Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Day 1 in Mexico

Exhaustion, jetlag, sleep - none of these were successful in stopping me from trekking Chipinque (sounds chip-in-ke) on my very first day in Mexico. A team of three - Riniki, Shyam and myself, overcame feigned reluctance of Riniki, hired a taxi and cruised towards Chipinque. A nice 30 minutes drive along the Monterrey downtown brought us to the gates of Chipinque.

Chipinque Parque Ecologico is located on Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range in the San Pedro region of Monterrey city. Its 3200 acres huge and an abode to varieties of birds, butterflies and mammals.

We paid 60 pesos at the gate for three of us and started hiking. Initial stretch was a tarmac, after which we started our gait on a trekking path. One side we see the forest clad shale mountains; picturesque and panoramic Monterrey city on the other. Passers by kept saluting "Hola! Buenos tardas" and we reciprocated. Gradually the sun started shying away into the clouds and as we had some sprightly talk and kept hiking, rain gods blessed us. Cool showers refreshed us, while Riniki and me were glad about it, Shyam was quite pissed off. Shyam convinced us to return and we took a 180 degree turn and started descending. Helios won in the battle with showers and there was a brilliant, golden sunshine on the mountains of Sierra Madre and the rainbows flashed like fire. To our surprise, we found two parallel rainbows beautifying Monterrey.

We descended further and we had almost reached the gate. For getting a taxi, we had to trek down another kilometer or so, we got it without much waiting, hit one of the local roadside taco house, had a delicious beef tacos and walked home.



Monday, May 28, 2007

The longest flight

Passing tearful mom, best wishing dad, farewell bidding friends I hit the check-in counter. I dumped two bags of 23 kgs each and the person there said "Sorry sir, just one bag of 20Kg is what I'm allowed". I cursed my travel desk for misinforming me, proudly I said I'll pay for the excess baggage without realizing the price. A quick math and he says "40 euros per kg, thats about 40 thousand INR for 20 kg sir"...."what the !!!". With numbed brain and slight panic, reduced the baggage to half, checked in, cleared security and waited for boarding call in awfully crowded, clamorous waiting room.
Lufthansa stewardesses were a generation gap apart, very young and pretty Indian ladies and a couple of fat German grannies. But I must say that food was the best part of flight, can you believe that they served beaten rice (avalakki, poha) with vada and sambar for breakfast?
Seven long hours of wait in Frankfurt was indeed painful, except for the eyes which were treated quite graciously. I met Ralf at the waiting gate for Mexico flight, he was flying to meet his girlfriend studying ethnology.
Flight to Mexico had similar kind of generation gap among stewards. The pasta was extremely delicious, flight was terribly long...12 long hours almost. I struck a conversation with Elrike, the German lady sitting next to me, I spoke history, geography, culture and beer; she was surprised to know I knew Germany so much. An extremely pretty Russian skater, Ella, was sitting next to her. I couldn't stop myself from talking to her for she was so attractive, but unfortunately she was feeling sick in the flight. She was visiting Monterrey for a performance.
I happened to meet this Chinese lady during immigration at Mexico city. I spoke my broken Chinese and she was overwhelmingly glad. As usual I again flaunted my geography and culinary knowledge about China and she was in awe.
My energy levels had greatly dipping, legs feeling heavy, eyes closing by themselves, hand bag becoming heavier...it was an awfully long walk to the gate of Monterrey flight.

My eager eyes couldn't locate Jaggu at airport. No "SACHIN" name plates in airport either. None of the phone numbers are reaching, all odds against me. I hired a taxi, driver of which didn't know Santa Fe. He made be buy calling card of 30MXN which was useless, tried making calls which couldn't reach, asked people who couldn't help...after an hour and half long taxi ride, he finally got me to Santa Fe. Thanks profusely to Riniki, Harish, Arun for a delicious pulao, raita and dal fry. Thanks profusely to Jaggu, Ajith and Shyam for a fruitless wait at airport.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Weekend desperation in Bangalore.

We are no party animals, not even pub-crawlers or head-bangers looking out for a clamorous place. A peaceful mediocre place which serves good drink and dinner, comfortable for nattering on a Saturday evening, is just what we were looking for.

“Gaurav family restaurant” with terrace garden was recommended by one of our friends. He was quite right about catering to our expectations; it was very much what we wanted. But the waiter with a quick math in his brain said half hour wait is a must to get a table. Baffled and disappointed we thought we’ll barge into “Canton”. The response was verbatim same as what we got in Gaurav, difference being the language…he uttered the same thing in English. Frustration levels started soaring high. “Nandini” was someone else’s recommendation…that again was a dismal one for Nandini serves no drink. Finally we entered “Banjaara”, we were glad and surprised to find unoccupied tables, we settled down on one of them. “What the ?” was our response after glimpsing the menu. A place which looked like a dining hall of a north Indian wedding, with sick live music – murderous singer singing Kishore Kumar numbers, wants us to pay Rs.130 for a small drink of Royal Challenge!!! It’s a perfect place for guys having girlfriends of “areyyyyyy chalo na yaaaar, weeeekend bhaaahar khaaana kaayenge naaaa…pleaseeeeeee” sorts. Since we had ordered a beer pitcher, we requested the manager to serve the same in the next restaurant, a silent one. Thankfully he obliged. Even this one was quite crowded and clamorous, but no music (read noise). We didn’t get the “sexy place for talking da machha” feeling, we swilled the beer and quit.

None of us were pleased about the way we spent a Saturday evening…four of us decided we gotta hit our “adda”, the one and only – PARK VIEW. We drove with full throttle and got the table without a hassle, swilled more beer, had sumptuous, tasty, yummy, delicious, toothsome, palatable, delightful food. I’ve not used these adjectives because I knew them; I’ve used it because it is very much relevant for the food served in PARK VIEW. Don’t expect great ambience, mind numbing music, svelte and slender babes or free tables on weekends. In a nutshell PARK VIEW is “a decent place, serves drinks at reasonable price and the best food around”. Don’t forget to try egg biriyani and Neer dosa with chicken curry…they are my personal favorites. For the uninitiated, PARK VIEW is in Vijayanagar, very close to Vijayanagar bus terminus. And for those people who think Bangalore is just Kormangala, Ulsoor, Dommlur, Sarjapur road, BTM layout...Vijayanagar is somewhere on the otherside of Bangalore, closer to Mysore road.

Hmmm…I’m sure by this time you would feel that this is a nice try for a restaurant review…but I couldn’t help myself writing so much about PARK VIEW which mitigated our frustration to a great extent.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Roadtrip to Goa

4 guys, Verna diesel, NH17 - perfect ingredients for a Goa trip. After getting ditched by 2 of
them, Ashok and me decided that we gotta hit Goa, just two us!!! After a heavy breakfast at one
of the famous idli hotels near Tumkur, the sun started blazing torridly but Verna's cooling
mechnaism kept us cool and comfortable. High school memoirs, playful pranks, music critiques and pee-breaks made our journey a very lively and joyous. After a cheap meal at Haveri the tarmac ahead was so smooth and less curvy that speed did not fall below 100. The limpid twilight of Palolem beach welcomed us, Ashok tried his best to reach before sunset but we lost the race. Nevertheless my camera captured few neat shots in the dusky faint light. We rented a shack (Rs. 300 per day for two bedded shack), dumped the bags and set out for a stroll. Slothfully we walked along the shore and then hit the narrow streets in the town that had many restaurants, shops selling books, bikinis, wines and works of art. We settled down in one of the beach side restaurant, dined over pegs of whiskey. There were not many fishes and the price of the available one was beyond our budget, we had to satiate our epicurean desires by mutton chilli fry, dal and roti. I wanted to get drenched in the water due to rapturous feeling of whiskey, I slept on shore and the wind driven waves caressed and cooled me. It was late, we got back to shack and hit the sack.

Mornings are the most precious time and favorite for my camera. She wanted to have a look at
the beach and I ambled on the shore to fulfill her wish. I could get shots of the locals, the boats,
the beach, the sand, the palms, the stray dogs...everything mildly touched by sunlight. The sun
rapidly reached higher and it was time to savour the beach. Our aquatic pleasures lasted for
about an hour and a half - swimming, sun basking, ogling at bikini clad babes, chasing the stray
dogs.
We started our journey towards North Goa. We just had a glimpse of Colva beach near Margao, there was cacophony of fat aunties shouting at their kids; uncles with huge and dark tummies; shrill scream of girls in wet chudidhars playing in beach; men pestering tourists to para sail or speed boat. We spent not more than a couple of minutes at Colva, our car was now heading towards Calangute.
Without wasting much time we checked into Park Avenue, the hotel which I had stayed during my previous visit. A decent hotel with swimming pool - charge Rs. 800 for an AC room having two beds, TV, refrigerator and attached toilet. We had a very sumptuous lunch at Infantaria - fish curry rice, biriyani. Fish curry rice was extremely delicious with one fish in the curry and another fried and placed on white rice, biriyani was rich is spices and tasted yummy. I've not tried out all the restaurants in Calangute, but my hunch says that this is the THE BEST. Simple, neat and tidy ambience, gentle mannered attendants, tasty food and mouthwatering desserts make them the best.
After a tiny siesta we strolled to beach, as usual, there was a mad crowd - desi females in sarees, chudidars and jeans all wet and salty, men in their VIP frenchies and Poomer undies flaunting their flabby tummies and holy threads on them, kids scaring lights out their parents, unthinking and careless dogs being beaten by some, being lured by some others. I enjoyed the high waves while Ashok was disappointed by the tea he got on the shore - a tiny tea bag inside a big glass of lukewarm milk. We were so inclined to have dinner at Infantaria that we gave no second thought about where to have dinner. In no time we were ordering fish and chips (the attendant's suggestion), roti and dhal makhani at Infantaria. Food was, as expected, awesome.
We walked to Bagha beach, gulped a cold breezer on the beach, watched the artists perform adventurous firework and walked towards Titos. As we tried to enter, the watchman with his most impudent gesture said "Couples only". We then walked back to room and had a sound sleep.

Idli-sambar and tea at shri-sagar restaurant, just opposite to where we stayed, fueled us for the day's activities. We south Indians are quite particular about our breakfast, nothing works out like Idli-sambar or dose.
We drove to Old Goa, about 10 km from Panjim. Like others we visited Basilica of Bom Jesus which holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. Unfortunately using tripod was not allowed and it was considerably dark inside for photographing. There was an art exhibition on the first floor which featured photographs of the church and paintings depicting life of St. Francis Xavier and few sculptures of various biggies in Christendom. I was quite disappointed when a huge crowd of people went upto ticket counter and turned away when they realized that they had to pay for the exhibition - ticket price Rs. 2!!!
The scorching heat made us a bit tired and thirsty. We visited the Archaeological Survey of India museum that had great relics and ruins dug out by ASI at various locations in Goa. That was the place where we found the true face of Goa, untouched and unscathed by Portuguese, there were Hindu stone carvings of various gods and temples, artistic flower vases and fruit baskets again carved out of stones. First floor had beautiful paintings of Portuguese viceroys starting from Afonso de Albuquerque, the first viceroy.
We were hungrier, thirstier and more exhausted. We came to Infantaria and had spicy mouthwatering Nizam-e-machli fry with roti and dhal.
Anguna, the rockiest of all beaches I've seen, was our sojourn en route Vagator beach. The red soft rocks on the beach are a good subject for photographing, provided you go in the morning or evening.
Vagator beach is another crowded beach, it has a rocky part as well as a sandy part. Its more commercialized too, there are oodles of shops selling ice creams, cucumber, hats and other sundries near the beach. Famous Chapora fort is visible from the beach, which was our next destination.
As we reversed our car and was about to start, a young man stops us and knocks the windowpane of the car. When Ashok lowers the glass, he asks "Bachelor or family?" Ashok says "Bachelor". He gladly asks "Massage chahiye kya? Foreigner lady, gori massage?" Ashok says "NO", raises the glass and we take leave. This massage thingy is widely prevalent in Goa these days. Beware!!!
We bought some wine on the way and head to Chapora fort. Ashok started gasping for breath as we started to climb and he felt the effort was worth once we reached the top. A beautifully placed fort overlooking Vagator beach on one side, a triangular piece of land stretching from the fort like a tongue to the sea on the second, beach transforming to Chapora river on the third side. We spent a couple of hours there photographing, sipping port wine and trying to communicate with a Russian photographer. He was a panorama expert and was kind enough to lend his B+W polarizer for me to use. There were lots of couples in their romantic world, a bunch of Northies...sorts of Aamir Khans and Rani Mukherjees...fighting over returning to hotel or watching the sunset. We started descending when the light was in a fuzzy state between twilight and darkness.
We thought of trying a different place for dinner and had a tuna fish tandoori fry, roti and chicken hyderabadi with beer at Krishna bar and restaurant, facing our hotel. First of all it took more than half hour to get the food and on top of that fish was a bit too hard and chicken hyderabadi burnt my mouth and brought tears in my eyes. No where closer to the food we had in Infantaria.
We decided to sleep early, as we entered our hotel, we spotted two lonely women sipping champagne. Ashok got a brilliant idea to invite them for Titos, where we were prohibited the previous day. We sat adjacent to their table and in the exuberance I ordered two pots of tea - two guys, almost middle of the night, for the sake of inviting two girls for pub, had to drink five cups of masala tea. Yeah...despite knowing that a pot of tea is two and half cups, I ordered!!! Later we realized they were not lonely females but had some sort of acquaintance with the hotel owner. Then comes a cheap gang of Northie boys...one of them, flaunting his systema skeletale said "areey yaar mei to SIMRAN-OFF ESPRITE ke saath piyunga.....tu kya piyega?" We felt its all their show and left for sleeping.

We woke up in the wee hours of the morning and drove to Aguada fort. Despite fort being locked and letting down, we found many peafowls and other interesting birds enroute. Unfortunately they were far beyond my 200mm lens, so no record of what we saw there. It was almost like a small nature trip, both of us were pleased.
We packed and checked out of the hotel, had dosa and tea at Shrisagar and drove the sedan towards Arambol beach, which is farther north. Its about an hours drive from Calangute along the green coastal belt.
Without any second thought, we rented a couple of beach beds shaded by a beach umbrella (costs Rs.100, no time limit). In turns we entered the beach, since one had to take care of camera and valuables. We found many interesting people on the beach. A bunch of sloshed out uncles from Mahrashtra who reckoned Arambol to be a naked beach, a happy Goan family with cute kids, peddlers selling colorful stuff to foreigners, junkies of the west, baywatch babes sorts, bunch of horny southies. Kingfisher kept us cool despite scorching sun. We finished lunch at one of the beach side restaurants....roti, dal and mixed veg manchurian.
Hired a room and had a nap. A cup of tea prepared us for the Tiracol fort journey. We passed through many hindu dominated regions, we found many tulsi pots and temples on the way. We had to cross a ferry to reach Tiracol. The Russian whom we met the previous day had greatly raised our expectations about the fort, but it failed to live up to that. The fort is now turned to a hotel, open for public, has a church inside and gives a very European feel, but no where closer to the majesty and picturesqueness of Chapora fort.
We went to Redi beach next. It is located in the state of Maharashtra and the road leading to that is very narrow, crowded and quite intimidating too. Redi beach is highly secluded and least crowded with clean waters and white sand. The sun was smiling his way down, almost on the verge. A distant ship's smoke on the horizon (Ring any bells???). Clicked few shots and drove back to Arambol.
We sat on one of the beach side restaurants, had shark tandoor, roti and dhal fry over a few pegs of whiskey. The Russian photographer joined us for dinner, I shot him thousands of questions about Russian history, politics, geography, food and what not, with his broken English he patiently answered them.
Post dinner we had encounters with people who were completely stoned and entertained us bigtime. We ditched the room which we had booked and slept in one of those shacks where we had our dinner.

Woke up early, had a healthy breakfast consisting parata, curd, lassi, fruits and tea and kickstarted our journey at 9. Bought few alcohol bottles for carrying back at Mapusa. The traffic moved at snail pace; it was almost noon when we crossed the border. We thought of having some change in life and decided to take a different route Karwar - Ankola - Gokarna - Honnavar - Gersoppa - Taalguppa - Shimoga - Bhadravati - Tumkur - Bangalore. Stopped at the outskirts of Gokarna for lunch, stopped at Jog for few clicks, stopped at Bhadravathi for snacks and tea and reached home by half past one in the night. Yeah our journey from Bhadravathi was slowed down by a great extent due to darkness, road repairs and Indian's road sense.