Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Long Weekend at Alibag - Part 1- Getting There, Settling In...........

Trains, buses, planes and cars – we have traveled by all of them often enough for Samhith to be comfortable with all these modes of transport. Water transport so far had been restricted to short boat rides in rivers and lakes, and we have been yearning to travel by a boat or ship for a long time. The best option for sea travel is of course a cruise, but unfortunately, that is one mode of travel that is currently out of my budget, and I had better not think about that. Our choice therefore was narrowed down to one – a catamaran ride to Alibag from the Gateway of India. We had been planning this trip for more than a year, and finally, the dream came true last weekend, which was long one on account of the Gudi Padwa or Ugadi holiday on Friday.

From Alibag
All Set for the ride.....

Alibag is a 45 minute ride by catamaran from the Gateway, and there are 3 operators to choose from – PNP, Maldar and Ajanta. PNP is the most expensive, offering the AC lower deck and the Non-AC Upper Deck for the same price of Rs.110/-. Maldar offers more choices – Non AC lower deck for Rs.70/-, Non-AC upper deck for Rs.90/- and AC upper Deck for Rs.100/-. Ajanta is the cheapest, offering both lower and upper decks (non-AC) for Rs.55/-. Since this was our first venture into the sea, we decided to spend a little more money and try out the options by going by PNP and choosing the upper deck for the journey to Alibag and the AC lower deck for the return journey. We found the upper deck the most enjoyable, and in fact, on the return journey, the enclosed AC lower deck actually made me quite queasy. Of course, the afternoon sun does make the upper deck a much warmer option, but the wind in your hair and face makes you forget the heat and enjoy yourself! You can find detailed timings and fares of the catamarans and bus timings here.

The Catamarans........

From Alibag
Maldar........ and

From Alibag
Samhith was fascinated by the various ships we saw anchored off the coast, and kept asking us about them. For the first time, he learnt the difference between yachts and sail boats, ships and ferries, boats and catamarans. It was quite a learning experience. We also saw a lot of seagulls flying overhead, swooping down to catch a fish. What really made our day was the sight of a pair of dolphins frolicking in the water. They were gone in seconds, but it was long enough for the sight to be etched in our memory, if not in my camera!

From Alibag
A Sailboat

We alighted at Mandwa and boarded the connecting bus (provided free by the operators for their passengers), and were dropped at our home-stay, which was on the main road itself.

From Alibag
Shree Holiday Resort

Alibag, being a popular weekend destination, has a number of hotels and resorts to choose from. We had been apprehensive of finding a good place to stay, the long weekend certain to attract hordes of tourists to Mini- Goa, as Alibag is called. As far as possible, we try to avoid hotels, and prefer resorts and home stays, and here, we had plenty of options, but few choices, thanks to the rush. The Maharashtra tourism website has a complete list of bed and breakfasts and home stays at Alibag, but the first few we called, turned out to be booked. Finally, I found a website My Great Stay, through a fellow blogger, where I got lucky and found accommodation at Shree Holiday Resort, a home stay with the Raut family.

From Alibag
The Rauts' Ancestral Home
The Raut family’s ancestral home is right on the main road from Mandwa to Alibag, just after the village of Choondi. Till recently employed in Bombay, they have now shifted to their hometown and have built a new section to their home, so that they can invite people for a home stay.

From Alibag

“Home – stay” is a word that expresses our stay at Shree Resort perfectly. It was just like home. Within a few minutes of arrival, Samhith decided that he liked them, and disappeared into their home to talk to them and their 15 year old son. For the rest of the two days, he spent most of the time in their house, except when we went to the beach or sightseeing!

From Alibag

As to us, we spent the two days lazing around in their garden – not too big, but certainly big enough for us – going into the room just to sleep at night! There were 3 hammocks, which were at once captured by Shankar, me and my mother-in-law, while my father-in-law took over the sofa placed on the verandah. As to Samhith, he just loved the small swing-cum-hammock as well as two swings put up in the garden. There are also other arrangements for games such as cricket, a dartboard, a carrom board, Frisbees and also a scooter (the play scooter, which you ride with one leg on it and the other on the ground). The two days we spent there, we did not use the electricity except for the lights in the evening (that too, only the light outside the room) and the fan at night! The weather was pleasant, and in the outdoors, one realizes that electricity is something that can be dispensed with! It was a fitting that Saturday was Earth Day and we did our bit for the conservation of our resources by minimal usage of electricity. I may add that we kept the lights off during Earth-Hour!

From Alibag

Mrs. Raut kept us sated with the wonderful food she prepared – mostly simple but tasty food, typical Maharashtrian cuisine…. The food was the final topping for the home-like atmosphere, which we enjoyed thoroughly.

From Alibag
Samhith with the Raut family

The fact that the house was right on the main road came with its advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, being on the road, it was easy for us to get to the place by the Catamaran bus, which dropped us and picked us up right outside the house. Secondly, it was extremely easy to get autos to go around Alibag, as the nearest village, Choondi was just a couple of minutes walk, and there was an auto stand there. Share autos (8-seaters) were available from the gate itself. On the negative side, the road being the main connection to the ports of Mandwa and Revas, apart from being the connection to the Kihim Beach, there was a continuous flow of traffic along the road, which led to quite a bit of disturbance, especially since we stayed out in the garden most of the time.
We spent two whole days there before getting back to our routine life on Sunday afternoon, by the catamaran again. While I put together an article on the places we visited, you can take a look at some photographs that I clicked.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Book Review is on the Penguin Blog!!!!!!

A hard-core book lover, I have been following the Penguin Blog for some time, and was thrilled when they launched  Blog a Penguin India Classic. All I had to do was sign up on their site and send them a mail with my postal address. They would send me one of their Indian Classics (a random choice) and all they wanted in return was a review of the book! The opportunity was too good to resist, and I immediately sent them a mail. I expected the book after perhaps a week or so, but imagine my surprise when it landed on my doorstep the very next day!!
The book I received was 'Divya' , by the talented Hindi author Yashpal. Now, my knowledge of Hindi classics is sketchy, thanks to the useless state board Hindi syllabus in my school. I have always wanted to read translations, but have put off buying these books because I have never been able to decide which books are really good translations, and worth buying. As to the library that I belong to, they have none of these books. What a pity.
The book seemed interesting, and having a bit of spare time, I started reading it, and found that I just couldn't put  it down!!!! I finished it within two days (remember I am a wife, daughter-in-law and mom - otherwise, in my carefree college days, I would have finished it in one sitting!)  and the very next day, sat down to write a review. This proved to be rather difficult, for I have never written a review before. I must thank Ramya of Ramya's Bookshelf. I went to her site (which I have been following for a while) and re-read a couple of reviews before starting again. I finally finished writing it yesterday and sent it to them.
Surprise! Surprise! I received a mail today from them saying that they were putting up my review on their site, and even better, mine would be the first one to be posted!!!! I am so thrilled! Check it out here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Visit to the Gateway of India

After a long time, we visited the Gateway of India. The days I spent in the same area, walking around peacefully, sitting down to have my packed lunch by the sea, seems aeons ago.. The difference between then and now is mainly in the security. I have never seen so many security guards anywhere - no, not even at the airport!!!
The crowds are just the same, except that most of them are now gaping at the Taj - and looking for any left-over vestiges of the terror attack. Most cameras too are focussed, not on the monument which gives the place its name, but on the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Taj Intercontinental!
When I was reading the inscription on the gateway aloud to Samhith, at least a few people turned round to look at the spectator who seemed more interested in ancient rather than recent history!!

Half of the area around the gateway has been cordoned off, and the half that is free is full of those going aboard the boats, and those who have managed to snare places to sit on the parapet... Samhith wanted a closer look at the sea, but we found ourselves unable to go anywhere near the water. I promised him that I would bring him again and take him on the ferry too....Meanwhile, we satisfied ourselves with a distant view of all the boats, ships and yachts at sea................

In the absence of places to sit on the parapet, the small garden where the statue of Shivaji is placed, is full of couples and of course, families from 3 to 15 members occupying every inch of space available..In such a milieu, the statue of the brave Maratha King seems rather incongruous!

Neelambari - the open-deck bus run by the MTDC was waiting nearby, ready to start on its hour-long journey along the by-lanes of Mumbai's heritage precinct. Tickets were, surprisingly available, but unfortunately there was no time.. With a heavy heart, we returned home, promising ourselves a more leisurely trip to the place we love.....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some Views from my Window

Samhith has been fascinated by animals ever since we bought him his first plastic animals. He loved them so much, we bought him more, and now, he has an amazing collection of animals. They are his favourite toys, and he can spend hours (when he really gets into the mood, of course!) making all kinds of things with his blocks and placing animals around them….. The first time we went on a safari, he was looking forward to seeing lions and tigers, but was happy with deer. From the second time onwards, he realised that deer were practically the only animals we saw in the wild, and started getting a bit upset, but thankfully, we were lucky to spot a few elephants and bison… Now he knows that wild animals are really rare, and he needs to have much more patience to see them.
At our recent trip to the Hermitage, he seemed surprised that we only saw birds, but it awakened him to the fact that there are so many kinds of birds around us!!!! After our flamingo watching trip, he looks forward to seeing birds everywhere, and as a result, every time he hears a  bird call out, wants me to take a picture……
So, this one is for him – here are some of the birds we have spotted from our house ----
Here is a kingfisher which appears on this tree right opposite our house, everyday, at the same time…. what a pity my camera just manages to capture the lovely colour, but misses all the details!!!!

Here are a pair of crested Bulbuls cosying up, again right opposite our window….

Now here’s a good one – we had heard a cuckoo for days, but hadn’t managed to spot it… Then, suddenly, a pair of crows scared it, and it flew to a tree right outside our balcony, and we got this wonderful pic… my first sight of the cuckoo!!!

Now here’s one on the same tree, but I don’t know its name… we just spotted the red and green, and first thought it was a parrot,but a closer look told us it was something else – maybe a green barbet??? Here are two pics of the same bird -

Since last year, these two black kites have made our colony their home, and their cries and fights with crows keep us engrossed……. Here are both of them together, a rare sight……

Here is one of them sitting on our terrace……

And here are more photos of these wonderful birds……..

These are all the photos I have managed to click till now…… Keep looking for more……..

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Date with Flamingoes

Sunday – 15th of March – BNHS had organised a flamingo-watch at Sewri Jetty. The mud flats at Sewri attract throngs of these beautiful pink birds every year, and huge crowds of birdwatchers gather to see the spectacular sight. I had always hoped to be one of this crowd, but somehow or the other, this pleasure eluded me for so many years. This year, I decided that I just HAD to go, and looked around for company. No one I knew seemed to be interested, or free, and finally, it was down to just Samhith and me…… The two of us decided to go ahead anyway, in spite of the fact that we did not have any binoculars (The BNHS guys, when we called up, told us to bring a pair of binocs along, for better viewing)…

The Mud Flats - a closer view

Samhith was so excited, he woke up early without any prodding on my behalf, and we were ready at 9AM after a good breakfast. The first excitement of the day for Samhith was the local train ride to Sewri by the harbour line. He memorised the names of ten stations on the route, while he cast covetous eyes at the drawing books and key chains sold by the vendors on the train….

On alighting at Sewri, we spotted a group of people standing on one side, all wearing sports shoes and carrying cameras, binoculars and knapsacks. Guessing that these were fellow birdwatchers, we approached them and confirmed that they were, indeed from BNHS. Soon, a reasonable crowd gathered, and we all moved towards a tree by the roadside, where the registration took place. Conveniently for us (or perhaps by simply good business sense), there was a Nariyal Pani wala and a Sugarcane juice-wala right there, for us to quench our thirst while we waited to be led towards the jetty.

It was almost 10:30 by the time we started to walk towards the jetty, and by then, quite a crowd had assembled for the experience. A short 10 minute walk through the tenements brought us to the jetty, which was occupied by truckers and ship-workers who were too busy working to pay attention to the beautiful creatures we had come so far to see.

What a sight that was! It was low tide, and water was far far away… and so were the birds we had come to see… but they lined the opposite shore so thoroughly, it looked like a pink edging to the water, or in Samhith’s words – a pink sea!! At first, it was difficult to believe that all the birds were flamingos – they looked almost white, not pink! Then, they explained that these were the lesser flamingoes, and they were a light pink in colour, not the bright pink of the greater flamingoes! It was only in a large group that the pink colour was evident, and it took us some time to identify the birds by their shape without binoculars.

The BNHS chaps had come prepared for people like us, and they soon set up their telescopes at two convenient positions, and after a short wait, we were able to look through them, and were rewarded with a great view of lots and lots of flamingoes….. At first Samhith had a bit of trouble, and then thankfully, one of them lowered the tripod for him and the many other kids awaiting their turn, and he was simply thrilled at the sight of those wonderful birds.I suppose he hadn’t realised that the sea of pink was actually a mass of so many birds, but his “Mamma there are plenty of flamingoes !! thousands of them!!” had everyone in splits. Further, he was thrilled by his discovery that flamingoes had ‘curvy necks’!!

I woefully realised that my camera was nowhere near-capable of capturing these beautiful creatures, but I did not give up, and tried my best. By noon, the tide had just turned, and the water was coming in, bringing the birds closer to us. However, it was also getting hotter, and we had to head home for lunch. I managed to shoot more than 75 pics (thank God for digicams!) and here are some of the better ones.

A Sea of Pink
Flamingoes in Flight - one of the best photos I managed to get!

Apart from Flamingoes, we also saw a few other water birds such as large egrets, sandpipers and ibis. We also saw a salamander, wading in a pool of slimy water. Of all the things we saw, it was this tiny creature that fascinated Samhith the most!

A Salamander
Large Egrets
A kite and another bird (the brown one on the right )
An ibis

You can view the whole album here.

We finally started back for home at 12:45 and arrived at the station only to find that there were no trains towards Chembur due to repair-work on the line! So much for me buying a return ticket! We were both too tired to try out the buses (in any case, I had no idea about the bus stands in Sewri) and we headed home in a taxi.

Thus ended half of a Sunday spent fruitfully in watching flamingoes. Needless to say, the rest of the day (and this Monday morning too) was spent in telling people about our experience. Samhith is now clamouring for more bird watching trips!!!


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