Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The road trip to Goa

Cochin - Mangalore - Goa
10  – 14 Sept 2014

Bag, baggage, kids and all. Along with a friend and family. With foot on the pedal, we braced ourselves for the road trip from Cochin to Goa via Mangalore (a distance of a little over 770 kms). An arduously long drive - what with bad roads and heavy traffic, the excitement that’s Goa kept us going. And thanks to GPS navigation we didn’t have to stop by to ask for directions.

Enroute, somewhere between Kannur and Thalassery, we took a small deviation to Muzhappilangad Beach (parallel to National Highway 66), supposedly Asia’s largest drive-in beach (4  kms). The drive through the beach waves was an experience in itself, and the little seagulls taking flight from the beach sand was indeed a sight to cherish. The ride along the coast offered us some picturesque views of backwaters & beaches lined with coconut palms, a feast for the eyes.

Then a quick stopover at Mahe (UT of Pondicherry) to quench the thirst with some breezers, we continued the journey to Mangalore. We halted the night at Mangalore Club, which sits cosily on the coast of the Nethravati river. After some fine dining, we hit the bed and next morning, were up and about to capture the beautiful views from our room. By 10 am, we were all ready for the onward journey to Goa.

There was just no stopping us...not even the hunger pangs, because we wanted to get to Goa as fast as possible. But we had a rude shock of a seemingly endless stretch of bad roads, an apology for a National Highway - in Bhatkal, Karnataka. We wanted to stop by the coastal city of Karwar, Karnataka for their famed fresh fish fry, but the bad road experience forced us to skip Karwar in favour of getting to Goa at least by sundown.

A brief halt at Maravanthe Beach in Karnataka made for a refreshing break. The beach right off NH66 was just too beautiful to miss! A few photo-ops later, we resumed the journey and stopped over for a late lunch in a Dhaba somewhere in the outskirts of Goa. The roads from there were pretty good, and the greenery on both sides of the winding roads is something that will stay fresh in our memories for a long time to come.

We checked-in at the Club Mahindra’s Emerald Palms at Varca, Goa by around 7 pm. Had a quick shower and went to explore the neighbourhood. Being offseason, we discovered that most of the eateries closed early, and we dined at the only other place that was open, which was close to our resort. The resort in itself is a beautiful property spread over 4 acres, which kept us busy till it was time to hit the bed.

Early next morning, after a quick breakfast, we headed out to our first destination in Goa – Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa – A UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fine example of baroque architecture, its construction dates back to the year 1594. The mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier is held in a silver casket on top of the mausoleum and is kept for public viewing every 10 years to commemorate his death anniversary. The Se Cathedral, which is within the vicinity of the Bom Jesus Basilica, is believed to be one of the largest churches in Asia and the oldest in Goa, and it houses a large bell referred to as the Golden Bell.

After the great start with the Churches, we made our way to Fort Aguada and Lighthouse, which stands mighty on the Sinquerim Beach on the mouth of the Mandovi river. Built by the Dutch in 1613 to guard against the Marathas, it was once the grandstand of 79 cannons, and has the capacity of storing 2,376,000 gallons of water, one of the biggest freshwater storages of the time in whole of Asia. Crews of passing ships would stop by to replenish their fresh water stores, and that’s how it got its name Aguada, meaning Water. A four-storey Portuguese lighthouse stands over the Fort, the oldest of its kind in Asia, erected in 1864.

And what’s Goa without its beaches! Calangute Beach in North Goa, popular with tourists & locals. The Sun & Sand restaurant by the beach was the ideal perch to enjoy the breathtaking views that the sun, sand and endless seas offered, along with the delicious fare of seafood and steamed rice, and of course some chilled beer to wash it down. Then we walked down the beach and let the waves kiss our feet, as the kids made sand castles. At sunset, we chewed onto some roasted corn, and then made our way back to the resort. After a shower, set out again for a courtesy visit and dinner at my husband’s cousin’s place, who have their factory (manufacturing of grabs for the shipping industry) and office in Goa.

The next morning, we headed to Palolem Beach in South Goa. Apparently, this was the beach that featured as the Goan residence of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in the film The Bourne Supremacy. Primarily inhabited by the local fishermen, the beach was a bit of a disappointment because the waters were muddy and polluted (it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches!), mostly deserted (being offseason) except for a few foreign tourists who stayed in the shacks lining the beach!

We took a quick dip, and then made our way to the Varca Beach, from Club Mahindra’s luxurious resort sprawled across 14 acres, which is connected to the beach with a foot-over-water bridge. The fine white sand was pure pleasure under the feet. And the panoramic sights around made for an unforgettable experience. The swimming pools at the resort let us chill out under the blazing sun.

Evening, we headed out to Margao city to explore a bit of the town. After a bit of shopping for local delicacies like Bebinca (a traditional Goan multi-layered dessert/pudding) and of course the Cashew Feni, we went to Martins, the famed restaurant, for a fabulous dinner. Their unique bacon and eggs dessert was the icing on the cake, the kids loved it! all journeys, this too must end. Early next morning, we checked out of the hotel and hit the road, non-stop, except for a short stop at Thalassery, Kerala for lunch (yeah, their Biryani & Fish meals are awesome) and made it back to Cochin in less than 14 hours! Now all that remains, are the wonderful memories of the short but sweet vacation and the hundreds of photos that help capture these memories for longer...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Switching numbers

My mobile connection was part of the company CUG network, so when I changed jobs, to avoid the hassle of changing my mobile number, I tried to retain the number by requesting the company to transfer the connection to my personal account. Three years hence, nothing happened. It was neither "yes", nor "no", so I just continued using the same no.

The reason I hesitated / waited patiently for so long, was the frightening thought of going through the trouble of informing friends, colleagues, acquaintances, banks, credit card services, and other online & offline service providers about the number change. I had got my cards printed as well, and I didn't want to let the pretty cards go wasted. But frequent disruptions in services, at the most crucial times, owing to non-payment of charges by the company, finally got me running helter skelter for a new connection!

I wanted an easy to remember number. And that simple wish I was told could cost me dear. Just like they auction fancy numbers for car registration plates, mobile numbers too I discovered were on sale - the fancier the number, the higher the price tag. The sweet talker that my husband is, he managed to coax one of the service providers to provide some fancy number options where they could waive off the premium...and finally, my "fancy" wish was fulfilled, without burning a hole in my pocket.

Then came the task of informing the key people on my contact list + all sorts of service providers about the change in my no., and then manually confirming with the curious lot that they could delete/replace the old number with the new number...phew!

The number update with my credit card service provider has been a bit complicated. Since transactions involve the OTP which is sent to the registered mobile no., to change to a new no. involves sending request letter, KYC details with ID/Address proof to their head office. Not sure when my new no. will be updated in their database!

All said and done, it's been an unpleasant & time consuming experience for me thus far, and I just hope I won't have to go through this again, anytime soon!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cut off!

Not like Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister, who had her nose cut off, but “literally” cut off / isolated from the rest of the world with no mobile, telephone or Internet! What was quite the way of life back in my childhood days (can’t imagine how we could have lived without these technology gadgets and gizmos, and that too happily!), now my whole life seems to depend on it. Cable’s been cut and will take a while to fix, I’m told. And my future already starts to look bleak!

I hit the panic mode ever since I lost connection, and I’ve been blabbering my head off trying to find some solace in the chaos and keep my sanity. I can’t reach office to tell them I’m cut off – no mail, sms, whatsapp, fb, twitter, skype, call...(not even blog!); virtually nothing to connect me, and the world already seems to have tripled in size looking just as alien to me!

My office, based in another city up north, won’t be able to reach me for those “urgent, want it yesterday jobs”, and I won’t be able to tell them “rukavat ke liye kaid hai” like those Doordarshan days. For the jobs I have in hand, I won’t be able to search online whether for information, facts or figures, nor will I be able to refer to images to visualise / give shape to the “big” idea.

And suddenly, I remembered those days when mobile phones were rare – when incoming calls were charged @ Rs.8/- per minute; double for outgoing. When we didn’t have the luxury of “Googling” for information, and when we did, it was at snail’s pace over a dial-up connection, and with hardly anything that was worth our while. But I used to work back then too. In fact, work much better. Where ideas were not limited to the images that were available on stock photo sites! Then why do I now have this desperate feeling like the world is coming to an end. Life must go on, even without mobile or internet, doesn’t it?!

Imagine if technology and all its conveniences were to crumble and crash like this one fine day, it sounds now to me more dreadful than being shipwrecked and marooned on a cavernous island, all alone without food and water! 

And while I dreadfully tread upon that thought, I leave you guys to imagine and share what you think of a day cut off from the rest of the world, when the rest of the world continues to stay connected...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fairy tale like yesteryears...

Long long ago, what may  now sound almost like a Fairy tale, was a time when ignorance was bliss. When we were blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurked outside the safe environs of our homes. And it cost us nothing. A precious childhood safeguarded not only by our family, but also by our genuinely friendly and well-wishing neighbours and community at large.

I remember vividly those days, when my sis and I, just in Class III and II respectively, could walk up to School about a kilometer away, without having to worry about rash drivers mowing down pedestrians, or eve teasers, or kidnappers or perverts. Not that there weren't any back then, but at least they were not there in the back of our minds, for us to look over our shoulders after every few steps, and our parents to unduly worry about us.

Back then, our parents were next only to God, whom we revered, respected and loved unconditionally. We didn't dare to raise our voice in their presence, and their wish was our command. The unwritten rules, we followed in letter and spirit. The values were deeply ingrained in us, without them having to reiterate it to us. There were no lavish gifts or pocket monies, not even a birthday present or dress some times. But still, we were very happy. The littlest of things and gestures brought us great cheer.

And school, it was like our second home. Where teachers not just taught the world, but meant the world to us. They groomed and moulded us, chided yet guided us. And friends, well they were just as naive and innocent as we were. No expectations, no comparisons, no unhealthy competitions, no bragging, no strutting...but they were always there, cheering and encouraging us no matter what. The group-study sessions, the pajama party stay-overs, the endless board games (snakes & ladder, scrabble, ludo, Chinese checkers, chess, cards, caroms, monopoly...), with plenty of time for outdoor play as well (gilli-danda, marbles, skipping rope, hide & seek, dog & the bone, knock knock who's the more serious shuttle badminton & basketball), the climbing up of trees & walls (boy or girl didn't matter)...the times without computers, internet, google, mobile phones, ipads and all those gadgets & apps that at times seem like a boon, almost indispensable, but thinking of the better times without it, makes me wonder, if boon or bane!

Neighbours were just like extended family, very much part of our lives, our milestones, our special occasions and festivals. Christian, Hindu, Muslim....didn't matter. While we shared cakes, wine and cookies for Christmas, we got laddus, jalebis, murukku...for Diwali, and sweet (&) meat snacks for Eid. They watched out for us, and played an important role in our upbringing. There was always that element of love, trust and care, we could blindly trust.

Oh, and how can I forget those push carts with bells ringing "ice cream, kulfi", "cotton candy", "soan papdi", "burfi"...We could lick it up to the end, without fear of germs or falling prey to dysentery. And when "summer vacations" didn't really mean a trip to the US, Europe, Singapore-Malaysia or even Thailand. They were a time to visit our hometown (in Kerala) - a grand get-together of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and all relatives (known & unknown) from different parts of the world / country. When our uncles would cut out cricket bats from coconut palm and make handmade rubber balls. and the match would begin sometime in the evening until sundown. We would pick cocoa, cashew and coffee seeds from the plantations and watch our grandmom sort the fruit from the seeds, roast the nuts, even as we steal our share. And it would seem like we were born to eat. After morning tea, came breakfast, then a 11 o'clock snack, then lunch, then evening tea & snacks, then dinner....burp! And all homemade stuff, mind you!! Our grandfather was a real sport, he would go about organising games - from caroms, to chess, to cards and what not!

I could go on and on, of that 'golden era' where joy was not measured in the size of house or brand of car you owned, neither did Guccis or Armanis matter, nor the foreign vacations or school fees you could afford (yeah, now that's also a point of comparison - the higher the fees, the better they think their status). It was your family, the get-togethers, connecting with people face to face (and not just on facebook) and little things like your mom baking a special cake for your birthday and singing the birthday song for you as soon as you woke up, your sister sharing an extra piece of chocolate with you, your dad taking you on a scooter ride...and such else that  mattered.

As I write this, it gives me great pleasure to revisit those times made of golden memories that money can't buy. At the same time, feel sorry for my children and to the generations following for being stripped off the innocent pleasures of childhood! God save the world...

Friday, August 08, 2014

Random mood, random verse

I walked by the stream
With whispering winds blowing through my hair;
I gazed and gazed, at mountains afar
Till the evening mist descended, then clouded the clouds.

I talked to the trees
In a language of silence, touching the heart yet taking firm root;
I waded knee deep
Till the worries floated away, bringing back nothing but mirth.

I laughed like a child
When a burst of unruly rays pierced through the dark shroud;
And where it touched, shimmering like gold
Spreading light, and with it this verse of hope.