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  A Day trip 

This was a day trip with my bestie. To one of the less, frequented site in the suburbs of Kolkata, Bakkhali. Known for its pristine beach, red crab islands, Fishing jetties, Mangrove and magnificent Islands. This is a must-visit for a weekend or maybe for a few more extra days if you fall in love with this place.

Our trip started early in the morning as we boarded a local train to Namkhana. The 3hour journey was an experience by itself. We communicated with daily passengers who travel long distances every day for a living. Seeing us fully armed with backpacks, scarves and dark glasses a few commuters thought we were Doctors on our way to the district for a Health camp. A bright sunny day, acres and acres of green lands flashing by the window. Farmers busy tending to their lands, women washing clothes in yellowish-green ponds and little children running along the train tracks, waving their hands with big smiles. My heart swells up seeing the innocence and simple life of people living just a few kilometres from a metro city. Unaware of the chaotic life back in the concrete city they enjoy every moment.

Bakkhali

As our train chugged to Namkhana, we were greeted by an immaculate, clean and organised train station. We had two options to cross the Hatania-Doania creek to reach the next milestone. One was by ferry and the other by road over the newly constructed bridge. We opted for a motorised locally made van which dropped us at Namkhana Bus stop. The local buses were quite regular and took 45 minutes to reach Bakkhali. The bus terminus is a mere 2 minutes from the beach. Being a weekday, the area looked calm and quiet with just a handful of local tourists.

We rested at a nearby food stall to have a relaxed lunch staring at the mighty ocean. The water seemed to be quite far away due to the tides and tourists were enjoying the warm summer breeze bathing in the sea. Rice and egg curry along with locally made ghugni garnished with onion and lime juice was our menu for lunch. After a quick lunch, we headed towards our next destination. When two women travel, can shopping be kept at bay? No……Plenty of stalls selling various knick-knacks and souvenirs made of seashells, corals and pearls were on display.

Frasergunj

A drive along the lanes and bylanes of Bakkhali made way to Frasergunj. Lined with huge windmills looming over little houses overlooking the sea. The windmills were strategically built to capture the strong sea breeze and convert it into precious electricity. Sir Andrew Fraser was far-sighted in discovering this part of the sea and developing it into a fishing community. The scenic Frasergunj beach looks surreal with fishing boats and nets lined on one side and food stalls on the other. A partially demolished house stands on the seashore lashed by the waves time and again. Trees growing out of the crevices of the cracks have witnessed many a tale. A group of local women were busy untangling the fishing nets and getting them ready for their men for the next catch. After spending a few “Aha” moments on the beach we proceeded to our next destination. The Fishing Harbour, at Frasergunj, managed by Benfish.

Frasergunj

The harbour was a hidden gem amidst the ocean. As we crossed the entrance lined by mangroves on either side, we witnessed a colossal affair. A huge number of trawlers had arrived to unload their catch after a week of sailing on a rough sea. The harbour looked ceremonial with tons of fishes being unloaded, shifted, segregated and stored for consumption. Inbetween our photo sessions I engaged a group of fishermen in an interesting conversation. The group returned to shore after 10 days of fishing on the high sea. They sounded happy for their catch was extremely lucrative, which would fetch handsome money. I parallelly figured a sense of insecurity and fear, as they did not have enough gadgets or systems in place.  Signalling system that can be used when in danger in the middle of the sea. The GPS, hooter and the emergency alarm system planted on the roof of the trawler seems to be defunct. Repeated complaints to the officials fetched no results.

Precious lives at risk!!

Frasergunj 1

Bright orange coloured crates with fishes in every shape and size were carried from the harbour to the cold storage after thorough segregation. As the trawlers poured tons of fishes in the harbour, more boats were waiting their turn to unload. A senior fisherman stepped into every boat in the harbour to ring a bell and blow a conch to offer prayers to the sea goddess.  The men were working hard and toiling their sweat for a better tomorrow and a brighter future. We crisscrossed several fishing villages which looked like images straight from the folk tales. Mud houses with a thatched roof, little granaries to store the harvest for the year, ponds covered with water hyacinth,  occasional fishes popping up the water body. Little munchkins running along with puppies and chicks and quickly lifting their loose knickers lest it falls off. Our next destination was Henry’s Island which is 15 minutes from the harbour.

 Henry’s Island

A beautiful little piece of paradise on earth with pristine white sand and aquamarine water. The Island starts with a mangrove on either side and a little park done up by the local authorities. The special draw of the island is the 162 water bodies that are used for Pisciculture using modern techniques. A drive through the many water bodies in a Toto was not only breezy and soulful but a treat to the eyes. The area was dotted with several species of colourful birds and insects which happily thrive in their natural habitat. It was interesting to witness that the water body for cultivating prawns was very different from the one that cultured Rohu or other local fishes. As we arrived, a ramp made way further inside which could be accessed only by feet. The entire area is enveloped by mangroves with occasional Hetal trees, which are planted exclusively to keep snakes at bay.

Henry’s Island

We crossed a little bamboo bridge and were greeted by a lush canopy of trees. The cool canopy further led to a serene and tranquil beach. Fine white sand, a calm sea and a watchtower guarding it all. A scene straight out of a Bollywood movie minus, the characters grooving to the latest numbers. It seemed like, a painter had used his best strokes to paint the sea with every shade of blue ranging from aquamarine to cerulean. As the bright sun was sliding down and turning to richer hues, we called it a day and proceeded homewards.

STD(sanchitas travel diary) rating – 4/5

It is highly recommended that travellers self drive the route from Chennai to Puducherry.  An extremely refreshing drive along the picturesque ECR. With the sea accompanying continuously on the left, like a guide till one reaches the destination. The different shades of azure blue sea with its many shades of blue ranging from pacific blue through cerulean to teal. The horizon seemed like a riot of colours. It was a splendid drive through the outskirts of Chennai traversing through the many villages with abundant greenery and foliage doing justice to the sultry summer.

Aurobindo Ashramam

With much gusto, I made a beeline to enter the Ashram. The Hero from Bengal, Rish Sri Aurobindo, decided to settle in Pondicherry after he quit politics. He awakened to his mission for a spiritual calling. The main building of Aurobindo Ashram has a tree-shaped courtyard that houses the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Immaculately arranged flowers are laid on the Samadhi every single day in a beautiful pattern. Spiritual seekers from all over the globe take a seat in front of the Samadhi to offer special prayers. After a brief glimpse of Rishi Aurobindo’s house, we headed for a soulful lunch at the dining room of the Ashram, where a nutritious and delicious lunch awaits the Ashramites every day. The Ashram proudly houses a printing press, candle factory, museum and a few other self-sustaining initiatives.

Matri Mandir

A visit to the famous Golden Globe, the Matri Mandir also called the soul of the city is highly recommended. This was the dream of the spiritual guru and his spiritual collaborator, the Mother. Though I arrived late at the venue, I missed the closing time at 12noon. The rule was that one had to stay at Auroville for 3 days to be able to enter the Matri mandir. With disappointment in my heart and braving the sweltering heat of May, I walked towards a Café’. While I ordered a refreshing lemonade, I narrated my agony to the owner. He immediately offered a helping hand. He got in touch with his friends and arranged for a stay in Auroville. In spite of the rigid rules, I managed to get through a resort owned by a French lady in the middle of Auroville.

The glittering golden globe was not yet open for the tourist back then. I was just about fortunate to manage an entry inside the globe, sheer luck, I must say. An ashramite taking care of the garden, led me through acres and acres of organic farm brimming with blooms. The globe was a looming structure and I was in awe staring at it. It took 37 years to build amidst a lot of toils. The twelve petals made out of terracotta bricks are coloured differently from the inside. These petals are actually meditation rooms. The room with blue interiors has walls and floor cushions of the same colour. The principle is that a certain colour can help trigger certain emotions within. Similarly meditating inside the red and the green room triggered other emotions and feelings. I was offered a fresh pair of white socks before I entered the inner chamber of the globe. It was huge and gave a sense of tranquil peace. The inner chamber is painted white with a magnificent crystal seated right at the center of the hall. Right above the crystal is an opening on the roof, through which sun rays fall directly on the globe to reflect its glorious light within the chamber. People gather here to meditate in pin-drop silence. After a soul satiating meditation session, I stepped out of the Matri Mandir speechless, as if I was still in a state of trance. I thanked the gentleman for offering us a lifetime of an experience, where I encountered purity, peace and solace.

The amphitheatre beside the globe has an urn in the centre, which is of great significance. Spiritual seekers from 124 nations and 23 Indian states have got soil from their respective land to fill the marble-clad urn.

The stay@ Auroville

I was enamoured to see my abode, which I would call my home for the next couple of days. It was like love at first sight. The courtyard had a  huge canopy of a banyan tree with rooms surrounding it. It had a thick jungle spanning across acres of land with independent rooms dotted across. My room was surrounded by greenery all around.  Everything little thing in the room was naturally and organically derived. Solar-powered fans and lights, handmade soaps, shampoos and toiletries. Curtains, bed sheets and linens were all handmade at Auroville by fellow Ashramites. A self-sufficient model town !! Furniture, stationaries and cutleries, all handmade and reeked of love and affection with which it was crafted. The resort had an open-air restaurant under the banyan tree with aerial roots dangling from above on which were tied colourful Origami. Rattan furniture for seating, stone-carved figurines, brass statues of deities was offered fresh hibiscus straight from the garden. Scrumptious food was prepared, garnished and served by a French lady all by herself. An all-vegetarian affair never tasted so good. Food that was nutritious and simple yet so delicious and refreshing.

Walk or ride

The locals use either bicycles, scooters or battery operated cars which are environment-friendly. In an endeavour to conserve energy and save the planet, Auroville has taken up nature-friendly ways and means for day to day life. I commuted in a cycle within Auroville to stay true to their philosophy. I fondly remember the stretch of road smelling of freshly baked bread and cakes, No wonder I discovered a French bakery around the corner. They too believed in using organic and fresh produce to make fresh bakes. An array of bread, pastries, patties, cakes and mouth-watering confectionaries quickly went into my shopping bag. My next halt was at the local museum, which had a breathtaking collection of sculptures from the Pallava and the Chola dynasty along with sculptures and images of various forms of Buddha.

The French colony

Puducherry is dotted with Colonial buildings. Palatial houses in typical French and Portuguese architecture. Villas with huge yellow or blue walls outlined with white borders, bright and colorful graffiti on the walls. People from diverse background, age, country and religion reside here in harmony. They seem to be happy with a basic lifestyle. The only thing they crave is the spiritual quotient, knowledge and humanistic values. This is a place where people from every country, creed, religion and age stay harmoniously contributing constructively towards oneself and society.

Gastronomy at Puducherry

Puducherry has an amalgamation of many cultures woven into one. Though the city is high on French culture, which is very vivid in its spread of French styled restaurants. Italian, Portuguese and Indian cuisines are in popular demand too. Most of the restaurants get filled by early evening by foreign tourists making merry with friends and family. Interesting theme cafes and restaurants, open-air cafes, terrace restaurants, ethnic décor with seating under the tree, old bungalows partially renovated and converted to a restaurant makes one feel cheerful and glee.

Being born in Chennai, it was nostalgic to have Chettinad food at Appachi after two decades. The sumptuous South-Indian food, not only filled my satiety but also my soul. Authentic Chettinad food served by affectionate staff dressed in local attire in copper wares brimming with lip-smacking delicacies, food did travel to my stomach through my heart this time too.

Good life

Every tourist venturing into Puducherry is assured to have a good time. For there is a beach, fine dining restaurants, places to shop and a lot of interesting places to visit. Hidesign one of the leading leather showroom has its flagship store by the sea. Dilip Kapoor, who had started his venture with leather accessories as a hobby, had initiated his entrepreneurial journey from Puducherry and is now a household name worldwide.

Beach at Pondicherry

Unlike other beaches in India, the beach here is extremely clean with locals taking good care of their surroundings. I hit the promenade at night for a stroll post-dinner to enjoy a lovely summer breeze. It was like a lullaby post-dinner,  which could put anybody to sleep. With music in the car, sipping a strong cuppa coffee and the sound of waves lashing against the shore I rolled the window to call it a day.

This article will envelop everything you wanted to know about Gamcha

The pride of a quintessential Bengali is a Gamcha.

Gamcha, a typical red colour, coarse, pure cotton, checkered towel, generally handed over from one generation to another with elan. Every Bengali visiting Puri during the summer vacation comes back with a dozen gamuchas as souvenirs to be gifted to family and friends with pride.

Every balcony or terrace in north Kolkata is adorned with a lineup of gamchas of various hues. A little boy in Kolkata is born with a gamcha wound delicately around him. On a hot and sunny Sunday, the men of the house laze around the home in their most comfortable attire, the gamcha (what in case of a wardrobe malfunction).The fabric provides unmatched natural air condition and with repeated use gets much softer and cosier. The boy reaches puberty adorned in a gamcha and enters manhood with pride. This little piece of an asset has borne the test of time.

Multiple uses of a gamcha

Any and every traditional occasion in a Bangali household demands a Gamcha, the soft cotton towel. A Bengali wedding, which is a much sought after occassion, out of several customs Subho Drishti is the most vital one, where the bride covers her eyes with two betel leaves while entering the chadnatala (the arena where the marriage takes place). Post the exchange of garlands, one end of the bride’s Sari is tied to the groom’s dhoti with lo and behold, a gamcha!!

A farmer or a villager’s friend, the humble gamcha accompanies him from morning to night. Right from the time he wakes up and has his morning cuppa the gamcha is snuggly held on his able shoulders. He starts his day with the multipurpose gamcha tied as a turban and walks towards the field. He sweats and toils in the little patch of land which only the gamcha is a testimony. After a few morsels of rice, Raghu yearns for a princely siesta under the peepal tree spreading out his humble gamcha to ease his spraining neck.  

I am sad to say that the gamcha is on its way to extinction with an array of colourful fluffy towels to compete.

There should be a protest to preserve and conserve the Gamcha culture of Kolkata!!

We shall overcome….the Pete Seeger way…….

Here I am going to share with you the best things to do in Bali.

Bali is considered to be one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. Its sun-kissed pristine beaches and lush green hills, offers the best of both the worlds. This gorgeous Island is dotted with temples, palaces and mansions constructed the most aesthetic way following Balinese Hinduism architecture. Bollywood and Bali have a strong bond. The locals are fascinated with Indian cinema, Hindi daily soaps and are crazy about Indian movie stars.

Century-old temples like Tanah Lot, natural caves, rice terrace, exotic seafood, water sports at Nusa Dua, climbing Mount Batur, sipping on exotic coffee and walking along Kuta for a hurried last minute shopping. There is so much to explore in Bali for creating a bag full of unforgettable moments.  

Here is a list of the best things to do in Bali:

  1.   Culture vulture– Bali is known for its dance, drama and sculpture as it has a rich cultural heritage dating back to the 8th century with a major influence of Hindu mythology. Out of the various Balinese dance forms, the Kecak dance performed by a band of men folk using the word,” Kecak” non-stop is a jaw-dropping experience. The Balih Balihan dance form can be witnessed in the numerous cultural shows along with Barong and Legong dances. Interior designers from all over the globe throng to certain areas of Bali for their intricate creativity on different mediums. Local Balinese artisans carve sculptures out of wood and stone giving them a realistic look with thorough detailing.

 

  1.    Temple run – Visit a temple to claim your blessings.

Bali is embellished with temples and religious places where Hindu deities like Lord Ganesha, Lord Rama and goddess Sita are worshipped with much fervour. Temples like Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Ulun Darun Beratan, Pura Kehen and Pura Tirtha Empul receive numerous visitors daily to offer prayers. The temples are set amidst mindboggling landscape like the Tanah Lot is on the shore of the ocean where visitors stay back to experience the majestic sun setting at the backdrop enveloping the universe in a warm orange hue. While the other temples have looming gateways leading on to lavish courtyards with magnificent gardens and lotus ponds. Remember to wear a sarong before entering a temple.

 

  1.   Life on a beach – A call to all the beach bums and water sports lovers.

The island of Bali lying between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is enveloped by magnificent beaches and breathtaking Seascapes. Beach bums enjoy the best of the scenic beauty of Kuta beach, relish a candlelit dinner savouring exotic seafood on Jimbaran beach and enjoy the play of sun and shade lashing against the shores of Canggu and Legian beach. Best things to do in Bali beaches is to indulge in adrenaline gushing moments doing Jet ski, banana boat, Jet pack and snorkelling at Nusa Dua, Tanjung Benoa, Sanur or Ayung river Ubud.

 

  1.    Rice terrace – Cascading rice fields along the hillocks of Bali have featured in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites due to its traditional way of agriculture in the most picturesque setting. One of the best things to do in Bali is to relish a local meal sitting amidst the lush green rice terraces in a Balinese villa and cherish the bounty of nature amidst the rolling mountains. There is a certain sense of mystic tranquillity about these rice terraces which attract nature lovers and spiritual seekers on equal footing. The rice terraces of Jatiluwih, Tagallalang, Munduk and Soka fields offer the most strikingly beautiful picture postcard moments.

 

  1.    Local food – A taste of the food life

Bali spells of exotic food dished out to different cuisines. One of the best things to do in Bali is to sample the local dishes like Nasi Goreng, Nasi Campur, Bebek and Ayam Betutu, Satay, Jimbaran seafood and local desserts like Klepon and Bubur sumsum all washed down by litres of Bintang limon beer. The Beer in BALI is to kill for don’t forget to have as much as you can (BINTANG LIMON TO BE PRECISE).Vegetarians don’t lose your heart, Bali offers an array of local food for the plant eaters too. Try your spoon and fork on Nasi Padang, Gado-Gado or Tempe Goreng. Mega green coconut water is sold on the beaches to quench the midday thirst and the tasty coconut meat is served as an exotic dessert in many restaurants. Sample a dinner on the beach with live barbecue counters and grills with traditional culture shows in the backdrop. The costliest coffee in the world, Luwak coffee is cultivated with pride in this part of the world visit a coffee plantation to witness the process of cocoa and coffee making.(To know more read my article on Luwak coffee- costliest coffee in the world)

 

  1.    Nightlife – A little party never killed anybody

A country with strong spiritual inclination also offers myriad nightlife to the guests gallivanting their land. Bali is high on clubbing and party where places like Kuta, Seminyak and Legian go wild after its dark. The place transforms into a lively and happening place with DJs churning out chartbusters and gigs by bands performing the hits of the ’60s to ’90s through hi-tech music systems. The best thing to do in Bali to wrap a night is to sip on local beer which is smartly priced along with some exotic seafood humming Elvis Presley.

 

  1.    Shopping – Buy it in Bali or cry later

Travel bugs shopping for souvenirs or shopaholics looking for the best bargain, it is all there in Bali to suit your pocket. Fill your suitcase with Organic herbs, high-quality tea, cold pressed aroma oil, wooden knick-knacks, masks and Buddhas. Kuta has lanes and bylanes of shops selling dream catchers of every hue, garments and mementos for that friend awaiting your arrival.

If you have already been to Bali, let me know about the best things that you did.

Remember to post your comments, I’ll be waiting for your valuable inputs.

Wondering which is the right shoe to buy, for your next vacation?

Here is a comprehensive guide for the shoe you must don on your next trip.

Every destination requires different sets of the shoe. Sneakers, wedges, flip flops, mules or loafers.

Read this article to pick the right pair for a perfect vacay.

  1.     Up in the mountains

If your destination is towards the mountains, then you need to pack a pair of sturdy sneakers. It will help endure a comfortable walk uphill. Canvas shoes or trainers can do justice during the day when one needs to walk long hours. A pair of Chelsea boots or ankle boots are just perfect for that cosy dinner in some remote restaurant perched on a hilltop.

  1.     loafing around the beach

Flip flops are synonymous with beaches. Fancy, colourful flip flops give that summery feel and is easy on the feet while walking on sand. Don’t forget to pack a dainty ballerina or wedges for that late-night party, matching with the Little Black Dress.

  1.    City tour

A city tour demands a pair of comfortable yet robust shoes. One needs to have happy feet as a city tour involves walking long hours. From the tallest tower to museums, chocolate factories to zoological gardens, a pair of sneakers never betrays, treat it as your pal.

  1.    Snowfall

The only way to brave a destination prone to snowfall is to don a pair of snow boots. While a rubber snow boot will keep the moisture at bay, a fleece trimmed snow boot can keep your feet warm. Remember to pack fluffy winter booties to wear indoor while cosying up near the fireplace.

 

  1.    Adventure trip

A trip planned for adventure sports, camping, trekking, water sports, hiking demands a pair of athletic shoes.  A pair of branded trekking boots can help you reach the pinnacle with ease. Trainers and sneakers are good to keep your feet comfortable and supple even after a hectic, fun-filled day.

  1.     Visiting Religious places

Religious places, especially in South-East Asian countries, requires to enter the Sanctum Sanctum bare feet. Thus remember to wear shoes that can be easily removed and worn again. Sandals, clogs, flip flops and boat shoes are ideal wear for temple hopping.

  1.    Historical places

Most historical places demand long queues, waiting periods, walks and uneven terrain. It may also be hot during the summer months if the place of visit is outdoor. Slip-on walking shoes, lightweight canvas shoes or foam bed sneakers, for they could be good choices for day time wear.

  1.    Long flights

Long flights and connecting flights ask for everything light and comfortable. Sneakers, soft Moccasins, loafers or flat sandals are the choices at the airport.  For an easy swirl at the coffee shop, a quick break at the loo, a walk down the duty-free shops or just to raise your happy feet for that quick nap your feet will thank you for the choice.

 

       For the vagabond, the nomad at heart a pair of lightweight yet sturdy sneakers can take them across oceans. They proudly don the sneaker from morning to night traversing the globe with might. From a city tour to a gondola ride, trekking uphill to a candlelight dinner on the beach, they carry it with elan and pride.

Hope you enjoyed reading the article.

What kind of shoes do you wear when you travel? Post your comments here.