Friday, April 11, 2014

The charm of South Goa

Once again it was destination Goa and it was a good time to go as the kids’ exams were over and all 3 families had similar aged kids to keep each other company.  The good thing about visiting Goa is that you can reach there without having and plan or agenda. Actually we did have an agenda and it was pretty simple : swim, drink, eat and have fun.

The Thugs of South Goa.

The Roads of Goa are incredibly good. They are narrow but it’s a pleasure driving on them if the ‘thugs of Goa’ permit you to do so. The phrase ‘thugs of Goa’ fits the taxi drivers of South Goa who in the garb of having ‘Taxi Unions’ fleece the unsuspecting tourists. The taxi union outside the Club Mahindra at Varca beach operate like mafia. Letters come in advance to the prospective residents of Club Mahindra from the management advising them not to hire any cars from outside. I have heard that vehicles have been damaged by these rogue taxi drivers who say that they are doing it for their employment. So, if I stay in Club Mahindra in South Goa and wish to spend a few hours in North Goa I would have to shell out Rs 5000 for a Taxi while it would only cost me Rs 1500 including fuel if I were to hire a vehicle on self driven basis !
When you come out to the taxi stand to hire a vehicle, first no one takes any interest in you. Then a big boss appears and quotes a price which sounds exorbitant. It is only when you threaten to walk down to Varca church and hire a vehicle from there, some negotiations happen. So, if you do intend to stay in South Goa then please build up the cost of taxis in your budget. It will be more than your food budget!

In North Goa you are spoilt fully as there is tremendous variety of restaurants in Baga, Calangute and Candolim. On the other hand south Goa has huge five star properties and most of residents like the luxury of relaxing in the hotels and eating the food there. There are a few good restaurants and shacks but they are a few and too much distance apart. But as you would read in this blog, there are some great places to visit in South Goa and some great restaurants. South Goa can be charming and fun if you are willing to give it a chance.

We had landed at the new terminal at Dabolim Airport. The finishing touches were still being given to this new terminal. By the time we checked into our resort and  freshened up it was time to go for our first dinner at Goa for this holiday. 

Day 1 : Starting out with Fisherman’s Wharf

The first dinner started with The Fisherman’s wharf at Mobor- Cavelossim. This restaurant is located around 11 km’s from Club Mahindra and it’s a little before Leela Hotel.  The restaurant is located on the Sal  river and with fishing jetty just nearby, a whiff of fishy smell greeted us  as we reached our destination. The ladies stopped on their tracks as this pungent fishy smell did not suit their appetite at all. Things improved as we entered the restaurant and soon everyone forgot about the smell. Fisherman’s wharf is quite an elegant restaurant with a lot of tables right on the water’s edge. We sat inside as we required a large table. There is a nice big bar in the centre near the dance floor and an open kitchen is a little outside. The music was lively and the band was popular with the guests as it alternatively played the retro music and Goan songs. Our group was on the dance floor in no time and really did enjoy whatever the band had to offer. It so turned out that this was the best band that we came across in the next few days. The Goan songs were peppy and made us feel welcome in Goa. The service at Fisherman's wharf was efficient and food was good.  We had some prawns but avoided lobsters, crabs and jumbo prawns. It was our first evening so we were just about warming up.

Fresh catch at the Fisherman's wharf. 

Day 2: The Varca beach and the famous Martin’s Corner.

Club Mahindra is a time share resort. It is a very nice resort with lovely apartments and all the possible facilities. The beach is next door to the resort. Varca beach is nice and long beach with soft sand but it is strange seeing an empty beach during the morning and afternoon. The general profile of the resident of Club Mahindra is such that  they prefer to stick to the resort and the pool rather than the beach.  The people converge from all over India and buy packages which include all meals in the resort. They are least worried about Taxi Mafia or outside restaurants. We find it difficult to relate to the crowds in the resort but as we are in our own group- it does not matter to us. 
The only other hotel nearby is Zuri White Sands and it seems that not many people were staying there. Our regular shack here used to be ‘Glorio’ and we were sad to see that it had shut down. Last few years we had spent many a mornings and afternoons being served by their waiter called ‘Johnny Whisky’ at Glorio shack. He used to get us some brilliant prawns in butter garlic and my favourite used to be King Fish Masala. The Indianised Chinese food also used to be tasty. In the absence of Glorio shack we tried some other shacks nearby but they were utterly useless with awful food. What is a good beach without good food and good crowd ? We decided to explore some other beaches next day onwards.

Chilli Crab

Crab in Butter Garlic

Everyone was looking forward to Martin’s Corner at Betalbatim which we had planned as our dinner destination on the 2nd evening in Goa. This was also around 10 km’s from our resort  and is set in a small village. Martin’s corner is a very busy restaurant and we were lucky to find a decent table. It has a good d├ęcor with interesting lamps and a lot of Mario’s work at the entrance. Sachin Tendulkar’s comments once that Chilli Crab at Martin’s Corner was the best he had ever eaten had catapulted this restaurant to top of the charts in Goa. My kids had eaten a crab many times but there were 4 other kids who were very excited as it was going to be first time for them. We ordered the famous crab in 2 sauces – Crab Chilli Masala and Crab in lemon butter. It was exciting to see the kids’ expression when they had to choose a live crab and soon after it was served to them well cooked ! I was the mentor of kids in this exercise of crab selection and crab eating so it was extremely satisfying to see them devour the crab pieces they got with nut crackers and suck out each and every gram of flesh. Now that they have tasted this delicacy, they will look forward to it each time they visit Goa.

One does not have to be only a sea food lover to visit Martin’s corner. Our vegetarian friends also enjoyed the food there as most restaurants are catering to North Indian vegetarians. My suggestion to those  vegetarians who visit Goa  is that there are a lot of Goan gravies which can be added to vegetables as well to get a feel of Goa. Try Xacuti or Cafreal gravies with vegetables and you will enjoy the taste.
Ashley at Martin’s Corner was belting out some good English songs but could not draw the crowds to the dance floor. The moment he stopped singing and became a DJ with hindi and punjabi songs ,the  dance floor became over crowded. This shows that North Indians are now dominant tourists of Goa. 

Day 3 : Palolem Beach, the jewel tucked away in extreme south

The tranquil Palolem Beach

Once you are at Club Mahindra, you get used to haggling with the cabbies. We did not want to miss out the opportunity of visiting Palolem beach just because taxis were charging more than they should. Palolem is not as large as other beaches of Goa but it has made a name for itself. Not many knew about this beach around a decade back There were lot more shacks this time than when I had visited here around 6-7 years back. The popularity of Palolem beach comes from the Beach huts attached to most of the shacks. This is quite unique as it is not in very many places that such beach huts exist. They are literally on the beach and the charges are according to the facilities they offer. Many of them are air conditioned and have attached toilets. But mostly they catered to budget tourists with basic facilities and common toilets.

Beach Huts at Palolem
It took us around 45 minutes from Club Mahindra to get here. You cross many villages and  drive on the highway which goes further to Karnataka and the terrain is hilly but lush green. You are driving on the West coast of India though you can’t actually see the coast line. Several times you do pass under the Konkan railway tracks. Konkan railway has changed this region totally as accessibility of Goa and Karnataka from West India has improved tremendously cutting travel times by more than half. Palolem is part of Canacona district and there is just one big hotel nearby called the ‘Lalit.’ Lalit has a 9 hole golf course as well. While we were here at the Palolem just for the day, those who live here find it an exhilarating experience. We were asked to come to a rave party later that evening at a place called ‘Leopard Valley’ nearby.

Another interesting concept adopted by environment friendly  people of Palolem is the ‘silent noise’ party at the club at Neptune Point. Wireless headphones are given to you and you can dance all night long to the music of the famous DJ’s present without disturbing anyone else in vicinity. I am told that this is a concept which is becoming very popular. It is not necessary that you have to listen to what DJ is playing but you could switch channels. So, you have a situation where as a spectator you could see different people dancing to different music and you would find it strange as all you would hear would be 'sound of silence !'

We did not do anything as exciting as attend the rave party or the silent noise party. We swam a lot in the sea, had our cocktails and beer , had our lunch, and pushed off back to our resort for our siesta at around 4 PM.

Day 3  evening : An evening at Joecon’s

We have been regulars at Joecon’s whenever we stay in South Goa. It used to be a nice sea food restaurant  at Benaulium just outside Taj Exotica but now it has turned into Joecon’s Beach resort. A big hotel has come up and Joecon’s certainly looked busy as it has enough place for restaurant as well a couple of party lawns and they were all full of people. On the evening we were there they had an African troupe doing all sorts of acrobatics and dances and it livened up the atmosphere. The fish and prawns were nice and Prawn Balchao was very well made.  They had quite a variety in their menu so in our group all kinds of food was eaten : continental, chinese, north Indian and Goan.
Once the African show finished, the DJ took over and it was blaring music with revelers in full action. It was time to go back to the resort as loud music was getting on our nerves.

Day 4 : The morning and afternoon at ZeeBop

You have a nice view from Zeebop
Zeebop is located at Utorda beach near Kenilworth Hotel. Park Hyatt is nearby as well. It describes itself as the best party place in Goa. As the restaurant is at a height you get a panoramic view of the beach and sea so they have called themselves as ‘Zeebop by the sea.’ The last time I had visited for dinner so did not get this view. Just like all other good restaurants in Goa, Zeebop also takes pride in serving fresh catch from the sea. My choice was grilled Jumbo prawns which is served with salad and chips. They were nice. Tandoori Pomfret or Red Snapper could wait till next time. As the day progressed many people started coming in and by lunchtime it had good occupancy. Most people come from the hotels nearby. Advantage of such restaurants is that you could go for a swim in the sea and then come into the shade and enjoy your cocktails. These kind of restaurants are popular for the drinks at the sunset time . Some of the kids wanted to try out the steak while once again it was a wide variety of food which was served on our table. This is an advantage that big groups have. If you are looking at having a party at Goa, this is a good place as they specialize in such parties. It has a good party place with a nice view of the sea. We of course know by now that food and atmosphere is good at Zeebop.

 Spending time at Club Mahindra

Though it appears we were always out  of our resort and wining and dining at different beaches and restaurants, we did manage to spend considerable time at our own resort. A walk to beach in the mornings and late nights was always refreshing. It is so lovely watching the waves break at night. The kids would be in the pool much of the times but we soon discovered why the lobby was their favorite place in the entire resort. These gadget driven kids preferred the lobby as WiFi was freely available there ! These gadgets and phones were proving to be such a nuisance during our dinners that we had to confiscate them to make these children more social. 
The breakfast was normally at the resort and it so turned out that the the dinner on the 4th evening was eaten by us in the resort itself after a few drinks in one of the rooms. Much as we were tempted to go to Mickey's at Colva on the 4th day evening, a few in our group put their foot down as they were getting exhausted going out twice a day. So we took advantage of buffet in our own resort and it turned out to be great for me as it was a special evening where they had a live counter of sea food !  

It has been more than 10 days since coming back from Goa but I am still carrying the balmy smell of Goa, a taste of Goan cuisine and the visuals of waves breaking on the beach. 
The seniors of our group

The gadget gurus.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

San Francisco Calling

For the first timers, San Francisco takes you by surprise. You don’t expect such steeply climbing and dropping roads in the middle of one of the most populous cities of United States. I was standing at Union Square and imagining driving up and down these steep roads full of traffic and felt relieved that I don’t actually have to drive here.  Like most of Europe, America drives on the wrong side of the road.  I have every right to say that my country drives on the correct side of the road (left) while most of the world drives on the wrong side (right) ! The main point is that when I visited San Francisco, I relied on buses, cabs and the historic cable cars. This is the most sensible thing to do in a city which has such steep roads as driving would be a nightmare.

The Cable Cars add to the charm of San Francisco
The cable cars are a tourist attraction and riding on them is not cheap. Last summer we paid $ 6 per person for a short ride. I wanted kids to travel on it so decided to ride one from outside the hotel at Union square.  All the cable cars coming were totally packed with tourists so we kept walking back a stop at a time but without any luck. Finally we realized that we had walked more than a mile and reached the origin point. Once on the cable car you don’t feel any special and ride is also nothing exciting.  It’s just that tourists are getting excited and you try to be excited too. Having paid $24 for the family I wanted the kids to be excited but they were least interested.  Our cable car was carrying us up the  steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill once the home of the city's business tycoons, and down to the waterfront tourist attractions of Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. We had decided to have lunch at the waterfront.  I tried explaining to the kids that the cable car system was the icon of San Francisco and it was the last of the manually operated cable system in the world ! Still, they found it no big deal. When our conductor announced that we were at the beginning of Lombard street (famously known as the crooked street) ,  we decided to cut short the journey on the cable car and decided to walk down till the fisherman’s wharf by walking down the crooked street.
San Francisco is amazingly picturesque. While the city itself is up and down, once you are on top of the road or hill, the bay area gives you stunning views. We had a lovely view from our hotel room as well.

Lombard Street (Popularly known as crooked street)

The Lombard street or the crooked street is supposed to be the most crooked motor-able street in the world. Not surprisingly, it is one way street and goes by several houses. The street is a big tourist attraction and they have done a good job by having a lot of colorful flowers all along the way. It is a short street but very interesting. The kids finally found some interest in the happening and were pretty excited to see cars twisting and turning through numerous turns  on the way down. There were quite a few tourists and each one had a camera. We also clicked quite a few pictures and continued our walk down to pier 39.

Pier 39 is humming with activity

The weather at San Francisco also takes you by surprise. Even in the middle of summer you could feel as if you were facing a cold winter day. Temperature crosses 24 deg c only around 29 days in a year. We were thankfully warned about the need to carry wind cheaters and warm clothing in the middle of June. We had actually been staying at the suburban town of Fremont and would not have felt the need to carry jackets or wind cheaters as Fremont was quite warm at that time.  At the waterfront the stiff cold breeze welcomes you. It was a bright and sunny day. It was nice sitting outdoors and having some nice draft beer along with lunch. Being a weekend the place was bustling with people. I loved watching the crowds. The locals call the Fisherman’s wharf area and the area around Pier 39 as tourist traps.

We found a nice place for Lunch and Beer

 I didn’t mind these traps as long as we did not get cheated out of anything. The beer and lunch may have been pricey but I enjoyed every minute of sitting and roaming around this area. The shops were interesting and there was enough for all of us to do. We spent considerably long time here and as we were spending the night at the Marriott at the Union square, we were in no hurry. We did pick up a few souvenir T Shirts , Key chains, chocolates and caps from here.  There are upmarket restaurants and a lot of sea food stalls at Fisherman's wharf. These stalls were like our takeaway 'dhabas' and people were just getting their stuff from these stalls and sitting all over the place eating some nice sea food lunch. You could get crab, fish, prawns and all other type of sea food and obviously the stalls were cheap and attracted good crowds. The smell near the place was such that vegetarians from India would be well advised to stay away from there.
While walking around I saw a lot of people eating something from a round bread kind of thing. I asked someone what he was eating and he described it as Clam Chowder and pointed to several stalls selling it.
Clam Chowder
But he also told me that if I wanted to eat from a good place, then I should eat it from 'Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe.' Now this Boudin place was a pretty huge restaurant and a bakery with sit down restaurant on 1st floor. The bakery was totally automated and it was fascinating seeing different kinds of breads being baked and delivered to the restaurant through machines. The place was very crowded and I stood in a long queue . They were selling different kind of meals but clam chowder was most popular. Service was quick and I was served some white coloured soup in real hot bread. The bread was sourdough and the shape was like a bowl. The clam Chowder had some meat pieces in it and it was of good taste. You kept breaking the bread dipping it in soup and eating it real hot. More than the Clam chowder, I enjoyed the experience of this kind of a meal.

Union Square

The Union square itself is a nice place as it is the main business and shopping district of San Francisco. All the top names in retail are present here. I spent most of my time shopping at Macy's. Macy's men's shop was  a 6 storey retail outlet and each floor was huge. The women's Macy's was across the street and I guess it must be as large. With some major sales on, we had plenty to shop. All the prominent labels in the world seem to have set shop here but there is a limit to time so we could not enter too many shops as we had just one evening.The Union square was having some concert in the open area and it was lovely having so much activity and festivities around. Union square has everything which an entertainment hub should have. Restaurants, pubs, shops, theaters , jazz and blues clubs and open parks and theater. The Lori's Diner was right next door to Marriott and had an interesting decor. We had our breakfast there and quite enjoyed their pancakes and eggs. Dinner was a bit of a letdown at 'Lefty 'O' Doul's as kids did not enjoy the typical American food. Lefty 'O' Doull was a famous Baseball player from San Francisco so the theme was Baseball. The food comprised of things like corned beef, Glazed ham, roast beef etc so wife and kids were not happy. But we had gone late for dinner that chilly night and while most eateries were closing shop, the bars were doing good business. So we didn't have too much choice for dinner but as far as I am concerned, I enjoyed my dinner.

Another place which you can't actually miss in San Francisco is the 'Chinatown.' It is the largest and oldest Chinatown in North America and is very much part of the city centre. Once you enter the Dragon Gate you can feel the Chinese influence in houses and shops. The lampposts are ornamented with colorful Chinese motifs and all shops are decorated in the traditional Chinese way. There are Chinese Temples you can visit, have some great Chinese food and buy souvenirs from the shops. In short you can roam around this interesting place for a few hours without getting bored. Most shops are around the Grant Street so it is easy to navigate. 

The dreaded Alcatraz

Earlier that morning we had started early from Fremont to take a ferry to now a closed prison – Alcatraz. San Francisco is well connected to the suburbs through Bart rail system and once you get used to Bart Rail, it is easy to commute. We had a 10 AM booking for ferry to Alcatraz from one of the piers – pier 33. We had booked this trip more than a couple of months in advance as this is a very popular trip and tickets get sold out much in advance. Tickets are available online but for us my aunt had booked it and this trip was a gift from her side.  Alcatraz is referred to as ‘The Rock’ and a I remember that lovely film starring Sean Connery by the same name. Many films like ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ and ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ are based on this high security prison which shut down in 1963. Alcatraz authorities had claimed that no one ever escaped in 14 escape attempts in its 20 years as Federal prison. The claim may be correct but it is also a fact that 5 people did escape the prison and were presumed drowned and dead though no one knows for sure.

Inside the Alcatraz

The boat ride is short as it is only 2.5 km from the shore to the Alcatraz. You get magnificent view of the city and the famous bridges including the Golden Gate Bridge. The currents are strong and water extremely cold and that is one reason  why no one could escape the prison. The tour is very well organized and you are on your own once you reach the island. You are given audio system and you follow the instructions and the prison comes alive with stories and anecdotes. You are told about the most famous of inmates, Al Capone (watch ‘The Untouchables’ if you want to know more about this notorious gangster) and Robert Franklin Stroud (known as the birdman of Alcatraz). The failed attempt by 6 prisoners became the most famous ‘Battle of Alcatraz’ and you feel it all happening around the tiny cells as the audio commentary is pretty graphic. The recreation area, the dining hall and solitary confinements keep you gripped for a couple of hours you spend here.  Alcatraz is a must visit once you are in San Francisco. You would do well to watch a few movies about Alcatraz before you go.

Our entire family agreed on one thing - Alcatraz was definitely worth a visit.

Golden Gate Bridge is considered to be one of the construction achievements of the 20th Century. It is certainly the most photographed bridge in the world. It looks particularly beautiful when the rolling fog covers part of it.  Fog is very common in this part of the bay area and can appear at any time without warning. The best part about the bridge is the walkways on the sides which are very popular with the pedestrians and the cyclists. The bridge may be 3 miles long but when the fog covers parts of it, it seems to look infinite. Most of the tourists who go to the Golden gate bridge are mesmerized as the bridge spans over the Pacific Ocean and you can see Alcatraz from the top.  Tourists on a short visit are always in a hurry and they miss out visiting the lovely Golden Gate Park. The park is so lovely that on a nice day you can spend an entire day here. Perhaps the next time we would spend a lot more time at this huge and interesting park.It could be this summer as we are headed to San Francisco this summer as well. 

The Golden Gate Bridge

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tiger Woods Comes to India

The Monuments of Delhi Golf Club were perfect backdrop for Tiger Woods
There was a sort of rumor floating around that ‘The Tiger Woods’ would be coming to India and playing a round at Delhi Golf Club (DGC). Not many people believed it as it seemed very improbable.  Tiger seemed  to  be too big for Indian Golf. It is not that top Golfers haven’t played in India before. In Delhi NCR we have had a few prominent Golf tournaments in the past affiliated to European Tour and we have had players like Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Jimenez, Ian Poulter and Adam Scott playing at DLF Golf Resort  and Delhi Golf Club. It was only when the newspapers confirmed that Tiger would indeed be coming to India and a mail arrived from Delhi Golf Club confirming the same, the excitement started building up.

Getting out of rough. My son Kartik in orange cap (sitting) makes a video and I took this pic balancing on a hillock 

A few years ago we had another world number one golfer coming to India. Vijay Singh had won several top tournaments and was on top of the charts when he came to India to play a skins tournament  sponsored by BILT. Justin Rose (who later went on to win 2013 US Open), Todd Hamilton (winner of the  open championship 2004) and Daniel Chopra ( who spent his childhood playing at Delhi Golf Club), played this interesting format . I was fortunate to play the pro Am for this and had the opportunity to play a hole each with all 3 of them. This was played at the Arnold Palmer designed DLF Golf and country club at Gurgaon.  Even playing one hole each with these great players is a privilege. You have been watching them hit the ball a mile on TV and when they do it while playing with you, you get awe struck. They talk to you, praise you when you hit a good ball and they give you a few tips which you remember for your lifetime. You keep the signed caps as souvenirs forever and the pictures clicked with them are priceless. DLF had been having Avantha Masters tournament  from 2010-12 (co-sanctioned by European tour)  which attracted some great players but they could not host the tournament in 2013 as DLF is now replacing the Arnold Palmer designed course with Gary Player designed championship course and 9 holes of this are already in play while the other 9 are expected to be ready by year end.  The tournament was played in Jaypee Golf Course at Greater Noida  in 2013.

Ernie Els had come to play in the Indian Masters in 2008 which was sanctioned by European Tour and carried the prize money of $ 2.5 million. He was the winner of several Majors and was undoubtedly the star of the show. Some of the the other prominent  PGA players were Darren Clarke, Mark O’Meara, Thomas Bjorn & Greame McDowell. Ernie Els was having a good 1st round till a’ 9’ on 18th hole gave him a score of 75 in the opening round to be 77th on leader board. He gradually made amends with scores of 70, 69 and 71 in subsequent rounds and ended up at a credible tied 6th. Much to the delight of Indian fans, our very own SSP Chowrasia with a brilliant 67 in the last round won the tournament with $ 280000 prize money and card to the European tour ! The course unfortunately was not in a great shape that year. The bitter cold had killed the fairway grass making the fairways hard and barren, and the perennially Green DGC had inexplicably turned yellow.  Sadly, due to the world economic slowdown, the tournament sponsored by Emaar MGF was discontinued henceforth.  

The audience found unique places to watch Tiger. 

The 6972 yards  Lodhi Course at DGC is a delightful course with narrow fairways  located in the heart of Delhi. The ancient monuments dot the entire Golf Course and lend it a great deal of  character.  For the payers not accustomed to playing on this course the forest cover is daunting. It has a 9 hole smaller course as well called the 'peacock course' which actually is an ideal course to practice your irons.  In 2011 DGC celebrated its centenary though the official record of its existence dates back to 1930. There was some evidence found of Golf being played in 1911 so the centenary was celebrated in 2011. In 2013 the prestigious Indian Open celebrated its Golden  Jubilee at this coveted club where the first edition had taken place. This was all fine, but the biggest celebrations were yet to come. As the Golfing great Tiger Woods walked down the 1st fairway towards the 1st tee  on 4th February 2014– Delhi Golf Club saw the biggest celebration ever. There were 63 roars over the next 4 hours as Tiger captured the Delhi Golf Club with 63 strokes.This was 9 under par. 

Perfect balance and finish !
I had taken the day off from work and my son  Kartik (an avid Golfer) had bunked school. Once at the club on the morning of 4th February, it seemed that all Golfers of Delhi NCR had taken a day's  holiday. What was heartening to note that the DGC was full of children as well who had bunked school (with the permission of parents !) for this momentous occassion. The children were enthusiastic and had made their own groups to follow Tiger. Many Golfers, who were not the members of DGC were disappointed that the DGC on that day was open only for members and for guests of Hero Motor Corp. Yet, many non members did manage to find a way to get in.  But I had met some Golfers in the last few days who said they were not interested as he was just here to play an ‘exhibition round.’ What he actually played was an exhibition of great Golf. With 10 birdies on an unfamiliar course, he showed us what great Golf actually means.  Later the same guys were ruing of having missed the chance to see the legend in full action and flow.  People like us who were there could not stop discussing his ‘posture’, his ‘great finish’, his ‘ball striking ability’ and his ‘swing speed.’ Now, since the last few days we have been talking about his tee shot on the 1st, his bunker shots on the 8th and 14th, his brilliant shot on par 3 12th and his missed eagles and birdies on many holes due to slow greens.

Delhi Golf Club was foggy in the morning when Tiger walked in. As the day progressed, the crowds built up and the sun shone bright. It was a brilliant day. Perfect day for Golf. Thousands of people were all over the course and though it was all very chaotic, the club with the backdrops of monuments looked very colourful and alive. DGC had never seen a crowd like this before. 

The crowd was all over the place on this brilliant day

 Tiger was supposed to skip holes 6th to 9th but apparently he was enjoying playing on the course so he decided to go ahead and play those holes as well while most of us were waiting on the 10th tee. Mr Pawan Munjal  ( CEO & MD of  Hero Motor Corp, who sponsored this visit of Tiger woods) held his nerve and played a decent round with Tiger with thousands watching. Tiger played a few holes with VIP’s like Prannoy Roy (NDTV), Rajiv Singh(DLF), Aveek Sarkar (Ananda Bazar Patrika) and Justice Vikramjit Sen. This was scary as a normal golfer can always hit a bad shot and with the crowds all over the place, the danger of an injury was always there. Thankfully nothing untoward happened and all of them played carefully and decently. The big hoots and whistles were reserved for lady Golfer Sharmila Nicolett who hit some brilliant shots and for local boy Shiv Kapur, who along with Anirban Lahiri beat Tiger and Pawan Munjal in a 3 hole skins tournament. At the end of it all when Tiger addressed the crowds from the terrace of the club, the crowds cheered lustily. When Pawan Munjal promised to bring Tiger back to India, the roar could be heard at Rashtrapati Bhawan !

Golfer Sharmila Nicolett made a few fans.

We have seen Tiger on TV for several years. We have seen his concentration, aggression and powerful hitting. The Tiger we saw in person looked a lot different. He looked taller than on TV, his body looked in great shape and he walked with elegance, he smiled and waved often, he showed concern for the audience and often helped out the security in crowd control, he asked us to move out of the way so that the ball doesn't hit us, and he looked relaxed and chatted frequently with fellow players. There were 7-8 shots during the round in which I was just a few feet away from Tiger. Watching him hit from so close was a thrill beyond compare.  On Tuesday, whatever we saw of Tiger, we liked very much. His parting words made all the members of DGC very proud : " I must say, Delhi Golf Course is the narrowest course I have played in my life. It has been wonderful experience coming down and playing in India. "

A Newspaper aptly described his visit with the following headlines: 'Tiger Woods Prowls, charms, and sets record turnout in Indian Golf history. ' 

The Golf Pro at DLF Golf Resorts 'Anitya Chand' always reiterates that a Golfer is not a golfer if he hasn't seen Tiger Woods in action. Anitya was just back from Dubai where he had attended a one hour clinic conducted by Tiger. So impressed was Anitya with Tiger after watching Tiger practicing and playing that he feels that no one comes close to Tiger in the Golfing world. 

I am so happy that I was there Tiger. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and I wasn't going to miss it. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Goa Diary- November 2013

Glorious Goa !

Dickens met us at the Dabholim airport and handed over the car. I have been renting cars from him last few years while in Goa. This vehicle would be our companion for next 4 days taking us all around North Goa. The place we stayed in was nothing great in terms of resort ambiance so we needed to be more out of the resort rather than inside. For this it was necessary to be mobile and a bit adventurous. If you are staying in North Goa, you need to enjoy different cuisines and different beaches. Our plan was very simple – enjoy each moment while on this short holiday.

The drive from Dabholim Airport to Baga is around an hour long. The Innova car was comfortable, the roads were good and the AC was effective but we needed some water and chips on the way. As we bypassed Panjim we started looking for a grocery store. We found many and they were all open. As we entered them, we realised that there was no one present to sell us the merchandise. We were bang in the middle of the notorious Goan siesta hours. This is the time when nothing moves in Goa. It was our welcome to the city of relaxation !

At Baga beach, Francis, the owner of Big Banana shack was complaining about the Government and the messy system of allotment of  shacks for the season. The shack had just opened the previous day and this delay was due to the fact that the Government was taking its own sweet time deciding on the licenses.'The  Big Banana' is a simple shack between Calangute and Baga where we have spent many  a day’s relaxing in the last 15 years. I am happy that Francis manages to get his license each year as we feel pretty comfortable in this little shack which serves us some juicy pineapples and yummy tiger prawns in garlic butter.

Waiting for the prey

The local youth are becoming a big pain in this tourist haven. Many of these men wearing vest and swimming shorts converge on these beaches looking for prey. They load themselves with extra strong beer and enter the water where bikini clad foreigners are having a nice time. They make sure that they stay close to these fair skinned women so that the waves push them close to these unsuspecting preys, resulting often in several ‘touches’. They do manage to disgust these women who have no choice but to retire to their sun beds at their shack. It is a menace which must be stopped.

Between Baga and Calangute
The beaches of Calangute, Baga and Candolim are getting too crowded now. Busloads of domestic tourists flock here day after day to enjoy the Goan beaches. Men in dhotis and women in salwar kameez enter the sea as if doing it a favour. Boisterous children take over the beach. Collectively they make a mess of the entire beach. The litter they spread around is unimaginable.

The beaches of Morjim and Ashwem are much cleaner

We decided to move further North to escape this onslaught. The beaches of Morjim & Ashwem are dominated by Russians who have actually bought many parts of the villages in these areas. The drive to these places is very soothing and picturesque.  There are miles and miles of swaying palms, the mammoth Chapora river , rolling green hills and small plantations all along the way. You can take a detour and reach the small hidden villages with the old world charm. The old Goan houses are fascinating. Once you cross the village of Siolim, you come to Chapora river and you cross the bridge to reach the beaches of Morjim and Ashwem. Many of the shacks were still not operational as the season had just started. We did thankfully find a nice shack called the ‘Golden Eye’ next to the 'Marbella beach resort'. The sea here was nice and clean and the crowd was good.  Hawkers, the troublesome locals and busloads of domestic tourists were thankfully missing. The sea was calm but did give us fair share of the kinds of waves we wanted to have a good time. We had a nice swim and nice relaxing time in the shade of the shack. The food was decent and the beer tasted good. We decided to come here again the next day.

Goa has been in News for all the wrong reasons last few days. A Nigerian was killed near Ashwem on October 31st by some rival gang. Drug rivalry was suspected. The other Nigerians protested and came out in big numbers with their weapons and started attacking people in those villages. The peaceful area had become a battleground of rival mafia gangs. The Police moved in and clamped down on the Nigerians, making them run and take shelter in neighboring states.  Nigeria has warned India of repercussions. They have warned that they will throw out a million Indians on the roads in Nigeria. The local bodies of the Goan villages have passed a resolution not to give the houses on rent to Nigerians. The underbelly of Goa is out in the open. A few days back a Goan drug dealer and his family had disappeared from the face of the earth. Murders are becoming common and they are all drug related. The politicos and cops are all involved in drug trade as it is the fastest way of becoming rich. We will hear more about this in coming days.

Think Fest was organised by 'Tehelka' in Goa just a couple of days after we left the place. There was a buzz about Think fest while we were there as many eminent personalities were coming for the fest including Robert de Niro. Goans were not happy about a Taliban commander being invited there for discussions. This became irrelevant 10 days later when news of the MD of Tehelka molesting his young employee hit the newspapers and electronic media. He had done it in a lift at the venue during the Think fest. I am sure that the Goans would be more than unhappy at their state being brought into news for such terrible act of an outsider. They have reason to be upset !

I like the Calangute-Candolim road . It has become quite up market now and malls, designer shops ,  grocery stores, fancy restaurants and even spa’s  have sprung up.  Many Restaurants have live bands playing in the evenings and it is good seeing tourists relaxing and having a good time. There are a lot of hotels around this area and during the season, the occupancy is pretty good. The choice of cuisine is tremendous even though it’s the sea food which remains my preferred choice.  There are a lot of small lanes leading from this road towards the beach. Even these lanes have small shops and some lovely restaurants. The shacks on the beach do good business in the evenings as well and it is very soothing to have a drink there as the waves break on the beach. Our Diwali evening was spent at the Calamari shack at Candolim with some good music, nice food and the fireworks which dazzled the skies.

The shacks on beach are well lighted up in evenings and do good business

Restaurants, food and shacks are such an important part of my visit to Goa that I would  have loved to write a separate blog on it. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to devote time to it in near future. Gastronomically, it is wonderful to have great food day after day. In just 4 days the cuisine we managed to relish was Greek, German, Italian and Goan. Seafood was fresh at shacks and tasted great. We didn't get a chance to go to Panjim to the amazing 'Ritz' or 'Mum's kitchen' but had some good sea food at Brittos at Baga. Prawn stuffed with crab meat was just too good here. We gave Souza Lobo a miss this time but enjoyed the sea food delicacies at Fisherman's cove at Candolim. J&A ( an Italian Restaurant near Baga bridge) had not opened for the season yet but the popular Lila cafe next to it always had people for breakfast and lunch. It is most popular for breakfast. Lila Cafe just opens till 6 PM. Calamari Shack at Candolim remains popular and efficient but the quality and atmosphere at 'The Stone House' had really gone down since our last visit. Thalassa appears to be the most happening restaurant in North Goa and it is difficult finding a table there. It is upmarket and has tremendous atmosphere with great view of the ocean. Located at little Vagator beach, it is run by a Greek family and serves Greek food. I found the kebabs pretty good and the dips were really interesting. Tzatzika Dip or the Tiro Kef Teri with pita bread tasted very nice. The main course had Souvlaki wraps, Mousakas, Gyro platters of chicken or lamb. I had a prawn dish here which was good but expensive.
If you ask me and the kids which would be the best meal we had in Goa, my kids would say that they loved prawns in garlic & butter at the shacks. On the last day I had lunch at a small 'dhaba' serving 'fish curry' thaali. The restaurant was so small and ordinary that it had no name but was recommended to me by our hotel's manager. It was near Lila Cafe. I paid a bill of Rs 80 for this meal. This was one of the tastiest meals I have had in recent times !

A tribute to cartoonist Mario at Britto's.
When the sea is a bit rough and the big waves are there, my kids and I like swimming in the sea. My dad joins the fun.This time my niece of 21 months tried joining us in this fun. We try to ride waves and often manage to catch the the surf before they break for some body surfing. More often than not, we tumble and fall. The feeling is that of freedom and exhilaration.Luckily, the sand on Goa beaches is nice and soft. Each day we spend around 6-7 hours on the beach and in sea. We come back from the holiday all tanned and burnt. Before the plane touches down at Delhi, I start planning my next trip to this beautiful place called Goa.I am already set for march 2014.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Destination Wedding in the Mountains

 My sister in law Anjali was involved with making arrangements for her son’s wedding at Bhowali when the cruel fate intervened and took her away from us. It was the the girls’ parent’s wish that the wedding happened in their home town and Anjali had gone just a week before her death to book the hotels and fix the menus.
This marriage was happening as a result of a romance which started a few years ago when our nephew, due to the breakdown of his car,  was forced to take a bus to Delhi from the hills and met his future wife during the journey. He was a public school educated and London educated young man. She was a simple girl from the hills. The romance blossomed.  Such things do happen in real life.

The family decided to honour Anjali’s last wish of the marriage happening in the hills, and friends and relative converged to Delhi from USA, UK, Canada, Spain, Hyderabad and hordes of other places. It was decided to leave the period of mourning behind and move forward to a period of celebrations. This would be a perfect tribute to Anjali.

The travel to the hills

At the crack of dawn on October 17th several vehicles left Delhi for Bhowali. Once you cross East Delhi, you find some good roads. The Hapur bypass and Moradabad bypass are pretty good. The roads might be good but the traffic most of the times is chaotic. The highway driving in India is full of perils as cows cross the roads, the rickshaws appear from nowhere, villagers cut through the highway and cross the roads with bullock carts, the trucks don’t think twice coming on your face from wrong side and vehicles of all sizes and shapes zip  left and right at a great speed. Once you reach your destination, one always feels blessed not to have been hit by anything on the way. Unfortunately one of the cars in our cavalcade was not so lucky.

A common sight on our highways

There was a time when there were no decent dhabas on this route. Those going towards Chandigarh and Punjab always prided themselves with some great dhabas like ‘Puran Singh ka dhaba’ at Ambala.
Puran Singh ka Dhaba was once voted as one of the finest dhabas in the country and its amazing chicken curry had drawn the elite as well as middle class in route to Himachal or Punjab.  On that route you could not go wrong as far as food was concerned. Traveling towards Uttar Pradesh was always a pain. For many years we stopped at ‘Giani ka Dhaba’ for its stuffed tandoori paranthas  at Gajraula. Gajraula is around 110 km from South Delhi and it was a good place to stop for loo break and paranthas. A few years ago a decent place called ‘Meriton’ opened and that became the most popular place for a stop. Now suddenly we find Bikanerwala, Udupiwala, McDonald, Sagar Ratna and McDonald’s  all over Gajraula. Meriton finds itself isolated so it gives incentives to drivers who stop there for food. We did stop at Meriton on the way back and even though I was the driver of my car, no one offered me any incentive !

It was fairly smooth sailing till Rampur when suddenly the roads disappeared. It was a fairly decent road till last year but advent of Samajwadi Party seems to have taken a toll on the roads in UP. We had been constantly paying toll till Moradabad and didn’t mind it as roads were fairly good. From Rampur onwards till border of Uttranchal we found what cannot be called potholes by any imagination. For 2 hours what we got were huge craters which took a toll on the car as well as passengers. some enterprising politicians in India have often compared the smooth roads in their constituencies with the cheeks of dream girl of yesteryear's Hema Malini. Last few days I have been thinking the synonym to this crater filled road but have not been able to think of any name which comes close to this disaster. No one could be this ugly.

The craters of UP

The hills of Kumaon

Once the climb to the hills start beyond Haldwani, you are mesmerized by the beauty of our hills. The lush green mountains , the rivers , and lakes are a pleasure to view. Once you reach a small town or village , you witness the filth and garbage spread all around.  This seems to be an integral part of our country. Just 40 minutes from Haldwani is Bhimtal and close by are Naukuchiyatal and Sattal. Nainital is just 20 minutes from Bhimtal. Each of these places are blessed by a ‘ tal’ or lake. As this is not a touristy season, these places look more serene and beautiful. After a good monsoon, the lakes are full and the mountains look greener. It felt great to breathe the fresh air of these lovely mountains.

The beautiful lake of Naukuchiyatal

Bhowali is around 10 km from Bhimtal. Nainital is also around similar distance away. The road further goes towards Ramgarh and Mukteshwar. Many people use it as an overnight resting point while going to Almora and Kusauni. From Kusauni the snow covered Himalayas can be seen at all times. One has to go further up to see all those beautiful views and nature at it's very best.
The wedding arrangements had been made in a hotel a km from Bhowali. As the dusk fell, the beautiful lights came on. A lot of effort seem to have gone in decorations.The party started a few hours after our arrival and while we retired at around midnight, the youngsters partied till 5 AM in the morning.

The Wedding and the fun

It was a ‘day wedding ‘next afternoon. The weather was perfect and the sun was bright. The place had been well decorated and looked lovely . The vibrant colours against the backdrop of green mountains was pleasing to the eye.  The wedding ceremony of the hilly people was different from ours and it made a good change for us to view a different kind of ceremony. The women continuously sang folk songs while the pundit performed the ceremony. The songs reverberated throughout the venue as the wedding vows were taken by the couple.

After a short break the party started again. As the sun went behind the mountains the lights came on and DJ started shattering the peace of this sleepy town.  The evening was cold and crisp.All of us drank and danced and made merry. The youngsters were in full flow. The kids from Hyderabad won many hearts with a song and dance performance. The special crackers had been transported from Delhi and they lightened up the sky. They were some most amazing fireworks that I had seen. I am sure people of Bhowali would have gone miles to see such kind of fireworks. We did not feel guilty shattering their peace.

We experimented with a different route on the way back. We went round to Ram Nagar near Corbett Park. The drive up to Kashipur was lovely through the forests. Kashipur onwards the roads collapsed again and we were back to square one. In UP, you cannot escape the bad roads.

Destination weddings are always fun as you don’t have to worry about your office or the kids’ school the next day. This wedding showed that it does not have to be a high profile destination like palaces of Udaipur or Beaches of Bali. It had been a short trip to the hills but definitely a very enjoyable one. With many more nephews and nieces yet to get married, I hope we will get to see more such fun weddings. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Grand Canyon - A photo feature

Water can be a devastating agent of erosion. This is what I have been learning while teaching my daughter a chapter called 'Fluvial agents & processes' in Geography. The best example of the Fluvial process is 'The Grand Canyon.' We visited the West rim of the Grand Canyon in June this year. 

This harmless looking Colorado river once started cutting these rocks while flowing down. For thousands of years all it did was cut and cut the rocks. It got helped by winds and ice. It does not rain often in this region but when it does, it pours, and all the water goes into the Colorado river. This causes flooding and the river becomes wider as it cuts the rocks laterally. The upper portions of the cliffs collapse. As a result of all this erosion 'The Grand Canyon stretches 250 miles. It is a mile deep. In some places it is 20 miles wide. 

On the way to The Grand Canyon you can take a tour to the Hoover Dam. It had been built at a great expense and loss of many lives in 1930's. The idea was to tame the flooding of Colorado river and for irrigation water and for the hydroelectricity. A concrete structure of this size and magnitude had never been built before and much of the technology had been untested till then. 

The journey to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon takes you through the dry desert areas. The wind directions and velocity at times can cause typhoons. They start innocently enough as in above picture but can become a swirling car flying powerful windy factors as the wind gains strength.

This photograph is of the part of West rim which appears like Eagle with its wings open ready to pounce on prey. I could only manage this picture from an angle as the correct angle of eagles wings could only be taken from the moving bus which I could not manage.The bus drops you at the Eagle point which gives you this view and some others like that of a lying dog's image.

Notice the descending helicopter in the image above. It takes you all the way down to the Colorado river. You need to be brave to do this descending journey through these narrow crevasses.

The sky walk is a technological marvel. We did go over it and looked down at the depth of the Grand Canyon through its glass flooring. It is scary. You could lie down on your tummy to get a feel . Cameras are not allowed on sky walk but professional photographer is there if you do feel like spending money and get your photographs taken on the sky walk. People who did choose this option were lying down and posing in funny manner so that they could do justice to the money spent. Each photograph I think costs $30. The cost of going on to the skywalk is also around $ 40.00 My brother in law by mistake left the tickets to the sky walk on the Company bus. Tickets were never found but he managed to fight his way and get us access to the skywalk as payment had been made by credit card and there was proof of it.
As mentioned earlier, this skywalk is an engineering marvel and one needs to read about the story of its creation.

The Bus then takes you to Guano Point. Most of the images have been taken at this point. It would have nice if we had stayed on till dusk as the setting sun gives you spectacular colors in the sky. But west Rim shuts before it gets dark.

It is the Hualapai tribe which dominates this region of the grand Canyon as they are part of the reservation given to them. The reservation encompasses about one million acres along 108 miles of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. The Hualapai tribe has an amphitheater built near the sky walk and there you can go and learn about them and the way they live. This entire area is known as Hualapai area.

You can just look at these images and imagine what all erosion can do. Imagine this as blocks of rocks without any canyon part. It will seem so dull.

Lovely colors and textures of different kinds of stones are found. Limestone and sandstone are most common.

This is a dangerous act by my daughter. Many tourists do perish each year as the depth of the Canyon swallows them while they are attempting silly things.

Many people go to the South Rim at the Grand Canyon National Park and spend a few days there. South Rim and North Rim have places to stay, adventure sports, river rafting and many other activities. Rock climbing is a very common sport.

At the North Rim and the South Rim the photographers are up early to catch the sun rise and they are back again in the evening to catch the setting sun. West rim does not have much activity but for touristy buses which come for the day trips.

The sun was setting when we drove back. The colors of sky were extraordinary. I managed this from a moving car which was going at more than 80 miles an hour !

This image of tiny looking river doing all the work stays in mind for a long long time.

It takes around 3 hours from Las Vegas to get to West Rim. We took the directions from the hotel who gave us a map as well. Otherwise the GPS would have taken us to South Rim which was around 6-7 hours away. The kids were already cribbing about sitting in the car that long.
Once at the Grand Canyon, it had become cool by the time we reached. At around 2 PM, the temperature was 42 deg C but at 4 PM it was a pleasant 32 deg C with wind blowing. We had reached around 4 PM at Eagle Point and with each hour it became cooler and cooler.
The food at West Rim was very ordinary so we had a hot dog each to sustain ourselves.

The next trip of mine should be at the Grand Canyon national park at the South Rim where I would love to do my photography and try and be a bit adventurist. I need to go closer to River Colorado and need to explore the ravines of The Grand Canyon !