Tag Archives: Goa

Mhadei River Run: Rafting in Goa

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Rafting down the Mahadayi (Mhadei) river in Goa will give you an adrenaline rush like no other, describe ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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For a river that runs for just a hundred odd kilometers, the Mhadei’s waters are indeed turbulent for its relatively short journey from source to sea. Originating from a cluster of 30 springs at Bhimgad in Karnataka’s Belagavi district, a major portion of the river flows through Goa as the Mandovi.

The region where it enters Goa is one of the most pristine patches in the Western Ghats and the river skirts the scenic Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary before it meets the Arabian Sea at Panaji, forming the lifeline of the state. While the sharing of Mhadei’s waters may be a contentious issue between Goa and Karnataka, the river’s bounty knows no boundaries.

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With the advent of rains in June, the Mhadei drains the surplus waters from the South West monsoon, which lashes the slopes of the Western Ghats. The otherwise placid river transforms into a gushing torrent with Class 2 to 3 rapids as adventure seekers converge on it for the untamed joys of white water rafting. Unlike the usual rafting season across the rest of India between October and May, in Goa it’s a monsoon activity from June to October when all the action shifts from the beaches.

John Pollard of Southern River Adventures, who pioneered rafting in South India, has introduced 6 stretches from Dandeli to Coorg since 1999. In 2012, he started rafting in Goa, in partnership with Goa Tourism. John considers rafting in Goa, especially the upper Mhadei-Tilari belt, as ‘the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas.’

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We’ve had our share of crazy escapades in Goa – from full moon parties and coastal treks to an adventure bike ride to Dudhsagar waterfall. Yet, we were filled with a sense of expectation as we left for Valpoi to take on a 10 km stretch of the lower Mhadei. The Goan hinterland seemed awash with the first rains as we drove through the lush countryside of Sattari taluka. From our meeting point at The Earthen Pot restaurant minivans transported us to the river, a short 25 min drive away. It was a 10min walk to the launch point at Ustem village.

Pleasantries were exchanged between the rafters and the motley bunch of river guides from the south, North India and Nepal as we shared anecdotes about our rafting adventures from Rishikesh to Bhote Koshi in Nepal. Mohammed, who has been with Southern River Adventures for the past 14 years, briefed us on equipment, safety instructions and rafting commands. “All Forward, Back Paddle, Hold On, Over Left, Over Right,” he announced with the seriousness of a drill sergeant. After a quick mock paddling session, we carried the raft to the river down the bank. It was overcast and drizzling steadily.

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Raising our paddles in salutation to the river, we heaved off. We paddled through nearly 10 Grade II-III rapids starting off with Big Daddy, which lived up to its name. Giant Haystacks has high waves that start stacking up when the water level is good. The strangely named Y-Fronts owes its strange moniker to a funny incident during a trial run. John’s journo friend Monty Munford had such a churn in the rapids that when he emerged he was left wearing only his y-fronts! Between the white water stretches we stopped paddling to admire the lush forest backdrop and jungle scenery.

After the Pipeline we reached some flats, we jumped off the raft with our guide’s permission for some body surfing. The water was cool and invigorating. We disembarked at the finish point at Sonal and squelched our way up to a tea stall for some hot chai and pakodas. The minivan dropped us back to The Earthen Pot Restaurant where we devoured some poi and Goan sausages, before heading back. The Mhadei is perfect for first-time rafters as well as seasoned paddlers and ought to be on everyone’s ‘must do’ list for in the monsoon.

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FACT FILE

Where
10km on the Mhadei River in Sattari taluka of Goa, about 45km from Panaji

Grade of Rapids
Class II to III

Meeting point
The Earthen Pot Restaurant, Sayed Nagar, Valpoi

Timings
Season: June to September
Arrive by 9:30 am for 10am departure
Arrive by 2:30 pm for 3pm departure

Duration
Approx 2-3 hours (1–1hr 45 min of rafting)

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Wear
Swimsuit or comfortable swimwear, t-shirt, shorts/tights, fixed sandals or secure sneakers.

Don’ts
Loose clothing or slippers strictly not allowed. Avoid any intoxication before the trip because you need to be alert to follow the rafting commands.

Age
12 years and above (age limit is relaxed in case of low water levels)

Tariff
Rs.1800/person

Contact
Southern River Adventures
Ph +91 9545305734, 8805727230
Email goarafting@gmail.com
www.goarafting.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 16 June 2018 as the cover story in the Travel supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

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Beautifully Bespoke: Unique experiences in India

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From desert camps, mountain abodes, rainforest retreats to beachside bungalows, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY curate bespoke indulgences across the country

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Suryagarh, Jaisalmer (Rajasthan)
The welcome is grand. An open jeep with flags aflutter leads guests to the fort-like entrance where a pair of camels leads you up the driveway to the porch. A Manganiyar troupe welcomes you with song, Panditji applies a tilak on your forehead as a flower petals rain from above. At the foyer, an attendant hands a towel, another plies you with cool beverage before ushering you to the room. A manganiyar seated in a jharokha of the central courtyard welcomes you to the world of Suryagarh. Few hotels match the art of hospitality and pampering of Suryagarh. Its diverse dining experiences are beautifully curated – Breakfast with Peacocks, Halwayi Breakfast in the courtyard or Dining on the Dunes, at Fossil Hill or lakeside.

Its bespoke Desert Remembers trails present the Thar desert’s lesser known history – Bhil settlements, ruins of caravanserais, rainwater harvesting techniques of Paliwal Brahmins who prospered from the Silk Route, cenotaphs of merchants and travellers, ancient stepwells and the sweet water wells of Mundari. Retrace old trade routes on camel safaris or go on a midnight Chudail (Witches) Trail at Kuldhara. The hotel’s design elements are inspired by its surroundings – the jharokhas mirror Jaisalmer’s havelis, windows and friezes from Khaba Fort and stone walls and ceiling from Kuldhara. Suryagarh’s Residences, exclusive private havelis and suites handcrafted from sandstone, are reminiscent of Paliwal villages. They even have your photos printed and placed in customized frames in your room as a personal touch. Each day, halwai chef Gatta Ram sends a mithai platter with descriptive historical nuggets on scrolls. Surrender to specially designed therapies at Rait Spa that uses locally sourced Thar sand and Luni river salt.

Ph +91-02992-269269, 7827151151
www.suryagarh.com
Tariff 14,000-1,00,000/night

Coco Shambhala_2

Coco Shambhala, Nerul (Goa)
No matter whether you’re in Bangalore or Burkina Faso, a friendly phone call one day prior to your arrival at Coco Shambhala notes your dietary preferences in detail. Spread over an acre near Coco Beach, the secluded villas – named Bharani, Aslesha, Ashwini and Rohini – come with two rooms, treetop living room, private plunge pool, open showers, equipped kitchen and complimentary mini-bar stocked with beers, wine and champagne. The Panchvati style interiors by Belgian designer Lou Lou Isla Maria Van Damme uses colonial furniture in a tropical jungle style garden with ethnic accents. There’s no separate restaurant but signature dishes like Prawn & Chorizo Bruschetta, Basil Prawns with Lemon and Namibian Chicken are served in the comfort of your villa.

Relaxing treatments of 2 Heavens Spa can also be arranged in your room. Meals are ordered a day in advance so only fresh produce is bought and used. Savour the exclusive menu and gustatory experiences curated by India’s top wine and food specialist Shagun Mehra. The stunning pool uses chlorine-free well water. Guests are handed a cellphone pre-fed with staff details, including a complimentary cab and driver for excursions, with free pick up and drop to the airport. Sounds too good? No wonder Coco Shambhala was ranked among the Top 25 Beach Villas in the World by Condé Nast Traveller and recently bagged Outlook Traveller’s Best Boutique Hotel Award 2016.

Ph +91 9372267182
www.shambhalavillas.com
Tariff 30,000-42,000/villa, incl. breakfast

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The Ibnii, Madikeri, Coorg (Karnataka)
Opened in Feb 2016 after an extensive 10-year development project, The Ibnii (literally ‘Dew’) offers true-to-nature holidays. The check-in is paperless and a welcome drink of bellath (jaggery) coffee is served at The Kaadu, a wooden machaan overlooking the 120-acre property. The Ibnii takes great pride in having no phone network or room service (though wi-fi is available). Ten Balinese wooden cottages on stilts overlook a rainwater harvesting lake and 22 private pool villas called Kopi Luwak come with Jacuzzi and outdoor pool.

Guests are encouraged to walk to Pattola Palame (meaning ‘collection of silk strands’) to dine at the multi-cuisine Fig, veg restaurant Ballele (banana leaf), outdoor barbecue Masikande (charcoal) and Kaldi Kaapee coffee house where the Bean-to-Cup coffee tour culminates. Duck feeding, responsible fishing, nature trails, interactive kitchen with baking classes at the Boulangerie; there’s plenty to do here. Try the signature coffee and sugar scrub, besides Ayurvedic and Western spa treatments at Manja Spa named after the healing ‘turmeric’.

Ph +91 88849 90000 www.ibnii.com
Tariff Rs.35,000, incl. all meals

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Chamba Camp & The Grand Dragon Ladakh (J&K)
Could a high altitude cold desert like Ladakh offer comfort you’ve never imagined? Experience ‘Glamping’ or glamour camping at Chamba Camp Thiksey, part of Cox & Kings’ The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC). Individually designed luxury tents come with en-suite bathrooms, colonial furniture, a private deck and personal butler. Experienced guides accompany you on personalized cultural trips to monasteries and oracles, regaling you with folk tales by campfire. Watch a game of polo, raft down the Indus River and enjoy lavish picnic lunches. In 2015, it won Robb Report’s 27th Annual International Best of Best Awards, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s finest things. The only hitch? Just a 4-month season.

Thankfully, The Grand Dragon Ladakh, Leh’s plushest hotel is open all year round offering great winter packages besides swanky new suites. Centrally heated with impressive views of the Stok Kangri range, it serves terrific food and traditional Ladakhi cuisine. Move over from momothukpa and discover skiu (wheat pasta stew), timstuk (wheat strips and black gram soup), nang (Ladakhi sausage), shapta (meat curry), phingsha (keema with phing or glass noodles), taint (Ladakhi spinach) and tingmo (Tibetan steamed buns). Unique cultural experiences like learning calligraphy, a session with a Ladakhi oracle, tea by the Indus and Zanskar rivers and witnessing prayer sessions in monasteries make your stay special.

Ph 1800 123 0508
www.coxandkings.com
Tariff Rs.2,45,355/person for 6 days, 5 nights

Ph +91 9906986782, 9622997222
www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.10,670-43,000

Rokeby Manor_Pine Tree Lodge - Dining

 

 

Rokeby Manor, Landour (Uttarakhand)
A colonial era boutique hotel between the Shivaliks and the Himalayas, Rokeby Manor was built at Landour in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy and named after the writings of Sir Walter Scott. With stone walls, wooden floors and quaint niches and nooks, the renovated rooms overlook the valley or the Tea Garden. The restaurant Emily’s serves gourmet cuisine and house specials like Mustard Chicken. While the second oldest villa in the erstwhile British cantonment is special, wait till you discover the cluster of 19th century colonial cottages called Rokeby Residences!

Offering stand-alone experiences, every mountain retreat has 2-3 bedrooms and its own Mr. Jeeves. Shamrock Cottage, built in the 1800’s, has a spacious garden. Bothwell Bank is a stone-clad log cabin with knotty pine wood décor, original fireplaces, kitchen, barbecue and outdoor Jacuzzi. Tabor Lodge has a private deck lined with herbs in outsized cups. Pine Tree Lodge displays Scandinavian architecture with patchwork stools, vintage lamps and Finnish artwork. Whatever your choice, exclusivity is guaranteed, with the Swiss-style Stubli Café, Ale House English pub and Little Shed Salon & Spa bound to keep you occupied.

Ph 0135-2635604/05/06, 9634443666
www.rokebymanor.com
Tariff Rs.10,000-70,000

 

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the Q4 2016 issue of Audi magazine.

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…

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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.

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

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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. 

 

Get Lost: 15 Off-the-Grid Holidays

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Had enough of partying and want a quiet escape away from it all? Sit around a bonfire, watch the stars and get away from the crowds in these remote places that aren’t too difficult to reach. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY show a whole world out there to lose yourself in…

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Get some Soulitude in the Himalayas at Ramgarh (Uttarakhand)
‘I’m off to Ramgarh’ you can announce nonchalantly and let the world figure out which of the dozen Ramgarhs in India you have toodled off to. Thanks to its remote location, the village of Gagar near Ramgarh (35 km north east of Nainital) is free from tourist traffic. Tucked away in the slopes of a scenic hamlet at 7,000 ft, it commands a majestic view of the Kumaon Himalayas – Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchachuli, Pindari Glacier, Nandakot, Nandaghunti and Kamet. Its ten rooms, named Nirvana, Bliss, Quietude, Awakening, Peace (you get the idea), offer ample ‘soulitude’ and inspiration. Hike to the local Ramgarh market and continue to scenic orchards and old dak bungalows of Ashok Vatika renovated by Neemrana into the Ramgarh Bungalows. Wake up to a magical sunrise in this quiet nook that served as Rabindranath Tagore’s literary retreat for six years – he even considered it as the location of his dream abode and university Shantiniketan! The renowned poetess Mahadevi Verma too lived in Ramgarh – her home is now a library of her works. You might consider reading a book here, if not writing one! Owner Manish Chandra also runs another quiet retreat called Soulitude by the River at Chanfi nearby.

Soulitude in the Himalayas
Gagar, Nainital-Mukteshwar Road, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Ph +91 99993 30379 http://www.soulitude.in
Tariff Rs.8,000-12,000

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Swing in a hammock by a gurgling river at Shanthi Kunnj (Karnataka)
Deep in the heart of Malnad on the banks of the gurgling Bhadra River, swing lazily in a hammock while staying in wood and bamboo thatched cottages overlooking the river and forest beyond. The Areca House, Log House, Glass House, Mud House, Tent House are all made of locally available timber, tucked away in a coffee, cardamom, areca and pepper plantation. Go on a tour of the Holy Cross Estate run by the Saldanhas or take an adventurous jeep ride to the river bank for a splash and barbecue picnic of fish baked in sand. The area was called Masigadde (Coal Field) as the forests were burned for producing charcoal to power the steam locomotives during the British era. Thankfully the forests are now protected as part of the Bhadra and Muthodi tiger reserves. Guests have reported rare tiger sightings just across the river though otters are aplenty.

Shanthi Kunnj Homestay
Devdhana Village, Honnekoppa, Sangameshwarpet, Near Kadabagere, Chikmagalur District, Karnataka Ph 0824-2485180 www.shanthikunnj.com
Tariff Rs.3,500/person, all-inclusive

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Have a wild time of a different kind in Chambal Safari Lodge (Uttar Pradesh)
The once notorious bandit terrain of India, the Chambal valley today offers exciting opportunities for wildlife tourism and eco conservation. Spearheading these efforts are Kunwar Ram Pratap (RP) and Anu Singh who run Chambal Safari Lodge in their ancestral property. Mela Kothi, the family’s field camp that once hosted a cattle mela (fair) has independent cottages on 35 acres of private farmland. Enjoy fireside dinners under the stars, go on bicycle jaunts, horse rides and camel safaris in the ravines or village and nature trails on foot. The signature experience is the jeep drive to the banks of the Chambal River for a guided boat ride. Spot gharials and muggers on the sandbanks and flocks of Indian skimmers besides other wildlife. Watch camels ford the river loaded with firewood on an excursion to Ater Fort (2km) across the Chambal. At Bateshwar (11km) view the riverside temples on the banks of the Yamuna from the riverside retreat The Kunj.

Chambal Safari Lodge
Mela Kothi, Village Jarar, Tehsil Bah, District Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Ph 9997066002, 9837415512, 9719501517
Email rpsjarar@chambalsafari.com www.chambalsafari.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-9,000, meals and excursions extra

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Experience tranquility at Tranquebar at the Bungalow by the Beach (Tamil Nadu)
Imagine a red sun casting golden spangles on a sea with silhouettes of fishing boats dancing past the waves. Throw in an easy chair on a wraparound balcony that overlooks India’s most oxygen-rich beach in front, the 17th century Danish Fort Dansborg to the right and a Pandya temple to the left and you have the perfect do-nothing holiday. Tharangambadi, literally the ‘Land of the Dancing Waves’ became Tranquebar under the Danes. Neemrana’s Bungalow by the Beach offers privacy with a dollop of wistful colonial nostalgia and rooms quaintly named after old Danish ships – Christianus Septimus, Countess Moltke, Prince Christian, take your pick! Period décor, stewards in attendance, a blue pool by the beach and delicious cuisine; this is old world luxury redefined. Visit the Fort museum or take INTACH’s heritage walk to leisurely explore the last vestiges of Scandinavian heritage at the only Danish outpost in India. In this time warp, Tamil culture seamless blends into the town’s landscape though streets still bear names like Kongensgade (King’s Street), Borgan Street and the old gateway Landsporten, besides historic churches, homes of former Danish Governors and pastors, an old cemetery and India’s 1st printing press! Neemrana has also restored two other heritage houses – the Gate House and the Thanga House into their signature ‘non-hotel’ hotels.

Bungalow on the Beach
24 King Street, Tharangambadi, District Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91 11 4666 1666, 9310630386, 9786100461 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-7,000

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Explore your fourth state of consciousness at Turiya Spa near Palolem (Goa)
Let’s face it, everyone has had their share of unconsciousness in Goa. But true to its name, Turiya explores the fourth state of consciousness. Set in a serene corner of Canacona, the 100-year old Portuguese villa and spa was renovated by architect and designer Sandesh Prabhu to help visitors to Goa find innermost peace. The 12,000 sq ft landscaped property has an inviting ambience, cheery colours and an intimate Eden-like garden with chikkoo, mango, avocado and frangipani trees. Get pampered with delicious home-style Konkani cuisine, bathe in open to sky baths or soak in a step-down bath, savour rejuvenative spa treatments based on Western methods and traditional Indian systems of Ayurveda. Uncover local culture with visits to a local market or farm or hire a bike to scenic Palolem (2km) and Agonda beaches (10 km north). Boat trips to Butterfly Island for dolphin sightings and day trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Karwar are other activities.

Turiya Villa and Spa
House No 16, Chaudi, Canacona, Goa
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-9,500

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Watch the stillness of Umiam Lake & enjoy Khasi hospitality at Ri Kynjai (Meghalaya)
Located on the outskirts of Shillong, Ri Kynjai is a boutique lakeside resort in Meghalaya really lives up to its tagline ‘Serenity by the Lake’. The resort reflects Khasi traditions in every aspect of hospitality and architecture. Stay in plush cottages and stylish thatched huts on stilts. Wrapped within its warm pine interiors and wooden floors, watch drifting clouds and watercolour beauty of the surroundings or sit in the balcony and contemplate on the stillness of Umiam Lake. Submerge yourself in high-end spa treatments at Khem Janai or indulge in gourmet fare at the restaurant Sao Aiom (Four Seasons) specializing in North Eastern delicacies like jadoh, smoked pork with bamboo shoot and the famous Cherrapunji Chicken. The 45 acre wooded estate and gardens are great for leisurely walks, though for more adventure visit the nearby village of Umiuh or hike around the Khasi Hills.

Ri Kynjai
Umniuh Khwan, UCC Road, Ri Bhoi District, Meghalaya
Ph +91 9862420300, 9862420301 www.rikynjai.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000

IMG_5885 Chalets Naldehra revolving restaurant_Anurag Priya

Find Alpine comfort in India at Chalets Naldehra (Himachal)
Undulating grassy meadows fringed by tall cedar trees, Naldehra (22 km north of Shimla), was so enchanting that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1899-1905) renamed his youngest daughter Alexandra as Naldehra after his favourite haunt. The undulating golf course set up by Curzon – the oldest in India and one of the highest 18-hole golf links in the world – still ranks among the most challenging in the country. Not far from the course, beyond a manicured lawn and a pretty garden, Finnish log cabins stand at multiple levels, no two of which are alike. Set on a 2-acre patch owned by the enterprising father-son duo Yatish and Amish Sud, the personal holiday home strategically built close to the golf course soon transformed into a resort., a Every chalet, named after early explorers who mapped the hills, sports commemorative brass plaques – F Younghusband Chalet, Gerard Chalet, Captain Kennedy Chalet, Sir Henry Collet Chalet. The revolving restaurant, 360˚ Top of the World, is the first of its kind in Himachal Pradesh! The small octagonal restaurant seats 20 and is a great perch to unwind and enjoy a delicious meal with laser lights, sunset views and starry nights. Hike to the picturesque village of Kogi to see old Himachali temples and homes with slate roofs.

Chalets Naldehra
Naldehra, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Ph 0177-2747715, 9816062007, 9816039162 www.chaletsnaldehra.com
Tariff Rs.14,990-22,990 (2n/3d package)

Deluxe Room --The Grand Dragon Hotel Ladakh-2

Fly to the roof of the world while enjoying plush comfort in Ladakh’s winter (J&K)
While thousands drive to Ladakh when the high Himalayan passes open in summer, the relatively quiet winter holds its own charm. Not just the air, the crowd too thins out as the temperature drops. The sheer joy of leaving fresh tracks in snow will make anyone feel like an adventurer. And what better way to do it than pamper yourself at Grand Dragon, the swankiest 5-star hotel in Ladakh? Stay in plush rooms that open out to a view of the snow-capped peaks of Stok Kangri, Khardung la pass, besides landmarks like Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. Sip a hot cuppa and dine at the specialty restaurant Tusrabs, literally ‘from ancient times’ that serves a fusion of Ladakhi, Tibetan & Chinese cuisine. After acclimatizing to the 3500 m, take a day trip along the Indus river past Nimu where it meets the Zanskar to Chilling, the start point of the Chadar (Frozen River) Trek. Visit Ladakh’s oldest living monastery Alchi, the moonscapes of Lamayuru, Atishey village and attend local festivals like Gustor (Jan 7) at Spituk gompa or Losar and Dosmochey (Feb).

The Grand Dragon Ladakh
Old Road, Sheynam, Leh, Ladakh
Ph +91 1982-255866/266, 9906986782, 9622997222 www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.22,999-32,999/person (3n/4d Winter Offer)

IMG_6904 Samten Yongjhar Gompa prayer flags

Escape to Mechuka on the China border (Arunachal)
Mechuka is so remote, it’s closer to the Chinese border than to any Indian town. Named after the hot water springs found in the area (men means medicine, chu is water while kha literally means snow or mouth), the far flung town lies in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Reached after a circuitous drive from Aalo, the road deposts you at a wide plateau surrounded by an amphitheater of hills. The Siyom or Yargyap chu river snakes across the valley criss-crossed by bamboo bridges lined with prayer flags. Being an advanced airfield and staging post for the Indian Army, you wake up to the sound of bagpipes and military drills in the morning as wild horses graze in the fields. Base yourself at local guest houses and quaint homestays while visiting Tibetan monasteries like Samden Yongjhar gompa and Dorjeling gompa, besides the cave where Guru Nanak is supposed to have meditated 500 years ago on his trip to Tibet.

Department of Tourism, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
Ph +91-360-2214745 www.arunachaltourism.com

dadhikar

Gaze at the Aravalis as you listen to folk musicians at Dadhikar (Rajasthan)
Rajasthan is a land of forts and palaces, which is why it’s easy to miss out on some of the lesser known gems in the state. Dadhikar Fort, northwest of Alwar, is one such jewel. Wander into a world scented by 1000 years of history as you sip morning tea on the ramparts with unbeatable panoramic views. Choose from a bouquet of regal suites and stone clad rooms to curl up, with impeccable meals served in the courtyard and soul-stirring folk music under the stars. Balladeers sing ‘Saher Dadhikar Pargana, Alwar Garh ke paas, Basti Raja Chand ki, Abhaner nikas’ as they recount the legend of Raja Chand who camped here after his capital Abhaneri was flooded. The campsite (dera) came to be known as Derakar, which over time was corrupted to Dadhikar. Explore the hill fort, Sariska tiger sanctuary and nearby forts of Ajabgarh-Bhangarh besides Alwar’s hilltop bastion Bala Qila.

The Dadhikar Fort
Village Dadhikar, Alwar, Rajasthan
Ph +91 9871655431, 9950669900
www.dadhikarhotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,500-14,000

Tea Nest Coonoor offroad to Pakkasurankote IMG_2450

Enjoy high tea at Tea Nest in Coonoor (Tamil Nadu)
Rolling tea estates, cool wind perfumed with the freshness of eucalyptus and pine, gushing waterfalls and exotic flower gardens; the Nilgiris is a dream destination. If you wish to stay away from the rumpus of Ooty, check into Tea Nest – a tea-themed hideaway outside Coonoor surrounded by 1800 acres of tea plantations. Wake up to birdsong in this perch on a hillock as gaurs graze in the bushes nearby, walk or cycle around the plantations dotted with tea-pickers busily plucking away or relax in the patio admiring the Pakkasurankote hill range. The early 19th century colonial villa has rooms tagged after tea varieties and presents a splendid 7-course tea-inspired menu served by friendly attentive staff. The Tea Nest Annexe, a 2-room planter’s bungalow scarcely 1 km away from the main house offers more privacy in a romantic setting. Don’t miss the nature trail past Toda hamlets and Hill Grove railway station to the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort, the company’s flagship enterprise nestled in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road.

Tea Nest
Singara Estate, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91-423-2234018, 9442147198 (Tea Nest), +91-423-2233030, 8903502763 (Tea Nest Annexe) www.natureresorts.in
Tariff Rs.2,500-4,000, incl. breakfast

Woodpecker Tree House- View from the Plantation

Perch in a tree house at Pepper Trail in Wayanad (Kerala)
In a recent survey, Wayanad ranked among the top 10 best accommodations in the world. Adding to the present mix of specialty hotels, nature resorts and boutique hotels is Pepper Trail. The highlight of the 200-acre coffee and spice plantation in Kerala’s hilly district is a charming 140-year-old colonial bungalow. The lovingly restored Pazhey Bungalaav (Old Bungalow) houses the Malabar and Mackenzie Suites with quaint four posters and antique furniture. Perched on giant jackfruit trees nearby, the tree houses are 40 feet off the ground. Just because you are at the treetop, doesn’t mean you scrimp on luxury. Named Hornbill and Woodpecker, each tree house comes with large bedrooms, outdoor living spaces and safari inspired furniture. There’s plenty to do in and around the estate – guided plantation walks, cycling, open jeep safaris and coracle rides or fishing on the estate reservoir.

Pepper Trail
Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad, Kerala
Ph +91 9562277000 www.peppertrail.in
Tariff Rs.4,700-18,000

Dibrugarh Chang Bungalow DSC04385 opt

Stay in a house on stilts in Dibrugarh (Assam)
Head to Dibrugarh in Upper Assam to live the lazy life of a tea planter in a chang bungalow (traditional house on stilts). Rooms named after the tributaries of the Brahmaputra River look out to manicured lawns as fresh brewed tea is always available. Specially designed horse-riding tours take you around century old tea estates or cross-country along the banks of the Brahmaputra. Picnic on grassy banks, boat cruises and kayaking or extend your itinerary to visit the ancient Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the wildlife preserves of Kaziranga and Dibru Saikhowa. Purvi Discovery runs another lodge closer to town called Chowkidinghee Chang Bungalow and the new boutique property Wathai Heritage Bungalow at Limbuguri Tea Estate in Tinsukia, a good base to explore Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Purvi Discovery
Ph 0373 2301120, 2300035 Email purvidiscovery@gmail.com www.assamteatourism.com
Tariff Rs.3,500-9,000, incl. breakfast

Neil Island jetty_Anurag Mallick DSC07376

Maroon yourself on Neil Island (Andamans)
The boat jetty at Bharatpur on Neil Island juts out into the vast Andaman sea of electric blue. You can walk to it each day from your beach hut just to watch the daily boat from Havelock sail away. In this nook, it is easy to stay in self-imposed exile for as long as one wants, snorkeling around the reefs and eating fresh seafood. Spread over 18.9 sq km and only 5km at its widest point, Neil is a tiny speck in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands nearly 1400 km from the Indian mainland and 40 km east of Port Blair. Its five villages harbour 3000 fishing and agricultural families, which gives the island its popular name – ‘Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans’. Neil is so small one can cover the whole island on foot in a day. The beaches (originally numbered for convenience) took on their present names after Hindu migrants were resettled here by the Indian Government after the 1971 Bangladesh War. Watch the sunrise at Sitapur or see it go down at Laxmanpur and marvel at the natural stone bridge and corals in shallow pools during low tide. Laze at Ramnagar or swim in Govindnagar, but whatever you do, don’t glug Neil down like a vodka shot; savour it like single malt…

Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Ph 03192-232694, 244091 www.andamans.gov.in

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Stay in an erstwhile hunting lodge at Kila Dalijoda (Odisha)
Once an exclusive hunting lodge of Raja Jyoti Prasad Singh Deo, king of Panchakote Raj, Kila Dalijoda is a beautiful two storied stone house 22 km north of Cuttack in Odisha. The heritage homestay is named after its proximity to Dalijoda Forest Range, part of the newly declared Kapilas Elephant Sanctuary. The European style mansion, with arched windows and tinted glass was built in 1931-33, and at that time boasted tech advancements like self generating electricity, electrified fencing and water harvesting. Present hosts Debjit Prasad Singh Deo and his wife Namrata have kept its wild soul intact carrying out only minor renovation. With just three suites, it is the perfect hideaway where guests get a dose of rural lifestyle with visits to weekly village markets, tribal settlements and nature walks. Savour delicious home-cooked Odiya meals, with quail eggs available all year round (and duck eggs in winter), preferred over the plebeian chicken eggs due to traditional reasons.

Kila Dalijoda
Ph +91 9438667086 Email debjitsinghdeo@yahoo.co.in www.kiladalijoda.com
Tariff Rs.3,000-4,000

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unedited version of the article that appeared on 18 December, 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/off-the-grid-getaways-for-your-next-long-weekend/

10 magical drives from Bengaluru

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From the Western Ghats to the Deccan Plateau and the Karavali Coast to Coromandel, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY hit the highways of South India to seek out ten scenic drives from Bangalore

Searching for some great drives around Bengaluru? Look no further than this handpicked list of destinations across regions, themes and geographic zones with everything you need to know – where to stay, what to eat, how to get there, distances, midway stops and what to see en route. Presented in increasing order of distance from Bangalore, take these scenic routes across Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.

Baba Budan Giri_Landscape 2_opt

Sakleshpur
Swathed in plantations of coffee, cardamom, pepper and areca, Sakleshpur is the scenic gateway to the Western Ghats. Straddling the passes on the town’s outskirts is Tipu Sultan’s strategic fort Manjarabad. Shaped like an eight-cornered star radiating around a central hillock, the climb is difficult, but offers superb views all around. The 56.8 km Green Route from Sakleshpur to Kukke Subrahmanya, dotted by 58 tunnels, 109 bridges and 25 waterfalls used to be a stunning trek along an abandoned railway track until it was recently converted into broad gauge. Now you can hop on to a train to soak in the natural beauty of Bisle Ghat, home to India’s most spectacular rainforests. From the scenic Bisle viewpoint one can see the mountain ranges of three districts – Kumara Parvatha (1319 m) in Dakshina Kannada, Puspha Giri (1712 m) and Dodda Betta (1119 m) in Coorg and Patta Betta (1112 m) in Hassan district. For a misty drive, head north to Chikmagalur and the Baba Budan Giri hills to climb Karnataka’s highest peak Mullaiyanagiri.
Stay: The Radcliffe Bungalow at the 1000-acre Ossoor Estate 3 km before Sakleshpur off the highway is a charming colonial era plantation bungalow with 3 rooms, red oxide floors and open to sky bathrooms. Run by Plantation Escapes, they also have an 8-room property near Chikmagalur called Mist Valley. www.plantationescapes.com
Distance: 221 km (4 hrs)
Route: Take the Bengaluru-Mangaluru highway or NH-48 via Nelamangala, Kunigal, Hassan and Channarayapatna

Pitstop: Kamath Upchar after Channarayapatna
En route: Drowning church of Shettihalli, Gorur Dam, Hoysala temples at Mosale, Nuggehalli besides Belur-Halebid

Guided Jeep Drive Through Coffee Plantations

Pollibetta
As the winding road climbs the ghats of Coorg, the glossy green coffee bushes and pepper vines present a soothing sight. In monsoon, blankets of mist wrap the rainforest and waterfalls are at their torrential best – be it Abbi and Hattihole near Madikeri (Mercara), Chelavara near Kakkabe or Irpu near Srimangala. Go on a guided Bean to Cup plantation tour with Tata Coffee, enjoy a round of golf at the 9-hole course, grapple with rapids while whitewater rafting at Dubare and Upper Barapole rivers or hike to vantage points like Kotebetta, Mandalpatti and Kabbe Pass. Base yourself in any of the colonial-era bungalows around Pollibetta run by Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trails and feast on traditional Kodava cuisine like koli (chicken) and pandi (pork) curry and monsoon staples like kumme (mushrooms), bemble (bamboo shoots) and kemb (colocasia) curry.
Stay: Stay in premium heritage bungalows like the century old Cottabetta or Thaneerhulla, Woshully plantation bungalow or plantation cottages like Surgi, Thaneerhulla, Yemmengundi or Glenlorna, which offers the rare view of a tea estate in coffee county. They also run the Arabidacool heritage bungalow near Chikmagalur. www.plantationtrails.net
Distance: 230 km (5 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Srirangapatna, turn right onto the Mercara highway and after Hunsur, take the left deviation towards Gonicoppa (look out for the Plantation Trails sign), drive on to Thithimathi and turn right at another sign to Pollibetta, 9 km away.
Pitstop: Maddur vada at Maddur Tiffany’s or puliyogare, pongal, Kanchipuram idlis and Brahmin Iyengar snacks at Kadambam, Channapatna
En route: Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, KRS Dam (Brindavan Gardens) and Namdroling Golden Temple at the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar.

Vythiri Resort rope bridge IMG_1686_Anurag Priya

Lakkidi
Perched at an altitude of 700 m atop Thamarassery Ghat, Lakkidi squats on the western border of Kerala’s hilliest district Wayanad. Located just 5 km from the tourist hub of Vythiri, it is one of the highest locations in the district. The winding Thamarassery–Lakkidi Ghat road, often shrouded in mist and fog, is called the Cherrapunjee of Kerala. Stop by at the freshwater Pookot Lake and the Chain Tree, which pays tribute to the spirit of a tribal chieftain who showed the secret way through the passes to a British officer but was treacherously killed. Head to the district headquarters Kalpetta for Wayanad Splash, a monsoon carnival with mud football, crab hunting, offroad drives and other rain soaked adventures. Hike to the heart-shaped lake at Chembra, Wayanad’s highest peak or take part in cross country cycling, treks and other adventure trails with Muddy Boots.
Stay: Laze in rustic themed tree houses or pool villas at Vythiri Resort, an eco friendly rainforest hideaway landscaped around a gurgling mountain stream. Pamper yourself with rejuvenative Ayurveda therapies, delicious Kerala cuisine and leisurely forest walks. www.vythiriresort.com
Distance: 290 km (7-8 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Mysuru and NH-212 on the Kozhikode Road via Gundlupet, Muthanga, Sulthan Bathery and Kalpetta
Pitstop: Jowar roti, yenne badnekayi, neer dosa and North Karnataka delights at Kamat Madhuvan on the southern outskirts of Mysuru on the Kozhikode Road
En route: Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and the Jain Temple at Sulthan Bathery that Tipu Sultan used an ammunition dump.

Coonoor offroad jeep ride to Pakkasurankote IMG_2450_Anurag Priya

Coonoor
Take a drive up the hairpin bends of the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains for a magical sight of tea plantations that stretch for miles. Escape the bustle of Ooty to quieter Coonoor for drives to stunning viewpoints like Dolphin’s Nose, Catherine Falls, Kodanad and Rangaswamy Pillar. For an offroad experience, drive to Red Hills and Avalanchi or take a 4-wheel jeep ride past Glendale and Nonsuch Estates to Pakkasuran Kote with ruins of Tipu Sultan’s fort. Stay in a plantation bungalow while trekking downhill past Toda hamlets and Hillgrove Railway station. For a lazy slideshow of the hills, hop on to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that covers the 26km uphill climb from Mettupalayam to Ooty in just under 5 hrs, crossing 16 tunnels and 250 bridges.
Stay: Tea Nest Coonoor on Singara Estate Road is a quiet nook overlooking tea plantations with rooms named after tea varieties, a seven-course tea-themed menu and the odd gaur among the bushes. They also run a private 2-room planter bungalow called Tea Nest Annexe 1 km down the road, besides the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road www.natureresorts.in
Distance: 285 km (7-8 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Mysuru, NH-212 till Gundlupet and NH-67 till Theppakadu. The route via Gudalur (right of the Y junction) is 30 km longer with less hairpin bends, though the left route via Masinagudi is more scenic with 36 hairpin bends
Pitstop: JLR’s Bandipur Safari Lodge has decent buffet lunches or try South Indian fare at Indian Coffee House Hotel on NH-67 at Gudalur
En route: Wildlife at Mudumalai National Park, Bandipur Tiger Reserve or Kabini

Agumbe British milestone DSC04266_Anurag Priya

Agumbe
One of the rainiest places in Karnataka, Agumbe is significant for many reasons. With a mean annual rainfall of 7,620 mm (300 inches), it is often described as the Cherrapunjee of the South. The sleepy rain-soaked hamlet served as Malgudi in Shankar Nag’s TV adaptation of RK Narayan’s nostalgic tale of Swami and his childhood. It is home to Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) founded in 2005 by herpetologist Romulus Whitaker dedicated to the Indian Cobra. One could visit Agumbe just to see the ‘Top of the Ghaut’ milestone erected by the British to mark the distance from ‘Shemoga’. Or marvel at the sunset from the viewpoint. But one of the biggest incentives is Mr. Nayak, the vada seller at Agumbe Forest checkpost who dispenses vadas with wisdom, stocking books of literary interest, for which regular patrons drive for miles.
Stay: Not too far from Agumbe near Thirthahalli is the quaint Kolavara Heritage homestay, a Chowkimane (traditional home) in a working plantation where you can enjoy Malnad cuisine and nature hikes www.kolavaraheritage.com
Distance: 357 km (8-9 hrs)
Route: NH-4 till Tumkur, NH-206 via Tiptur, Kadur, Tarikere, Bhadravati bypass, Shivamogga bypass, Thirthahalli
Pitstop: Chattambade and vadas at Mr. Nayak’s roadside stall at Agumbe Check-post and meenina oota (fish meals) at Mandagadde, midway between Shivamogga and Thirthahalli
En route: Sringeri temple, Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary and Kannada poet laureate Kuvempu’s birthplace Kavishaila

Pichavaram drive Gingee Fort 622_Anurag Priya

Pichavaram
Spread over 2800 acres off Tamil Nadu’s Coromandel Coast; Pichavaram is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. It first shot to fame with MGR’s 1975 film Idhaya Kanni and more recently served as a dramatic backdrop for Kamal Hassan’s Dashavataram. Navigable by boats that weave in and out of narrow canals lined by overgrown mangrove roots, it is a paradise for nature lovers. An early morning boat ride from the Arignar Anna Tourist Complex is ideal for birdwatching. And once you hit the ECR or East Coast Road, extend your itinerary by driving north to the erstwhile French enclave of Puducherry and the ancient maritime Pallava capital of Mamallapuram. Or head south to Tharamgambadi or Tranquebar, once a flourishing Danish outpost with stunning Scandinavian churches and a seaside fort.
Stay: Hotel Sardharam have a decent property in Chidambaram with great food and also run Pichavaram Eco Resort overlooking the boat jetty at Pichavaram backwaters, besides a Chola-themed heritage hotel Lakshmi Vilas near Veeranam Lake www.hotelsaradharam.co.in
Distance: 366 km (9-10 hrs)
Route: NH-7 via Electronic City, Hosur to Krishnagiri, NH-66 to Tiruvannamalai and onward to Cuddalore
Pitstop:
Adyar Ananda Bhavan at BP petrol pump in Chinnar, between Hosur and Krishnagiri
En route: Arunachaleshwara temple and Sri Ramana Maharishi Ashram at Tiruvannamalai, Gingee Fort, Nataraja temple at Chidambaram

Vivanta by Taj Bekal Exterior

Bekal
Remember ‘Tu Hi Re’ from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay and the rain drenched fort where it was shot? That’s Bekal, the largest and most well preserved fort in Kerala built by Shivappa Nayak in 1650. Kasaragod, Kerala’s northernmost district has the highest concentration of forts in the state, highlighting the importance of trade in the Malabar region. Follow the fort trail to Chandragiri and Hosadurg nearby, feast on local Moplah cuisine or take a houseboat ride in the Thejaswini river and the serene backwaters of Valiyaparamba.
Stay: BRDC (Bekal Resort Development Corporation) has facilitated a string of premium resorts like Nileshwaram Hermitage and The Lalit, though the pick of the lot is Vivanta by Taj Bekal. Spread over 26 acres near Kappil Beach, stay in laterite-lined villas inspired by kettuvallam (houseboat) motifs with private plunge pools, signature therapies at Jiva Grande Spa, besides honeymoon packages and vow renewal ceremonies. www.vivantabytaj.com
Distance: 368 km (9-10 hrs)
Route: SH-17 to Mysuru and the old Mysuru-Mangaluru highway or NH-275 via Madikeri, Sampaje, Sullia to Jaloor, and SH-55 via Adhur and Cherkala to Bekal
Pitstop: The renovated East End Hotel in Madikeri is a great place for keema parathas, meat ball curry, though for firewood roasted akki roti with pandi curry stop by at the dingy yet delicious West End Bar on the other end of town.
En route: Omkareshwar Temple, Raja’s Seat and Gaddige in Madikeri, Malik Dinar mosque at Kasaragod

Munnar monsoon IMG_8985_Anurag Priya

Munnar
With most beaches out of bounds during monsoon, the beauty of Kerala in the rains is best experienced in the hills. And what better haunt than Munnar, located at the scenic tri-junction of moon aaru or ‘three rivers’ – Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala? Watch the mist roll over the mountains from your perch as you sip a steaming cup of Kannan Devan Hills chai. Drop by at the tea factory to trace the journey from leaf to cup as you explore the colonial summer hideout of the British through excellent short drives. Go via Mattupety Dam and Echo Point to Top Station or via the scenic lake of Devikulam to Bison Valley. Visit Eravikulam National Park to spot the Nilgiri Tahr or head to Anamudi Peak, at 2695m the highest point south of the Himalayas.
Stay: Tiled roof stone cottages built using rocks from the property, Mountain Club is a picture-postcard resort at Chinnakanal 21 km from town adjacent to Club Mahindra. It has an excellent multi-cuisine restaurant, coffee shop and an infinity pool overlooking Anayirankal Dam. www.mountainclub.co.in
Distance: 478km (11-12 hrs)
Route: NH-7 via Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri to Salem, via Avinashi and Udumalpet onto Munnar Road
Pitstop: Besides Adyar Ananda Bhavan midway between Dharmapuri and Thoppur, there’s all day dining and a great value lunch buffet at GRT Grand Estancia at Salem, besides Hotel Chinnis at Perundurai
En route: Mettur Dam, Bhavani temple,
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Kundapura DSC04826_Anurag Priya

Toodhalli
Ever heard that thing about not eating fish in months that don’t have an ‘r’? May, June, July and August is the monsoon period when fish usually spawn, hence the old adage. But if you were to drive up the Karavali Coast to Karwar, there are several places to drop anchor. Kundapura, a town known for its legendary cuisine, boasts iconic dishes like Kundapur Chicken, Chicken Ghee Roast, Chicken sukka and neer dosa, with enough variety to keep one docked for days. Drive up further to Sai Vishram Beach Resort in Baindoor, perhaps the only non-alcoholic pure vegetarian resort on the coast. But for the best culinary and wellness experience drop by at Wild Woods Spa, which offers rare delights like jackfruit idli and dosa, wild mushroom curry, bamboo shoot curry, pathrode, spinach dosa and the signature dasola yele (Hibiscus leaf) idli.
Stay: Besides Blue Waters at Kundapura and Sai Vishram at Baindoor, Wild Woods Spa & Resort at Toodhalli, 7km from Shiroor checkpost, is a great place to enjoy the rains. A mountain stream encircles the botanical retreat that offers wood and stone cottages, exotic cuisine and spa treatments. www.wildwoodsspa.com
Distance: 496 km (12 hrs)
Route: NH-48 to Mangaluru via Shiradi Ghat and head north on NH-17 to Kundapura, Bhatkal and beyond. If closed for renovation or road repair, take NH-4 via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere to Harihar and turn left via Siddapur and Jog Falls to reach the coast at Bhatkal. Or take NH-48 to Hassan and NH-234 via Belur and Mudigere to Charmadi Ghat, Belthangady, Karkala and Udupi.
Pitstop: Shetty Lunch Home in Kundapura is legendary for its sukkas, ghee roast and the eponymous Kundapur Chicken. Stop at Kwality on NH-17 for Bhatkal biryani (they serve only chicken)
En route: Stunning coastal views, waterfalls like Jog, Arshinagundi and Apsarakonda, coastal pilgrim trail from Udupi, Kukke Subramanya, Kollur Mookambika, Murudeshwar, Idagunji to Gokarna and Jain circuit of Moodbidri, Karkala, Varanga and Bhatkal.

Turiya Spa Canacona Goa_Amit Bhandare

Palolem
Driving through Goa in the rains, especially the rich hinterland, is the perfect foil to the frenetic beach activity of the high season. Away from the secluded coast and the sore sight of fishing boats shrouded with palm fronds and blue tarpaulin, the green of the lush countryside is so bright it hurts your eyes! Explore the quiet south with trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary on the Goa-Karnataka border, the stone cut temple of Tambdi Surla, a railway track hike or adventure bike ride to Doodhsagar waterfall or white water rafting on the Surla Mhadei river.
Stay: A tastefully renovated century old Portuguese villa in a quiet colony of Canacona, Turiya Villa & Spa is named after the fourth state of consciousness and is a great place to relax with lovely homestyle Konkani food and an in-house spa that offers Ayurveda, body and beauty treatments www.turiyahotels.com
Distance: 559 km (12-14 hrs)
Route: NH-4 via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere to Haveri, via Yellapur to Karwar and up the coastal NH-17 to Canacona
Pitstop: Thatte idlis at Bidadi, Sri Kottureshwara or Old Sagar Hotel in Davangere for benne dosas and Amrut Restaurant and Shwetha Lunch Home in Karwar
En route: Chitradurga Fort, Yana Caves (Kumta-Sirsi route), Tagore Beach Karwar

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as a monsoon special on 15 July 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/10-magical-monsoon-drives-bengaluru

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013: Great Places to Party

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out the season’s hotspots and their favourite new year getaways 

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Amidst New Year resolutions and social engagements, if you still haven’t figured out where to let your hair down for the year-end, don’t fret. Having been to full moon parties, 5-star bashes and quiet escapes, here’s a lowdown of our best party spots – from winter festivals and cultural carnivals to frenzy on the beach and solitude in the hills.

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So when was the last time you spent a new year at Hampi? At sunrise, marvel at the Tungabhadra slithering through mist-covered boulders from your aerial perch at Anjanadri. Have some banana lassi and pancakes at Mango Tree restaurant or lose yourself in the maze of cafes at the backpacking haven of Virupapuragadda. To immerse yourself in local culture, take a coracle ride across the river to The Kishkindha Trust at Anegundi, Hampi’s oldest quarter. Learn about shorba (banana fibre) handicrafts, appreciate the vernacular architecture of quaint homestays run by TKT or enjoy classical concerts by the river. Boulders Resort nearby has integrated boulders into its architecture with a beautiful stone pool and walkways along the river bed sculpted by water.

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Many tourists tend to couple a visit to Hampi with Goa, though this connection is not new. The Vijayanagar Empire enjoyed trade links with Portugal via Goa, so travellers are merely retracing a historic trade route. If you’re a fan of electronic dance music, head to Candolim for Sunburn (27-29 Dec), which has emerged as the premier EDM platform in India. Having recently broken all records, outselling the online sale of even IPL tickets, this year’s edition features big names such as BT (Brian Transeau), Paul Van Dyk, Richard Durand and Roger Sanchez, besides top artists from the country. If Sunburn’s 3-day, 9k price tag is going to burn a hole in your pocket, try Palolem in the south or Morjim and Arambol to the north, besides old faithfuls like Curlies, Hilltop Anjuna, Shiva Valley and Primrose Vagator.

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Partying at New Years in Goa has its pitfalls – the crowds, traffic snarls, over-priced rates and bumping into acquaintances as if it was a mini Mumbai or Bangalore! For a less commercial trip with fewer people, try Gokarna, whose bouquet of beaches like Kudle, Om, Paradise and Half Moon wear a rustic and earthy charm. Ambient dub reggae beats blare from beachside speakers while someone plays a djembe or Diabolo. It was a New Year party many full moons ago that led to a phone call a month later saying ‘Hi, this is Willem. I’m in Bangalore. You told me I could stay with you. We had met at Namaste Café at Gokarna… (No recollection) We were in front of the speaker and had trouble talking (Bingo)!’ If mud huts and teepees in the forest are not your thing, opt for more creature comforts at SwaSwara. CGH Earth’s swanky resort near Om Beach is a great place to unwind with yoga in the attic, meditation in the Blue Room and gourmet cuisine.

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Further down the west coast, Kerala is excellent for a quiet escape. New 5-star properties like Taj Bekal, The Lalit and Neeleshwar Hermitage have firmly placed Kasaragod, the state’s northernmost district on the tourist map. With only 35 rooms, The Lalit is exclusivity personified with Balinese décor and a range of rejuvenative programs at its trademark Rejuve Spa. Go kayaking and canoeing in the Nombili river or opt for a houseboat cruise at Valiyaparamba, easily Kerala’s most pristine backwater stretch. If Alappuzha’s kettuvallam circuit is too commercial for your liking, choose CGH’s Spice Coast Tours, which has its own private jetty and transfer to Coconut Lagoon after a cruise on Vembanad lake. At the Cochin Carnival (Dec 22-Jan 1) catch colourful pageantry and traditional art forms, besides dirt bike races, beach volleyball and fireworks display at Fort Kochi.

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The fun is not relegated to India’s West Coast alone… there’s a lot happening on the East Coast as well. Get a music education at the month-long Madras Music season in Dec-Jan at Chennai with over 1500 performances of Indian classical music, dance and allied arts. Soak in the majestic ambience of the newly opened ITC Grand Chola, the world’s largest LEED-certified green hotel and the third largest hotel in India. Enjoy a quiet walk along the beach or indulge in the luxurious oasis of Fisherman’s Cove on East Coast Road.

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Just beyond the Madras Crocodile Bank, welcome the new year through a celebration of dance. The famous Mamallapuram Dance Festival (Dec 29-Jan 1) is set against Arjuna’s Penance, the world’s largest bas relief. The Mayan Doomsday might have come and gone but Krishna’s Butter Ball promises to roll down at the end of the world, as per Hindu belief. Party at Butterball Café, Moonraker Restaurant on Ottavadai Street or pamper yourself at Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort, marveling at the Shore Temple from an early morning catamaran ride.

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If you can’t go to Paris in a hurry, you can still rekindle romance in true French style in Pondicherry (Puducherry). With its profusion of French heritage hotels, cafes and bakeries serving French and Creole cuisine, designer boutiques and beach getaways like Serenity and Paradise, the place leaves you spoilt for choice. Boogie all night at the Ska Bar cum Disco at Ocean Spray or go on a long romantic walk along the Promenade. A stay at any of the Aurobindo ashrams is spiritual and peaceful while a short drive to The Dune offers a plush holiday experience with gourmet seafood and Wat-Su (water shiatsu) aqua treatments.

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There’s no state that understands the need for a lavish holiday like Rajasthan, throwing in a burst of colour and culture. Come winter, you can choose from Shilpgram Art and Craft Fair near Udaipur (23 Dec-Jan 1), Mount Abu Winter Festival (29-31 Dec) and Desert Festival at Jaisalmer in February. Be it Deogarh Mahal, Pal Haveli, Nachna Haveli or Neemrana’s string of palace and fort hotels, the numerous havelis and heritage hotels let you usher the new year with royalty and style. Sumptuous meals, bonfire nights with folk singers and dancers performing under the stars… you couldn’t ask for a livelier setting.

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Neighbouring Gujarat too doesn’t fall behind in churning up a festive spirit. The Rann Utsav (15 Dec-31 Jan) offers a spectacular array of cultural events and an exhibition of the state’s vibrant art and crafts like Ajrakh hand block prints and Kutch patchwork with mirror embroidery. Stay in tented camps or mud huts adorned with wall paintings. The best time to see winter migratories, watch birds by the thousands at Narayan Sarovar or chase khur (Asiatic Wild Ass) at the Wild Ass Sanctuary.

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We remember an unforgettable new year in Corbett National Park where we sat around a campfire exchanging wildlife stories. There was no music except the continuous symphony of cicadas and the occasional warning call of furtive barking deer. You can get a similar experience closer home at Mudumalai, Bandipur or Kabini, which have several wildlife resorts to pick from. If you’re looking for a back to nature theme, Coorg, Wayanad and Nilgiris are also scenic places to drop the pace. 

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If you are looking for a convenient international destination to party, you could ring in the New Year with new buys at great discounts, competitions, prizes, fireworks and entertainment at the month-long Dubai Shopping Festival (3 Jan-3 Feb). As far as new year festivities go, celebrate the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (4-17 Feb) in the Year of the Snake with night parades, dragon dances and fireworks over Victoria Harbour. For an affordable exciting vacation nothing beats Thailand; fly to Bangkok to experience its vibrant nightlife and see why it was an apt setting for The Hangover 2. Or travel onward to the beaches of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi.

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However, if your idea of fun is an endless night of pub crawl, let the Irish teach you how. Be it the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast or the Temple Bar area of Dublin, the alehouses and taverns of Ireland can give the pubs of London a complex. Dublin’s New Year Eve Festival heralds the start of The Gathering Ireland 2013, a year-long celebration of all things Irish. Learn how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse. Do a Literary Pub Crawl in the footsteps of James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Or take a leaf from Irish author Brendan Behan’s book who moved to Toronto because he saw a coaster in a pub that said ‘Drink Canada dry!’ Happy partying…

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 23 December 2012 as a cover story in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

Getting Away from It All: India’s Top 10 Great Escapes

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY showcase India’s ‘coolest’ destinations, from Himalayan retreats, beach holidays to legendary hill stations

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There are many things for which we blame the British – cricket, bureaucracy, railways, tea and anglicized spellings – but the quaint ‘hill-station’ has to be their most charming contribution. From Snooty Ooty in the Neilgherries where the rules of snooker were laid down, to Simla in the Himalayas, where imperial plans were drawn every summer, most hill retreats were ‘discovered’ by British collectors to escape the scorching heat of the plains. Complete with lakes, botanical gardens, pony trails, golf courses, racetracks, bakeries, the ubiquitous Mall Road and scenic viewpoints and waterfalls named after Company officials and British memsahibs, these Little Englands were hailed as ‘Scotland of the East’, ‘Switzerland of India’, ‘Queen of Hill-Stations’ and other grand epithets.

Some of these hill retreats were developed into sanatoriums and cantonments of the British Empire, where homesick soldiers found rest and respite. The term Doolaly, Brit slang for ‘gone crazy’, originated in the hill town of Deolali in Maharashtra where recuperating soldiers often feigned madness to avoid being redrafted! Netarhat in Jharkhand, considered the Queen of Chhotanagpur, is supposedly a corruption of ‘Near the Heart’! The cool climes drew European planters to set up vast estates of coffee, tea, fruits and spices while missionaries established educational institutions. With time, these outposts became summer retreats for a vast Indian populace.

However, not all hill stations were British finds. Kodaikanal is credited to the Americans while Indian rulers developed their own summer capitals – Almora and Binsar by the Chand Rajas of Kumaon, Kemmangundi by Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, while Chail was created by Bhupinder Singh, the swashbuckling Maharaja of Patiala to peeve the British after he was banished from Simla for eloping with a British lady! From Horsley Hills in Andhra Pradesh to Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh or Saputara in Gujarat to Mount Abu in Rajasthan, the state’s only hill station, India’s cool hideaways stretch from the Western Ghats to the Himalayas. Here are 10 great picks…

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1. Nilgiris (Tamil Nadu)
Lured by the irresistible charm of the swirling mist and eucalyptus-scented air wafting above the sweeping acres of manicured tea plantations, for decades tourists have wound their way up the hairpin bends towards the Blue Mountains. Sprawling bungalows with sloping roofs, monkeytops and vibrant gardens hark back to the colonial legacy of the region while the looming hills cloaked by dense forests are still home to herds of elephant and gaur. If Ooty seems too commercial and Kotagiri somewhat warm, Coonoor is indeed the perfect balance! One of the newest retreats is Tea Nest, run by The Kurumba Village Resort. Surrounded by 1,800 acres of the Singara Tea Estate, the charming colonial bungalow is perched in the shadow of Tiger Hill with its lofty manager’s bungalow and Pakkasuran Hill where Tipu Sultan had an outpost. Relish tea-themed cuisine like tea-mushroom soup and smoked chicken or fish infused in tea, wake up to grazing herds of gaur among the tea bushes or birdwatch from the comfort of your lofty lair. Drop by at Needlecraft in the century old Erin Villa to browse through exclusive petit point embroidery, cutwork and tapestry. Try tea-tasting at the Tranquilitea lounge and buy organic hill produce, Toda shawls and Kota stone pottery at the Green Shop. For complete pampering, surrender yourself to Kurumba’s brand new Jacuzzi suites.

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2. Wayanad (Kerala)
With a sweltering coastline, Kerala’s highlands are the ideal refuge – plantation bungalows in Nilambur and Nelliyampathy to Neelambari, the luxurious Ayurvedic hideaway in a pristine corner of Ranipuram. Yet, Wayanad with its rolling hills and profusion of homestays and resorts is a clear winner. Enjoy solitude in a 500-acre plantation left to grow wild at Fringe Ford near Mananthavady. Stay in luxurious tree houses at Vythiri Resort and Tranquil Plantation Getaway, where you wake up to the carefree whistles of the Malabar Whistling Thrush or choose from 14 nature trails within the property. Rekindle romance in a cave restaurant lit in the warm glow of a hundred candles at Edakkal Hermitage and marvel at Stone Age cave drawings nearby. The newest entrant My Garden of Eden, is a premium plantation retreat set in the hilly tracts of Valathoor near Meppady. Don’t forget to drop by at Uravu near the district headquarters of Kalpetta for an astonishing range of bamboo instruments like binsi (a hollow reed that whistles when swung), rainmaker (cascading seeds that emit sounds of the rain) and other innovative products.

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3. Coorg (Karnataka)
Blessed with nature’s bounty of hills, waterfalls and brooks, Coorg or Kodagu is a paradise that boasts dense forests teeming with wildlife, lush coffee and pepper plantations grown in the shade of rainforest trees, unmatched culture, unique cuisine and the genuine warmth of Kodava hospitality. From rustic and organic homestays overlooking estates and paddy fields to palatial plantation bungalows of the colonial era, Karnataka’s smallest and most mountainous region is also the fountainhead of the Cauvery, South India’s greatest river. Stay at Neemrana’s Green Hills Estate in Virajpet, a town formed after King Virarajendra met Lord Abercrombie to form a historic pact against Tipu, their common enemy. Straddle the Kerala border at Kabbe Holidays and walk along historic trade routes or base yourself at Palace Estate near Kakkabe and trek to Thadiyendamol, the highest peak in Coorg. Discover organic farming at the Rainforest Retreat or stay at exclusive heritage homestays like School Estate in Siddapur, Gowri Nivas in Madikeri and Java Mane near Madapur. For a cool splash in streams, choose from a new clutch of homestays like Silver Brook Estate or Bird of Paradise around Kushalnagar or resorts like Amanvana, Tamara and Kadkani River Resort. Or immerse yourself in colonial comfort at Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trail bungalows around Pollibetta.

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4. Spiti (Himachal)
If Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala and Dalhousie sound too familiar and you’ve been to Ladakh already, head to the Himalayan realm of Spiti for a change. Abutting the Tibetan highlands in eastern Himachal Pradesh, the region is dotted by some of the loftiest homestays in the Himalayas. Perched above the left bank of the Spiti river are the high altitude villages of Langza, Komic (the highest in Asia), Demul, Lhalung and Dhankar, the site of a crumbling monastery that was the first to be built in Spiti and as per legend will be the last to fall. Plan a tour with Spiti Ecosphere to uncover a mystical world of gompas (Buddhist monasteries), amchis (traditional medicine men), Bon traditions (animist religion preceding Buddhism) and unique experiences like the Tibetan Wolf Trail, protecting fossil sanctuaries, Yak Safaris and River Rafting. For a more inclusive experience, participate in rural development projects in this remote and rugged region as you watch locals involved in eco livelihoods like hand-woven handicrafts and organic products available under the brand name Tsering (blessing in Tibetan).

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5. Lake District (Uttarakhand)
Unobstructed views of the Himalayas often stretching across 300 km, stunning high altitude lakes and mythical tales of the divine infuse Uttarakhand with untold magic. The period when the mountains are awash with the fiery glow of rhododendrons leaves every visitor spellbound. Explore the Lake District of Nainital, a reflection of the emerald green eyes of Sati, the majestic Bhimtal and Sat-Tal and the nine-cornered Naukuchiyatal that bestows everlasting bliss on the beholder. Follow the high mountain road to Ranikhet and Majkhali or hike from Nainital to Corbett through forests of broad-leafed sal, oak and deodar, while staying at jungle lodges or century old Forest Rest Houses. Beyond the hill town of Almora, lies the quaint hamlet of Kasar Devi, where spiritual masters, artists and beat poets sought inspiration while Binsar doubles up as a wildlife sanctuary and a hill station. Scenic homestays like Valley View Villa near Ranikhet, The Cottage at Jeolikot, Emily Lodge at Nainital, Emerald Trail at Bhimtal and a chain of resorts by Leisure Hotels across Kumaon and Garhwal offer an assorted bouquet of options. The signature jams, pickles, preserves and flavoured honey available under the Kumaoni label and warm woolens can be picked up at Umang, a local co-operative.

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6. Meghalaya (North East)
A delicious nip in the air along undulating roads and strains of retro music emanating from cafés and mobile phones announces Shillong, touted as the Rock Capital of the East. Picture postcard images unfold in scenic churches, old schools and hill slopes swathed in green. Relive colonial grandeur in sprawling bungalows like Rosaville and the regal Tripura Castle or soak in the luxury of Ri Kynjai resort overlooking the shimmering Lake Umiam at Barapani. Watch locals wager on the age-old game of teer (archery) in the market area, marvel at the dazzling collection of beetles and butterflies at a private museum and savour delicious Khasi cuisine in homes and tiny hotels like Trattoria. Unfold the secrets of ancient root bridges, sacred stones and lonely waterfalls in Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia and at the rain-drenched paradise of Cherrapunjee, track the Dark Rumped Swift swooping along the misty cliffs of Nohkalikai Falls. In this Abode of Clouds, there are other surprises – the surreal limestone contortions of Mawsmai Caves, the sacred groves of Mawflong, fish spas in natural pools and even a Double-Decker Root Bridge!

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7. Konkan Coast (Maharashtra)
The Konkan coast of Maharashtra can rejuvenate your senses in a delicate fusion of nature, peace, solitude and simple pastoral life. From the irrepressible joy of eating luscious Ratnagiri mangoes to golden sunsets along the sea-kissed beaches of Kashid and the historic sea fort of Murud-Janjira to the north and Ganpatipule, Devgad, Sindhudurg, Tarkarli and Sangameshwar stretching to the south. Just off the coast, choose from a host of homestays like Atithi Parinay, Nandan Farms and Dwarka Farmhouse that offer special experiences of farm life. Relish flavours that range from the subtle sattvik fare of Saraswat Brahmins to the spicy indulgence of seafood and Malvani cuisine. Pick up hand-painted pieces of Ganjifa Art at the Sawantwadi Palace or lacquerware toys from Chitaar Ali (Artisans Lane) before driving up to Amboli Ghat. If this is not enough, head north to the high hills of Lonavla, Matheran, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani for breathtaking views and local specialties like chikkis, sweet corn, homemade chocolates and fudge.

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8. Canacona/Palolem (South Goa)
Far from the psychedelic beach scene of North Goa, serpentine roads lead south to the quieter shores of Canacona and Palolem. Just beyond the main bus stand lies a 12,000 sq ft oasis called Turiya where you can experience a legit mode of mind expansion! Inspired by the fourth state of consciousness, the newly opened 100-year-old yellow Portuguese villa draped by bougainvillea creepers houses a spa offering authentic Ayurvedic and western therapies. Renovated by a well-known architect, the impeccably furnished Turiya exudes a sensual lazy charm with delicious home-cooked food and a cozy verandah overlooking a garden twittering with birds. Personalized visits to the local market for fresh fish and nearby farms to hand pick your choice of vegetables make the holiday unique. If you can drag yourself out of the armchair, there’s Palolem beach just 2km away with bistros and boutiques or the serene Agonda Beach 10 km north, boat trips to Butterfly Island and the promise of dolphin sightings, day trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Karwar (Karnataka), besides some of the most scenic trekking trails in South Goa.

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9. Darjeeling/Sikkim (North East)
Surrounded by tea plantations and cradled in the lap of the mighty Kangchenjunga mountain, Darjeeling’s allure has always inspired poets, writers and filmmakers besides scores of tourists to roost upon its cool slopes. Visit local factories to taste the eponymous Darjeeling tea or take a ride in the UNESCO World Heritage train, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) up the Batasia Loops to Ghoom. Apart from a slew of resorts and plantation bungalows, you can check in at the unique Beatles theme lodge, The Revolver, with rooms named after John, Paul, Ringo and George! A more plush option is Mayfair Darjeeling, the erstwhile palace of the Maharaja of Nazargunj. Their newest offering, the ritzy Mayfair Spa Resort in Gangtok fuses a monastic theme with colonial architecture and has raised the bar for luxury in the North East. While in Sikkim, the land of prayer flags and chortens, visit Buddhist monasteries at Pemayangstse, Rumtek and Tashiding and experience the warm hospitality of heritage homestays like Yangsum Farm at Rinchepong, Mayal Lyang at Dzongu and Bon Farmhouse, a birding haven at Kewzing.

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10. Andamans
It is hard to imagine that a notorious penal settlement of yesteryears is today a tropical isle of pleasure. While the remoteness of the Andaman Islands has worked in its favour, its sparse population and laid back charm accentuates the privacy one seeks on a holiday. Located 1000km east of the Indian coastline and fringed by coral reefs and a palette of crystal clear blue waters, the islands are among the finest beach getaways and diving destinations in the world. Take a trip into history in the triad of Port Blair, described as India’s only ‘warm hill station’, Viper Island and the ruins of Ross Island once praised as the Paris of the East. Sunsets at Chidiya Tapu and Mount Hariett, snorkeling above iridescent coral reefs at North Bay and Wandoor, deep sea diving and sport fishing around Ritchie’s Archipelago are not to be missed. Havelock, the main tourist hub bristles with resorts and diving experts like Barefoot Scuba, Dive India, Laccadives etc. Visit during April-May as the waters become murky once the monsoons set in. Grab a tan at Radhanagar Beach, ranked by Time magazine as the best beach in Asia. Scenic Neil Island nearby has a subdued ambience and rustic stay options, making it an offbeat outpost. Besides regular boat access between the main islands, the swanky Makruzz cruise zips across 50km from Port Blair to Havelock in just 1½ hours!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 April, 2012 in Deccan Herald (Sunday edition). 

Fish and Chips: Goa’s gaming experience

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Casino is no longer a bad word and ‘gambling’ has been refined into ‘gaming’, a form of entertainment for the entire family. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY roll the dice in Goa, fast becoming the casino capital of India

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“With this chip exchange, we enter the final phase of the game. Which means, no more buy-ins. The big blind is 1 million dollars”, announces the casino manager grimly. Armed with just a 5 and 7 of spades, James Bond stares his opponent in the eye, puts all Her Majesty’s 40 million in and cleans the table with a straight flush. It’s high-stakes Texas Hold ‘em Poker and Bond gets the bad guy, the cash AND the girl. It’s a scene we all know very well…

Seduced by the imagery of Casino Royale (or The Great Gambler closer home), many dream of emulating the big screen exploits of cardsharps. With Kathmandu, Asia’s oldest casino industry on the decline, gaming enthusiasts have found a new destination in Goa. It may not be Macau or Montenegro, but the cobbled streets of Panaji and its neon lights shimmering on the Mandovi River, is India’s answer to the French Riviera.

At the jetty, a feeder boat arrives to ferry us to Casino Carnival, which just completed 2 years in operations. We are surprised to see seven couples with as many toddlers in tow. Nimesh, a 30-something points to the glittering lights of the floating casino to distract his wailing child. Certainly not your average punter profile! We ask him if he’s a regular. ‘No no’, he replies. ‘We are a group of friends who play once a year. Last year, we were in Singapore, this year, we chose Goa. We set aside Rs.15,000 each. Win or lose, we just have fun.’ And the kids? ‘The casino has a dedicated crèche and they’ve assured us extra attendants.’

It’s evident that ‘casino’ is no longer a bad word. Today, it has been redefined as another form of entertainment with newer segments thronging a traditionally male bastion – women, children and extended families. Even the term ‘gambling’ has morphed into the politically correct ‘gaming’. People from India’s major metros and smaller towns come aboard to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons or reunions. There’s a visible spike in business during Diwali, New Years or during official events and conferences.

As we board Casino Carnival aka MV Boa Sorte (‘Good Luck’ in Portuguese), Shyam Haridas, Director Sales & Marketing, sums up the offshore gaming experience in one word – Luxury. ‘Be it Italian leather upholstery, fine dining or in-house entertainment, we’re here to pamper our customers. You pay Rs.3500 per person, get unlimited drinks and food on the house, plus free one-time play chips. Not bad considering Rs.2000 goes to the government as tax’, he smiles.

In the gaming area, hands are busy shuffling and dealing cards for a round of Blackjack while groups of customers slide their chips at the Roulette table waiting for their luck to spin. A tall man coaxes his partner, “Put another lakh. Ek aur round khelo,” and places all his chips on a random number. The wheel spins and settles on 24. The man loses a lakh, but treats it with the same nonchalance as a missed chance at shooting balloons in a fair. Elsewhere we hear whoops of joy – someone has won. A bunch of four men pack up as their friend heads to the ‘cash cage’ to collect his booty.

Goa’s emergence as the casino capital of India can be attributed to a few factors. Its liberation in 1961, the influx of foreign tourists and its special status as a Union Territory translated into more flexible laws. When Nepal, the Mecca for gamblers through the 70s & 80s spiraled out of control due to political instability, Goa found the perfect opportunity to lure the big spenders. Since most foreign travelers were exposed to the world’s best casinos, locals and domestic tourists took the bait.

It was in the early 90s that Dr William Britto, a genial UK-based dentist from Assonora lobbied hard to set up Chances, one of Goa’s earliest land-based casinos at Cidade de Goa. With Nugget at Ramada and Las Vegas at The Leela operational, the floodgates opened for other 5-star casinos at Bogmalo, Majorda, Marriott and Holiday Inn. The only catch was that all games had to have an element of automation. And the man who was instrumental in setting up Goa’s first slot machines was electronics expert Xavier Vaz.

Currently Director Operations at Casino Carnival, Xavier’s international stints in Las Vegas, Genting and Australia took him to more adventurous zones like the minefields of Cambodia to set up electronic casinos in border towns. ‘Goa, in comparison, was a lot more relaxed’, he says. ‘Earlier it was tough to get people to work in casinos because of social stigma. Now, all that has changed. At Casino Carnival, we employ nearly 400 Goan staff. Many consider it as a launch pad for an overseas career. Besides employment, casinos create a ripple effect on tourism vis-à-vis the taxi trade and hospitality.’ But behind the glitter of big bucks, lies a grim reality. ‘Running a casino is not easy. The rules are prohibitive – we pay Rs.5 crore annually as license fees, Rs.2000 entertainment tax per person plus 10% of our overall gross revenue. We would love to have proper regulation and better understanding of the industry by experts, otherwise it might go the Turkey way where the government decided to ban it overnight’, Xavier rues.

In 1999, further amendment in the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act of 1976 allowed offshore vessels to operate live casinos. The Caravela, named after the first Portuguese ship that docked in Goa, became the first offshore casino to float down the Mandovi. The Caravela doesn’t cruise anymore and after management changed hands from the Advani Group to Delta Corp, it was renamed as Casino Prime. Delta Corp also runs Goa’s swankiest gaming ship, the 5-deck Casino Royale, frequented by celebrities and the urban elite. The 10-minute ride from Panjim’s Barcolento Jetty in the 22-seater gulf craft drops us to the ship for a night of merriment. Amit Sawant, GM Marketing, takes us on a guided tour around the plush vessel.

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On one level, Russian dancers do the can-can with ostrich plumes and feathers while an elaborate buffet has been laid out by China Garden. The slick Aqua Bar backstage is for exclusive guests besides a VVIP room reserved for high rollers. The main gaming area is choc-a-bloc with 49 tables and 30 slots, making Casino Royale the largest ‘live-gaming’ casino in the country, the only one with a Money Wheel and Live Crabs table. In one corner, a group of yuppies covertly glanced at their cards, assessing the odds behind their dark glasses. In sharp contrast, old hands watched every move with hawk eyes. Women with sparkling rings on their fingers tapped their cigarettes as they flicked their chips with mock indifference.

Amit explains, ‘Gaming is a form of sport and entertainment for people with disposable income and conspicuous consumption patterns. Poker, Blackjack, Baccarat, Teen Patti (Indian Flush) are all popular games, but Roulette rules because of its high stakes – you can win 35 times of what you bet! As market leaders, we try to expand the market through fortnightly poker tournaments. Our Sunday Brunch, a unique product focusing on entertainment rather than gaming, is a big crowd-puller. Minisha Lamba, Neha Dhupia and Madhavan chose Casino Royale for the promotional launch of their film Teen Patti. Another first, is the World Gaming Festival, an upcoming international event that will put Goa firmly on the world gaming map. The festival was launched by Boxing Superstar and gaming enthusiast Vijender Singh who summed it up perfectly – When skill supersedes luck, it becomes a sport’.

While nothing can beat the offshore live experience, land-based hotel casinos have their own advantages. Patrons like coming here because one can get in, get out anytime without the hassle of ferries. It’s faster, cheaper (Rs.500 entry) and has transferable tickets valid for 24 hours. Since gaming standards in live casinos are high, automated gaming is a good introduction to a novice. Even pros enjoy this format as the game moves faster, with no human intervention. The high rollers often warm up on the slots till about 2-3 am, before hitting the live casinos to play all night. The thrill of beating the casino or winning a jackpot is an adrenaline rush that always tempts people to come back for more.

John D’Costa, Casino Manager at Holiday Inn’s Club Prive (earlier Hacienda de Oro) believes his overseas experience at Star Cruises has prepared him for any scenario. Outlining the hierarchy of the casino industry, he elaborates ‘There are Dealers, Inspectors or Supervisors, Pit Managers who keep an eye on the gaming zone, Shift Managers who oversee everything and finally, there’s the Casino Manager,’ John beams. ‘There are various departments – Table gaming, Slots and Cage are the frontline that interact with gamers while Surveillance, F&B, Housekeeping and Guest Relations handle the back end.’

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The gaming industry broadly classifies gamblers into three types. Entertainment gamblers are first timers who play for fun; they celebrate wildly even if they win Rs.20, providing colour and excitement on the floor. Professional gamblers are regulars who do it for a living; they have smaller targets so when they win, they stop, drink eat and go. But this rare breed accounts for only 1%. Compulsive gamblers are very dangerous to themselves and their families; after early controllable losses, they often progress to the next phase where gambling becomes a daily obsession. So how do casinos control such people? John explains ‘We know the signs, so we counsel him and make him accept that he has a problem. We spread the word and our union, the Casino Association of Goa, bans him for good until he has no option but to fly out of Goa. He may resent us for a few days but will eventually thank us. However, such cases are rare.’

No wonder gaming is riddled with superstition and strange beliefs. John says ‘If God isn’t working, people end up praying to the Devil. People are paranoid that it’s all manipulated, which is why there’s so much surveillance to curb mistakes or cheating by players and dealers. If a player wins, it’s because of him. But if he loses, he blames others – the casino, the dealer or a stranger who walked in. Contrarily, if someone wins a game with his phone kept a certain way, he won’t change its position. Pens, shirts, socks, people, random numbers; everything is lucky.’ Stories of extravagant patrons are legendary. A man who won 10 lakhs distributed 9 lakhs to the staff and was content with 1 lakh for himself. Another decided to tip the dealer generously because she had nice legs.

Tania Arnolda, Director at Update Recreation & Gaming Pvt Ltd, which operates casinos for Cidade de Goa (Goldfinger), Zuri (Dunes), Majorda (Treasures) and The Leela (Las Vegas), says their focus is land-based casinos. Ever since they launched operations in 2005, they’ve opened a casino every two years, established it and then moved on. For Gina, Casino Manager at The Leela, Goa’s nascent casino industry reminds her of the UK scene 30 years ago. ‘Earlier a woman in a casino was considered to be something between a hooker, a tart or trash. Though clients here treat me with respect, they will never let their daughters step inside! That’s ironic. Customer perception is that casinos take away all their money, but the truth is we send home losers and winners every day. The only money we make is just 2.7 % on the money passed. We fuel people’s dreams, you pay only what you want to.’

Tania adds, ‘Strangely, when a person loses Rs.1000, he makes a big noise, exaggerates his losses and blames the casino. But when someone wins, he is so quiet that we never even get to know! Gina simplifies the equation, ‘Let’s face it – people losing money plus alcohol always equals problem.’ Favourite moments? ‘The classic one is when customers ask me for a lucky number. I reply, if I knew I wouldn’t be working here, would I? They insist and I say 17. And the roulette throws up 17. Funnily, 17 has never worked for me!’ The verdict from the specialists is clear. Don’t put your life savings in casinos. Play for fun and with only what you can spare. And know when to stop.

Though casino licenses have been issued in Daman, they are still not operational while Sikkim’s remoteness is a huge deterrent, which leaves the field open for Goa. With four live casinos, a dozen land-based ones and more in the offing, Goa’s gaming industry seems buoyant. When asked if Goa can stake claim to be the Las Vegas of India, Alan D’Mello of Thunderbird Resorts quipped ‘I don’t know about that but I’m sure Las Vegas will soon be known as the ‘Goa of America.’

World Gaming Festival
A jointly owned Intellectual Property of Percept and Delta Corp, the World Gaming Festival really changed the way people experience gaming in India. Held between 23-26 September 2012 at Casino Royale in Goa, the one of a kind tournament tested the skills and strategy of players from around the globe. Five games were played in a knock out format – American Roulette, Texas Hold Em Poker, Bacarrat, Indian Flush and Blackjack and players with a one-time buy competed for a collective prize bounty of Rs.5 crore. The entry fee of Rs.1 lakh entitled a player to a royal experience with free return airfare, five star accommodation and meals, chauffer-driven luxury car, door-to-door transfers, world-class entertainment and entry to the hottest parties in Goa.

Contact Ph 022 40992222 www.worldgamingfestival.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December, 2011 issue of Rail Bandhu, the Indian Railways’ in-train magazine.