Saturday, November 27, 2010

Baga Beach - The North Goa Trail (Goan Odyssey - Part 2)


The journey through Konkan was exhilarating in terms of what we experienced, sure to raise the spirits of any person to perform more and acheive more, the fruits of hardwork, teamwork and dedication was on display at how the Konkan rail has been implemented. (Click here to read part 1 of Goan Odyssey - The Konkan Experience)


Day 2 @ Goa.

The cab arrived exactly on time in the morning at our hotel in Calangute and as expected from the Goan people, the cab driver was so courteous and within no time we felt as if we were travelling with one guy who is very very close to us. We had chosen to take a cab for the days sojourn since there was possibility of rain.

The plan for the day is to roam around North Goa, where there are lot of beaches. North Goa is popular among the budget travellers and those who love to get to know Goan culture and mix up with Goan people. South Goa is not so dense and is mostly the home for big budget hotels and resorts, an ideal location for those who want to escape from the nuansces of day to day busy life and chill out in solitude.

The first destination of the day was the Baga beach, the place having the same name as that of the Baga river which joins the sea at this point.



The cab driver told about lots of places to cover in North Goa, but we do not intend to run around the places, a reason why chose to take a cab for a day pacakage than opting for the North Goa tour bus which will run around showing all the available picnic spots. Two sight seeing trips in bus are available. One christened North Goa tour comprising of a lot of beaches and the other christened South Goa Tour which is the longer one and covers beaches and some famous churches as well. Tickets can be booked from the all the hotels in Goa. The fare is Rs 150 per adult and includes only the travel fare. This option is good if one intends to seeing all the picnic spots available in Goa.

Right next to where we parked there was a temple.


Almost all temples in Goa seems identical, the major reason being the paint scheme followed. As we stepped into the beach we could see that the beach was already bustling with lot of activities.



That is the northern end of the beach where river baga mates with the sea.

Suddenly a gang of 3 to 4 local people came to us and began offering hell lot of things. These people were talking politely but their persistence made us lose patience. Finally we had to beg them to leave us alone for some time so that we could take a look at the beach and feel it before deciding on what to do. Afterall the best thing to do in a beach is to lie down, and relax enjoying the gushing wind and taking a dip in the sea. All the guys who were offering rides left but one of them still kept following us which did not make us comfortable.

We could understand that it is part of their life and Goan people makes a livelihood out of tourism and this being a seasonal offering they have to save money too.

We kept walking towards the southern end hoping to get out the crowd and even more to escape from the hoards of localites.


Soon the next bunch of persuaders arrived, this time the offering was for a sea side bed. We understood that it is better to enjoy their ramblings than to get irritated coz we are not going to escape from them. Since many offerings were there, the price point also varied and we soon found that if we don't abide to their offerings for some time the cost drastically comes down. Finally we took two beds for a paltry Rs. 50 per hour.


Lying down on the beach side watching the timeless waves has a attraction quotient and we felt as if we are going to spend the whole day here.

The Baga beach is really beautiful. The color of the sand and the cleanliness is evident wherever you look. This is evident from the photos too.



Soon I found myself in the swimwear and walking against the lashing waves, feeling the sand, gazing the horizon, enjoying the chillness of the sea water.


My daughter soon followed suite and she enjoyed making sand castles and watching them washed away by the sea. Sun was glaring at us in full glory at times, but it was generally cloudy.



By this time all the guides and those offering rides were gone as they seemed to lose hope on us.

There were simple boat rides in which they take us deep into the sea against the waves, jumping up and down.


The scooter boat ride also seems to be quite exciting. The rider of the scooter boat rides it standing while the tourist sit in his front enjoying the bumpy ride, the weightlessness one feels while falling down and the high speed cruise.


The parasailing seems to be most interesting of them. The parachutes were painting a lovely picture in the backdrop of the sea and the clouds and I loved capturing the parasailing moments.



Most of the rides seem not suitable for kids, hence we did not venture into any one of those. Got to do atleast a boat ride in the sea before we leave.

We spend atleast 2 hours in the water and one more hour out of it gazing at the sea. As it approached noon the beach became more and more free of tourists



Being at Goa means being at the beach side, the shallow beach allowing us to venture deep and take a dip. Baga beach for sure is a place to spend atleast half a day. We too did the same. By the time we were back inside the cab, it was already time for lunch. We started heading to the next destination which also happens to be a beach side but there was something more than a beach - a superb hill above which there was a fort too. I will share the photos and trip log in the next post.

The Goan odyssey has started with a typical goan beach and pleasure of being at Goa getting into our heads. There was a buzz everywhere, with lots of tourists around and everyone seems to be enjoying.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Goan Odyssey: Part 1 - The Konkan Experience

Konkan

If there is a crown for world's most beautiful rail route, then Konkan rail route will not be too far away from crowning glory !!!

The moment we chose Goa as a weekend destination, there was no doubt on how we were going to travel. We have to chose a train going through Konkan to Madgaon and the best option available was the Rajadhani Express which does its duty three times a week from Thiruvananthapuram to the capital (Rajdhani) of India - New Delhi. This is considered as one of the most premium luxury trains as far as Indian Railways is concerned.


Goa, one of the most popular beach destinations of India thrives on tourism industry, as a result of which this small Union Territory have a plethora of picnic spots to chose from, most of them beach destinations. Starting from this post I am going to present before you the beauty of Goa through the various destinations I travelled during my four day tour. The last post of this series will be a guide on how to plan a trip to Goa, aimed at first timers to Goa.

So lets Go to Goa, the name itself has a rhythm, a happy go lucky kind.

The prospect of a journey in a luxury train through one of the most beautiful rail routes, sounds exciting until one enters the Rajadhani train, the coaches of which adorns paintings of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of India. All that glitters is not gold!! The beaming paintings on the outside is in no way reminiscent of what is inside. Reality of this premium segment experience sinks in within no time. Soiled toilets, badly maintained curtains, uncleared waste on floor and the not so adorable mouse friends does not jell well with the additional premium we pay. I am not sure whether this kind of badly maintained coaches are found only in Southern parts of India as the normal saying is that the babus at the helm give only scant attention to the South even though maximum revenue is from this part.

The journey started almost half an hour delayed, thanks to a drunken brawl between the coach staff and the ground staff, over an issue of not filling water in one of the coaches. The brawl in front of passengers using highly abusive language and in front of top officials of railway makes one feel that job security guarantees people ruthless freedom and the customers have to suffer, coz they don't have an alternative to rely upon. The prospect of the impending vacation at Goa, gave us enough courage to take everything in our stride, without getting unduly upset at the environment.

One good thing about Rajadhani is that food is included along with the ticket charges and these will arrive at stipulated times and we don't have to take care of packaging or buying up things, which relieves us of a major burden during travelling. We enjoyed some quality time with kids, for it is only during such journeys we get to be near them for longer periods of time.
A good night sleep ensued soon, with the prospect of waking up, amidst the Konkan trail, fuelling our thoughts.

We over slept a little owing to the fact that it was a real cloudy morning and Sun didn't appear at all. By the time we woke up and got ourselves ready we were already passing Mangalore. The sound of train suggested that we are crossing a bridge and it was a huge one too. I got ready for the photo shoot even though it was very cloudy,I knew that Konkan is not going to disappoint me.


We were on top of the Netravathi river which is one of the major rivers of Mangalore. It was drizziling, but that was not a deterrent for those who rely on water resources to earn a livelihood.


The cloudy ambience resulted in presenting us the silhoute of the nature around, which itself is a joy to watch.


The Konkan route has started to get into my head and the fun was just starting. The train stopped for a short stop at Uduppi - the closest point of approach to famous Kollur Mookambika temple and the only station in Mangalore where Rajadhani has got a stop.

The Konkan rail, a brain child of good leaders from around Mangalore and neatly executed by the supervision of an able administrator who also has Delhi Metro project under his CV, surely is one of the most enchanting experiences for fellow travellers. This route stretches from Mangalore to Mumbai, through Goa and most importantly this reduced the travel time between the port towns - Mangalore and Mumbai by around 10 hours !!!

The bridge which we just passed must have a length of more than a Kilometer and it is one of the shortest bridges in this route. This explains why this route is one of the Engineering Marvels of the current day. Only self challenging engineers at the helm could manage and execute a project of this magnanimity.

As the train chugs along, the ambient light began to increase and greenery was starting to make its presence felt by the way of paddy fields, all of them radiant with energy coz of overnight rains.


Paddy fields never seem to end and we get a feeling that grains for the whole of India is being cultivated here. All of a sudden the terrain changes from vast open green clad paddy fields to small muddy hills.


From a lay man's point of view digging through soil for laying tracks is much easier than cutting through rocks. But the tracks through the muddy hills with lose soil was one of the greatest challenges faced during Konkan constrution. Digging through is easy, but many a times the hill will give in and the soil will be splattered all over the tracks. Constructing tunnels through such hills was even more herculean task. Even now one of the major reasons for maintenance work during the monsoon season is due to the collapse of some part of such tunnels. But rocks once cut stays strong.

A quick look ahead seemed like we are heading towards mountains.


But against expectations paddy again made its appearance, the green veil giving a soothing effect on our eyes. Is green the most pleasing of all colors?


Green, no doubt symbolises prosperity, green signal is the one which is chosen for signalling go ahead.

It was time for breakfast and I took a short break from enjoying the enchanting Konkan where the terrain kept on changing. Watching Konkan through the glass panes of train does not convey what it is in real, the dirt in the glass panes makes it a translucent one. Spent some time with wifey and kids inside the compartment, who by now had befriended a smart young lady, born and brought up in Goa travelling with her son to her native place.

The booming sound of a train going through another long bridge made me change my position from the cabin to the door side with my camera aiming for another shooting spree.

The sharavathi river was making a grand entry to my field of vision with some beautiful mountains in the backdrop.


Soon the train rolled into another long bridge - Sharavathi bridge. The train was slowing down a bit and looking down from the door side to the river was a little scary too. I again cross checked whether my camera is tightly strapped on to my wrist. The cloud cover and its reflection on the river was a giving a feeling as if we were moving through a shell.



Each passing moment was presenting a new portrait, the paintings keeps on competing with one another on which is the best. I was not able to close my eye even for a minute coz then I seem to miss something different. The same mountain appeared to have differing beauty at various angles, some of them far away were travelling with us for some time before bidding good bye. This reminded me of the childhood days when I wondered why moon always travels with us when we were doing long journeys.

The presence of a river nearby means that land will be really fertile, testimony of which is evident here.


Monsoon which overstayed this year has had its impact on the paddy fields, most of them looking like sprawling lakes.


The roadways along this route made me wanting immediately to jump out, get into my motorbike and roam around. Each of the places seem to present itself as a superb travel destination.


There were lot of boulders along this route which was in sharp contrast with the greenery around. Some of them were netted as a protection against rocks falling of from these boulders on to the tracks which can be quite dangerous.


Creation of such an engineering marvel is not the end of it, but maintaining it trouble free also requires lots of effort, no wonder why a separate unit under the name Konkan Rail Corporation came into existence for looking after this highly challenging trail, was formed. Till date many great people has been at its helm ensuring that this track has a very high uptime even during the monsoons which lashes in full fury during April September season.

More and more wonderful scenaries was in the offing.


The NH 17 from Kochi to Panvel also runs parallelly with this track. It is no brainer to imagine how great a drive or a ride through those wonderful roads will be. NH 17 route occassionally comes into the sight amidst the picturesque ambience making the urge for a passionate road tripper to hit these roads in the next possible chance. The next rider mania was going to be held in Goa. If I had enrolled for the biker event, it would have presented me an oppurtunity to ride through these roads, but another holidaying within a month of this journey is completely ruled out.



Many small stations passed by, but this superfast train did not stop at any of them. The last of the stations which it had a halt was at Suratkal which is known for the preimum Engineering school, the National Institute of Technology.


The population density in most the regions were really low, and only when some station was nearing there seems to be some population at all. We were now passing through some industrial area and a factory was visible. Seems like it is a tile factory.


The non stop trail continued until we reached Ankola, where the train took a small breather.


The juggernaught continued. The mountaenous terrain was making another appearance after a lull for a while, neatly decorated by a piece of cloud.


I decided to take some time off my shooting spree and went inside the cabin where my kids were already barging my wife with an array of questions ranging from when will reach Goa to why a tunnel is so dark even during the day. Ofcourse there were many small tunnels along the path and on some of the bigger ones the pressure difference was being felt as we could sense it by our ear.

I was in the doorsteps again as we were approaching Karwar, where we will be going through one of the longest tunnels. I kept waiting for the tunnel to approach and here it comes.


It was dark, the sound of engine changed, at times water droplets jetted in, sound of whistling by personnel manning the tunnel occasionally burst through the ear, there were intermittent lights on the tunnel and we kept on travelling through this 3km long tunnel. My kids slowly started to fear that this is not going to end. We were inside the tunnel for almost 4minutes, even then we felt uneasy. Wonder how the people working under the mines will feel or even more wonder what the ordeal would have been for those trapped miners in Mexico.

Watch the train darting out of the tunnel.


The next station is madgaon and I returned back to my seat. Madgaon is about 45 minutes from Karwar. Soon one of the coach stewards approached us smiling, with some cash in his hand, neatly arranged in such a way that the bigger denominations were clearly visible. It was a customary ritual in Rajadhani train, where the staff demands tip for their service, something for which they are paid by the railways.

The train rolled into Madgaon station, gradually reduced speed and then came to a grinding halt. The usual turmoil between those alighting and entering the train also followed suite. Since it was the second platform we need to climb up the overbridge which was in the form a ramp. So we have reached Madgaon after the first leg of the journey throough the enchanting Konkan.


While walking through the fly over I noticed a long bridge like construction which wore a deserted look.


Those were the mortal remains of the skybus project, which started off as one of its kind in Asia, finished the work in record time, but eventually shelved due to the unfortunate incident of one of the engineers getting killed in an accident during trial run.

The concept was the invention of an eminent personality - Mr. Rajaram, who was the chief of Konkan Railway corporation and holds patent for the skybus technology. Another interesting thing is that Skybus is a cheaper alternative of Metro Rail.Metro rail has has been successfully implemented in Delhi by another gem of an engineer - Mr. Sreedharan, who also was at the helm of Konkan rail corporation during which period this track was laid. It seems that Konkan rail corporation gets the best out of the people working for them and makes them more innovative.

Our discussion on skybus project was interrupted by my son's comment on the presence of huge lorries on the railway track and his doubts on what those trucks were doing in the railway track.


Infact, it was the RO-RO concept, another brainchild of the Konkan Rail Corporation which yeilded a huge income for railways while being a boon for both the truck drivers and the environment. The loaded trucks can just drive into or roll into a truck carriage and then roll out of the nearest railway station of their intended destination. The truck crew can sit inside the truck itself. This Roll On Roll off (RORO) saves the truck owners a lot of money as the charges for this railway carriage is much less than the charges for fuel, truck drivers can take rest, wear and tear of the trucks can be minimised, reduce the traffic on the highways, save a lot of fuel, reduce pollution etc. Who ever created this concept need a huge pat on the back.

We got out of the Madgaon railway station, went straight to the prepaid taxi counter, followed the simple procedures and got the feel of the wonderful attitude of Goan people who makes us feel at home. Our destination was Calangute in the northern part of Goa. It is about 1 hour drive from Madgaon, which is in the southern part.

The taxi soon hit the NH17 route just outside the railway station and started heading North. The taxiwallah rather than sitting just silent, gave us many info. He knew both Hindi and English very well eventhough his mother toungue is Konkini.

Madgaon is a small township and seems like it is not so popular with the tourist as it is a little away from the beaches, but their were lots of shops and the town seems to be bustling with activity. This particular series of buildings caught my attention. French influence in architecture is quite evident here.


There were no huge traffic blocks, but suddenly there seems to be one, but all the motorists were patiently following the lane discipline, quite unlike in some other parts of India, where traffic block results in utter mayhem, when the impatient driver tries to squeeze through the available space. Goa is different, the people here are relaxed and they pass on their relaxed attitude to us also. A little ahead the reason for this snarl was visible and it was an interesting one too.


While heading north, we still seems to be following the Konkan rail. While crossing a bridge over Zuari river, we saw the Konkan rail bridge over the same. Another doubt soon propped up from my kid, Why the bridge was having a truss only in the middle.


Might be that more reinforcing is required only in the middle, I am not sure why?. (The correct reason is given by Mr.Sanal in his comment to this post)

The routes and road side scenes were quite similar to that of Kerala. Trees lined up in unison, green clad paddy fields, coconut trees everything ensembling Kerala, seems like the Western side of Western Ghats has the same geography.


Harvest season seems to be flourishing as we could see lot of activities in the paddy fields as well as on the roads.


Building density increased as we approached Panjim. This particular sign board seems to welcome us to Goa


The mandovi river was soon in sight. Lots of activities were going on, Ships, beautiful cruise boats everything clearly spell out the day to day routines involved here.




The trip plan was made in quick schedule, hence we did not had any particular agenda, so we were all the time talking to our driver on where all we should visit and Panjim seems to be one of the candidates for a day out. The city seems bustling with activity and there are lots of beaches and churches around.


Don't know whether we will able to cover them all and our primary aim is not to cover the entire Goa during this four day tour, but have a relaxed four days when we will be visiting atleast 2 places per day.

The vehicle rolled out of NH 17 and turned westward towards Calangute where we had booked our hotel - Hotel Sunflower which was near the Calangute beach.

As the cab entered the place of our stay at Calangute, dark clouds had gathered over the region getting ready for a heavy pounding. The hotel sunflower offered only basic accommodation, to be more clear, it provides basic lodging and has a restaurant, a swimming pool and some really courteous staff, one of whom talked in length on what we can do for the next three days. After a long lunch session we crashed into the bed and got lost in a dream world. By the time we woke up the day was almost over and we just had a walk around Calangute and again hit bed after a light dinner and booking a cab for the next days journey.
The first leg of the journey was over and Konkan surely made its impact and made the journey more interesting. The best mode of travel to reach Goa is via Konkan, whether you travel from South India or from North India and make it a point that you get to see the mesmerizing Konkan during day time.

The full glory of Western ghats is on view in Konkan. Big green clad mountains, beautiful paddy fields, huge rivers and lakes, rocky mountains, thick dense vegetations adorn this area, all of which creates an impression in the mind of a nature enthusiast, but does not go well with an engineer assigned with a task of creating a rail route where undulating terrains presents a real dauting challenge. The answer by the able engineers were tunnels carved through rocks, tunnels created through soft soil hills (which is more difficult), bridges over lakes and rivers which never seem to end all of which presents an example of how human cognizance is able to work wonders on making the impossible a reality. Take a bow to the visionaries, to the engineers and to each one of the workers who made this a reality. 

Exclusive coverage of the places where we visited during our Goan Odyssey will soon follow in the posts to come. So keep visiting and get a glimpse of one of the most popular tourist destinations of India.

Click here to read Part 2


The Goan Odyssey -The story so far...


Part 1. The Konkan Experience - Watch the beautiful pictures of Konkan rail route 
Part 2. Baga Beach - A beautiful beach
Part 3. Vagathore Beach & Chapora Fort - A place with diversified ambiance.
Part 4. Fort Aguada & Anjuna Beach
Part 5. Panjim - A scooter expedition
Part 6. Calangute 
Part 7. The Dolphin Trip

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