a tunnel cut out from a rock.  Walking through old town amid little cafes and restaurants you can see the tunnel calling out to you with the sound of the ocean beckoning from beyond…. and you won’t be disappointed that you succumbed!

Portuguese food doesn’t need any introduction and if you like your tummy’s fill of sea-food you are at the right place. There are several Portuguese restaurants with a view of the sea that serve brilliant Portuguese seafood- Runia a Restaurant, Cabana Fresca are a couple of them. If you are looking for a good place to have the famous “peri peri” chicken you should do a take- away from Albufeira gourmet Churrasqueira. There are many “not-so-good” restaurants that have popped up too so make sure you check the reviews before you head out.

A walk through old town to the Marina is highly recommended where you can get some of the best views of the beach. Don’t forget to take fuel breaks for some Baileys coffee or some good old fashioned Gin and tonic!

The marina at Albufeira is a good place to spend the day with kids. Unfortunately when we were there much of it was closed being New years day. There are boat trips for whale and dolphin watching, fishing, scuba diving, exploring the famous cave beaches and Portugal coastline. IMG_3237

Dolphin driven, dream wave, and  Algar experience come highly recommended. The marina also has Segway rides, Go karting for kids and other fun kiddie stuff … you can put your feet up and have a drink at the many cafes and bars while the tots tot around…

Many ways to explore Algarve…. One of them is to hire a bicycle and explore the coastline. It is very easy to get the child in you to surface in a place like this! Considering my backside hadn’t sat on a cycle for over 12 years I was a bit rickety at the wheel. Thankfully Kiron was extremely patient and not to mention a bit worried that I may go down the slope while trying to cycle up! There are many ups and downs along the coastline and if you are not in the best of physical health… well… do it anyway… but do it slow 😉

We cycled past Praia de Manuel Lorenco a small rocky cove beach stretch which is probably ideal for fishing and lazing in the sun. We spotted a few people standup paddle boarding. Seemed like fun… It’s worth a try I’d say!

Onward and upward… and downward… and upward… huff puff… we reached what was a destination well worth the effort- Praia da Gale. A serene beach with lots of rocky outcrops to explore and yet safe since the water is not too choppy. The beach is clearly a tourist favourite and more so the Praia da Gale restaurant. If you are a foodie and a lover of sea-food at that, I’d say make an extra effort to visit this place! Fresh of the basket sea food cooked Portuguese style, or any which way you want it, topped with some rose wine. Make sure you try their fried sardines and the Portuguese prawn dish- You will leave smiling!

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Advantages of living in an apartment? After what seemed like a tedious day of cycling (although I only cycled 8kms!)- Kiron made us a scrumptious meal for dinner (this is a man who cooks up things on a whim and it looks fancy and tastes amazing consistently!) and topped it up with Maracuya (passion fruit) juice Jello laced with rosemary and mint. This day was blessed by the food God!

There are so many beaches to explore and each one is different from the other- some are perfect for surfing, while some are perfect for sun-bathing and swimming… others still are perfect for fishing and some for exploring caves in a kayak. All of them are picturesque and everyone of them you will want to visit again. I didn’t get to see all of them but I plan to go back and finish that list! On my list of beaches to explore next time- Praia Da Rocha, Falesia beach, Praia Dona Ana, Praia da Marinha, Praia Da Coelha and Praia Sao Rafael. Each one promises to be picturesque – my favourite kind of addiction!

No picture on google or reviews could prepare us for the mind blowing awesomeness of the beach we went to next. In our endeavour to find a boat to take us to see dolphins (which did not happen due to the weather!) we drove upto Praia de Benagil– a small fishing village with hardly any space to park – surrounded by steep climbs and dips. We parked the car and walked in through a lot of shrubs and bushes and came to a clearing that took our breath away!

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On a sunny day, this coastline can be enjoyed on a kayak or a boat- allowing people to explore the many caves and cave beaches of Benagil. If you go on a rainy day like us, make sure you go to the top of the hill and take in the magnificence of this beach. The little tea shop below serves a mean cup of whiskey and coffee- perfect after you get drenched!

No matter which beach you pick I can promise you it will definitely bless you with the best sunset! I saw the perfect sunset of the entire road-trip the day before we left Portugal…. Again… On cue! At the Portimao beach the sky was like a carnival of colours- yellow, orange, red, purple….. It just kept getting more and more dramatic as the sun dipped into the icy waters!

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At this point….. I fell completely and deeply in love with her beauty……

The Magic Of Granada, Spain

Granada – A heady concoction of mystery, magic, culture, scents, music and unexpected discoveries… Granada will hold your heart and swirl you around until you are dizzy and yet wanting more… That’s the magic of Granada!

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I really hadn’t done my read up of Granada before heading there …. so I was more excited to get there because of the place we had booked to stay. We stayed in a Cave… yes a real cave! Cuevas (Caves in Spanish) modified for living are a regular feature in Granada’s old town (Sacromonte). Our cave was managed by a very friendly Roberto who took the time to explain Granada to us. Roberto is a photographer and his eye for detail shows not only in the magic he captures through his lens but also in the way he maintains his Cueva. Cuvea de la Muralla was a lucky find on AirBnB. The cave is designed by a famous designer who has converted a dark hole into a white fantasy! We loved it so much we stayed a day more than originally planned!

If you stay at this cave make sure you keep aside time for a soak in its pristine white tub with a glass of wine and some music…. It will be a welcome time out after all the trekking!

 

So be warned… If you plan to stay in Sacromonte you better be ready for some treks up and down cobbled streets. The good part about that is that you would probably not realise how much you have walked because of the beauty that it beholds at every turn…

Another beautiful thing about Sacromonte is the game of hide and seek it plays with the magnificent Al Hambra! The Al Hambra fortress is visible from every little peek into town from the streets of old town. When you find it it’ll hold you in a trance for a second until you will yourself to move forward… Only to find it again around the next bend…

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The most important thing you should do when you plan to visit Granada is book tickets online to see the Al Hambra. It is close to impossible to get a ticket as they are booked months in advance. Only a limited number of tickets are available every day as part of an exercise to not overcrowd the monument and in an attempt to preserve its very delicate architecture and art. If you visit on a whim like we did and find yourself out of options to get a ticket- you’ll have to brave the early morning queue. When I say early morning, I mean at 4am! That’s when the queue starts for the ticket counter that opens at 9am! If you are anywhere within the 200 that reach the ticket counter before it closes you may get lucky! I was very lucky to travel with Kiron, who besides being the perfect travel partner, was also chivalrous enough to wake up at 4am…stand in the queue at 3 degrees Celsius and get us tickets on our last day there!!

There is a lot to see at the Al Hambra so make sure you keep a day aside just for that or do it in parts over two days like we did… The whole architecture, history and scale of the Al Hambra is awe-inspiring… But what I took away was the detailing in every inch of every structure! The sheer sweat and blood of the craftsmen that went into making every inch of the Al Hambra an artwork to live in… the view of the city from the Palace brings back stories of Kings and Queens looking down at the empire that they rule…. and what a beautiful view at that!

 

 

The Generalife is the country house of the palace. It was home to many famous writers and poets who were guests of the royalty. The vegetable garden, as it is more popularly known in Spanish, is a beautiful walk through tall well manicured bushes, promenade of oleanders, water ponds and cypress trees … and because we went just after autumn… beds of autumn leaves in yellow, orange and burnt amber!

 

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When your senses have had a fill of the magnificence of the Al Hambra, walk downtown to the new parts of Granada. I spent a whole day walking through little plazas- some displayed artworks, others had make-shift shops- all of them had eateries that served the best gin and food dotted around its periphery. My favourite was the art street with its eateries and the view of the bell tower. I sat there for a few many hours, inspired by all the art, architecture and Gin!

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Make your way to the Granada cathedral and you will find that most of the plazas are around this magnetic monument- Plaza Mayor, Plaza Nueva and many others. Pick one… you cant go wrong!

Granada is a fine example of how the Christian community and the Muslim community live in harmony. Both influences are strong and envelope the town with a sense of togetherness- the Al Hambra and the Cathedral of Granada. And exactly like that…. so do the streets of Granada. The new town is stylish and a great place to go out for the night if you are in a party kind of mood… and then there is Albaicin, the Moroccan mystery of Granada.

Albaicin was the surprise that my friend Kiron was saving up for me… He said, “I”ll show you something that will make you smile”…. and after an hour of following him up and down slopes and wondering to myself , is this guy just getting a kick out of making me walk…. there it was… a burst of color, energy, smells… like an Arabian fairytale had just opened its pages in the middle of a very Spanish folktale… and yes it made me smile… for a few days!

The best things about Albaicin besides its amazing street shopping experience are its Teterias – treat yourself to a hot glass of Moroccan tea and some hubbly bubbly (sheesha)- I recommend the apple grape flavour! Also highly recommended is to grab a meal here – make sure you dig into a hot pot of tagine and some light but flavoursome couscous salad at the Teteria Kasbah or any other that suits your fancy on that street. If you are with the right people, I promise you lots of laughs and a stuffed tummy!

 

No trip to Granada is complete without a trip to the Cathedral of Granada. I was especially intrigued to learn that it was built on top of a mosque after the moors were driven out. The prominent dome gives it away from the outside, from the inside though it is a very grand architecture of everything Christian. The piano with the thousands of wind pipes and the golden altar are a tribute to many a craftsmen and artists that brought this monument to life. I was so taken up by the structure that I forgot to listen to all the history on my rented electronic guide!

Evenings in Sacromento are magically romantic! Head to one of the plazas that have the view of the Al Hambra….. It’s quite a different feel seeing it lit up. Kiron and I sat on the ledge with our legs hanging off onto the street below and stared at it for hours while a couple of musicians played the Spanish guitar and the violin for the crowd there… we believe it was just for us… On cue!

And to snap you out of that… are the fingers of the flamenco dancers! Walk upto the little, almost home grown flamenco cafes and book a seat for a free glass of wine and some foot tapping fierce flamenco and Spanish music. I would recommend that you book in advance because they are all tiny cafes with limited seating. Los tarantos, Venta el Gallo are some you could explore in Sacromonte.

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Although we spent four fully loaded amazing days in Granada, we left wanting more… and I plan to keep that promise!

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