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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 30, 2008 At 12:30 PM

Destination Guide - Panaji


Panaji or Panjim, being the capital of Goa and a transport hub for the region, is only used by most people as a transit point before hitting their favourite beach. But the city of a lot to offer to a tourist who is willing to explore. 'India Explored' brings you some of the things to do in Panaji.


Overview. Option of things to do in Panaji are many. You can wander the surprisingly clean streets of Panaji admiring its old buildings and mansions from the days of the Portuguese, take a cruise on the river or sea, visit casinos - something you can't do anywhere else in the country, or just wander along the promenade that runs along the river.


Panaji City


Orientation. Panaji is strategically located at the center of Goa, close to the beaches of North Goa as well as South Goa. Its a small town where you can even walk from end to end of the town in just an hour's time. Public transport within the town and to surrounding areas is frequent and excellent, and you can also hire bike-taxis or auto-rickshaws to move from place to place.


Sightseeing and Activities


Evening Cruises. The government of Goa and a few private operators like Santa Monica organize evening cruises along Mandovi River that depart between 6.30 and 8.30. Most of the boats will have some entertainment programs on board, restaurants and discos. You can buy tickets at the jetty and get on board at Santa Monica Jetty, just below Mandovi Bridge. You can also ask for fishing boats and dolphin sighting boats that leave during the day.


Promenade Walk. The long promenade that runs along Mandovi River all the way from Mandovi Bridge to Miramar Beach is a great place to walk in the mornings or evenings. The walk-way is in excellent condition, clean and well maintained. See the river, the cruises and boats that float, watch fishing nets spread on the river, and stroll into Miramar Beach.


Fotainhas and Sao Tome. These are near the heart of the town, with beautiful old buildings colored in Red and Yellow that have stayed from the times of the Portuguese. Not to miss is the high court building close to the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, and the church itself. Behind the high court is a large hilly area that is surprisingly quiet and green, and not affected by the booming tourist economy of the city.


High Court Building, Panaji


Take a Ferry. All along Mandovi, Government of Goa has ferries to cross Mandovi or to get into one of the inhabited islands. Access to ferries is free. Take one of them just for the fun of it, and if you like it, go back and forth as many times as you wish! There is a ferry at Panaji near Captain of Ports Trust. Travel 4kms east of Panaji along the river, and you can find more ferries at Riabandar Village to take you to Charao and Diwar islands.


Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Surprisingly, this is a less known and less visited destination in Goa despite being just 4km from Panaji. Access to sanctuary requires going in a boat into the Mangrove forest and is a worthy experience even if you don't find too many birds on the day you are there. The common bird population includes small and large egrets, brahminy kites, reef herons, red shanks, common sandpipers, white throated kingfisher and small kingfisher.


Boating in Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary


Food and Accommodation.


Although Goa is known for sea food, you would be surprised by the number of vegetarian restaurants in the town, in nearly every other street. Hotel Fidago(18th June Road, Panaji, 0832 2225061) has several restaurants, and they are all excellent value for money. You can see many restaurants on the other side of Promenade and in the main market that serve Goan food or vegetarian. The best budget accommodations in Panaji are all near 31st January Road. More expensive hotels and resorts can be found near Miramar and Dona Paula.


How to Reach. Surprisingly, Panaji is not on the main line of Konakan Railway. Take a train to Madgoan, and then take a bus or taxi to Panaji. The city is connected by direct buses from Mangalore, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. Panaji airport is at Dhabolim, is nearly 30km away from city.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 29, 2008 At 23:57 PM

The Spirit Of Mumbai


May the city that never sleeps stay true to its image and continue to remain a hub of activity, despite all the things that have happened in the last few days.


I admire domestic airlines that continued to fly despite all the fears, and unlike many foreign airlines that cancelled flights to Mumbai. The policy of Spice Jet is especially laudable, who have kept time with all their flights that go through Mumbai without cancellations, and yet have graciously offered full refund to anyone who did not wish to fly and cancelled their tickets. Read about it here.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 29, 2008 At 23:41 PM

The Oncoming Skiing Season


December is just about to begin. In another month's time, it will start snowing in the Himalayas, and it will be time to pack the skis and head to the snowy slopes. And the time to plan the dates, book your ski lodge, is now. Here is a list of popular skiing destinations in India.


Auli. The slopes here are good and are especially friendly for beginners. This is also one of the least expensive places to ski in India, and probably in the entire world. Run by GMVN - an organization that belongs to Uttaranchal Government, you can spend your days skiing here on your own or taking one of the courses offered by GMVN. The downside about Auli? Snow conditions are unpredictable, and some years can go competely dry. GMVN rarely gives you proper information on snow conditions, and you might end up on a day when there is little snow and the lifts are not operating. See GMVN website for more details.

Auli


Gulmarg. Some of the best slopes and best skiing infrastructure is found here. Snow conditions are usually reliable. A bit more expensive in comparison with Auli, but still worth the money for the slopes and facilities. The skiing season here also lasts longer than Auli. More details here.


Manali. Solang Nala near Manali is not exactly a destination for serious skiers, but nevertheless, seems to have some popularity. The long slopes lack a lift, making it too much ordeal or carrying your skis up for few minutes of fun. A good infrastructure in place here would really make things better.

 
Solang in Summer


Others. There are a few other places where you can ski, but the infrastructure and snow conditions are not very good. Such places include Kufri, Narkanda and Munsiyari. These places are more like an attraction for casual tourists than for serious ski enthusiasts.

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Posted on: Friday , Nov 28, 2008 At 09:34 AM

Airline Transaction Fees And Fare Update


'India Explored' has been tracking the new transaction fees introduced by airlines in recent past. See earlier updates here and here.  


Air India, Kingfisher and Jet Airways have now announced that there will be no transaction fees charges on tickets booked directly with the airline's website, offices or call centers, hence giving passengers as option to by-pass transaction fees. See complete story here.


In another news, the falling fuel prices are giving the airlines a chance to reduce air fares after many months. Air India is planning to cut prices by 12-15%, and kingfisher may follow. See report here.

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Posted on: Monday , Nov 24, 2008 At 20:47 PM

Tea Tourism


Tea Tourism is a recent initiative from tourism department, to promote tea estates as travel destinations.

 

India has a large tea growing area and they are usually in beautiful hilly locations, such as Darjeeling and Munnar. In last few years, enterprising tea estates like Glenburn have converted bungalows in their estates to holiday houses and have been accepting guests. It's a unique idea that has found many takers.

 

Tea tourism mostly aims to catch high-end travellers, with rooms that can cost as much as $200 to $400 per day, but an increasing popularity would eventually lead to more tourists to hills, and allow less expensive places to come up around the tea estates.

 

See more about tea tourism here and here.

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 23, 2008 At 13:10 PM

Travel And Internet


Being connected is always a problem for me when I travel. Though I don't intend to stay online all the time, it is important for me to be able to see my mails and read a few things at least once a week. A comfort position though, is being able to connect everyday during the hours when I am not doing much.


Initially I was using internet cafes. Most cafes, especially in tourist places, have reasonably fast connections these days. But having to leave the hotel room and going in search of a cafe is painful, and I would avoid it if I can.


Recently, I am experimenting with carrying a laptop and a mobile internet connection device. Though it seemed like a pain to lug laptop, I am finding it useful in many ways - I can work and travel simultaneously and need not worry about having to stay at home to complete some jobs. I am currently on an Airtel USB modem, and here is my experiences so far.


Speed. The best download speeds I have seen are nearly 20kbps, which I think is reasonable. But this is not a consistent speed, and drops considerably, sometimes to as low as 2-3kbps. It is much better in larger cities where they have EDGE connectivity, but if you go into small towns, the connection can test your patience.


Availability. It is not hard to get online - the network is available in most small towns. But surprisingly, GPRS doesn't work well in some areas. I was trying to connect in Kathgodham and Nainital towns in Uttaranchal, where the modem could detect signals, but could not connect. Connecting to the web using a GPRS phone from a handset also did not work.


Airtel is a reasoable choice as long as you are not going too far, or into the mountains. In such case, it is better to look for other options.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 22, 2008 At 23:31 PM

Iffi Goa Begins Today


I am here at Panaji, at a time when the International Film Festival of India is kicked off. It started off today with screening of the film 'Warlords', with actress Rekha as chief guest for inauguration. The festival will be on for ten days - from 22nd November to 2nd December.


Most of the public screening will be happening only after 27th, while the screenings are reserved for delegates and press till then. The list of films being screened is big, spanning more than hundred films long from all over the world. I am personally looking up to the five movies screened as part of celebrating 75 years of Kannada Cinema.


If you are a film buff and have been planning to visit or visiting Goa in next ten days, don't miss checking out schedule of movies at Panaji's Inox theatre. See more details here.

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Posted on: Thursday , Nov 20, 2008 At 15:32 PM

How Much For A Samosa?


What is the maximum you have paid for a Samosa ever? May be a handful of rupees if you have bought at the street, a few dozen rupees at a nice restaurant or a few hundrends at the five star hotel in your city? That's more like the money I have paid up. But how about a ten thousand rupees? Thats what a Dutch couple had to pay when they ate samosas and then found their bill to be in five figures. They were not gullible enough to believe that, but could not put up against the shop-owner who claimed that the samosa was made using rare herbs. They did the best thing that anyone could do in such situations - they paid up, and then filed a complaint in nearby police station.


What happened next was the happy ending - cops had the shopkeeper return the money, less ten rupees for the samosa. And a complaint has been filed against the shopowner.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Nov 18, 2008 At 15:43 PM

Destination Guide: Varanasi


 One of the oldest living cities of the world, Varanasi has a history lasting many thousand years. It is the holiest place for the Hindu, was an education center, a place ravaged by history and rebuilt many times over. Varanasi, Banaras or Kashi, however you call it, the place brings in a charm of timelessness to mind - of thousands of pilgrims bathing on the ghats, performing shraddha karma, sadhus meditating and the ganges flowing gently since ages.























Overview.
Varanasi is a holy city for the Hindus, and is visited by a large number of people from all over India. In the recent years, it has also attracted backpackers and tourists from all over the world who want to quickly witness Indian Culture and head forward to next destination. It has become as much a touristy place as it is a place of pilgrimage. Winter is the ideal time to visit Varanasi, as temperatures easily cross 40 in summers.

 

Orientation. Most of the action is Varanasi is centered close to the 5km stretch of ghats along the bank of Ganga. Ramnagar Fort and Banaras Hindu University are some of the attractions that may require you to hire some transportation.

 

Things to do and Places to See

 

Ganga Aarti on Dasaswamedh Ghat. Every evening, an elaborate aarti is performed on the bank of the river at Dasaswamedh Ghat, close to Kashi Viswanath Temple. The aarti begins at 6pm and lasts for approximately 30 minutes. Its a colorful ritual with fine choreography with lamps swaying in the hands of the performers.






































Kashi Viswanath Temple. The most important pilgrim point in Varanasi. Entry is allowed for Hindus only. It is this temple that attracts people from all over the country, who believe that one must visit the temple in the lifetime.

 

RamNagar Fort. A short rickshaw ride from Varanasi, Ramnagar has a large fort in the opposite bank of the river, built by Maharaja Balwant Singh in 18th century. You can see the fort walls at a distance from the ghats of Varanasi.

 

Sankat Mochan Temple. This is a well known Hanuman temple south of Assi Ghat, popular with locals who visit the temple every day. The temple was in news a few years back for a bomb blast that killed many.

 

Harischandra Ghat. This is not exactly a place for tourists, but the western curiosity has propelled the ghat into such a status. Harischandra Ghat is where Raja Harischandra is said to have worked as guardian of the cremation ground. It still remains the place where the bodies are burnt and ashes immersed in the Ganges.























Banaras
Hindu University
. The well known university built by Madan Mohan Malviya, located south of the ghats has a leafy and peaceful campus worth a visit.

 

Sarnath. Sarnath is a short rickshaw ride from Varanasi. This is the place where Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon. This is a popular tourist spot and pilgrimage place for Buddhists, and is especially popular with travellers from Buddhist countries like Japan. This is also the place where King Ashoka's pillar with four lions is, which is now the national emblem.

 

Boat ride on the Ganges. This is one of the most coveted activities in Varanasi. Get down to the ghats early in the morning and take the hour long ride from Assi Ghat to Dasaswamedh Ghat. Watch the sunrise over the river, and then see hoards of pilgrims along the ghats.






















Food and accommodation. There are a large number of guesthouses, small hotels and dharmashalas along the ghats. These are the best places to stay and see Varanasi. The good hotels are all near the railway station and far from the ghats. Varanasi is known for its street food, especially Lassi and other foods derived from Milk.

 

How to Reach. Varanasi train station, and nearby MughalSarai station are well connected from most of the country. Varanasi also has an airport, with daily flights with connections from Delhi and Mumbai.

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Posted on: Monday , Nov 17, 2008 At 22:30 PM

You Can Smoke In Goa This Winter!


We all know about the new smoking ban rules that have been effective in the last few weeks. It hasn't exactly been practiced or enforced well, but there is a rule now and people are conscious, and will remain conscious at least for a few more months.


But in Goa, where the winter and new year is a season when lot of tourists visit and parties get organized in large numbers, you should have no problem burning that cigarette between your lips. Goan government wants you to be there and make sure your money is spent, and doesn't want to see you put off by the smoking ban. So they now have a clever strategy - their system of enforcement will start working only from next year(Jan 1st). And they have excuses to support their decision - they need to train their cops and educate the people, and it takes time!


This is not exactly a news I am eager to cover on 'India Explored', but still, if you are one of those people who can't manage without a smoke every hour and now finding it hard, this is one news that could cheer you up at least temporarily.

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 16, 2008 At 11:09 AM

Experiencing Karnataka's Wilderness


When tourism departments get into business of hospitality, the result is usually service that falls way short of expectations. There are a few exceptions though. I have seen Rajasthan Tourism's restaurants and hotels running efficiently, even though it can do with a bit more friendliness from the employees. Another shining example is Jungle Lodges and Resorts, run by tourism department of Karnataka.


A Cottage at Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Dandeli


The company is run as a distinct entity that operates independently, which is probably the reason for its success. They have another unique advantage being a government enterprise - they get access to places where no one else does. The second reason is what makes jungle lodges famous with holidaying people, and especially with those who love to be amidst wilderness. Add friendly and helpful staff who are trained naturalists to that, and there is a winning formula.


Jungle Lodges offers travellers a comfortable vacation in many places where it would otherwise not be easy to take your family or the elderly. How would it be to stay in an island at the edge of a wildlife sanctuary, surrounded by clear backwaters from a dam and thick forest beyond it, and getting into the jungle once in a while to sight wildlife, possibly varying from a Crested Hawk Eagle to even tiger? Or how is it like to be in an ancient lodge next to a reservoir where you can regularly watch elephants wandering? The first one, you can experience at the Jungle Lodges at Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, and the second at Kabini near Mysore. Kabini's Karapur Lodge is recognized as one of the premier wildlife destinations in the world.


Jungle Lodges has more interesting locations, like an exclusive island south of Goa at Devbagh, resorts in the forest or at the edge at Bandipura National Park, Kaveri Wildlife Sanctuary, Banneraghatta National Park, BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary.


They are the best option to have a wildlife holiday in comfort in Karnataka, if not, in the whole country. See more information on their website.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 15, 2008 At 13:46 PM

Accommodations In Ladakh


It is too early for planning a trip to Ladakh, but when you start doing that for your next year's trip, here is another resource you would like to look up. I have been compiling a list of accommodations all over Ladakh - in places where I had stayed during my 2-month visit to Ladakh earlier this year. It could help you plan where to stay in remote locations in Ladakh, and find reviews of guesthouses worth staying(or avoiding).


Review of four places have already gone online.

  1. Hotel Auspicious, Leh
  2. Lakrook Garden Guesthouse, Leh
  3. Rahela Guesthouse, Leh
  4. Tharpaling Guesthouse, Lamayuru

This is not the end; they will be updated regularly, and in a couple of weeks there will be a list of places from all over Ladakh. To keep up with updates, go to my profile, contributions tab and click on hotel reviews.

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Posted on: Friday , Nov 14, 2008 At 22:25 PM

Bangalore Airport


The new airport in Bangalore has been regularly making news for many months now, but mostly for wrong reasons. The project dragged on for too long, and the inauguration too had some hitches with dates. I made two trips out of the new airport in last one month, and here are my observations.

The good.

  1. The days of regular delay and flights circling the skies waiting for the runway to be free seem to be finally over. Takeoffs and landings happen smoothly, and there are no traffic jams. 
  2. Finally, there is some sense in the food available inside the airport. All that you got in the old airport was some stale sandwiches re-heated to make them taste worse. Now, a restaurant serves South Indian food(Idli, Vada, Khara Bhath,..). Bless them!
  3. This one for shop-a-holics, not for general public. You have a way to spend time in the airport - there are quite a few shops to hang around. 
  4. It is big enough not to feel crowded.
  5. The best thing is connectivity. BMTC has done excellent job in connecting the airport with the city. It is no longer needed to look for a taxi outside the airport. Just get to a comfy bus and get to the city. 
  6. Free inernet.
The Bad
  1. Distance is the most painful thing. It takes simply too long and you have to make lot of planning to get to airport. And this is one problem that nullifies all good things. The problem shows especially if you are taking a short haul flight.
  2. Pricey. If the airport starts charging User Development Fees as planned, passengers using Bangalore airport will have to pay some more money.
  3. Scalability. It doesn't look like it can handle twice the traffic we have today with its current avatar. Doubling traffic can happen in a time not far from now if we have growth rates similar to past five years.

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Posted on: Sunday , Nov 09, 2008 At 11:55 AM

Transaction Fees For Airline Tickets


The airlines are slowly finding ways to make more money for each ticket. I had earlier mentioned on this blog that there will be transaction fees for each ticket bought from November 1st.


The new fee is now live, and I got to see it with my air ticket I am using for my fight to Delhi tomorrow. Here is the distribution of fare I am paying.


Base Fare: Rs. 2,600.00

Passenger Service Fee: Rs.225.00

Fuel Surcharge: Rs.2,900.00

Transaction Fee: Rs.330

Total Price: Rs.6,055.00


The transaction fee is the newly introduced component. Read more about it on my earlier post. The transaction fee will be kept by agents, since the airlines no longer give a commission to the agents. Interestingly, even if you directly book with the airline's website, you will still be charged the transaction fee. But in this case, the airline gets to keep the transaction fees too.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 08, 2008 At 23:37 PM

Pushkar Mela


The annual Pushkar Mela, held in Pushkar, Rajasthan, will be held from November 10th to 13 this year. The Pushkar Mela is an yearly affair where people come in large numbers from nearby areas to buy and sell camels. It is also popular with tourists and photographers who come here in large numbers to witness the Mela and go back with memories and images.


Though the Mela is officially beginning from 10th, Pushkar village starts seeing action much before, as people start arriving as much as a week earlier and trade of camels would have already commenced. 


If you are heading that way, do keep in mind that there is a rush of tourists during the fair, and accommodation is hard to come by. Also, room rates are known to shoot up by as much as 1000% during the days of the Mela. Book ahead, if you can.


Pushkar Lake


Besides the mela, Pushkar is also known as a holy place, and it is said that Brahma meditated on Puhkar's Lake Shore. The village also hosts what is said to be the only Brahma Temple in the world.

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Posted on: Saturday , Nov 08, 2008 At 23:22 PM

Janapada Jaatre, Bangalore


Translated from Kannada, Janapada Jaatre means folk fair. 


The Janapada Jaatre is a government sponsored program to celebrate traditional culture of Karnataka. It was a weekly program during 2006-7, in a year when it was conceived to celebrate the Golden Year of Karnataka. But it was no longer conducted since then.


Janapada Jaatre


The fair is back this week, only for this weekend. It is on at Lalbag Botanical Gardens in Bangalore on 8th and 9th November at 6pm at the open area close to Kemegowda Gopura. Do visit if you are in Bangalore this weekend. Its a great show giving a glimpse of rich traditions from all over Karnataka.


Janapada Jaatre


The pictures posted with this article were taken during multiple visits to the fair in 2006-7.


Janapada Jaatre

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