Saturday, 29 August 2015

Where the river meets the sea & the sea meets the bank- Poovar, Kerala



Barely are there a few places left around here which is actually explored and that gets me excited any more. But I realized these shockers still exist but unfortunately get shadowed by the bigger touristy names around. For example Poovar in Kerala. Heard of it? No..Yeah? Been there? No? No..? Well, I am not surprised because if someone asked me to go explore Kerala I would also first visit places like Alleppey, Munnar or Kochi maybe.

But let me tell you what you are missing and why you should plan a trip to Poovar ASAP!

Poovar is a small fishing town, untouched & unexplored. In Malayalam it literally translates into, Flower River (Poo-Var). Like any other beach town this hidden hamlet has its own share of swaying coconut trees, clear blue sea and sandy brown sand. But what sets this place apart from other beachy places is the fact that it is located at the mouth of an estuary. Pristine backwater on one side and the gentle sea on the other, it has all the Kerala elements one looks forward to.




I stayed at this place called Estuary Island. It is an island because it is surrounded by the backwater on three sides and by the ocean on the fourth. A relatively new property, the view from the deck is spectacular. It makes you want to kick your shoes, put up your feet and wriggle your toes while basking in all the serenity. The villas have the traditional Kerala roofs, sloped and tiled with an interior that is very classy yet traditional! (*PS- go during to the monsoon to get great off-season deals)

One must-do here is to take a short backwater cruise around the island.  It can transport you to a sort of mini Amazonian forest (minus the snakes and mosquitoes). The still green river water enveloped with a canopy of low lying green vegetation carries one beyond the present realm of reality. The vibrant birdlife with its water crows, woodpecker, cranes, the white headed kites etc. this place is definitely a birdwatcher’s paradise. Their occasional calls are the only things you can hear apart from the paddling of the oars.
 




In Poovar, an early morning visit to the Fishermen village is essential so you witness the everyday life of the fishermen and also chose what you want for lunch! You can easily spot a fishing cove by the number of crows in the area and the amount of jelly fishes on the beach. I spotted both and was excited to witness a fish auction, where the men would throw in their catch together and sell it the women who bid the highest.







The beach here is everything you can imagine, virgin, soft and private. As I sat on the beach looking at the ‘Elephant-in-the- Sea’ stone structure, I wondered whether I should keep this place a secret. But then beauty is one such thing that can never be hidden. And in Poovar you can not only see & hear beauty but feel it too. And on my part, it would have been such a shame to not share it.


If I were you, this is how I would include Poovar to my Kerala itinerary. Fly into Trivandrum, travel to Varkala, soak up some sun, surf a bit then travel 70 KMS down south to Poovar, and then head 70KMS south to the southernmost tip of the Indian sub- continent, Kanyakumari and then back to Trivandrum.

Facts:
  1. Best time to visit is after the monsoon and during winters
  2. The nearest airport is Trivandrum which is 25KMS away
  3. It is best for couples who are looking for some privacy, but people like me also can be spotted
  4. Not for all the party animals. Finish that in Varkala and come here for some solitude
  5. Ensure you eat the fabulous sea food here


Thursday, 13 August 2015

...if I could go Camping and Trekking with my Pooch!

There are Life Goals and then there are Travel Goals. For some travel goals is about travelling to every continent or biking it across continents or summiting the highest of the mountains. For me one of my most cherished travel goals has been to get into a car with a dog and travel to wherever the road may take me and camp on every kind of landscape or terrain. Or simply go hiking with him and snuggle in our tents under the billion stars. Or maybe just chill on the beach and watch sunsets together.

Instagram is full of dogs feeds or travel feeds but my favourite Instagram account campingwithdogs gets both dogs and travel together and feeds my dreams with images of just that.

So if I ever go out camping and trekking with my pooch, this is how it would look...or so I hope!

Get outdoor and walk trails ...and make him carry his own pack!

Literally climb mountains...over pretty yellow flowers...sing songs too..

...get him so tired that even the smell of the shoes doesn't affect his snooze!

set up a camp by the bubbly river and crash..

...make him walk some more in some matching fancy shoes!

Reach the summit and celebrate by exchanging kisses! 

...then get back to camp and snuggle up some more....

figure out new trails and see him pretend to understand it all!
explore beautiful spots together and share some silent talks..

take photographs by the lake just to be photo-bombed by him!

....snuggle more....

see him toast his buns by the camp fire...

....and then wake up to sweet slobbery kisses!!

...coz everyday is funday, so we snuggle some more. All of us snuggle, more. 

go out paddling with him and let the wind run through our hair 

tell him stories ...while he listens intently

leave our heart in the mountains and head to the beach...

listen to the waves and play around the whole day

...and then sit by the beach, plan new trips and watch sunsets together!
1.        I bet after seeing these posts you would also want to grab your snuggle-bum and get out now!! :D

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Walrus on a Surf board! - Surfing lessons and Life lessons in Srilanka


Ok who loves funny animal videos? Raise your hand.
I know everyone does. I mean how else do you kill time in office. * Thank God for Buzzfeed and funny animal vids*

Now imagine this, a big brown tanned wobbly walrus trying hard to get on a slab of slippery ice. Yeah? Funny? Now replace the walrus with the sight of me and the ice slab with a surf board.

That was my first time surfing!

Here I was in Srilanka, backpacking and beach-hopping along the south and south-west coast. How I did it? And which were the beaches I bummed on is another story, a pretty interesting one too but for another time. This story is about why I came to Srilanka. To surf.

Weligama beach
My Instagram feeds had been killing me with these amazing go pro surf pictures of these men with chiselled athletic bodies and all I could do was drool over them. In India, surfing options are very limited. You have some schools in Mangalore, Pondicherry and Varkala but I think that’s about it. It is still evolving but I learnt about these places after this trip. Ever since I had heard about the Srilankan surf scene and the beautiful beaches and the turquoise blue water and the CHEAP exchange rate, I had it on my bucket list! There was no reason for me to NOT go there and give it a shot.

Except, I never swim in the sea. I go the beach and dabble my feet in the water alongside the shy salwar suit clad aunties. Plus you may think I am exaggerating but not even a year back I was nearly about a 100 kgs. Eeeeyeaaahh. True story. I was definitely not my fittest when I thought of surfing. My mind and body, as you can see, do not relate or see each other. My body is still, what I call WIP (work in progress). And on top of all this, I wore spectacles.

Despite all this I went ahead. I researched all I could. I searched the internet for everything and anything related to surfing in Srilanka and surfing for beginners. Youtube, blogs, website, Instagram, you name it!

Finally I had my plan ready.
Step 1. Buy the tickets to Colombo
Step 2. NOT mention the surf plan to my parents
Step 3. Backpack my way to Weligama town
Step 4. Head to the beach and figure the rest out.

I know pathetic planning. But that’s how I did it.

Weligama is a small coastal Srilankan town. It is, so I had read, a surf learners’ paradise. As I went looking for a place to stay, I could see tuk tuks stacked with surfboards. Foreigners on their mopeds with surfboards attached to their side, and sign boards all ready to give you surf lessons. This was a surf town. I could smell the surf. I have no idea what that means but everywhere I looked, I knew I was closer to what I was here for.

The next morning I moped-ed my way to Weligama beach. As I parked the moped, I couldn’t stop smiling. Just like how Goa beaches are lined with shacks or how chowpatthy is lined with vad pav walas, this beach was lined with surf shops. All the shops either rented out boards or sold boards or wetsuits for surfing.

I walked around the beach with a silly smile stuck on my face. The water was blue and the horizon was teeming with people of all ages and their brightly coloured boards. *Perfect*

At the south end of the beach I came across this board which said Surf N Lanka. I knew I had seen this somewhere in one of the internet search pages.


Without a second thought I headed to the shack. While walking I tried to gather all the confidence. I had no clue about surfing, I didn't know what I was going to do, and I didn't even know if I could ever even manage to stand on that board. But as I approached the first guy I saw there, I flashed my most confident smile and asked, “Hi, do you teach how to surf here?”

I wondered if he would take one look at me and laugh out loud with a reply, “Really? You?”

But that’s the thing about Srilankans, they are really sweet, especially to women.

This guy gave me the biggest sparkling white toothy smile which shone against his dark brown skin.

“Yes!”

He reminded me of someone. “We rent and we teach. Will get you up on the board with one lesson only.” And he continued talking about how this was the best beach to learn surfing, how everyone around the world has come to learn surfing here, etc etc.

Apparently, he had just got out of the water after teaching some Russians how to surf and was still wearing his cap. Suddenly he removed the cap and out bounced curly brown and blonde hair. I knew it!

He reminded me of Malinga! The kinda- scary looking Srilankan bowler. Again I am not kiddin. And I have pictures to prove it too. His blonde tipped curls bounced as he talked with excitement and the more he talked, the bigger his nostrils flared. I kept nodding my head involuntarily as I zoned out at my own joke of similarity just to be woken up when he quoted the price of the 2 hour personal surf lesson including the board.

500 Srilanka rupees. Did he just say 500 Srilanka rupees!!!! That is nearly about 250 Indian rupees.
It was such a steal!! This was like getting a Vero Moda top in Sarojini Nagar for just 100 rupees!

Quickly I closed the deal. Before he changed his mind and quoted me a higher price. I signed up for the evening class.

The best time to surf here is usually in the morning from around 7AM to 9AM or around 4AM to 6PM.

By 3PM I was back on the beach. Anxious. Excited. Terrified too.

I didn’t have the guts to get into a swimsuit lest show my thunder thighs. So I got into a wet suit and shorts. I learnt that surf boards came in various sizes and material. Basically as you get better, the smaller the board becomes. I was handed over the 8 feet soft board, the largest, meant for beginners.

For an hour, Amma (that was the instructors name…apparently) gave me surf lessons on the beach.

Surf lesson on the beach with "Amma"

Amma lookalike :) Malingaaa!
From figuring out your strong leg to understanding how the center of gravity works to standing up on the board. It was basically a crash course on doing yoga on the board. First you lay flat with your belly button on the center of the board, then start paddling, get into the bhuj asana pose and jump on the board in squat position and try balancing on the board with your legs and hands. I must have done this exercise at least a hundred times before “Amma” agreed to let me try this in the open water.

Now unlike other water based activities, this one has no life jacket. Plus I was wearing my lenses. The only thing I had was my board which was attached to my ankle.

Covering the thunder with the board... 
As I walked with Amma and my board towards the water, the soundtrack of jaws kept playing in my head. Such a wrong time.

The instructions were simple.
Get on the board. As soon as you see a wave approaching, start paddling fast. Keep paddling until you gain momentum and once you are on the wave, jump up and try to balance it out.
As simple as it sounded, it wasn’t. Just getting on the wobbly board with me slipping in all directions was a sight. This was when I felt like a walrus. But I tried and tried until I had bruised myself and had gotten the hang of getting on the board.

Paddling in wasn't so difficult until you feel the piercing pain in your arms the next day.
After countless times of paddling in on every wave, I finally managed a half stand. On my knees. This was an achievement by itself.

Another hour later and after drinking gallons of sea water and hauling myself up repeatedly, there was this one wave.

My wave.

I paddled furiously, and it took me on its shoulders. I squatted on it and it held on strong. I kept standing on it until it died on the shores of the beach. As I stood on the board riding my first wave, I could hear Amma shouting victoriously. His child had just taken the first step.

My first surf lesson was over. As I sat across my board exhausted, looking at the sun go down, I felt jubilation running through my body along with a hell lot of sea water.

Never in my life had I thought I could surf. I was scared. Scared of the deep water, scared if I could do something new, scared about a shark attack and scared about what people around might think. But nobody laughed at me.

While bobbling up and down on the soft golden waves, I learnt it is only your doubts that shrouds what you want in life.  *Original line btw *


Philosophy aside, for the rest of the days I spent in Weligama, I rented out a surfboard every morning and evening until I could. It was physically exhausting but one of the most exciting things ever.

Though I must tell you, I did bruise myself pretty badly.




Today the bruises have healed and the scars have faded away but the memory of feeling the wind running through my hair, the salty feeling on my lips and zipping over the water has been etched in my memory forever.


After many days, I was still pathetic at surfing but I don't mind going back to Srilanka and try surfing again. This time to the Srilankan East coast, Arugam Bay!!!


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

BF or BFF- Test the love with the Triund Trek!!!

They say if you want to know about a person’s heart, travel with them and if you want to know if they love you, climb a mountain with them.


Before you think otherwise, let me tell you this isn't a love story. Like hell no. But then again it is a story about love. Actually it is about this time when I convinced my city-bred best friend forever(BFF) to go on a trek with me to the Dhauladhar range.

How I convinced Tanya to come on this trek with me, only I know. From emotional blackmail to blatant threats, I worked all my cards. And finally when she reluctantly said, “Like yeah ok. Now stop bugging me!” that was the best kind of yes I had heard in a long time.

It was her first trek, so I spent hours scanning websites for the shortest and easiest trek possible in the Himalayas. After recommendations and weighing all pros and cons, we concluded on the popular Triund trek.

Reasons why I chose this trek:

1.       It starts from Mcleodganj. So basically you can club this trek with a laid back trip to McLeod & Dharamshala.

2.       If your friend loves food, McLeod is an easy lure. *From Japanese to Tibetian to Thalis, you have everything*

3.       It is a short and easy trek. 9 KM only which can be completed in 4 hours. Not much I say.

4.       It has some fantabulous view of the Dhauladhar range!

5.       It has no network, no electricity or water. This of course I did not disclose to my friend, until we were mid-way through the trek. *evil laugh*

Since we were just two girls on this trek, I sorted help from a local trekking agency. Vir ji came along with us. He had all the basic logistics and food in place and also provided the tents, since we decided to stay overnight.

On a sunny morning, we started this trek from Mcleod. We were quite excited about it. Really. In our mind we pictured green meadows surrounded by snow topped mountain peaks, hairy gaddi(pahadi/ mountain) dogs licking us silly and some short lived state of nirvana. That’s how the first one hour or so went by. Dreaming of what could be.....



By the second hour, the trek up was starting to get a bit tiresome. And worrisome for me, since Tanya was getting tired because of the heat, the climb & lack of food. Now everyone knows the equation;

Human Being- (Minus) Food + (Plus) Heat + (Plus) Climb= Disaster/ Irritation/ Murderous intentions

Where the hell was the bloody tea shop...

Back in college, sometimes when we got late for lectures, we were forced to skip breakfast. Until lunch break we would only hear her grumbling and her stomach rumbling. I knew how much she hated being starved and worked at the same time.

So far it hadn't got so bad. We stopped every half hour or so to take a break on the pretext of taking a picture or admire the beauty of the valley below. Finally we reached our first tea shop. The short break definitely worked! I saw a faint smile for the first time in the last one hour. Or maybe it was the gaddi dogs who followed the trekkers and were taking a break along with us.


By the third hour, trekkers walking back saw our tongue sticking out and encouraged us to go on. We trudged slowly and rather silently. Afraid to say a word, lest my best friend spent her last bit of energy lashing out at me for manipulating her and getting her to do this horrendous activity.

The eerie silence was only broken by the distant tinkling sound of bells on the approaching mules. These mules are used by the locals to carry everything from food, water & even gas cylinders to the top of the mountain. *I wondered if they would carry her till the camp site.*



The last stretch was really treacherous. It was steep and at some points, we had to clamber on the rocks. At this point, and the only point, where I felt a bit threatened. I walked behind her in the fear that she might just lose her marbles and shove me off the mountain side screaming, DIE DIE DIE!!!!!

Out of the corner of my eye, beneath my serious huffing, I kept an eye on her. Just in case.

But she didn't seem agitated. She walked on silently, occasionally asking that one redundant question, “How much further?”

This time Vir-ji didn't give the usual answer of ten minutes and said, “Just above that corner”.

Vir-ji was a local. Freelance guide. For him Triund was an after meal stroll. I wondered on a scale of 1- 10 how much would he secretly be snickering at our current plight and thinking, “these city girls, tsk tsk..”

Squeezing that extra strength, we continued the scamper till the corner and suddenly loomed ahead the wide range of snow peaked Dhauladhar range. It was magnificent. The view of the range doesn't sneak in slyly but appears suddenly! And if we hadn't already lost our breath getting till here, it would have been taken right away.


Suddenly nothing seemed sore or tired or…ummm…tense, as we gazed upon the mountain ahead together and laid back on the green grass beneath.

The Triund camp-site was actually quite pretty. Sprinkled with colourful tents all over the green carpet of grass, surrounded by the imposing white mountains and clear blue sky overhead. This is the kind of place that inspires you to read a book, take a nap and think about big nothings.






I couldn't contain it any more and finally turned around to ask Tanya, “What do you think?”

“This is nice.” And she smiled. SHE SMILED!

That was all I wanted to know. From how much I know her, “nice” is her expression of saying ‘Super’ or ‘Awesome’! We spent the whole afternoon and evening lolling around, attempting to read or get new profile pictures.

That is when I realized, however nice the place might be, she did this for me. This is what you do for friends. She bruised herself climbing over the rocks, panted all the way up, maybe in her mind, even made plans to kill me. Who knows….! But she did all this for me.


Under the cold starry night, as we cozied into our sleeping bags, I smiled because I realized that she truly did love me, mountain or not. As for me, I was going to live to see another day.

Now I could doze off in peace without worrying about being murdered in my sleep. 

*PS- We are still Best Friends!!!!!