‘Susegad’ and Romance of the rains – Visiting Goa during monsoons

Goa is one destination which is on the bucket list of one and all. Be with family or friends, a honeymoon trip, reunion or bachelorette – Goa just perfectly fits the bill. Add to the rigmarole, all the cancelled plans for that perfect Goa trip and then being stranded as the lone enthusiastic member on the gradually silent WhatsApp group. As with all travel destinations, you will find numerous guides on the world wide web about the tourist season in Goa starting from October. Some of them will give you the list of must visit places and some will warn you against visiting Goa during the monsoons.

But ask yourself, do you want to be a tourist who goes by checklists or a traveller who loves to collect the most precious memories in the cafés frequented by locals or joins them for an impromptu dance celebrating a win in the local football league? If you belong to the second category, travel to Goa during monsoons and just enjoy the sweet, laid back and amazingly quiet Goan life amidst the plush greenery which floods the state in form of paddy fields. Monsoons are actually the perfect time to enjoy the much touted ‘Susegad’ (idyllic charm) in Goa.

View of Vagator Beach from Chapora Fort

If you are wary of heavy rains playing spoilsport, which is also a valid safety concern considering Goa receives heavy rainfall every year, you may plan the trip during end August or just the beginning of September, when the serenity of monsoons, empty roads and lovely smiles are yet to be replaced by the professionalism of peak tourist season which begins in October.

1) Enjoy the quieter roads

The trip to Goa is often planned to escape the drudgeries of city life. Surely, you do not want to get into the same traffic jams or overhear the sound of constant honking when in Goa. The end of monsoons can be the perfect time to explore the quieter roads with next to zero honking and the only traffic jams that you face are the ones where a herd of cows need to cross the road. Just hire that scooter and drive like a true local while enjoying the leisurely views of the roads lined with coconut trees and dotted with lush green paddy fields. Don’t believe me? See this!

Parra, Bardez. this is the place where the popular Bollywood movie ‘Love you Zindagi’ was shot.
The beauty of clear blue skies
Enjoy the views of lush greenery

2) The beaches are cleaner with lot less people

Beaches are the primary attraction in Goa. Monsoons can be the perfect time to enjoy the perfect sunset at the beach with only serenity or the lone dog for company. In fact, the otherwise over crowded beaches like Baga, Anjuna or Vagator may prove to be a bliss (like they were originally) during this time. You can bathe in the sea or look for the umbrella during that occasional drizzle and pitter – patter.

Baga Beach
Sunset at Vagator
Vagator Beach

3) The ‘touristy’ attractions have a lot less selfie seekers

As with the beaches, there are lot less tourists everywhere including the popular attractions like Basilica of Bom Jesus (popularly known as the Mummy church in Goa), Dona Paula beach, Chapora or Aguada Fort. We all know what a menace the modern day evolution of selfie hunters can be, especially in crowded touristy places. Ask yourself, do you want your vacation mood to be spoiled by serpentine queue in front of a view point for a split second selfie or you just want to click that perfect photo and then lounge and sit around to enjoy the view and treasure it till eternity? If you are sucker for moments and the romance of memories like me, late monsoons can be the perfect time to visit Goa for you.

One of the churches in Goa
Basilica of Bom Jesus

Fort Aguada
View from Fort Aguada

4) Discover the yet ‘unexplored’ side of Goa

During the peak tourist season, the roads are crowded and the villages abruptly disappear to give way to make shift hotels, lodges and restaurants. The charm of travelling through the winding village roads while enjoying the idyllic village life that Goa is known for, remains unknown to many. You may never spot the fisherman on river Zuari or just walk around at your own sweet pace to discover the old Latin quarters in Goa – the Fontainhas. Right in the middle of the busy and bustling Panjim (Panaji) city lies the old Portugese residential houses which will transform you back to a different era altogether. There will albeit be package tours taking you till the very famous St Sebastians Chapel there, all through the year, but the joy of discovering the meandering narrow lanes with colourful balconies on your own feet, without jostling and asking for space is amazing to say the least. The names of the roads or the colourful road signs will remind you of the picture postcards from the coveted Portugese or Spanish vacation or if you have been there, will definitely take you a trip down memory lane. Now, who minds either of them?

One of the houses in Fontainhas area, Panjim
Beautiful Road signs
One of the relatively wider lanes in Fontainhas

Chapel of St Sebastian, Fontainhas, Panjim

5) The restaurants will have the best of food with no overcrowding and you get the best of the views

There is no denying that some popular restaurants in Goa are closed during the monsoon season as it is traditionally considered the off season. But, the best of the lot are always open. During my week long stay in Goa, I ate a lot of Goan, Continental and seafood while selecting the places based on popular recommendations. If you want a perfect mix of best views, food, ambience and overall a wonderful place to just chill and laze around Britto’s at Baga beach gets my thumbs up. I loved the food so much that I went back twice. The seafood platter is to die for and worth the price.

Grilled Fish at Britto’s
The seafood platter at Britto’s

If you want more exclusivity along with some breathtaking views of Arabian sea go to Curlies at Anjuna beach. The vibe of the place is leisurely and while the food was decent, the fact that you can sit and enjoy the views for as long as you want while sipping your favourite mocktail, cocktail or beer makes it a winner for me.

View from Curlies, Anjuna beach

The first two I mentioned are quite well known in Goa. There is also another place where I went and loved, called Fisherman’s Cove near Candolim beach. This is where I had my first taste of the famous Vindaloo and Feni shots along with some very nice live music.

At Fisherman’s Cove, Candolim

All these places become supremely crowded during the so called season time and I have heard stories of long queues outside the restaurant for a seat (like the ones outside Arsalan during Durga Puja). If you want to skip the line and enjoy the best views of the sea or just enjoy the leisurely pace while enjoying good food and good life – monsoons can be the perfect time to visit Goa.

So what are you waiting for? Don’t plan. Just book the ticket, reach Goa, hop on a scooter, switch on the Google maps and just explore the lush greenery, the lazy charm, the uncharted serenity and the out of the world food during monsoons. Yes, there may be a potholes or two along the road due to the rains and it is always safe to be alert about the rains, but the general condition of roads in Goa is very good and it is completely safe to drive cars or scooters.

Goa actually needs no reasons, seasons and plans. Don’t fall in the trap of package tours, must visits, day based itineraries- Goa is much more than all that and all the bountiful put together. The millennial FOMO (Fear of missing out) is not the thing in Goa 🙂

P.S. All photos published here have been clicked by me and no unauthorised use is permitted.

Travel Diary: In search of Tulips and Bollywood (Silsila) in Holland

Every year thousands of tourists from the Indian subcontinent flock to Keukenhof gardens, Netherlands in search of their perfect ‘Silsila’ memory. In case you are still wondering what is ‘Silsila’ – it is a Hindi film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha which released way back in 1981. While the film itself did not do so well at the Box Office, it became popular due to the almost ‘casting coup’ in form of the alleged real life love triangle doing a role play on screen. Apart from that, the musical compositions by Shiv-Hari have now attained almost a ‘cult’ status.

The song “Dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsiley huye” is a favourite among Bollywood buffs like me and it has transcended the boundary of generations. The lyrics and the music makes the song an instantly hummable one, but it is the picturisation that takes the cake!

We come from a county where we, and our neighbours, do take our films seriously, very seriously! As a result many like me flock to those tulip fields of Holland imagining ourselves to be the “white salwar” clad Rekha and our men to be the tall, dark and angry (but irresistibly so!) Amitabh Bachchan.

You may not like all Yash Chopra movies and the song and dance routine, but you have to agree that he was a genius! The way he imagines the picturisation of his songs, especially the romantic ones, I doubt anybody from the new breed can create such ethereal magic. ‘Silsila’ happened and thus began our fascination with Netherlands and the tulips.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Keukenhof gardens and the flower fields back in 2014 and again this year in 2017. This year, I went back to that area thrice during the peak tulip season and discovered many previous gems. As a routine, I do a lot of research and reading before visiting a place and it was then that I discovered that Keukenhof was merely a Spring garden. Undoubtedly, it is world’s most beautiful Spring garden where a wide array of Tulips of different hues are at display, but it is not the ‘only’ right place to go if you wish to bedazzled by the beauty of the never ending tulip fields, just the way it was shown in that song from ‘Silsila’.

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Nature’s canvas!

When to visit: The tulips and the vast flower fields may be the most recognisable icon of the Netherlands, but the actual ‘blooming season’ is very short and last from mid to end March to first or second week of May, every year. The Keukenhof gardens also remain open ‘only’ during those times of the year. The full bloom reaches around mid to end of April and it is, arguably, the best time to visit the fields and the garden. ‘Mesmerising’ will be an understatement for the view that you get to look at. If you are coming to Holland to revel in the glory of Tulips and ‘Silsila’, you have to  here around that time. At any other time of the year, you will get to look at the tulips only on picture postcards.

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Inside the Keukenhof Gardens

I have seen/heard from many of my friends visiting Keukenhof gardens being disappointed that they did not find the fields and so I decided to write this one travlogue. If I am of any help to you, pray for me that I might just tick another place on the map from my bucket list 🙂

How to reach Keukenhof: Keukenhof can be reached easily from any part of Netherlands. If you are in Amsterdam or any nearby town, you will find ‘combination tickets‘ for ‘skip the line’ entry and bus rides from.particular points like Schiphol Airport or Amsterdam central being sold everywhere. You may buy them over the counter or online from here. If you are visiting from any other part of Europe and there are numerous day trip/bus trips available.

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Can you ever get enough of this sight?


Reaching the fields (Short stay): If you are pressed for time and you have planned a day trip then you may try walking to the fields nearby the Keukenhof gardens. The fields lie at a distance of around 1-2 kilometres from the main gate of the Keukenhof gardens and you have to walk till there. If you have a car, you may drive down. Be careful as it is a narrow road and bicycles and cars jostle for space. Some of the fields are strictly private and you should not try to enter them without permission. My tip will be that you start early, reach Keukenhof but do not enter the garden first. Walk till the fields before it gets crowded and enter the gardens, later in the afternoon. Do not miss the gardens even if you are enamoured by the beauty of the fields. Trust me, you will love the gardens too!

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The ‘very’ Dutch postcard!
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Uncommon hues!
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More postcards!

When you have an extra day to spare: In case, you have some extra time to spare and you wish to discover the ‘real’ and not so crowded/touristy flower fields where I feel the song was actually shot, you may visit or hike or cycle through the world famous ‘Bollenstreek‘ or ‘Bloemenroute‘ (flower route) of Holland. The route encompasses several towns and villages on the way where tulips are grown on a commercial basis. The tulips and the fragrant hyacinths grown here yield huge money. During the peak flower season, this area is like nature’s canvas with a plethora red, yellow, pink and lavender sprinkled all over.

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The vast fields with lovely colours!
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Cannot stop staring!
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Crayons and colours. From a distance!

I walked/hiked through the Bollenstreek, taking some help of the Dutch public transport (mostly buses), from Noordwijkherout a small town which is easily reachable from Amsterdam. We moved towards Sassenheim and onward to Lisse. Actually, Keukenhof gardens fall right in the middle of the Bollenstreek. If you can ride a bicycle (which I cannot), it will be easier for you as the places are nearby and all you need is to gather a map and start. Google maps are quite handy and if you are renting a bicycle from any of the NS stations or from bicycle vendors, you will be probably provided a map of the area. If nothing else, follow the street signs and once you are just outside the centre of these quaint, little and very pretty Dutch towns the flower fields will guide you.

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On our way from Sassenheim to Lisse. One gets to see a plethora of colours on the way.
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More unknown hues.

What to carry: If you are hiking through Bollenstreek, you may find some dunes on the way, though I did not find many. Take along some easy to carry snacks as this will be a day long adventure and since these are non touristy areas, you may not find a eatery nearby. Carry enough water to keep yourself hydrated especially if it is a sunny day. Do not forget the sunglasses. Pray that it is a sunny day, since the flowers look best when the sun is smiling upon them. Also, do not forget to carry a handy jacket as the weather in Netherlands can be quite unpredictable. It may be sunny at 1 in the afternoon and raining at 3.

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A field full of fragrant hyacinths.

P.S. I had previously written an article in Bengali about my visit to Keukenhof in 2014 for ‘O-Kolkata’. This was before I had discovered the unexplored beauty of the Bollenstreek or Bloemenroute of Holland.

P.P.S. All the photographs used here are clicked by me and mostly unedited. Unauthorised use of photographs is strictly prohibited. Please take due permission if you wish to use them or otherwise legal actions will be taken.

La Dolce Vita – The magical Amalfi Coast!

Two summers back, I had spent a memorable  time in Italy, Europe. While the rest of Italy remains well charted out in the Indian travel scene (that includes the bus full of people doing Europe darshan), Amalfi and the beautiful coastline of Southern Italy was quite a chance discovery for me.

We were staying in Germany and I used to switch on to German television channels to learn Deutsch. It was a trick that my “lehrerin” (teacher in Deutsch) from language school had suggested. Germans are known for their wanderlust and it is during one of those binge watching of travel shows on television, that I discovered the dreamily romantic and the holiday hot spot for the rich and famous – Amalfi Coast.

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A trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia – A bit Closer to ‘Heaven’

Last Sunday, I returned home after completing an epic Euro Trip of sorts. For most of the part of my trip, I was travelling with my best friend, one who is known as ‘the husband’ for the more mundane and prosaic world, to some places which have been on my bucket list for quite long.

To tell the truth, a year and half of my stay in Europe, did change my perspective towards life. I love the utter chaos of Calcutta but somewhere down the line I do miss the quaint little coffee shops and those cobbled streets of European cities. The story with omnipresent ‘honking horns’ of Calcutta is that I abhor when I am here and I miss them when I am outside where driving on a road is actually a civilised affair. Alternatively, I miss the serenity when I am back in my hometown. The traffic itself is a a jarring reminder of the adventure ahead on the road.

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Stories from Barcelona – La Boqueria Market

Barcelona is a city that I immediately felt at home. While the whole of Europe and especially German cities takes pride in being prim, proper and every thing nice, Barcelona is that wild untamed spirit who refuses to follow rules. In my mind, Barcelona is a lot like Calcutta.

The city has a unique feel which is hard to describe and anybody visiting the place can feel the pulse while setting foot on the majestic La Ramblas. Barcelona is often called the party capital of Europe and a pitcher of Sangria while walking across the La Ramblas will make you understand the precise reason why it is called so. But make no mistake, Barcelona is more than just La Ramblas, the beautiful beaches, or for that matter those masterpieces by Gaudi or Camp Nou. The die hard Calcutta girl within me will suggest that you take a walk down the Gothic Quarter ( a part of the erstwhile walled city) or walk past the Barri Gotic and you might just feel that you have just walked past one of those much photographed and iconic North Calcutta lanes- probably of Hedua or Shyambajar. Does that sound lustworthy enough?

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Of cities, short stories and memories of a lifetime – Paris

Prologue:

Every city has a tale to tell of her own. Some are rather bland, some colloquial enough to hold your attention, some refuse to leave your mind long after its all over and some are just timeless…just like Waheeda Rehman. I cannot imagine any city to be a man. In my mind every city is distinctly a woman – with a scent of her own.

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The DDLJ trail – In search of the Bollywood fairy tale in Switzerland

Every year thousands of people from all over the world visit Switzerland and a vast majority of those tourists are people from the Indian subcontinent. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most beautiful countries of the world. But apart from that there is one very important thing that has influenced every one of us – the ones who grew up on the staple diet of Bollywood, SRK and the nostalgia of the 90’s, to visit the nation. No prizes for guessing the answer – Yashraj Films.

We have to accept it that when Sridevi romanced a ‘starting to be potbellied’ and sweater clad Rishi Kapoor, while wearing impeccable Chiffon sarees and pearls and singing – “Tere mere hoton pe meethein, meethein geet Mitwa” in Chandni in the lush green Swiss valleys – we all wanted to be there and do a role play!

And then came the game changer called “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (DDLJ) which has probably defined romance for everyone who belongs to my generation. When a young SRK flashes his dimpled smile and looks at his best onscreen partner Kajol to mouth the golden words – “Koi baat nahi Senorita, bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain“, we have no other alternative left other than going weak on our knees.

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