Category Archives: Beaches

Under the Goan sun

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Fun, food and festive fervour, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY find new reasons to come back to Goa

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The Goan sun may have lost its burn after heavyweight music festivals like Sunburn and Supersonic shifted to Pune last year end, but that can only mean good news to Goa lovers. There’s plenty of elbow room to party for Christmas and New Year! Crank up the volume with the Krank Goa Boutique Party Experience (27-30 Dec) at Chronicle, have the ‘Craziest New Year’s Eve party’ at Banyan Tree with legendary techno artist Goa Gil or try the Yoga Retreat Fest at Mandrem (28 Nov-3 Dec).

However, there’s more to cheer about this season. Starwood’s swanky W Hotels opens in Vagator this December. An old soda factory at Baddem has been reinvented into Soro, a rustic New York-style pub with colourful tiles and retro posters. After wowing Hauz Khas hipsters in Delhi, Gunpowder is scorching Goan taste-buds with its eclectic Peninsular cuisine. Sharing space with PeopleTree design studio in Assagao near the new Fabindia outlet, Gunpowder has a new trendy bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik.

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Not enough? There’s hot air ballooning (Rs.9900/person) at Assolda in South Goa and Duck Boat Safaris in Panjim, making Goa the first state in India to introduce it. Like Dublin or Dubai, you can take a terrestrial-aquatic tour of the architectural precinct of Old Goa followed by a boat ride on the Mandovi. Surely an upgrade from those sunset cruises with ‘live Goan music and dance’!

GTDC Managing Director Nikhil Desai is upbeat about new tourism initiatives. “We have launched cycling tours and birding trails. You can hire a yacht or go on boat tours to Chorao and Divar islands. Plans are afoot to convert Mayem Lake into a recreational spot. Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours like Singapore and London are in the pipeline. Apart from beach tourism, the focus is on the rich hinterland, unique festivals and Goa as a gourmet destination.”

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Gourmet Goa

Having savoured Goa’s diverse repertoire, we had to agree. Be it Bomras’ Burmese cuisine like lah pet toke (pickled tea leaf salad) in Candolim, souvlakis, tzatziki and Greek fare at Thalassa in Anjuna or Indo-French fine dining at Gregory Bazire’s Le Poisson Rouge at Baga, Goa is for gourmands. Dig into river crab and fresh turmeric tortellini with a curry leaf emulsion at Le Poisson Rouge or hop across to Matsya Freestyle Kitchen at Samata Retreat Centre in Arambol to try out Israeli chef Gome Galily’s excellent tuna tataki and red snapper ceviche.

Chef Chris Saleem, the man behind Sublime in Morjim is now manning Elevar, a seaside restaurant in Ashvem. A large deck with casual seating overlooks the surf as well-plated dishes like Seabass Carpaccio and Tandoori prawns over saffron and fenugreek risotto are served. We took a ferry across to Fort Tiracol to dine at Tavern restaurant where Chris’s signature menu blends Portuguese, Goan and Indian flavours into petiscos (tapas). Overlooking Keri Beach from the fort ramparts, we tucked into spaghetti with Tiracol clams, Vitello Tonnato (stewed beef filets) and Peixe caldeirada (Portuguese fisherman stew) with a view as terrific as the food.

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Forget Italian and Asian, there’s even Bengali cuisine in Goa! Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a sea green and white Portuguese villa in Sangolda had enough room for a restaurant. Her friends Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh found inspiration in the Franco-Bengali love for mustard and roped in food historian Pritha Sen to meld subtle flavours of East Bengal with French cuisine. Over Cucumber Latte and tamarind-based Tentul Joler Sherbet, Pritha deconstructed Eastern Indian cuisine.

“When the British built the railways to expand the trade in tea and Burma teak, steamers ferried goods, passengers, forest rangers, British officials and zamindars from the railhead. Mogs, a Burmese hill tribe from Arakan, were ace cooks who picked up European flavours aboard Portuguese pirate ships. Unlike Hindu or Muslim cooks, Mogs were Buddhist and had no qualms preparing pork or beef, so the British employed them on these steamers. Over time, this ‘steamer cuisine’ crept into the Raj clubs of Calcutta.” Pritha tracked down the last living mog in Kolkata and coaxing recipes and techniques from his assistant, introduced a limited menu here. The highlight is smoked fish, made the traditional way by charring puffed rice, jaggery and husk.

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Museum of Goa

MoG was the flavour of the season! The smoky taste still on our lips, we breezed past the blue roadside mermaids scattered between Porvorim and Candolim to MoG or Museum of Goa in Pernem Industrial Estate. Mog is Konkani for ‘heart’ so when the museum opened last November, locals wondered what scandalous affair would unfold at the lonely hilltop. But the museum of contemporary art wows every visitor.

Spread across four floors amid landscaped sculpture gardens, MoG is the largest private art space in India. Set up by local ‘sea artist’ Subodh Kerkar (his muse is the sea), it chronicles Goa’s various cultural histories by local artists. Spanning a time frame from Parashurama to the Portuguese and 450 years of colonial rule, the museum is a tribute to Goa. Ceramic and pottery workshops by local artist Mayank Jain, art classes, book launches, lectures, film screenings, concerts; MoG is a hub where many art forms collide. The lores behind the themes were as interesting as the exhibits.

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The artists creatively interpreted Portuguese imports to India – from pepper and chili to gulmohar (brought from Madagascar and locally called kombyache zhad or ‘tree of the rooster’ owing to its crest-like flower). Subodh created installations using green mussels, sawn boats, porcelain plates submerged in the sea for months, even a fish vendor’s chopping block!

A large wooden horseshoe titled ‘Al Khamsar’ retraced Goa’s trading history as the centre of horse trade during medieval times. Nearly half of Goa’s revenue came from the sale of Arabian horses, in high demand by Indian royalty. The Vijayanagar kings were the biggest buyers with exclusive rights to all horses brought by the Portuguese. They also paid for horses that perished on the sea voyage, provided they could furnish the tail!

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Exploring Panjim

The gallery’s in-house Om Made Café served organic fare, but we were so famished, we could’ve eaten a horse! At Ritz Classic on 18th June Road in Panjim, patrons stalk diners for a free table, so we checked out their spacious new outlet in Patto. After a plate of chonak (Giant Sea Perch) fry, we concurred the taste was as spot on as the grilled pearlspot.

Panjim’s alleys are dotted with great eateries – Viva Panjim, Casa Bhosle (amazing tisrya sukkem or clams) and Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro that offers a daily rotating menu. Chicken cafreal on Monday, beef stew on Tuesday, feijoado (beef-pork-bean stew) on Wednesday, xacuti on Thursday and any dish on Friday. Bhatti Village in Nerul goes one better – an unfixed menu based on Patrick’s wife’s whims!

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Besides gastronomy, it was heartening to see Goa finally do justice to Mario Miranda’s legacy. The Reis Magos fort, named after the Biblical three wise men, was renovated by architect Gerard da Cunha, INTACH and the UK-based Helen Hamlyn Trust. The Craft Centre outlines the restoration process while two halls showcase Mario’s work, though one has been recently converted into a freedom fighters’ gallery!

Most visitors miss the first-of-its-kind Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum opposite Panaji jetty. Located in the 416-year-old Captain of Ports Building, it was renamed the Blue Building after a repaint in 2001 as tribute to the indigo trade. A chapel near the entrance is dedicated to St Anthony, patron saint of the lost-and-found. Among the highlights are dioramas of old trading settlements, Goan ports, a rare manuscript of Ain-i-Akbari, a Narcotics Gallery and a Battle of Wits Gallery where smuggled goods were seized in hollow shoe soles, cane sticks, commodes and car engines!

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In Panjim, take a guided walk through the old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas. Walking past lovely vivendas (homes) and pousadas (guest houses) with oyster shells windowpanes, we reached the fonte (spring) after which the settlement was named. Artist Subodh Kerkar too leads heritage walks and we joined him on an early morning jaunt to ‘any place within a short drive.’

At a time when we normally return from a rave, we set out to explore the heritage village of Moira. Beyond architect Charles Correa’s ancestral house, we strolled to the Moira riverfront guarded by the pre-Aryan folk deity Rastoli Brahman Prasann. At the sluice gates, fish was left to dry and fresh hatchlings in perforated plastic jars hung half submerged in the waters. ‘It’s to keep the bait fresh! On each walk I learn something new,” said Subodh.

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Having done enough rounds of Anjuna’s flea market, we browsed Mapusa’s Friday Market for local produce, clothes, furniture, terracotta artefacts and round Salcette sausages we had tried at the Pattoleochem Fest in Socorro village. They looked more like rudraksha beads (rosaries). “Child, they’re so tasty, you’ll come back for more”, one lady said. Indeed, we will! You can never have your fill of Goa…

FACT FILE

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Dabolim airport in Goa.

When to go
Besides IFFI in November and Christmas/New Year in December, look out for local fests every month – Grape Escapade in Jan, Carnival in Feb around Lent, Shigmo (Holi) in March, Mango festival in May, Sao Joao (well jumping) and Ponsachem (Jackfruit) Fest in June, Touxeachem (Cucumber) Fest in July at Talaulim and Pattoleochem Fest in Aug at Socorro.

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Where to Stay

Birdsong, Moira
Ph 9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222
www.birdsonggoa.com

Coco Shambhala, Nerul
Ph 9372267182
www.cocoshambhala.com

Ahilya by the Sea, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575
www.ahilyabythesea.com

Aashyana Lakhanpal, Candolim
Ph 0832-2489276, 2489225, 9822488672
www.aashyanalakhanpal.com

Panjim Inn, Panjim
Ph 0832-2226523, 2228136
www.panjiminn.com

W Hotels, Vagator
Ph 0832-6718888
www.starwoodhotels.com

Turiya Spa, Canacona
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyavilla.com

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Where to Eat & Drink

Casa Bhonsle
Cunha Rivara Road, Near National Theater, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2222260

Ritz Classic
‪Patto Plaza, Gera Imperium II, Near Kadamba Bus Stand, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2970298

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Seaside Cottages, Ashvem
Ph: 9130352188

Soro The Village Pub
Baddem Junction, Siolim-Assagao Road
Ph: 9881934440, 9881904449

Gunpowder
People Tree, Assagao
Ph: 0832-2268228

Mustard Restaurant
Freedom Tree, Sangolda
Ph: 98234 36120 

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What to See/Do 

Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum, Panaji
Ph: 0832-2420620 Email goamuseum2009@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am-5pm (Tues-Sun)
Entry: Rs.50 Audio Guided tour tablet

Museum of Goa, Pilerne
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324 www.museumofgoa.com
Timings: 10am to 6pm
Entry fee: Rs.100 Indians; Rs.300 foreign nationals, Rs.50 students and children.

Reis Magos Fort, Verem
Ph: 0832-2904649 Email reismagosfort@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am to sunset (Tues-Sun)

Houses of Goa Museum, Torda, Porvorim
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

For local tours, contact GTDC
Ph: 0832-2437132, 2437728, 8805727230
www.goa-tourism.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.

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Goa with the Flow

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What’s hot in the country’s coolest holiday destination, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out hip hangouts in Goa

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Everyone goes to Goa for a holiday. We are the only schmucks who go there for work. Eating at new hotspots, hopping in and out of bars and beach haunts, checking out new places, meeting interesting people, that kind of punishing work. For a place we visit so often (a friend once remarked ‘Arey, tum fir aa gaye?’ – an apt tagline for any state tourism board), Goa still holds many new experiences in store.

Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) was launching hot air ballooning in South Goa, Heli Tours, Duck Boat Tours from Panjim with plans to develop Mayem Lake. The same lake that generations of Goans grew up going for picnics to – it’s so old, Hum Bane Tum Bane from ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ was shot there. Plans were afoot to develop a clutch of five islands off Vasco – Grande, St George, Pequeno, Conco and Bhindo. Goa’s year-round festivities were being promoted – Bonderam Festival at Diwar Island (April-May), Sao Joao in June (where Goans literally go an’ jump in the well), Pattoleochem Fest at Socorro in August where the steamed pattoleo (rice and jaggery dumpling) is the star. Hell, there’s even a Ponsachem fest (jackfruit) and Touxeachem (cucumber) fest. Yes, food is indeed a celebration here.

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A new addition to Goa’s cultural scene (besides Sunaparanta in Panjim and Houses of Goa Museum near Porvorim) is MoG or Museum of Goa. Blue roadside mermaids guided us to the museum of contemporary art in Pilerne set up by local artist Subodh Kerkar. Working with a wide range of media in his installations, his abiding muse remains Goa – its sea, coast, surroundings, rich culture and heritage.

Collaborating with the ocean, he immersed antique ceramic plates and allowed oysters, barnacles and shells to create artworks on old china. Chipping and slicing through layers of red, yellow and blue oxides painted over time, he turned sections of old walls into his canvas. Other local artists too gave rare insights into Goa. Shilpa Naik’s Mosaic paid tribute to the mosaic tiles ubiquitous in most Goan homes. We discovered that Goa never had any ceramic industry and the chips were actually ballast brought by Portuguese and Chinese ships!

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Santosh Morajkar’s ‘The Motorcycle Pilot’ celebrated Goa as the only place in India where motorcycles are used as taxis. There are nearly 10,000 of them here. The first motorcycle taxi stand was at the base of Pilot Hill near Panjim Church. Since the lighthouse on the hill helped ‘pilot’ the ships in Mandovi River, the motorcycle taxis were nicknamed ‘pilots’! Besides MoG Sundays dedicated to Talks, Films, Expressions (11am-1pm) the museum hosts frequent jazz and music events. Subodh also leads free-wheeling walks on request at Saligao, Aldona, Siolim or any village a short drive away. Subodh’s private jaunts turned professional when Bambi, the manager of the lovely seaside cottage Ahilya by the Sea asked him to lead walks for guests.

We set off with Subodh from Birdsong, a charming 200-year-old renovated villa in the quiet hinterland of Moira. With peacocks calling and mist rising from the roads and yellow paddy fields, we walked past lovely homes to explore Goa anew… Rubbishing our fantastic theory that GoA was derived from Government of Adil Shah, Subodh conjectured that the ancient name Goapuri and Gopakapattanam was in existence and the Portuguese probably truncated it to Goa to rhyme with Lisboa.

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Subodh pointed out the scalloped curved tiles fringing the roofs of local homes. Apparently, the clay tiles were hand-patted on the thigh, giving them a distinct curvature – narrow on one side and broad on the other. The tile’s shape depended on how fat a person was! When the Portuguese came, the shell windows were already in use. In his book ‘Goa and the Blue Mountains’, 18th century traveler Richard Burton dismisses how “In Goa, there is not even proper glass available and they used seashells for windows”.

It was an unwritten rule that houses could be any colour but white was reserved for churches and chapels. Colours were derived from natural pigments – oxides of red and yellow and chuna (lime) mixed with indigo yielded blue. We walked past locals tending to tendli (ivy gourd) gardens. Subodh joked how his request to pluck tender tindlis on a previous walk were rebuffed with a stern “They’re kids!”

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Others watered their red-leaved tambdi bhaji (amaranth). “That’s karith”, Subodh pointed to a small gourd. “It’s very bitter and during Diwali it’s customary to eat karith before you eat sweets, symbolic of keeping the balance of bitter and sweet in life.” Straw and hay figurines of Narakasura were being built on the wayside, to be lit up before Diwali.

Tracing the lineage of what are now considered Indian vegetables, Subodh explained that the Portuguese introduced the tomato, chili, potato, caju, besides sweet potato, chikoo and guava, which came from Peru. The Marathi word for potato comes from Portuguese batata and the guava is called Peru! Bread was also a Portuguese introduction. For the longest time, tomatoes were not eaten by Hindus because they thought it was flesh.

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Just like the walk had no script, Bhatti Village in Nerul had no menu. Patrick’s voice quavered passionately, “Oh we have many varieties of fish.” Earlier a bhatti (feni factory), barrels and glass decanters share restaurant space with 3-dimensional stickers of Spiderman and Minnie Mouse amid strange wall plaques of crabs, lobsters, shrimps and fake flowers.

Patrick had us at ‘beef kebab’, though we said yes to everything he suggested – white bait rava fry, tisro sukka (clam coconut), saudalo (butterfish)), dodyaro (saltpan fish), shark ambotik (sweet sour red gravy), ending with Sera dura, a heavenly Portuguese dessert. “You want Guizad as well – you won’t get in any restaurant! And I’ve packed the ambotik, heat it tomorrow and eat it with poi. Should I pack some poi?” Patrick called over our retreating shoulders as we staggered out, heavy-bellied and weak-kneed.

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Locals take great pride in their culinary heroes – be it Anton in Nachinola or Eldridge Lobo at Eldou’s in Siolim, Sabita Fernandes at Amigos for crab hunting and Jurassic crab, cafreal at Florentine’s in Saligao or beef roast and ox tongue at Mafia Cocktails in Pilerne, run by Tony and his famous ‘Sister Cook’. But a new generation of chefs at Goa’s welcoming shores were tantalizing local palates.

From Greek cuisine at Thalassa, Vagator to Australian Masterchef Sarah Todd’s nextdoor restaurant Antares, the making of which is a six-part documentary on SBS, there’s lots to dig in to. Sarah’s Scents of India cocktail seemed right out of a ‘Hassan weds Mehjabeen’ wedding platter and we were happy to have space for dessert and homemade gelato at Baba Au Rhum, doing well in its new location in Anjuna.

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Elevar in Ashvem currently boasts the best view and food in town. The latest offering of chef Chris Saleem (Sublime Morjim fame) treated us to excellent Seabass Carpaccio, Celery fried prawns, Papaya-spinach-prawns-lotus root salad, seared bass with pesto tapioca and tandoori prawns over saffron fenugreek risotto.

His style is ‘flashy and mainstream.’ “I like to give people what they want,” Chris admits. Earlier, we were floored at The Tavern in Fort Tiracol (where Chris was roped in to curate the menu), by exemplary dishes like spaghetti with Tiracol clams and fish fillet with Goan chorizo crust.

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Stefan Marias, a Frenchman from South Africa, was now helming the beachside restaurant Go with the Flow overlooking Baga Creek. With two new outdoor decks, the restaurant spills out of the verandah of the 1928 Filomena Cottage onto the gardens with a makebelieve river meandering through that lights up at night. We wolfed down the Mozambican style Prawn Nacional and crispy salt n pepper squid in no time.

In the bustling Candolim-Calangute stretch, the talented Mr. Bomra stirs up what some describe as the ‘best Burmese restaurant outside Burma’. A friend quipped “To be honest, how many Burmese restaurants are there outside Burma?” On our anonymous visit, the steward clarified, “The chef is Burmese, but the food is not. It’s whatever he likes to make.”

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Once when some American guests complimented how tender the Aldona slow roast suckling pig was, the manager Chris remarked, “Of course it is. It is a suckling pig, it was suckling on its mother when we took it away and slaughtered it. It’s a baby, that’s why it’s so tender.” Baulking, the guests set down their cutlery and left. Clearly, eccentricity has always been in Goa’s gene.

Like Pondicherry, the fusion of cafeterias and boutiques has caught on in Goa. Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a seagreen Portuguese villa in Sangolda houses hobo-chic styled crockery, lighting, rugs and furniture. After shopping, step into the adjacent Mustard restaurant, which sums up France and Bengal’s passion for food in one seed – the tiny yet, omnipresent mustard! Conceptualised by Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh, the restaurant was actually the villa’s old kitchen!

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The subtle nuanced flavours of East Bengal have been perfectly curated by food historian Pritha Sen and the delicate notes of French cuisine put together by Chef Gregory Bazire. Here, regional specialities like Shukto and Mochar Ghonto rub shoulders with authentic European favourites like Tuna Pan Bangnat and Tortelloni a la Giardinera.

The sharp tamarind tang of Tentul Joler Sherbet spiked with vodka and a bowl of Chilled Cucumber Latte (Goan cucumbers with Bengali kasundi with mint and mustard sprouts) was the perfect appetizer. We embarked on Mustard’s journey to ‘savour the flavour’ of Dhoom Pukth Mach (Smoked Chonak Fish) and Kosha Mangsho with Luchi. Except for certain traditional ingredients, the restaurant follows a zero mile green philosophy and sources everything locally. You can even buy a pot of microgreens to spruce up your salad at home!

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Thanks to its low faded signage, Satish Warrier’s Gunpowder Restaurant (two houses away from the new Fabindia outlet in Assagao) is a blink-and-miss restaurant set in the backyard of Cursino Villa, an old Portuguese home. Hidden within a leafy compound behind the well-known boutique PeopleTree design studio, Gunpowder’s Peninsular Kitchen stirs up Syrian Christian beef, chilli pork ribs, crispy natoli fry (anchovies), appams and regional delicacies.

Complementing Gunpowder’s South Indian flavours is the cool new bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik, a Russian who has mixed her way from Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Lebanon to Goa. Behind her teak bar counter, she uses locally sourced turmeric, ginger, spices and fruits. They grow their own herbs like thyme, lemongrass, black pepper and 200 pineapple shrubs. “Though we have so many options to choose from, my idea is to stick to classic combinations made with full respect to the main spirit.”

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Evgenya had some homemade brandy with dry apricot macerated in Riesling stashed away, date liqueur in white rum and mad new concoctions like Pop Fashion, a version of Old Fashioned with an infusion of popcorn in bourbon. We tried the Ginger Cucumber Caipiroska and Tamarind Pineapple Margarita and teetered out…

It seemed like an abandoned rundown village house except for the vines of Chinese lights wrapping it in a warm firefly glow. The peeling plaster on the mud walls disguised its twilight avatar where people flit in like moths towards lamplight. Soro, strategically located on the Assagao-Siolim road is a New York style pub masquerading as a Goan village bar.

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Exposed brick walls, retro style posters, multi-coloured geometric floor tiles reminiscent of Mexican homes, bald filament bulbs and stage lights, industrial pipes and quaint relics of juicers make a bold design statement. Old world bar stools propped next to large windows overlook foliage and fields beyond. Named after the Konkani word for liquor, Soro is actually located in an erstwhile soda factory, making it the ideal place to down or drown your sorrows.

“Where next”, asked Savio at Coco Shambhala, a tropical haven near Coco Beach where we had come to experience their new Forest Essentials massages. “Cantare in Saligao, LPK (Love Passion Karma) in Nerul or Cohiba near Aguada?” “No more”, we gasped. “Don’t worry. ‘Soro jivak boro’ (Alcohol is good for life). As the therapist confirmed our appointment, we cracked up when she said “I hope you have come on an empty stomach.”

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FACT FILE

Where to Stay

Birdsong
497, Calzor, Moira
Ph +91-9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222 www.birdsonggoa.com

Ahilya by the Sea
Coco Maia, 787, Nerul-Reis Magos Road, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575 www.ahilyabythesea.com

Coco Shambhala
Nerul, Bardez
Ph +91 9372267182 www.cocoshambhala.com

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The Secret Garden
Estrela e Sinos, Saligao
Ph +91-95525 18664

Lar Amorosa Boutique B&B
House No. 68, Barros Waddo, Sangolda, Bardez
Ph: +91 7888047029 www.laramorosa.com

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Where to Drink/Eat

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Cottages Beach Front, Ashvem, Morjim Road, Mandrem
Ph: +91 9130352188 www.facebook.com/elevarashvem

Go With The Flow
House No. 614, Calangute Baga
Ph: +91 7507771556, +91 7507771557 www.gowiththeflowgoa.com

Soro The Village Pub
Assagao Baddem Junction, Goa
Ph: +91 9881934440, 9881904449
Wed-Jazz, Fri-Rock, Sat-Ladies night www.facebook.com/SoroGoa

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Bomras
Souza Vaddo, Candolim, Bardez
Ph: +91 9767591056 www.bomras.com

Thalassa Greek Taverna
Mariketty’s Place, Small Vagator, Ozran
Ph: +91 9850033537 www.thalassagoa.com

Antares
Small Vagator, Ozran, Vagator
Ph: +91 7350011538, +91 7350011528 www.antaresgoa.com

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Baba au Rhum
French Café, Bakery, Pizzeria
Anjuna, Goa
Ph: +91 9822866366

Gunpowder/People Tree
6, Assagao, Cursino Villa, Saunta Vaddo, Bardez
Ph: 0832 2268228 www.peopletreeonline.com

Mustard Restaurant/Freedom Tree Store
House No. 78, Mae Dey Deus Vaddo, Chogm Road, Sangolda
www.facebook.com/mustardgoa

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What to See/Do 

Museum of Goa
Pilerne Industrial Estate, Pilerne, Bardez
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324
Email museumofgoa@gmail.com www.museumofgoa.com

Houses of Goa Museum and Mario Gallery
Near Nisha’s Play School, Torda, Salvador do Mundo, Bardez, Goa 403101
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. http://beta.outlooktraveller.com/trips/goa-with-the-flow-1009179

Solitary Shores: Offbeat Beaches in India

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This summer, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go off the beaten beach to uncover some lesser known sandy stretches across India

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India’s extensive coastline is blessed with large swathes of spectacular beaches. Be it the Konkan coast of Goa-Maharashtra, the Karavali coast of Karnataka or Kerala’s Malabar coast, India’s western side is lapped by the calm Arabian Sea. The slightly rougher eastern coast hemmed by the Bay of Bengal too has its share of beaches – from West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra down to the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu.

However, with a 7000km long coast, some hidden gems have escaped the mainstream, that’s if you know where to find them! Beat the summer heat and crowded hotspots at these truly offbeat beaches…   

Kannur Thottada beach

Thottada, Kannur (Kerala)
While South Kerala is renowned internationally for its beach destinations like Kovalam, Varkala and Mararikulam, the relatively untouched Malabar Coast to the north has its share of secrets. Kannur’s cluster of beaches include the popular Meenkunnu and Payyambalam in the north to Thottada and Ezhara in the south. Thottada, with its serene backwaters and cliffs, retains the vibe of old Kerala, prior to the influx of tourism. Stay at beachfront homestays and feast on excellent Moplah cuisine – pathiris (assorted pancakes), fish curries and kallumakai (green mussels). At Kannur Beach House, go on a backwater boat ride with Nasir while Rosie stirs up delightful local fare. Stay in a renovated handloom factory at Costa Malabari with fresh seafood prepared home style. Just 10km south, skim the surf in your vehicle at Muzhappilangad, a 5km long drive-in beach. Watch fishermen draw in the morning catch and gaze at golden sunsets silhouetting Dharmadom Island.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Calicut International Airport, Kozhikode from it’s a 110km drive up to Thottada Beach, just south of Kannur.

Where to Stay
Kannur Beach House Ph 0497-2836530 www.kannurbeachhouse.com
Costa Malabari Ph 0484–2371761 www.costamalabari.com
Chera Rocks Ph 0490-2343211 www.cherarocks.com

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Nadibag, Ankola (Karnataka)
Uttara Kannada is well known for its beach haunts like Gokarna and Devbagh in Karwar, though few pay attention to the small coastal town of Ankola wedged between these two popular tourist getaways. The Poojageri River meanders through the forests of the Western Ghats, before it finally meets the sea at an idyllic place called Nadibag (River Garden) in Ankola. Few tourists come here, barring locals who climb the hill to catch the sunset, pose for selfies on the rocks or wade in the surf. The twin sights of the sea on one side and a picturesque lagoon on the other, as the sun goes down makes it an unforgettable spectacle. Ankola doesn’t have any fancy resorts, so Gokarna is the closest place for creature comforts.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Hubli (145 km from Ankola via Yellapur on NH-63) or Dabolim Airport, Goa (132 km via Karwar on Kochi-Panvel Highway).

Where to Stay
SwaSwara, Om Beach, Gokarna Ph 0484-3011711 www.swaswara.com

Bhogwe Beach from Kille Nivti IMG_2865_Anurag Mallick

Bhogwe, Malvan (Maharashtra)
The coast of Malvan in Maharashtra was once Maha-lavan, a ‘Great saltpan’ from where sea salt was traded. As the Karli River empties into the Arabian Sea, the beautiful strip of land between the river and the sea is Devbag or ‘Garden of the Gods’. Both, the river and the jetty are called Karli, so the place on the far side (taar) was called Taar-karli! While the scenic confluence developed into a hub for adventure sports, Bhogwe, located south of Tarkarli, has thankfully managed to escape the attention of most tourists. The best way to explore this stretch is by boat, which deposits you at Bhogwe Beach, a long swathe of untouched sand, before continuing the journey past Kille Nivti fort to Golden Rocks, a jagged ochre-hued hillock, that dazzles in the afternoon sun. Make sure to carry water and a picnic hamper. Relish excellent Malvani cuisine while staying in bamboo huts on a hill overlooking the sea or at Maachli Farmstay about 5km from the coast.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Dabolim Airport, Goa (123 km via Kudal).

Where to Stay
Aditya Bhogwe’s Eco Village Ph 9423052022, 9420743046 Email arunsamant@yahoo.com
Maachli Farmstay, Parule Ph 9637333284, 9423879865 www.maachli.in

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Laxmanpur, Neil Island (Andamans)
The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a much desired getaway for most beach lovers. Though only 32 of the 572 islands are inhabited, much of the usual haunts like Port Blair and Havelock Island are overrun by tourism. Yet, Neil Island, an hour’s boat ride from Havelock in Ritchie’s Archipelago, is relatively unexplored. Most of the local agricultural produce comes from the tiny island of Neil, pegged as the ‘Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans’. A lone metaled road cuts through the lush foliage to quiet beaches like Sitapur, Bharatpur and Govindpur, though it’s Laxmanpur that takes your breath away. Divided into two stretches, Laxmanpur 1 or Sunset Point offers stunning views and snorkeling opportunities and has comfy beach dwellings. Laxmanpur 2, dominated by a natural rock bridge, divulges secrets of the marine world at low tide. As the waters recede, local guides take you around salt pools inhabited by fish, eels, sea cucumbers and clams. Forget scuba, snorkeling or glass bottom boat rides, you can marvel at the variety of corals on a leisurely morning walk! See stag horn corals, finger corals, boulder corals and colour-changing corals from close quarters before the tide swells and hides them from sight.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies direct from Chennai and Kolkata to Port Blair (2 hrs), from where a ferry transports you via Havelock (1hr 30m) to Neil island (1hr).

Where to Stay
Sea Shell Ph +91-9933239625 www.seashellhotels.net/neil
Tango Beach Resort Ph 03192-230396, 9933292984 www.tangobeachandaman.com

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Tharangambadi (Tamil Nadu)
While the Coromandel coastline has popular beach destinations like Mahabs (Mamallapuram) and Pondy (Puducherry), few stop by further down the coast at Tharangambadi or ‘The Land of the Dancing Waves’. The Danes leased this small coastal village from the Thanjavur Nayaks and transformed it into a trading colony called ‘Trankebar’, eventually selling it to the British. The erstwhile summer residence of the British collector, renovated by Neemrana into the Bungalow on the Beach, has rooms named after Danish ships that docked at Tranquebar. Located on King Street between the Dansborg Fort and the half-sunken 12th century Masilamani Nathar Temple, the bungalow is the perfect base for heritage walks around the coastal town. Explore the Danish cemetery, Zion Church, New Jerusalem Church, Landsporten (Town Gate) and The Governor’s bungalow, all built in the 1700s. Watch catamarans set out for fishing in the early rays of dawn as you enjoy India’s only ozone-rich beach with the option to stay at Neemrana’s other properties nearby – Nayak House and Gate House.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Tiruchirapalli International Airport, Trichy (160 km via Kumbakonam)

Where to Stay
Bungalow on the Beach Ph 04364 288065, 9750816034 www.neemranahotels.com

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Talpona-Galgibaga (Goa)
With over half a century of being in the crosshairs of tourism, there are few secrets in Goa. Arambol, Ashwem, Morjim, Agonda; all the once offbeat haunts are now quite beat! But in comparison to the busy beaches of North Goa, the south is somewhat quieter. However, it isn’t till you drive south of Palolem near Canacona just short of the Goa-Karnataka border that you find a stretch that’s truly remote. As the Kochi-Panvel highway veers away from the coast, two lovely beaches line the tract of land where the Talpon and Galgibag rivers drain into the sea. Named after the streams, Talpona and Galgibaga beaches are indeed offbeat sandy stretches that few people visit. Since Galgibaga is an important turtle nesting site, tourism infrastructure is thankfully restricted. There are only a few stalls on the beach, making it one of the last undeveloped beaches in Goa where you can soak up the sun without hawkers pestering you with sarongs, beads or massages. Stay in a quiet riverside homestay at Talpona or in a Portuguese villa converted into the boutique hotel Turiya, which offers spa therapies and excellent local cuisine.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa (76.5km via Margao)

Where to Stay
Rio De Talpona Ph +91-78759 21012 www.riodetalpona.com
Turiya Villa & Spa, Canacona Ph 0832-2644172 www.turiyavilla.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

 

Konkan Cool: Where to stay along the coast

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travel down the Konkan coast from Mumbai to Goa to handpick boutique villas and quaint homestays, with a bit of sightseeing thrown in 

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Ccaza Ccomodore, Mandwa
If anyone told you could be at a vacation home outside Mumbai within half an hour from SoBo, it would be hard to believe, right? Not if you hop on to a speedboat for a 20-minute ride to Mandwa from the Gateway of India. Bypass the traffic of weekend revelers and practically teleport yourself to the family home of the Mongias, run as a luxurious boutique villa. Commodore Surinder Mongia served in the Navy and his yachtsmen sons Ashim and Nitin (also a gourmand) have three Arjuna awards between them. And a seafarer’s pad can never be too far from water! With a sheltered pool and the beach just 1½ km away, the villa is perfect for some R&R. Enjoy barbecues, wood-fired artisan pizza and made-to-order gourmet meals like spinach and fish roulade and red wine lamb with thyme scented rice, with flexible meal timings! The in-house Shiivaz Spa offers Balinese and Swedish massages, besides Shiatsu, Aromatherapy and Reflexology treatments. Two spacious bedrooms and a large suite for four, make the Med-style villa ideal for a group of friends.

What to see around
The quiet nook has not much to see except a splendid sunset at Mandwa Jetty with dining at Kikis Café & Deli. Or relax at the quiet Sasawane, Saral and Awas beaches nearby.

Getting there
50 min by ferry or 20 min by speedboat from Gateway of India to Mandwa Jetty and 3 km (7 min) inland at Mhatre Phata, Dhokawade. By road it’s 95 km (3 hrs) from Mumbai; turn right at Pen and continue via Vadkhal and Kihim for Mandwa.

Tariff Rs.12,000/couple, including all meals

Ph 9820132158 Email ccazaccomodore@gmail.com http://www.ccazaccomodore.in

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Firefly, Alibaug
Set on a 4-acre hill overlooking the Revdanda river and estuary, Martin and Sagarika’s holiday farmhouse south of Alibaug offers breathtaking views. The luxury villa has 5 bedrooms spread across three air-conditioned cottages (Poolside, Glass and Gatekeeper Cottage) with a 12.5 m infinity pool overlooking the valley and creek. If you bring provisions, the live-in staff rustles up meals at the poolside kitchen and barbecue (Rs.1,500 per day for the two ladies). Stocked with books, games, satellite TV with DVDs and Wi-Fi, Firefly is a self-sufficient farmhouse that is pet-friendly. If you’re nervous around dogs, the resident pets Sniff and Skylar can be kept at the base of the property by caretaker Dalip.

What to see around
Should you choose to head out, Firefly is excellently located with both Alibaug and Kashid half an hour’s drive away. Closer home are the Jesuit monastery and seaside fort at Revdanda besides the lighthouse and 16th century hilltop Portuguese fort at Korlai.

Getting there
1 hour drive from Mandwa Jetty or a 3-hour drive from Mumbai.

Tariff Rs.32,000 per night for 5-room villa, ideal for 10 guests, minimum stay 2 nights

http://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/469202?s=SgFK

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Serene Ravine, Kolbandre
A small family-run homestay near Dapoli run by Shekhar Tulpule, Serene Ravine is a 15-acre nature retreat ideal for painters, photographers and nature lovers. Wild flowers, butterflies and orioles, eagles and hornbills keep you company, so go birdwatching by day and stargazing at night. Set on the banks of the Kotjai river, you could relax in a riverside shack or spend time between the waterfall and the porch swing. Being a farm, you can watch cows being milked and walk through coconut and betelnut plantations with a tour of the cashew-processing unit. Choose from family suites, rooms and dorms and enjoy delicious Konkani and Maharashtrian meals including house specialties like fish and modak.

What to see around
Head downstream on the Kotjai river to the 1000-year-old Panhale–Kazi caves with old Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. Make an offbeat temple trail to the scenic Keshavraj temple, Chandika cave shrine and Kadyawarcha Ganpati at Anjarle built in 1150 AD on a kada (cliff) with wooden pillars. With easy access to a wide swathe of beaches between Kelshi and Kolthare, you can catch the fish auction at Harne beach (7:30 am and 4:30 pm) and witness a geographic marvel at Ladghar – the beach has a patch of red sand that gives the illusion of a red sea!

Getting there
238 km from Mumbai via Veer, Khed and Dapoli (8 km away)

Tariff Rs.3,500 for two, includes breakfast & dinner, meals Rs.300/head

Ph 9225609232, 9209139044 Email tulpuleagro@yahoo.com http://www.sereneravineholidays.in

Atithi Parinay Kotawde IMG_1934_Anurag & Priya

Atithi Parinay, Kotawde
Midway between Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule, the riverside homestay is run by mother-daughter duo Mrs. Vasudha and Medha Sahasrabudhe. Surrounded by hills on three sides and set on the banks of the swirling Kusum river, the 3-acre plantation is lush with mango trees, kokum, pineapple, chikoo and paddy fields. The laterite and stone house has bungalow rooms, besides cottages with cowdung floors and modern amenities, Swiss tents and a 12 ft high tree house, popular with couples. Walk across the bamboo bridge over the river for a slice of village life or catch the daily rituals at the Mahalakshmi temple. The highlight is the excellent home-cooked Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine served on banana leaf – poli (thin oiled chapati), koshimbir (dry veg raita), aamti (sweetish thin daal), kulith usal (stir-fried horsegram), bhopla bharit (pumpkin mash), sandhan (jackfruit cake), patodey (rice cakes steamed in turmeric leaves), chunda (spicy mango preserve) and moramba (mango preserve), besides unlimited mangoes and aam-ras in summer!

What to see around
The closest beach Aare-Vaare is 5km with the more popular Ganpatipule Beach 13km away – visit the beachside Ganesha temple and the Prachin Konkan open-air museum. Continue further north to the cliffside Karhateshwar Temple or watch ships being built at Bharati Shipyard in Ratnagiri. Don’t miss the coastal town’s famous landmarks – Tilak Smarak where freedom fighter Balgangadhar Tilak was born, the Thibaw Palace built for a Burmese king exiled by the British and the horseshoe-shaped Ratnadurga fort spread over 120 acres with a Bhagwati cave Mandir and lighthouse nearby.

Getting there
Kotawde is 350 km from Mumbai and 13 km from Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri

Tariff Rs.3,500-4,000, inclusive of breakfast

Ph 02352-240121, 9049981309 Email info@atithiparinay.com http://www.atithiparinay.com

Oceano Pearl Tree House Ganeshgule IMG_3258_Anurag & Priya

Oceano Pearl, Ganeshgule
Located in a 1.5-acre coconut grove, this beachside homestay south of Ratnagiri is run by Mithil Pitre and family. Unlike Ganpatipule further north, the remote hamlet Ganeshgule, rarely sees hordes of tourists. Swing lazily in a hammock in the shade of coconut trees enjoying the sea breeze, relish fresh coastal fare and relax in your own private beach. Choose from a wide range of rooms and a tree house. Hike to beachside cliffs to watch the sunset and the twinkling lights of the Finolex factory.

What to see around
The old Ganesh Mandir is just 1 km away or drive 6.5km to Swami Swarupanand Math at Pawas. Discover other offbeat beaches like Purnagad and Gavkhadi (10km) or visit the Surya Temple at Kasheli 20 km away.

Getting there
358 km from Mumbai and 23km south of Ratnagiri

Tariff Rs.2,800-4,800, including breakfast

Ph 02352-237800, 9689559789, 8605599789 Email oceanopearl@yahoo.com http://www.oceanopearl.com

Pitruchaya Homestay Shirgaon IMG_2387_Anurag & Priya

Pitruchaya, Shirgaon
Set amidst mango orchards, laterite quarries and brick factories, Pitruchaya near Shirgaon is run by a sweet couple Vijay & Vaishali Loke. What started off as a wayside eatery for people driving to Devgad Fort soon turned into a small 3-room homestay. Besides authentic Malvani fare like kolambi (prawn) or kalva (clam) fry and Malvani mutton, the highlight is the stunning terrace suite, with paintings done by artists from Pinguli Art Complex and bamboo furniture from KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo & Cane Development Centre) at Kudal.

What to see around
Drive 27km to the coast to the quiet Devgad Fort and continue 18km south to Kunkeshwar, site of an unusual 400-year-old Shiva temple built by Arab sailors who survived a shipwreck. The serene Mithbav Beach 10 km further south has a Betaal Mandir dedicated to a wandering spirit that supposedly induces madness in passersby at twilight! The clifftop shrine on the dungar (hill) is dedicated to goddess Gajbadevi who appeared in a dream and instructed villagers to install a temple for safe passage.

Getting there: 439 km from Mumbai, Shirgaon is located on the Devgad-Nipani Highway or SH-117 and is 13 km from Nandgaon on the Mumbai-Goa highway.

Tariff Rs.1,500-2,000, meals extra

Ph 98699 81393, 97645 93947 Email sindhudurg@rtne.co.in

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Maachli Farmstay, Parule
Maachli is a great place to experience life on a farm without compromising on comfort. Four rustic themed cottages with thatched conical roofs and modern amenities overlook a lush coconut, betelnut, banana and spice plantation, providing seclusion and serenity. Run by Pravin Samant, the family-run farmstay is accessible after crossing a perennial stream, which doubles up as a natural fish spa if you dangle your legs from the bamboo bridge after a hike! Besides plantation walks, there are longer trails like the 1½ hr Morning Nature Trail to a gurakhi (shepherd) temple or the 2½ hr Sunset Trek to the coast. Enjoy excellent Malvani cuisine like masala sandhan (yellow idly with turmeric), amboli (multi-grain pancake), dhondas (sweet cucumber or jackfruit pancake), varieties of poha – spicy tikat kanda pohe, gode pohe sweetened with jaggery and the smoky kalo lele pohe, seasoned with ghee and live coal! An earthen stove is used for all cooking and fish fry and chapatis are served in areca fronds.

What to see around
Besides the Adinarayan temple at Parule dedicated to the setting sun, visit the Vetoba and Ravalnath temples. Don’t miss the hike to a centuries-old devrai (sacred forest) overgrown with dense trees and creepers. At the open shrine of Devchar (protector of the tribal community) locals offer alcohol and beedi (country cigarettes) to propitiate him. Within a few paces, orange pennants and bells announced the shrine of Dungoba or Dungeshwar, worshipped by the kolis for a good catch and safe return when setting out to sea.

Getting there
494 km from Mumbai, Parule is 21km south of Malvan and a 22km drive via SH-119 from Kudal (20 km north of Sawantwadi) on the Mumbai-Goa highway.

Tariff Rs.5,400, inclusive of all meals and nature trail & plantation tour, activities extra

Ph 9637333284, 9423879865 Email prathameshsawant@maachli.in http://www.maachli.in

Aditya Bhogwe's Eco Village IMG_2520_Anurag Mallick

Aditya Bhogwe’s Eco Village, Bhogwe
Just south of Tarkarli, away from the boatloads of tourists and adventure seekers, six bamboo cottages on a quiet hillside overlook the scenic confluence of the Karli River as it empties into the sea. The tiny strip of land sandwiched between the river and the sea is called Devbag or Garden of the Gods. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the Samants as you dig into flavourful fish thalis with poli (thin chapatis), rice, papad, stir fried beetroot/greens or raw banana fritters washed down with sol kadhi and a generous dollop of shrikhand. Absorb the view from your balcony or take a short hike to the riverside farm, where a ring of coconut trees act as a buffer from the saline creek. Ride in a country craft through the mangroves for some birdwatching and visit a cashew factory to watch local ladies process raw cashews. Round it off with sunset at Sahebachi Kathi, named after an 8ft long geological survey pole erected by the British.

What to see around
A boat ride from Korjai jetty down the creek takes you past the scenic confluence of Devbag Sangam to Bhogwe Beach, a long swathe of untouched sand. Disembark to see the Panch Pandav Shivling Mandir, a laterite shrine allegedly built overnight by the exiled Pandavas and continue by boat to Golden Rocks, a jagged ochre-hued hillock jutting out of the seashore. The forlorn Kille Nivti fort has a desolate beauty far from the frenetic adventure activities at Tarkarli, Tsunami Island and Sindhudurg. Mahalaxmi Parasailing & Water Sports offers banana boats, bumpy rides, jet skis, parasailing, snorkeling and scuba. Ph 8412023789, 8007273664 http://www.mahalaxmiwatersports.com

Getting there: 500 km from Mumbai, Bhogwe is 4km from Parule on the coast.

Tariff Rs.2,200, including breakfast (Meals Veg Rs.150, Seafood Rs.200)

Ph 9423052022, 9420743046 Email arunsamant@yahoo.com

Dwarka Farms Homestay Talavada IMG_3369_Anurag & Priya

Dwarka Homestay, Talavada
An organic farmstay near Sawantwadi, Dilip Aklekar’s 15-acre Dwarka Farms is tucked away in a mango orchard with 230 alphonso trees besides cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple. With a vermi-compost plant, biogas for cooking, milk from the farm’s cows and fresh fruits, pulses and vegetables grown on campus, Dwarka follows a ‘plant to plate’ philosophy. The food is an amazing Malvani spread of farm produce, fresh seafood from the coast and delicious kombdi (chicken) curry. The large homestead has rooftop dorms and 9 rooms with large balconies opening into the orchard. A passionate advocate of Konkan’s natural wealth, Dilip’s friendly exuberance is just the stimulus one needs to head out of the comfort of the farm on excursions to beaches, ghats and temples nearby, besides forays into Goa.

What to see around
Drive 14 km to Vengurla on the coast to see the port and old lighthouse and drive south to a series of beautiful beaches – Sagareshwar, Mochemad and Shiroda. Drop by at the Redi Ganpati Mandir, the scenic Aronda backwaters and Terekhol Fort.

Getting there
Located 534 km from Mumbai, Talavada is 11 km from Vengurla and 14 km from Sawantwadi on the Vengurla-Sawantwadi Road.

Tariff Rs.2,800-3,600, meals extra Rs.250-300/person

Ph 02363 266267, 9167231351, 9422541168 Email dilip@dwarkahomestay.com http://www.dwarkahomestay.com

Nandan Farms Sawantwadi IMG_3020_Anurag & Priya

Nandan Farms, Sawantwadi
Half-hidden in a beautiful farm near Sawantwadi at the base of a small hillock, the terracotta-toned bungalow with a sloping tiled roof and earthy interiors is livened up by colourful floor tiles, bamboo furniture and fish-shaped wooden doorjambs. Stone pavers for pathways and garden lamps add a rustic appeal. Run by ace cook Amrutha Padgaonkar or Ammu, who hails from Vengurla, it’s a great place to savour Malvani coastal delights. With just 2 rooms in a 12-acre property, privacy is guaranteed.

What to see around
Visit Sawantwadi Palace to watch Ganjifa artists make ancient playing cards under the supervision of HH Satvashila Devi, drop by at Chitar Ali (Artist’s Alley) near Moti Talao where local artisans make lacquerware toys or drive 30 km to Amboli Ghat to bathe in waterfalls, drive through the mist and reach the source of the Hiranyakeshi river flowing out of a cavern.

Getting there
Drive down 517 km on NH-17 to Sawantwadi and head 2 km from town on Amboli Road

Tariff Rs.4,000/couple, including all meals

Ph 94223 74277 Email amrutapadgaonkar@yahoo.in

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 14 October 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/konkan-cool-where-stay-along-coast/

Seychelles on the sea shore: 10 wonderful ways to discover Seychelles

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PRIYA GANAPATHY falls in love with the vibrant beautiful island life of the Seychelles and picks out enriching holiday experiences covering history, culture and cuisine

IMG_0489 Carnaval International de Victoria_Priya Ganapathy

Nearly a thousand miles off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean lies a cluster of 115 islands that make the Seychelles an unblemished paradise. Apart from lolling in its blissful sun-kissed beaches, here are 10 ways to experience Seychelles’ unique native culture and cuisine.

IMG_0958 Octopus Salad at Bravo! restaurant_Priya Ganapathy

1) Eat an octopus and pin your visiting card at Marie-Antoinette
Surrounded by a gigantic ocean teeming with aquatic life, Seychelles offers a generous platter of seafood. At weekly night markets like Bazar Labrin, sample Creole specialities like kari zouri (octopus curry) and sosouri (fruit bat). Pizzerias like La Fontaine at Beau Vallon in Mahe draw beachcombers to feast on salade de pieuvre (octopus salad), Assiette de fruit de mer (ocean platters), cigalle grille (grilled slipper lobster) and crispy calamari served on vibrant wooden fish placemats. At Bravo! on Eden Island Marina dig into crunchy octopus salad or grilled octopus with a fabulous view of docked yachts. Beryl and Brian of Glacis Heights Villa, a boutique homestay, consider kordonye as Seychelles’ favourite dish. The small fish makes ladies tipsy as it has an intoxicant tucked in its glands. For time-honoured Creole recipes, there’s no better place than Le Grand Trianon-Marie Antoinette Restaurant at St Louis Hill. Since 1972, thousands of travellers and celebrities have savoured a meal in this historic restaurant and guesthouse owned by Kathleen Fonseca, the grand lady of Creole cuisine. Declared a national monument in 2011, its high red roof, wood interiors, wide verandahs and white louvered windows wear a definitive stamp of tradition and taste. From the very first bite of mango salad and crunch of batter-fried Parrot fish, down to the last spoon of Coconut Nougat; the multi-course meal is divine. The colonial restaurant played home to journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley for a month after he tracked down missing explorer David Livingstone in Africa and uttered the famous words ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’. Henry renamed Marie Antoinette ‘Livingstone Cottage’ as tribute. Before you leave, do the local thing and pin your visiting card at the notice board!

IMG_0751 Dance the sega_Priya Ganapathy

2) Learn to dance the sega
Another conspicuous facet of Seychellois island life is their love for music and dance. At night markets or by the beach catch locals singing or performing traditional dances like mutzya or moutia and sega around a bonfire. The moutia was an ancient form of protest music and dance of African origin that involves shuffling one’s feet to a rhythm. They say that when the Europeans brought the slaves here, they bound their feet with big chains causing them to drag their feet while they danced their pain away. Some say that the séance-like moutia is almost extinct as it was banned by the colonial rulers. But the sega continues to delight audiences with its irresistible charm. Holding up their flared skirts, ladies gyrate their hips rhythmically, moving their shoulders teasingly, prompting everyone around to join in.

IMG_1747 The endemic coco de mer fruits_Priya Ganapathy

3) Hold the largest seed in the plant kingdom at Vallee de Mai
If you ever wondered what the primeval garden of Eden looked like, drop by at Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Praslin. It is a protected haven for the primitive coco de mer palm and the rare endemic Seychelles black parrot. The coco de mer’s erotic shape led people to believe it was aphrodisiacal and Arab traders of yore made a killing by encrusting the giant seed with gemstones and marketing them as prized collectibles. The guided walk is an eye-opener on the treasured palm which holds two botanical records as the world’s largest and heaviest seed and the largest male flower of any palm! The Morne Seychellois National Park at Sans Souci in Mahe is another invigorating hike that unravels many biodiversity secrets – critically endangered species like the strange jellyfish tree (Medusa tree), evergreen cloud forests atop Morne Blanc filled with mosses and giant ferns and endemic birds like Seychelles bulbul and White-tailed Tropicbirds, their dainty tails trailing like kites freed in the wind. Several nature trails across different islands are just a ferry or chopper ride away.

IMG_1543 Vanilla plantation_Priya Ganapathy

4) Travel in an oxcart at La Digue
La Digue Island offers a true taste of tradition and a chance to slow down. Barring a few motorised vehicles, only quaint oxcarts, bicycles and walking are the main modes of travel here. Designed by explorer Dr Lyall Watson and one of La Digue’s most influential personalities Ton Karl, the oxcart is emblematic of the island. The contraption has since evolved into a hooded vehicle, adorned with coconut leaves and flowers, making it a well-loved mode of commuting for visitors. Visit L’Union Estate for a peek into the heritage bungalow and copra kiln, discover the antiquated oil extraction technique at an ox-drawn mill and the process of cultivating vanilla in its sprawling plantation. Interestingly, each vanilla stick is etched with UE (Union Estate)!

IMG_0175 Seychelles Tea Factory view_Priya Ganapathy

5) Go on a scented spice trail
No trip to the ‘Vanilla Islands’ is complete without a spice trail. Le Jardin du Roi, the spice plantation at Anse Royale in Mahe provides the perfect DIY experience. Spread across 25 hectares of lush vegetation, the privately owned property dates back to 1854 and is a nature reserve, botanical garden and heritage museum cum restaurant rolled into one. Grab a map and checklist and head down any of the designated trails. The easy Rainforest Trail winds through a coffee estate in the shade of the mystical coco de mer trees, cinnamon and clove plantations, patchouli and ylang ylang valley and giant bamboo groves. The Garden Walk weaves past vanilla and pepper vines, shrubs of allspice and nutmeg, citronella bushes, stunning wild ginger, orchids and exotic fruit orchards. The Ridge Trail and the Gratte Fesses, both steep treks to the estate’s highest points present brilliant views of the island and bay. Dotted with peace gardens, an old cemetery, a distillery and souvenir shop, one can spend hours here.

IMG_1361 Curieuse Island hike to Doctor's House_Priya Ganapathy

6) Get curious on Curieuse Island
Just 1km off the coast of Praslin lies Curieuse Island, an erstwhile leper colony that now offers hiking, birdwatching, snorkelling and swimming opportunities. Go on a 1-hr guided trail past the tortoise sanctuary, climb stunning granite boulders hewn by wind and water, and trudge down boardwalks past mangrove swamps crawling with giant crabs, newts, salamander and shellfish twirling in the tangle of submerged roots. Doctor’s house, home of late Dr William MacGregror, a Scotsman who treated lepers at Anse Jose has been converted into a national museum showcasing the island’s fascinating history. For 136 years this quarantined island remained cut away from human influence, which helped protect its natural ecosystem. En route, see the remains of Curieuse Causeway, a seawall built in 1910, that blocked off the mangroves and created a pond for breeding Hawksbill turtles for shell trade. Struck by disease, the turtles died, but the wall served as a walkway for visitors until the 2004 tsunami almost wiped it out! Currently a Marine National Park, Curieuse Island has several rare endemic plant species. Besides the coco de mer palms, the other old-timers include giant tortoises who don’t mind sharing beach barbeques! In fact, the island has numerous free ranging Aldabra Giant land tortoises who love getting curious about you and your food! A 15 minute boat ride takes you to St. Pierre Islet, a haven for snorkelling and diving.

IMG_0172 Seychelles Tea Factory_Priya Ganapathy

7) Sey Beer, Sey Brew, SeyTe
Besides being one of the finest viewpoints in Mahe, the famous Seychelles Tea Factory showcases how tea is grown and manufactured. The Tea Tavern by the gate is a convenient place to enjoy a brew or buy a range of classic SeyTe, with blended varieties like Special Vanilla, Green Tea, Bio Tea, Indian Ocean, Orange and Cinnamon. The “Spirit of The Seychelles” flowed steadily at the renowned rum distillery Takamaka Bay at La Plaine St Andre, a 200 year estate and homestead. We discovered that the fascinating process of rum-making from sugarcane to shot glass actually began with an old sugarcane crusher imported from India! The noisy cast iron contraption had ‘Chabavak’ (chewer) embossed in Devnagiri script! After a heady tasting session of their extraordinary range of award winning spirits including White rum, Dark rum, Spice Rum and Vesou, we voted the premium St Andre 8 Year Old with its woody aroma and Coco Rum (a delicious blend with coconut extract) as favourites. The in-house restaurant La Plaine St Andre has a hearty Creole-inspired lunch of Millionaire salad with palm hearts and fish, Red snapper, chicken coconut curry and a sweet potato-banana-nutmeg dessert.

IMG_0488 Carnaval International de Victoria_Priya Ganapathy

8) Catch the Carnival spirit at Victoria, the smallest capital in the world
When the Carnaval International de Victoria hit the streets, the infectious festive spirit paints the capital in a riot of colour, dance and unabated fun. International and local acts, flamboyant costumes, music and vibrant tableaux create an electric mood as everyone whirls to capture the raw energy and beauty of the spectacle on camera. The much awaited carnival takes place around the third week of April every year.

IMG_0302 Tamil temple at Mahe_Priya Ganapathy

9) Visit the only Hindu temple in Mahe, the largest island of Seychelles
Not far from the heart of Victoria, the capital city, the spire of a South Indian shrine carved with rainbow hued gods and goddesses looks like it has been directly transplanted from a temple street in Tamil Nadu! From within the Sri Navasakti Vinayagar Temple, priests chant Sanskrit shlokas in soulful Carnatic style as bells, drums and nadaswara music resound inside. Clearly, the Hindu Tamils in Seychelles contribute to its multicultural ethos.

IMG_0644 Inter-island ferry_Priya Ganapathy

10) Learn scuba diving at Big Blue Divers
Beau Vallon in Mahe is the chosen hub for adventure seekers who come to sail, snorkel, dive, fish or parasail. With dive sites varying from 8-30m, Seychelles is suitable for both beginners and experienced divers. The waters are ideal between March-May and September-November. Big Blue Divers, run by Gilly and Elizabeth Fideria, offer diving sessions in crystal waters and coral gardens around Willy’s Rock. The treasures in this watery world with a coral reef swarmed by myriad fish can keep one rapt for hours. Elizabeth says, “People only have to dive once to know if they like it or not. Seychelles helps you figure out whether you’re a sea loving turtle or a land dwelling tortoise!”

IMG_0156 Seychelles is an excellent beach destination_Priya Ganapathy

Fact File
Getting There:
Jet Airways has flies to Mahé via Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Colombo. Air Seychelles flies direct from Mumbai to Mahé (4 hr 10 min) three times a week. For inter-island travel, hop on to Cat Cocos www.catcocos.com or local ferries from Mahé to Praslin and La Digue.

Where to Stay: Choose from private island resorts like www.fregate.com, www.north-island.com or www.denisisland.com to chalets, villas and luxury resorts like Hotel Savoy Resort & Spa (www.savoy.sc) in Beau Vallon (Mahé), Hotel L’Archipel www.larchipel.com (Praslin) to boutique homestays like Glacis Heights Villa (Mahé), farmstays and retreats. For budget holiday options visit www.seychellessecrets.com

For more details visit www.seychelles.travel

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story in the September 2015 issue of JetWings magazine.

Andamans: Walking down the Isle

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With secluded beaches, stunning sunsets and dazzling marine life, the Andaman Islands are a great place for couples, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

Scuba diving Andamans_Discover India

A pair of Powder Blue Tang circled each other giddily before disappearing into a rocky crevice. Green Staghorn corals bore a velvety sheen as if marine antelopes were rutting on the seabed. The underwater realm of gently swaying ferns, sea fans, iridescent fish and strange marine forms was painted in colours we had never seen before – so dazzling, they were permanently seared in our brains. In a matter of hours we had gone from dropping a week’s supply of fish food in our aquarium in Bangalore at dawn to snorkeling in the Andaman Sea by late afternoon. As we discovered a new world, hand in hand, it was a lot like being in a giant aquarium ourselves…

After flying over the seemingly endless Indian Ocean, the first sight of lush green islands from the air brought us to the edge of our seats. The moment we got off at Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair, we inhaled the tropical air and a tempestuous sea breeze tousled our hair with wild abandon in rousing welcome. Andamans was going to be great, we felt and trooped off with the enthusiasm of explorers on the verge of a discovery. A short drive to the hotel and a quick change later, we were on a boat to North Bay, the closest dive site around town. Local boat operators offer a 3-island boat tour including Ross and Viper Islands. At North Bay, tourists are transferred onto smaller glass bottom boats through which they peer at the shaky distorted seabed and squeal in delight. But we were happier snorkeling. North Bay, with its seven coral sites, was merely an appetizer for the main course that lay ahead…

Neil Island jetty_Anurag Mallick DSC07376

The best prospects were at the diving hub of Havelock, but we had a few days to explore the mainland. After our introductory session at North Bay, we were off to Ross, the smallest of the 572 islands in the Andaman & Nicobar group. It was hard to imagine that this little blip of a 0.8 sq km island with crumbling edifices choked by roots and vines was once a buzzing hub of colonial high life. The ruins of a bakery, church, bungalows and boiler rooms once echoed with laughter and animated chatter. At its peak, Ross was dubbed as ‘Paris of the East’ because of its grand soirees.

Ironically, just a mile away, Indian freedom fighters languished in one of the most notorious prisons in Indian history. In a searing dichotomy, the Andamans had experienced so much pain and suffering – torn between British colonial rule and Japanese occupation to being battered by the tsunami in 2004 – yet it showered on every visitor so much joy and peace, like a soothing balm over frayed nerves. We walked to the far side of Ross to the forlorn Ferrar Beach lined with rocks and overhanging trees.

Viper Island_Anurag Mallick DSC06722

Partially under the army’s command, the island was dotted with World War II bunkers. Chugging to a dramatic shot of the setting sun, the boat docked at Viper Island where the red gallows at the summit was the site of several grisly hangings. The surviving wooden beam served as a chilling reminder. Many people had perished here, including Sher Khan who stabbed Indian Viceroy Lord Mayo in 1872. It was dark by the time we got back to base.

There’s a lot to do around town and a couple can spend more than a couple of days exploring Port Blair and its getaways. With its lazy undulations and tropical air, it is often described as India’s only warm hill station. We checked out the marine museums, relived the sadness and heroism trapped inside Cellular Jail, witnessed the poignant Sound and Light Show, gawked at North Bay’s palm fringed lighthouse captured on the reverse of a Rs.20 note, browsed for shell, coconut and driftwood souvenirs around Aberdeen Bazaar, drove south for a sunset at Chidiya Tapu and enjoyed a nature trail to Kala Patthar at Mount Harriet National Park beyond Hope Town.

Andamans North Bay view on Indian 20 Rupee note_Anurag Mallick

A great escape from the bustle of the capital, the quiet hilltop hideaway had a lovely old Forest Rest House with watchtowers and gun mounts scattered on the hillside. We were honoured to meet the Andaman Blue Nawab, a haughty butterfly that fed on only one species of plant and chose to starve to death if it wasn’t available! Thankfully, we weren’t as fussy and happily chomped on the wide choice of fish and seafood, sipping cold beer at Marina Park and the town’s only beach, Corbyn’s Cove.

Keep half a day aside for Wandoor Marine National Park, an hour’s drive west of town. The 280 sq km park spread over a cluster of 15 islands is the best dive site near Port Blair. Take a boat to Jolly Buoy, Red Skin or Mahuadera to explore its rich marine life that includes four turtle species – Green Sea turtle, Leatherback turtle, Olive Ridley turtle and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle. We saw everything from large leatherbacks and giant clams to little Anthias and Fusiliers darting around.

Unloading vegetables at Havelock_Anurag Mallick  DSC06907

From Port Blair the Great Andaman Trunk Road darts north to Baratang with its limestone caves and mud volcanoes blubbing like a thick curry on slow boil. For something more mesmeric, a 45 min boat ride from Havelock to Barren Island, gives the adventurous a chance to see India’s only active volcano as it spews ash and dust. The northbound road from Baratang, broken up by ferry crossings and straits, continues further to Mayabunder and Diglipur. But our tryst with the mainland was over as we were taking the swanky Makruzz to Havelock Island.

We stood on the deck, hypnotized by the wake left by the twin hulled luxury catamaran before returning to our plush seats to enjoy the cruise at 24 nautical miles an hour. The jetty was abuzz with fishing boats unloading bananas and fish while little crafts ferried adventure buffs to remote dive sites in Ritchie’s Archipelago. We caught a cab to the Government-run Dolphin Resort that had a superb location and view, before upgrading ourselves to the luxurious yet eco-friendly Barefoot Resort at Radhanagar (Beach No.7).

Radhanagar Beach Havelock_Anurag Mallick DSC06814

Tucked away on the island’s western side, the beach ranked among the best in Asia and we could see why. The wide shallow crescent was ringed with tall Andaman Bullet Wood trees on the seashore as a handful of tourists enjoyed sunbathing, leisurely walks or watched the sun go down. All the nightlife was on the eastern side at Govindnagar (Beach No.3) where most of the beachside restaurants, cafes, resorts and dive shops were located. Understandably, Havelock was fast becoming a honeymooner’s paradise.

The next morning we took a boat past the Lighthouse to Hathi Tapu or Elephant Beach where trees uprooted during the devastating cyclone provided a striking backdrop. Boats bobbed by the edge as tourists in inflatable tubes waddled around the corals, led by their snorkeling instructors. Like the tiny polyps that secreted these vast colonies of coral, the feathery white sand too had a fascinating origin.

Hathi Tapu Havelock Island_Anurag Mallick  DSC06954

The multi-coloured Bumphead Parrotfish break off chunks of coral and rocky substrates by ramming its head against it, resulting in a flat bump on the forehead. It grinds the coral rock, feeds on it and excretes fine sand which over thousands of years has shaped some of the most sublime sandy beaches in the world. One Parrotfish can produce up to 90 kg of sand each year. The Blue Streaked Cleaner Wrasse or ‘Doctor Wrasse’ nibble off wound tissue and parasites from larger fish, giving them a manicure, pedicure and facial in the bargain. We were suitably inspired to follow suit and pampered ourselves with relaxing detox and rejuvenation programs in the evening.

On a whim, we took off to Neil Island nearby, an hour’s ride by boat. For those who might find high profile Havelock too touristy, unobtrusive Neil is the perfect answer. We disembarked at the stunningly blue jetty, checked into a beach shack and sampled the day’s catch at a garden café. Neil Island gave us a glimpse of how the Andamans would have been before being discovered by tourism. We explored the caves at Sitapur (Beach No.5) to the south and took a guided Coral Walk during low tide at Laxmanpur (Beach No.2). By the edge of the sea mirrored in pools of saline water was a natural rock bridge – ironically, it was ‘Howrah Bridge’ to the island’s Bengali settlers rehabilitated after the Bangladesh War. We drifted in warm currents and swam with the prospect of seeing dugongs amid grassy shallows and secretly wished that the lone boat that would take us back to Port Blair would forget to arrive…

Andamans Boat Jetty_Anurag Mallick DSC06736

NAVIGATOR

How to Reach
By Air: Located in the Bay of Bengal about 1000 km from India’s east coast, the Andamans is connected by regular flights from Chennai and Kolkata (2 hrs) to Port Blair, the capital.

By Sea: Shipping Corporation of India operates Passenger ships between Port Blair and Vizag (56 hrs), Chennai (60 hrs) and Kolkata (66 hrs).

Getting Around: There are regular ferries from Port Blair to Havelock (4 hrs), besides Neil and Rangat. Makruzz covers the 45 km distance in 90 min. Local cabs are available in all tourism zones.

What to do Together Checklist
Snorkeling or deep sea diving at Wandoor or Ritchie’s Archipelago
Candle-lit gourmet dinner by the surf at Havelock
Long romantic beach walk at Radhanagar or Neil Island
Shopping for souvenirs at Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair
Bird & butterfly nature trail to Kala Patthar
Enjoy a sunset at Chidiya Tapu or Mount Harriet
Rejuvenative massage and spa treatment for couples

Hathi Tapu Havelock Island _Anurag Mallick DSC07019

What to Eat 

Port Blair has several eating out options like Corbyn’s Delight and Mandalay, though New Lighthouse Restaurant close to the water park and museum is a good no-frills eatery. Singhotel’s Pink Fly Lounge Bar is a trendy nightspot. Havelock is dotted with resorts that run charming cafes and restaurants like Island Vinnie’s Full Moon, The Wild Orchid’s Red Snapper or Emerald Gecko’s Blackbeard’s Bistro besides little shacks like Anju Coco that serve anything from pizzas and pancakes to great seafood. Barefoot Bar & Brasserie overlooking the jetty is a good vantage point while Barefoot’s Dakshin restaurant close by serves great South Indian.

Where to Stay

Peerless Sarovar Portico
Port Blair’s only beach resort overlooking Corbyn’s Cove
Ph 03192-229311 http://www.sarovarhotels.com

Fortune Resort Bay Island
One of the most luxurious hotels in Port Blair, atop Marine Hill
Ph 03192 234101 http://www.fortunehotels.in

Barefoot at Havelock
Havelock’s swankiest resort blending luxury and eco-friendly charm overlooking Radhanagar Beach
Ph 044 42316376, 9840238042 http://www.barefoot-andaman.com

Mount Hariett National Park_Anurag Mallick DSC07745

Contact
For tourism info
Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Directorate of Information, Publicity & Tourism, Port Blair
Ph 03192-238473, 232694 E-mail ipt@and.nic.in http://www.tourism.andaman.nic.in

For Mt Harriet & Wandoor National Parks
Chief Wildlife Warden P.O. Haddo, Port Blair 744 102
Ph 03192-233321 Email cwlw@andaman.tc.nic.in

For Diving
Barefoot Scuba
Ph 044 24341001, 9566088560
Email: dive@barefootindia.com http://www.diveandamans.com

Dive India
Ph 03192 214247, 8001122205
Email: info@diveindia.com http://www.diveindia.com

Andaman Bubbles
Ph 03192 282140, 9531892216
Email: andamanbubbles@gmail.com http://www.andamanbubbles.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Discover India magazine.

Seychelles: A Walk in the Vanilla Islands

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PRIYA GANAPATHY goes beyond the beaches to capture the spirit of Seychelles through nature and historic trails, plantation walks, Creole culture and cuisine

IMG_0180 View of Mahe from Tea Factory_Priya Ganapathy

As the plane edged out of the coastline, I watched the Indian Ocean spread like a Persian blue tile calligraphed by tufts of clouds. Backlit by the sun, the water was a sheet of sapphire strewn with glistening green islands. It was a magical touchdown at Mahe Airport. As we disembarked, excited tourists exclaimed “Seychelles! Seychelles!”

Unknown to civilization for eons, these little dots off Africa’s East Coast were too remote to merit notice except for Arabs traders who found great profit in selling the rare coco de mer nuts, regarded as aphrodisiacal fruits from the Garden of Eden. Embellished with shells and precious stones, these endemic nuts with feminine curves became exotic collectibles. Vasco da Gama, who spotted the islands on his return from India to Africa in 1502 named them Les Amirantes or Admiral islands. Few years later, the Portuguese surveyed the region and christened the granitic islands as Seven Sisters. It became a perfect perch for pirates raiding merchant vessels enroute the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

IMG_1539 Vanilla plantation_Priya Ganapathy

French explorer Lazare Picault mapped Mahe, the largest granitic island and the Stone of Possession was laid in 1756. Renamed Isle de Séchelles after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Minister of Finance to King Louis XV, the tag stuck for the entire archipelago. The French established huge spice gardens and plantations and brought slaves to work on the plantations. After the French Revolution, the British wrested power until the island nation finally gained independence in 1976.

Unlike other leisure destinations, Seychelles possesses an unaccustomed innocence of a remote archipelago lost at sea. Its hassle-free entry protocol with no visa requirements, low crime rate and promise of privacy tempted even Prince William and Kate to make Seychelles their chosen escape. Home to the rarest species of plants, birds, animals and geology dating to prehistoric times, the Seychellois culture, cuisine and lifestyle bears the influence of many communities that populated it. As we whizzed towards our roost, virgin beaches bordering the road, red-roofed cottages tucked in sunlit cliffs and dense green forests came to life with the suddenness of a flipbook.

IMG_1762 Anse Lazio Beach at Praslin Island_Priya Ganapathy

Glacis Heights Villa, a boutique homestay atop a steep hillock in northwest Mahe overlooked the famous Silhouette Island jutting out of the ocean like a humped whale. The sunset quietly painted the sea flamingo pink as our hosts Beryl and Brian initiated us into the world of tropical delights – exotic fruits, juices and Creole cuisine. “Creole food is really about the spices, a blend of African food with colonial influences. It also mixes Chinese, Indian and French cuisines, so it’s hard to classify. However, we use a lot of coconut milk. We have a little fish called kordonye. It is very rare. You fry it and can even eat the bones!”, Beryl explained.

“The hill is a bit steep… so that works as our gym” Brian winked. Just 200m down the driveway, waves dance across Sunset Beach and a 10 minute walk leads to other quiet beaches and the lovely Bliss Hotel. Ideal for shore swimmers, waders and walkers, the rough sea here is unsuitable for diving. But Beau Vallon, the island’s most popular hub for beach activity was a 10-minute drive away where one could go sailing, snorkelling, diving, sport fishing and parasailing.

IMG_1664 Water sports at La Digue_Priya Ganapathy

The weekly night market at Bazar Labrin was an instant barometer of Seychellois spirit. Set in an open ground, the happy meet-up of locals buzzed with smoky stalls selling fries and fritters, tropical juices, beer and palm liquor. Locals hawked homemade soaps and art n’ craft souvenirs. Entertainment came easy with spontaneous mirth as people danced while local bands played trop-rock, reggae and Creole music.

Victoria, the tiny capital port city to the north of Mahe Island, bustles with eateries, museums, bars, discos, resorts and boutiques in French colonial buildings like Kenwyn House. The Lolroz or “Little Ben” stands proud at the intersection – a silver clocktower mimicking its counterpart that stood in central London. Sir Sewlyn Sewlyn-Clarke Market is the local market echoing the colour and flavour of Seychelles. An open-air fish market since 1840, the place spills with vegetables, fruits, spices, flowers and souvenirs.

IMG_0324 Sir Sewlyn Sewlyn-Clarke Market_Priya Ganapathy

Florist Marie Antoinette displayed her unusual flower buckets filled with Wild ginger, Torch Ginger and Rattlesnake, which resembles a serpent’s tail! “People love to come here because it is a peaceful country and for the water and sun!” she confided. A wide array of spices, packets of vanilla and neatly rolled cinnamon sticks, tea boxes, fruits like carambola, soursop (corossol) and exquisite seashell souvenirs made us linger as pretty girls selling printed beachwear and pareos (sarongs) smiled from their terrace shops. We hopped into Victoria’s most talked about restaurants for a quick bite – Pirates Arms and Bravo! on Eden Island Marina, a super yacht facility.

A winding drive to San Souci and a trek in the Morne Seychellois National Park unearthed some of Seychelles’ best kept biodiversity secrets. While the cloud forests on the peak tantalised us with majestic aloofness, Terence Belle, a walking encyclopedia on natural history chose an easier route for us. He indicated, “This palm was originally from Kew Gardens in England. A guy stole it and brought it here. That’s why it’s also called Latanier feuille or Thief’s Tree. They use it as roof thatching. During rains, we use it is as an umbrella!” We tried to keep pace with his hat of surprises.

IMG_0703 Octopus salad_Priya Ganapathy

“There are 6 endemic palms here. That’s Deckenia nobilis, a protected palm species whose heart was used to prepare salade palmiste or ‘millionaire’s salad’, a local delicacy. But the whole palm had to be sacrificed to reach the palm heart. Today it cannot be cut. Restaurants only serve the heart of the coconut tree! That’s a sunbird, our national bird. We have the world’s smallest frog here.” he rattled on. The trail ended at a dense tract of pitcher plants rambling over the cliffside, like green lanterns lit by the sun. Peeking into this deadly carnivorous plant we found its hidden lethal pools of death that attracted insects to their doom.

Rum tasting at the Takamaka Bay Distillery on La Plaine St Andre estate kept our spirits high and post lunch we strolled down Bilenbi Avenue for a scented spice trail past historic ruins. An ancient baobab tree with supposed healing properties and an old plantation bell stood as a memorial to the men, women and children who toiled here. Aurelie, our guide explained “Long ago, the bell stood atop a tower. The huge property had many slaves working from dawn to dusk. Under the French, it was a plantation of cotton, rice, coconut and tobacco. Later when the English arrived, they abolished slavery and gave a plot of land to every slave which gave it a nice happy ending.”

IMG_0139 Plantation Bell at La Plaine St Andre_Priya Ganapathy

Venn’s Town, named after Henry Venn, an Anglican missionary better known as ‘Mission’, was another offbeat yet beautiful reminder of the triumph against slavery. In a wooded patch stood the ruins of a boarding school founded in 1875 by Rev William Chancellor to educate children of slaves freed by the British Navy. The Cat Cocos ferried us to Praslin and Hotel L’Archipel became our haven of luxury and a great base to experience the mesmeric beauty of Curieuse Island and La Digue.

With the joy of swimming at spectacular beaches like Anse Source d’Argent, Grande Anse and Petit Anse, Seychelles is indeed paradise. There is a Creole saying “Jete coule je ne coule camin” meaning “look with your eyes and keep it in your heart”. It holds true for the unblemished beauty of Seychelles.

IMG_0498 Carnaval International de Victoria_Priya Ganapathy

Fact File

How to go: Seychelles is a cluster of 115 islands nearly a thousand miles off the coast of Africa. Air Seychelles flies from Mumbai to Mahé (4 hr 10 min) three times a week, besides flights via Colombo, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Hop on to Cat Cocos or local ferries from Mahé to reach Praslin and La Digue.

Where to stay: Seychelles has excellent beach resorts like Hotel L’Archipel at Praslin, boutique homestays like Glacis Heights Villa at Mahe and colonial bungalows in spice plantations.

When to go: With an endless summer it’s great to visit all year round. The Carnaval International de Victoria takes place in the last week of April.

For more details, visit www.seychelles.travel or plan a budget holiday at www.seychellessecrets.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This is the unedited version of the article that appeared on 8 Feb 2015 in the Sunday magazine of The Hindu.