Tag Archives: beach

By the sea at Scheveningen, South Holland

I first heard of Scheveningen thanks to Van Gogh’s 1882 painting ‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ (also known as ‘Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather’). This was one of the two masterpieces stolen from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam in a brazen heist in 2002. The other stolen painting being ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen’, originally painted by Van Gogh in 1884 and then modified in 1885, possibly immediately after his father’s death in March 1885.

Thankfully, both paintings were recovered in 2016 after a lengthy investigation by the Naples police and were put back on display at the Van Gogh Museum on 22nd March 2017. On that day, amidst a sea of tourists and Van Gogh admirers, I caught a glimpse of the two paintings. Photography is not allowed inside the Van Gogh museum, so sadly, I have no pictures of the two paintings.

But I digress. Since the move to Amsterdam, the Hubs was missing the beach and blue waters, which we had gotten so used to in Asia. So we decided to head to the beach we had read so much about – Scheveningen. It was a cold and cloudy day and I was hoping people would stay indoors, but they obviously thought differently. Apparently Scheveningen is a popular destination, even in winter.

A train and tram ride later (about 1.5 hours in total), we were at Scheveningen beach. Wanting to pay our respects to the North Sea, we dipped our feet in the water, knowing fully well that the water would be freezing! Suffice to say, we were cold for a really long time after!

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Feet in the freezing water – definitely a first! 

We wanted to get to a quieter part of the beach, so we walked past the pier to the northern end and stopped at the furthermost restaurant on that stretch, Het Puntje, meaning ‘the tip’ in obvious reference to its location.

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View of the pier at Scheveningen, from the northern end of the beach

Rarely do I recommend restaurants (I find most of them pretentious and impersonal) but stepping into the Het Puntje felt like visiting an old friend. A cozy fireplace, rustic wood and rattan furniture, quirky accents – it had all the elements of a charming country home. The friendly owner (and his dog!) kept checking on us throughout our meal and we chatted with him about our lives, the restaurant, the WWII bunkers nearby and so many other things. The food was absolutely fantastic too! Well worth the long walk on a cold beach. By the time, we done with our meal, the sun was out.

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Sunny view of Scheveningen pier from Het Puntje

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two of the many WWII bunkers built by the Germans as part of the Atlantic Wall

Wanting to grab some sunshine while we had the chance, we climbed the steps next to Het Puntje, leading into the Meijendel.

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Entry to the Meijendel Nature Reserve from Scheveningen beach

Meijendel is the largest interconnected dune area in South Holland and stretches between Scheveningen, Den Haag (The Hague) and Wassenaar. And while on the subject on South Holland, please allow me to clarify that ‘Holland’ and ‘Netherlands’ are not synonymous. Holland is the collective term for only two of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands, the two provinces being North and South Holland. The reason behind why the two terms are used interchangeably goes back in time to the Dutch Golden Age. But once again, I digress.

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Dunes of the Meijendel Nature Reserve from a distance

We entered the Meijendel and took a leisurely stroll along its periphery. Heard several bird songs but no luck with reindeer though.

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The one black sheep in a large herd grazing in the Meijendel

Post lunch was not the best time to go hiking, so we made a mental note to return to the dunes, and walked back to the pier. Meijendel ranks as one of the top-10 bird rich areas in the Netherlands, so a second visit is a definitely on the cards for me.

Schevenigen is an easy day-trip from Amsterdam. Take the train to Den Haag and from right outside the Den Haag train station, board Tram 9 (direction Scheveningen Northern beach). Disembark at the Kurhaus, an ornate historical building originally built in 1884-85, that now functions as a hotel. The pier is only a couple of minutes away.

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The Kurhaus from the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Under the pier at Scheveningen

As we walked along Scheveningen beach, it was a joy to watch the tall grass sway in the wind, the oystercatchers pecking in the sand, the antics of the pet dogs and their owners. And not to forget the mysterious-looking WWII bunkers in the dunes, which I’m told are now closed to the public.

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A doggy enjoying some sun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Oystercatcher digs in the sand for its meal

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An European Herring Gull basks in the sun at Scheveningen promenade

All in all, a lovely afternoon at Scheveningen beach! Highly recommend a visit, if you happen to be in the vicinity.

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Birdwatching in the Seychelles

With all of Seychelles dazzling white sand beaches, sun-kissed cerulean waters and lush granitic landscapes, it’s easy to overlook all the elegant creatures that call this picturesque island nation ‘home’.

Not for me though! Birdwatching has become an integral part of all my recent travels and Seychelles was going to be no different.

The granitic and coralline islands of Seychelles are home to 12 endemic bird species. In the brief time I spent on Mahe, Praslin and a few of the nearby islands, I was fortunate to observe 6 of the endemics and photograph 5 of them.

Here’s a look at the 5 endemic bird species I’ve photographed so far….

The Seychelles Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi) is the national bird of the Seychelles. Less than 900 individuals remain in and around Vallee de Mai on Praslin island

The rare and elusive Seychelles Black Parrot is the national bird of the Seychelles. Photographed in the primeval palm forest of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Seychelles Bulbul (Hypsipetes crassirostris) was photographed in the primeval palm forest of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island.

This Seychelles Bulbul was also photographed in UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon spotted along Anse Major Trail in northwest Mahe

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon spotted resting in the thicket at Anse Major Trail in northwest Mahe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seychelles Sunbird - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

The sprightly male Seychelles Sunbird with its iridescent throat

The endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin (Copsychus sechellarum) photographed on Cousin Island during our 2009 trip. Less than 300 individuals remain in the wild.

The endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin photographed on Cousin Island during our 2009 trip. Less than 250 individuals remain in the wild.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Mahe, along the Anse Major trail, I observed one more endemic bird species – the Seychelles Kestrel, but was unable to photograph it. This bird has the unique distinction of being the only bird of prey in the Seychelles.

Photographing some other endemic species like the Aldabra Drongo and the Aldabra Fody, will call for a trip to the remote Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most pristine ecological environments in the world. I won’t even bother telling you about the logistics to get there but hopefully, I’ll make it in this lifetime! 🙂

I also hope to photograph the critically endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, only found on the island of La Digue. Less than 300 individuals are said to exist in the wild.

There are several other bird species in the Seychelles that are either ‘native’ to this geography (i.e. they established a population in the Seychelles without any human intervention) or were ‘introduced’ a long time ago, either accidentally or intentionally, by visitors.

The Malagasy Turtle Dove (Nesoenas picturatus) is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean

The Malagasy Turtle Dove is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The male Madagascar Fody develops a bright red plumage during the breeding season

The male Madagascar Fody develops a bright red plumage during the breeding season

Many of the Seychelles islands are teeming with species of migratory seabirds which come there to breed – shearwaters, tropicbirds, frigatebirds etc. (More about that in my 2009 trip to Cousin Island.)

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A White-tailed Tropicbird flying in the distance, off the Anse Major Trail in Mahe

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One of the many seabirds spotted en route from Mahe to Praslin by ferry

My favourite seabirds are the very ethereal looking Fairy Terns, usually spotted flying around in pairs or threes, as if putting on a show just for you. You may recall seeing a pair of flying Fairy Terns on your Air Seychelles aircraft 🙂

The ethereal Fairy Terns (Gygis alba) on Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

Fairy Terns  on Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up-close with a Fairy Tern at Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

Up-close with a Fairy Tern at Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

The Fairy Terns on the livery of Air Seychelles aircrafts

The Fairy Terns graphic on the livery of an Air Seychelles aircraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This is the third in a series of birdwatching posts after Singapore and Sulawesi.)

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Savouring Seychellois cuisine at Bazar Labrin

What better day to write a post about Bazar Labrin than today, a Wednesday 🙂

Every Wednesday evening, a group of Seychellois (pronounced seychelwa) food vendors gather by Beau Vallon beach on Mahe island to sell their homemade Creole food. Known as Bazar Labrin, this market is a popular haunt for both locals and tourists alike. According to a friendly cabbie I once met, Bazar Labrin means ‘sunset bazar’ in Creole.

For the duration of my stay in the Seychelles, this bazar was my mid-week dose of food, friends and festivities. Seychellois Creole cuisine is a remarkable blend of African, Indian, European and Chinese influences and this fusion cuisine goes way back to Seychelles mixed roots.

The main island of Mahe is believed to have been uninhabited for most of its known history and was colonized by the French only in 1770. The first settlement party consisted of about 30 people – French colonists, some African slaves and a few Indians. From this mix of original settlers was born Seychellois Creole cuisine.

Coconut based curries, grilled fish, black pudding, banana/breadfruit/sweet potato/cassava chips, fiery chatini (made with fresh, crushed chilies), raw sliced mango or shredded papaya salad – all ultra-fresh, hearty and simply delicious!

My favourite was the chapati stall. Chapati is an Indian flatbread and in this case, is served as a wrap, with a filling of meat or vegetable curry. The lovely ladies there, on my request, ensured they added a generous dash of the chili paste to my order 🙂

The heady kalou (fermented palm sap), also known as toddy or palm wine in other parts of the world, is great to wash down all that yummy Creole food! But before you consume copious amounts of kalou, please ensure you have a friend to take you home.

The folks managing the stalls are friendly and generous with portions. By the end of my stay in Mahe, I knew several of them on a first name basis 🙂

So if you happen to be in Mahe on a Wednesday, don’t forget to make your way to Bazar Labrin. Add the spectacular sunset at Beau Vallon and you have the recipe for a fabulous evening!

For now, I’ll let you enjoy these pictures of Bazar Labrin! Bon appetit!

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The menu at the chapati stall

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The line for the chapatis only gets longer as the evening progresses….

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The flour chapatis used as wraps…..

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The chapati ladies in action…..

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The quail eggs man…

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Fried quail eggs almost ready….

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Peeled, sliced & fried – right in front of your eyes! The freshest chips you will ever eat – in this case banana! 🙂

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The kalou (toddy) stall. Pretty potent stuff!

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Lots of yummy homemade cakes, jams and pickles on sale!

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The view to go with your food! 🙂

 

 

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Hiking in the Seychelles – The Anse Major Trail

7 years ago, when we first visited the Seychelles, we were mesmerised by its sheer natural beauty – granitic islands juxtaposed against the clear cerulean waters of the Indian Ocean, powdery white sand beaches, unique plant and animal species. Not to forget the legends of swashbuckling pirates and hidden treasures, friendly locals and the most delectable Creole food 🙂

To experience a different side of Seychelles, we hired a guide and trekked along the Mare aux Cochons trail, in the deep interior of the 3000+ hectare Morne Seychellois National Park.

Recently, we found ourselves in the Seychelles again (long story!). This time around, we stayed in the Beau Vallon area and the calm stretch of ocean there kept us entertained for many days. And the sunsets were just as spectacular as the last time we had visited!

When we’d had our fill of sun, sand and surf; we decided to spend a day hiking the Anse Major trail along the northwest coast of Mahe. This trail too falls within the limits of the Morne Seychellois National Park.

From our hotel in Beau Vallon, it was an easy walk to the bus stop opposite the Beau Vallon police station, on the road leading to Bel Ombre. After buying chili cakes (spiced lentil fritters) from the local store, we took a bus to the Danzil bus terminal.

Walking up the main road to the left of the bus terminus, we got to the residential part of Danzil (lookout for the Batman Studio on your left 😉 ) and continued on till we spotted the Anse Major trail sign.

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The Batman Studio is one of the landmarks along this trail

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The first sign along the trail

The trail is rated as ‘easy’ but the path is rugged in parts and in certain sections, needs to be navigated with care. The views make up for the trickiness of the trail though. On one side were the weather-scarred, granitic rocks covered with lush vegetation and on the other side , an expansive view of the Indian Ocean with Silhouette island visible in the near distance.

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Thick foliage everywhere you look! 

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Silhouette island visible in the distance

Trail marker - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

These trail markers were very helpful

On several occasions, we stopped to photograph the birds we encountered along the way – the Seychelles Sunbird, the Seychelles Blue Pigeon and the Seychelles Bulbul. I’m pretty sure I spotted a Seychelles Kestrel as well but sadly, didn’t get a chance to photograph it.

Seychelles Blue Pigeon - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon (Alectroenas pulcherrimus)

The ever so active Seychelles Sunbird (Cinnyris dussumieri)

The sprightly Seychelles Sunbird (Cinnyris dussumieri)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seychelles skink (Trachylepis seychellensis)

A Seychelles skink (Trachylepis seychellensis) basking  in the sun

As we neared the end of the trail, we came to a wooden shelter. And were rewarded with an unforgettable view – a perfect little crescent of a beach with turquoise waters lapping up gently against the shore. This beach is said to be ‘the finest’ in Mahe, though I don’t know how you can identify any one beach as being ‘the finest’ when every beach here looks right out of a postcard.

Anse Major beach, Mahe Seychelles

The first glimpse of Anse Major beach

Oohing and aahing, we hurried along. We had to scramble down a pile of large rocks before we could plant our feet in the cool sand of Anse Major.

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Almost there! 🙂

The friendly beach policeman welcomed us to his domain and was happy to show us around and chat.

Thanks to several pit-stops along the way to observe our surroundings and take photographs, it took us much longer than the prescribed 1 – 1.5 hours. We were really glad we had packed food and water as there are no facilities on this secluded beach.

We had however, forgotten to carry our snorkelling gear along (it was supposed to be a hike, remember?!) So we had to be content with spending the morning in the shallower waters. But we did spot many fish right by the shore! 🙂

Dreading the walk back to Danzil in the hot sun, we took the easy way out. There’s a taxi boat that ferries people from Anse Major to Beau Vallon at regular intervals (200 Seychellois Rupees per person) and we were delighted to return in the comfort of a speed boat.

I wasn’t able to find much about the history of Anse Major but according to Seychellois historian Julien Durup, the road from Danzil to Anse Major was built by a French Capuchin brother in the early 1900s. This Capuchin brother is also credited with developing the land along this trail into a thriving agricultural establishment, cultivating vanilla and other crops. Walking along the Anse Major trail today, one would never be able to guess that this area was once a hive of human activity.

I leave you with this brochure of the Anse Major trail I found online.

Happy hiking! Au revoir!

 

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For more about hiking the Trois Frères Trail, click here.

Read about my birdwatching experience in the Seychelles.

Click here to learn about the legendary Coco de Mer palm.

For a flavour of Seychellois cuisine, read my post about Bazar Labarin.

More here about the islands of Praslin, Curieuse & Cousin.

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Datai Dreaming

What’s a rainforest without some rain, right? So we packed our bags and headed to Langkawi, Malaysia during the off-season (early August). Our destination – the spectacular Datai Bay.

Rain in the rainforests of Datai Bay

Downpour at Datai beach – not a soul in sight! 

Located on the northwest corner of Langkawi island, Datai Bay is a crescent shaped, golden sand beach, backed by a 10 million year old rainforest. There are only 2 resorts at Datai Bay, one at each end of the beach.

The resident naturalists at The Datai (where we stayed) take guests on morning and evening walks to observe the local flora and fauna. And that by far, was the highlight of our trip!

The rainforests around Datai Bay are teeming with wildlife. Nearly 250 species of birds and over 500 species of butterflies. It is also home to the only flying primate in the world – the colugo or the flying monkey. Datai Bay is said to be the best place in the world to spot this evolutionary marvel.

And we were not disappointed! We spotted them sleeping during the day and gliding like little ninjas at night. We lost count of the number of colugos we spotted!

A colugo camouflaged against the tree bark

A colugo camouflaged against the tree bark

Wildlife friendly road signs

Wildlife friendly road signs

We watched in sheer delight as adorable dusky leaf monkeys made a meal out of tree tops, the gawky pied oriental hornbills raised a racket, cicadas and frogs gave shrill midnight performances; and the flying squirrels darted silently between trees at dusk – all during our daily strolls in the resort property.

A dusky leaf monkey in the midst of his meal

A dusky leaf monkey in the midst of his meal

One member of a family of Oriental Pied Hornbills right outside our beach villa

An Oriental Pied Hornbill right outside our beach villa

Whip snake - Datai Bay, Langkawi, Malaysia

A whip snake we spotted at the neighbouring resort

Unfortunately, the weather did play spoilsport and some of our outdoor activities were cancelled, including the trek to Gunung Matchincang, Malaysia’s oldest geological formation. This rock formation is believed to be the first part of Southeast Asia to rise from the seabed nearly 220 million years ago.

The rain brought out the stunning beauty of the jungle around us. We were happy just to stay indoors and watch as a blanket of mist and glorious green enveloped the resort.

One of the few occassions we dragged ourselves away from the warm, comforting waters of Datai Bay was to visit the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. This mangrove forest forms part of the larger Langkawi Geopark, which is Southeast Asia’s first geopark recognised by UNESCO.

Endless mangrove forests in the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

Endless mangrove forests in the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

A cruise along this seemingly endless, mangrove forest provided many visual treats – the rich birdlife, a mangrove pit viper hidden in the thick foliage, interesting limestone formations, the eerie bat cave and of course, plenty of cheeky macaques. We even spotted a monkey swimming merrily after a crab (his lunch for the day!)

A white bellied sea eagle disappears into the mangrove forest

A white bellied sea eagle disappears into the mangrove forest

The spooky bat cave

The spooky bat cave

Our week at Datai Bay gave us a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with nature. We had made peace with all the critters around us, including the insects and the geckos. We were at home!

This is definitely not a place you visit just once. Jumpa lagi, Datai Bay! (See you soon, Datai Bay!)

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Mario and his muse, Goa

My fascination with Mario de Miranda’s caricatures began when I was about 6 years old. I still fondly (and vividly!) remember the adventures of Nitin, Hassan and Leena, the colourful characters Mario brought to life in my Grade 1 English textbook. Those cheery illustrations made learning so much fun!

In the years that followed, I savoured his witty cartoons in newspapers and magazines. His inimitable black ink sketches with buxom women and potbellied men, would make me chuckle every single time.

Mario was (and in my opinion, still is) one of India’s most loved cartoonists. Self-taught, insanely detail-oriented and delightfully cheeky, his cartoons regaled the country for decades. His larger-than-life wall art at Café Mondegar in Bombay (now Mumbai), still stares down on visitors to this day.

His art imitated his life. Goa was his muse. He was born there, grew up in his ancestral home in Loutolim (South Goa) and spent a majority of his retired life there. His cartoons showcased the idyllic Goan life to the rest of India and the world. Today, they are a nostalgic reminder of a Goan lifestyle that has either disappeared or is fast disappearing.

Mario’s passing in 2011 left me wanting to find out more about Mario, the person. Our recent trip to Goa was to pay tribute to this iconic artist.

The drive from Panjim to Loutolim, Mario’s hometown, was picturesque – paddy fields and coconut groves till as afar as the eye can see.

The picturesque drive from Panjim to Loutolim

The scenic drive from Panjim to Loutolim. Guess who made a special appearance! 

When we reached Loutolim, we drove down an unpaved road to reach the 400-year old Casa de Miranda – a stunning mansion constructed in the Indo-Portuguese style. We were happy to admire it from a  distance.

A peek at the 400-year old Casa de Miranda - Mario's ancestral home in Loutolim, Goa

A peek at Casa de Miranda – Mario’s ancestral home in Loutolim, Goa

Would we have knocked on the door had he still been alive? I’m not sure. Mario would have been 89 years old.

We left wondering what his life might have been in Loutolim, far away from the media spotlight and the trappings of city life.

Our next stop on this tribute journey was the Mario Gallery in Porvorim. Here, renowned architect Gerard da Cunha (with the permission of the Miranda family) has converted Mario’s work into a plethora of merchandise, thus keeping his memory alive and giving Mario fans an opportunity to own a piece of his work.

As I walked towards the entrance of the Gallery, there was an overwhelming feeling of stepping into a fairy tale. The reddish-brown, laterite bricks used in the construction of the Gallery give it a gingerbread feel, apt for Mario’s make-believe world of cartoons. Replicas of some of Mario’s creations greet visitors.

Entering the fairy tale world  of Mario Miranda

The dreamy setting of the Mario Miranda gallery in Porvorim, Goa

A close-up of the padeiro (village baker) and batcar (landlord)

Replicas of Mario’s caricatures of the padeiro (village baker) and batcar (landlord)

Mario's sketch of a padiero (the village baker) in his traditional toga and balancing a large basket of freshly baked bread on his head.

Mario’s sketch of a padiero (the village baker) in his traditional toga and balancing a large basket of freshly baked bread on his head. Rarely seen in today’s times*

Mario's sketch of a batcar (a traditional landlord) in his silk striped pyjamas. Again, a disappearing species.

Mario’s sketch of a batcar (the traditional landlord) in his silk striped pyjamas.   Another disappearing species*

A close-up of the local musician

A replica of Mario’s caricature of the local musician

Mario's sketch of the local musician

Mario’s sketch of the local musician*

In the Gallery, t-shirts, mugs, tiles and shot glasses jostle for space alongside Mario’s originals, limited edition prints and books. We spent hours browsing.

The piece de resistance of this trip was the original artwork we were able procure from the Gallery. That was all the closure I needed.

Through his work, Mario will live on forever.

(*From the book ‘Goa with Love’ by Mario Miranda)

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Viva Goa!

Golden sand beaches, pot-smoking hippies, the freshest seafood, vibrant markets…. these are some of the things that come to mind when you think of Goa today. But what most people don’t realise is that nearly 500 years ago, Goa played a crucial role in shaping Asia’s future.

In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut in south-western India. He was the first European to reach India by sea and this sea route was followed by several other Portuguese fleets. By 1510, Goa had become the headquarters of the Portuguese empire in Asia and Africa; making Portugal the first colonial power to establish itself in Asia. The Spanish, the Dutch and the British followed. And the rest, as they say, is history!

A 1579 map of India by Flemish cartographer, Abraham Cortelius, showing Goa (indicated by a red arrow). Currently on display at the National Library, Singapore

A 1579 map of India by Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, showing Goa (indicated by the red arrow). Currently on display at the National Library, Singapore

Goa remained a Portuguese colony for 450 years (until 1961) and the influence runs deep. Ruins of the once imposing forts, hundreds (if not thousands) of churches and chapels, brightly painted houses, the lively music and most importantly, the cuisine. Who among us hasn’t drooled over pictures of spicy sorpotel or tangy vindaloo?

The lighthouse at Fort Aguada (a fairly well-preserved 17th century Portuguese fort on Sinquerim beach, North Goa)

The lighthouse at Fort Aguada (a fairly well-preserved 17th century Portuguese fort on Sinquerim beach, North Goa)

The Goans, as the friendly locals are known, have a susegad (meaning relaxed or laid-back) outlook to life; akin to the ‘island pace’ you experience in the Seychelles or Maldives.

For me, growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai), Goa was the closest holiday destination and ‘the’ place to visit in summer.

The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church (built in 1609) in Panjim, the capital of Goa

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church (built in 1609) in Panjim, the capital of Goa

While Goa has so much to offer the curious tourist, it can be explored without a set itinerary. If you have any time left after sunbathing, eating and sleeping, you could just ramble around the nearby scenic towns and villages. They are all charming in their own right.

Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Goa:

1) Walk around Old Goa

Old Goa was the capital of Portuguese India from the 16th – 18th century and is today a UNSECO World Heritage Site.

The 400 year old, Basilica of Bom Jesus houses the undecayed body of St. Francis Xavier, who died in 1552. The relics are put on public display every 10 years, with the last exposition held in 2014.

Well worth a visit for the Baroque architecture, gold-gilded alters and the striking marble flooring.

The entrance to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa

The entrance to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa

The gold-gilded altar of the Basilica of Bom Jesus,

The elaborate, gold-gilded altar of the Basilica of Bom Jesus

The silver casket that holds the relics of St. Francis Xavier

The silver casket that holds the relics of St. Francis Xavier

2) Visit some of the exquisite, Indo-Portuguese mansions

Goa has several carefully preserved homes dating back to the 1700s, many of which have been passed down the generations. These colonial era homes display the finest European décor (including chandeliers, tapestries and mirrors) and house delicate Chinese porcelain collections; all indicative of the wealth and status of their owners. My personal favourite is the Figueiredo Museum, where the spirited owner, Maria Lourdes regales you with stories from her family’s glorious past.

Figueiredo Museum - Loutulim, Goa, India

The rustic environs of Loutulim

The beautiful exteriors of the Figueiredo mansion

The Indo-Portuguese architecture of the Figueiredo mansion

3) Eat at the many beachside restaurants

Goa’s 105km coastline is dotted with seaside restaurants. Most are humble beach shacks but some like Britto’s in Baga or Martin’s Corner in Betalbatim have established quite a reputation for themselves. But let me warn you, if you suffer from agoraphobia (fear of crowded places), these eateries are not for you.

Try the more inland restaurants like Fisherman’s Wharf or Mum’s Kitchen (both in Panaji) for a quiet and authentic Goan food experience.

Rawa (semolina) coated fried fish - a local delicacy

Rawa (semolina) coated fried fish – a local delicacy

I can’t do any justice to Goan food in one blogpost but for the moment, suffice to say that it is a tantalizing fusion of Portuguese and South Indian influences. The vinegar (as in the vindaloo dishes) comes from the Portuguese while the coconut and spices (as in xacutis and curries) comes from India.

Only the freshest seafood in Goa!

Only the freshest seafood in Goa!

Wash the food down with beer or for the adventurous – feni, a locally brewed liquor. In the 16th century, the Portuguese brought with them, the cashew plant from Brazil. Before long, the cashew apples were being crushed, fermented and distilled to produce feni. A must-try!

When in Goa, eat and drink like the Goans. Rest assured, you will leave a few kilos heavier 🙂

4) Browse the many markets

Can’t talk about Goa without mentioning the hippies. Several years ago, they started the flea market near Anjuna beach. Today, the Wednesday market at Anjuna is a tourist staple.

The Friday markets at Mapusa and Banastarim are where the locals go to shop. While visiting these markets, remember to pick-up Goa sausages – similar to the chouricos of Portugal, only spicier!

Also add bebinca to the list. This is a divine layer cake made of flour, jaggery (traditional cane sugar), eggs and coconut milk.

5) Most importantly, just do nothing! Sunbathe – eat – sleep – repeat 🙂

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A tribute to ‘Aamchi Mumbai’

‘Aamchi’ is the most commonly used epithet for Mumbai. In Marathi (the local language), it means ‘our’.

And Mumbai (or Bombay, as it was known when I was growing up) is exactly that. OURS. It embraces migrants from all over India (and now the world) and weaves them into her colourful fabric.

I was born in Mumbai and have lived a majority of my life there. This city teaches you so many things – to be tolerant, to have a ‘can-do’ attitude, to speak your neighbours’ language (I am fluent in 4 Indian languages and can wing my way through a few more), to expertly navigate the insane traffic… the list is endless.

Having lived away from India for the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to return to the city as a visitor several times. Each time, I get to appreciate its beauty with a fresh pair of eyes. Yet, I’m acutely aware, that no blog post (or for that matter even book) can ever do justice to this glorious, city of contrasts.

Your first experience of Mumbai will be when you land at the swanky new airport. No matter how tired you are from your flight, the bold colours and sheer variety of the Indian artworks on display, will perk you up. The airport is home to India’s largest public arts program called ‘Jaya He’, with over 7,000 pieces of art from all over India.

So if you have just 3 days in Mumbai, here’s what I would recommend:

Day 1 – In South Mumbai

– Enjoy the Colaba skyline from a boat off Apollo Bunder. You could choose a luxury yatch or a down home local ferry, but the iconic Gateway of India and the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel are there for all to see.

View of the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel from the sea

View of the Taj Mahal Hotel and Gateway of India from the Arabian Sea

– Follow that up with a visit to Elephanta Island’s part-Hindu, part-Buddhist rock-cut caves from 5th/6th century CE. The caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Believe me when I say, it’s good workout just getting there! 😉

elephanta

The entrance to Elephanta Caves

– Hungry? Eat the best pulao in Mumbai at Britania’s, an old Parsi haunt in Ballard Estate. The restaurant looks like it’s crumbling but the berry pulao served there is made with love. And that by far, is the best ingredient in any dish! But make a note, its only open for lunch.

Britania Restaurant - tucked in a leafy lane of Ballard Estate

Britania Restaurant – tucked away in a bylane of Ballard Estate

Britania's crowd-pleaser, the delectable berry pulao

Britania’s crowd-pleaser, the delectable berry pulao

You won't get these drinks anywhere else!

You won’t get these drinks anywhere else!

– Walk around the Fort and Colaba areas and observe this bustling city as it goes about its daily business.

Built in 1830, this magnificent Town Hall houses the Asiatic Society of Bombay

Built in 1830, this magnificent Town Hall in the Fort area, houses the Asiatic Society of Bombay

One long forgotten place in the heart of Colaba is the serene Afghan Church. It’s an Anglican Church completed in 1858 and was built to commemorate the dead from the First Afghan War (1838). I particularly enjoy the history and the stories associated with this church.

The gothic architecture of the Afghan Church

The peaceful environs of the Afghan Church

The nave of this 150 years old church

The nave of this 150 year old church

This where British soldiers would park their muskets during mass

This where British soldiers would rest their muskets during mass

– Visit the Pearl of the Orient, a one-of-a-kind revolving restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel. I can’t say much about the food but it does offer spectacular views of Marine Drive (also known as the Queen’s necklace), especially at night.

360 degree views of Mumbai from the Pearl of the Orient restaurant, Ambassador Hotel

360 degree views of Mumbai from the Pearl of the Orient restaurant

– Wrap up the long day with a drink, or two, at Cafe Mondegar (or Mondy’s as it is known to generations of frequenters) and admire Mario Miranda‘s trademark cartoons on its walls. This popular establishment has been open since the 1930s and has entertained generations of Mumbai’s youth as well as many a tourist. Did I mention they have a jukebox too? 🙂

Mario Miranda's iconic cartoons have looked down on decades of visitors at Cafe Mondegars

Mario Miranda’s delightful wall murals have looked down on over 2 decades of Mondy’s visitors

Well, that’s a lot to do for one day in South Mumbai.

I leave you with these soulful words about Bombay, by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936), author of the timeless classic ‘The Jungle Book’…..

“Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait.”

My next post, Bollywood & Bhel in Mumbai explores the suburbs of this vibrant city in 2 days.

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100 fabulous ways to eat tuna in the Maldives

After a spectacular seaplane ride from Male, we landed on the island of Landaa Giraavaru. From the moment we set foot on the island, we were welcomed by the various avian and marine creatures that call the island home.

My Maldives travelogue wouldn’t be complete without a post on the local cuisine. Our first morning on the island, all hubby could think of was the local Maldivian breakfast. When it arrived, we were fascinated by the presentation and variety.

Breakfast - Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

The salad (kulhafilaa fathu satani) made with cooked tuna, rocket leaves, grated fresh coconut, onion, chilli and lime was light and tangy. The delicately spiced tuna curry and the flat bread (chapattis) were perfect together. The deep fried tuna balls (gulhas) made a great bite-sized snack. To call this breakfast divine would be a gross understatement! My poor omelette didn’t stand a chance against the flavours and aromas of the Maldivian breakfast.

And just in case you were wondering, in the Maldives, tuna is caught sustainably using the pole and line method, as it has been for generations. This fishing method also ensures that there is no by-catch of sharks, rays, dolphins or turtles.

A few days into our stay at the resort, we visited the neighbouring island of Kamadhoo. Many of the local resort staff live here. The houses were colorful and the people, friendly.

Kamadhoo, Maldives

We found what seemed like the only café on the island. An endless array of tea-time snacks arrived.

Snacks - Kamadhoo, Maldives

These savouries were all made with tuna, in one form or the other – gulhas, samosas, masroshi (tuna stuffed bread), croquettes, nuggets and so on. The Maldivians have found creative ways of incorporating their most abundant resource – skipjack tuna, into their all meals.

The snacks were accompanied by a sweet, frothy milk tea the locals call ‘Bombay tea’.

Our last night on Landaa Giraavaru. Hubby requested for a Maldivian dinner. What the resort prepared for us was a feast!

Our wonderful server (a local Maldivian) took great care of us and seemed so chuffed that we were enjoying the food of his people.

The meal started with a refreshing karumba (fresh tender coconut) and was accompanied by an appetizer platter.

Dinner - Landaa Giravaaru, Maldives

Dinner - Landaa Giravaaru, MaldivesBy this time, we were able to identify the appetizers – masroshi, kulhafilaa fathu satani and gulha. Light and flavourful!

The main course that followed was fit for a king. It was served in the traditional Maldivian family style – a locally made lacquer basket contained small portions of the various dinner items.

Dinner - Landaa Giravaaru, MaldivesThere was kan’du kukulhu (rolled tuna flakes cooked in thick gravy), kiru garudhiya (drumstick curry), Maldivian chicken curry and fihunu mas (marinated barbequed fish). I even dared to try the fiery, Maldivian chilli. Spicaaay!

Chilli - Landaa Giraavaru, MaldivesWhen the food was all done, we just sat there licking our fingers.

We were stuffed to the gills 😉 but how could we refuse dessert? The Banbukeyo bondibai (sweetened breadfruit) was a novelty for us. The crepes with sweetened coconut and the rose milk drink, while familiar, were delightful. The perfect ending to an amazing meal!

Dinner - Landaa Giraavaru, MaldivesWe thanked the chef and the F&B Director for the sublime dining experience and set out for a moonlight walk on the beach.

Back in the real world, I’ve seen hubby make best friends out of complete strangers in a matter of minutes. All he has to do is talk about food. It is, after all, the great unifier.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Maldivian culinary journey.

Want to know more about the rich flora and fauna of the Maldives? Presenting The Real Stars of Maldives 😉

The spectacular seaplane ride from Male to the island of Landaa Giraavaru, needs a special mention. Check out my post Magic in the water!

Read about my experience of swimming with the magnificent Maldivian mantas in my post Underwater Ballet in the Maldives.

 

 

 

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The Real Stars of Maldives

One week on the isolated island of Landaa Giraavaru. Completely immersed in the laidback island life, we had a lot of time to observe the amazing flora and fauna around us. We encountered avian and marine creatures on a daily basis and their stories are so endearing that I just had to dedicate a post to them. Here are some of my favourite creatures of Maldives.

There was Yello the young lemon shark who was part of the welcome party when we first got to the island. We spotted him swimming in the shallow waters around the jetty while disembarking from our speedboat. On numerous occasions, he amused us with his antics while chasing a school of tiny anchovy-like fish.

Lemon shark, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Yello chasing his lunch

Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

The school of tiny fish that always stayed close to the shore

That evening, we were having a quiet drink at the resort’s Sea Bar. The bar overlooks the surrounding shallow waters and at one point, I thought I saw one of the rocks moving. I dismissed the thought as the effect of alcohol but it actually turned out to be Bob, the stingray! The bartender informed us that Bob was the largest in the group of stingrays that frequented the waters around the bar.

Meet Bob, the large stingray

Meet Bob, the stingray

The next morning, I woke up fairly early thanks to my jet lag. I stepped outside our villa and spotted Buddy the heron, waiting patiently in the water to snap up his breakfast. I saw him every morning thereafter, always alone. Hubby and I joked once about finding him a mate from the neighbouring islands.

Heron, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Buddy arriving on the island in the wee hours of morning

Buddy lying in wait for his meal

Waiting patiently for his breakfast

Here’s Shelly the hermit crab who so graciously posed for a close-up. Isn’t she a beauty???!!! We felt really bad to have disturbed her from the crab meeting she was hosting.

Hermit Crab, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Shelly posing in true crab style

Crab meeting in progress

Crab meeting in progress

On our many strolls along the island’s sandbar, we spotted terns with teal underbellies swooping into the water to catch their meal. I thought to myself ‘Here’s a species I’ve never seen before’, only to realise that the blue was just the reflection of the turquoise waters on their immaculate white bodies. Ha!

Terns, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

White terns swooping on their meal

Then there were all the colourful reef fish we hobnobbed with during our snorkelling trips. The most distinctive of which was the unicorn fish, named after the pointed growth between its eyes.

A fairly large specimen of the unicorn fish

A fairly large specimen of the unicorn fish

Saving the best for last, the main reason we were in the Maldives – the giant manta rays. Our second day on the island, we rushed to Hanifaru Bay (part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll) to get a glimpse of what can only be described as a mesmerising display of under-water ballet. These huge, carpet sized mantas circled around us in a magical dance as they fed on the plankton rich waters. As I watched their playful yet immensely graceful movements, my fears gave way to awe and amazement. Despite their size, manta rays are absolutely harmless to humans.

A really hungry manta ray

A really hungry manta ray!

Of course, there are many creatures whose pictures we didn’t manage to take. Some were just too fast for us or just plain camera shy. The lone spinner dolphin chasing his meal during our sunset cruise or the black tip reef shark cruising outside our breakfast restaurant. There was also the stealthy moorhen that frolicked in our villa’s swimming pool from time to time.

Well, what can I say? I felt lucky to have spent time in the midst of nature’s splendour, oblivious of our gadgets and real lives. I leave you with some more of the real stars of our Maldives trip.

Fruit bat, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Coco the fruit bat, paid a daily visit to the coconut tree in our villa’s garden

Ruby, the squid who made an appearance on our last night on the island

Ruby, the squid made a special appearance on our last night on the island

A ball of tiny, anchovy-like fish

A ball of the tiny, anchovy-like fish

For more on my experience of swimming with the magnificent Maldivian mantas, check out my post Underwater Ballet in the Maldives.

Want to know more about Maldivian cuisine? Here are 100 fabulous ways to eat tuna in the Maldives 😉

The spectacular seaplane ride from Male to the island of Landaa Giraavaru, needs a special mention. Check out my post Magic in the water!

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