It has been months since the last post and a lot has happened in my life since then. It is time that the posts must continue, once more!
Let me take you all to Kelwa Beach at Palghar, Maharashtra. About 100 km out of Mumbai is this beach on the western coast of the country. The route is quite scenic and both the driver and the rider would enjoy the route. Some twists and turns along the road, a wide road and some natural beauty to keep one company. Following the route using Google Maps is easy and hassle-free. The place is quite amazing for a one-day trip with friends. Come, have a look!
As with all beaches, do not forget to carry loads of water and sunscreen. Have a beach ball along and you shall be having quite a nice time out there. The beach is frequented by locals mostly and is generally peaceful.
Go on, have a good time! Until the next post.. Cheers!!
If you have read the previous post, you ll know that I made it to Hampi. An ancient kingdom capital which finds references since the epic Ramayana in the Hindu mythology. In the first day at Hampi, I walked about and went to the main temples around the place. Then, a little walk down to the Vitthala temple to visit the coveted stone chariots. With that, my day 1 was at an end.
The second day, I had a bicycle tour planned. The tour began at 0900h sharp at the Virupaksha temple. A temple tour and a history lesson later, we were on our way on cycles.
We stopped at the Kadalekalu Ganesha temple to observe the beauty of the carvings on the columns.
On the other side of the street is what used to be the market of Hampi also known as the Krishna Bazaar.
Past the bazaar and the temple across the road, we rode our cycles down the path to the Badavilinga temple and the Lakshmi Narsimha Temple.
Along the way, we stopped at a few places to have coconut water and a few ice golas, all very welcome due to the hot weather and the cycling across the terrain. One must always remember to stay hydrated!
Our subsequent stops were at the Queens Bath and the public bath. Honestly, neither were too impressive. Public bath was basically a stepped well, thats it.
Next up, our stop was the Lotus Mahal. The mahal was pretty, that’s for sure; what was more interesting is the ingenious way to keep the place cool. The walls are double layered and have a means to make water flow through them. So, as the air circulates, it looses heat to the water in circulation and keeps the inhabitants cool.
Our next stop was literally next door to the Elephants’ Stable. It used to be the royal stable for the procession and war elephants during their time of reign.
From here, we rode our bikes nearby to a quite place where we had lunch served to us. Homemade lunch comprising of rice, chapati, dal, tomato curry, cauliflower and potato curry and papads. Loved it. After riding the bicycle for hours, the food felt doubly tasty. Once we were done with refilling ourselves, we were en route to the Hazararama temple. Filled with intricate architecture, this temple depicts various scenes from the Ramayana, and that is how it derives the name, Hazara Rama (thousand Ram).
Once past the Hazara Rama temple. we parted ways, and returned back to the village. I went to sleep.
On the way back we stopped briefly at the Saasivekalu Ganesha.
Woke up in the evening to sporadic firecrackers bursting about, owing to Diwali.
It was fun to see the kids dancing about the firecrackers, felt happy and good 🙂
I was scheduled for a bus ride back to Mumbai next evening, so I went to bed quickly, for I wanted to go to the other side as quickly as I could and venture about a bit.
On the third day at Hampi, I took the ferry across the river Tungabhadra and rented a Honda Navi from the other side.
My itinerary had the Anjaneya Hill, the Sanarpur lake and the Hampi waterfalls.
En route there was a stream, in which there were ducks. Hundreds of them, and all were trying to swim upstream. Seemed like a ducks’ school of swimming.
It is quite amazing that how small the world is. At Hampi, while riding to Sanarpur lake, two wonderful ladies found me, a little confused of a turn and looking hither dither. The offered to help with the way to the lake, turned out, they were friends with some of old friends from college. Of the two, Akshita, is a gifted sketch artist. Do check out her sketches on her instagram profile.
Later I returned back to the hotel, for yet another bout of sleep.
The return journey was equally torturous worth of 15hours of bus journey. It was outright horrible and I hated every bit of it, but then, maybe it was just me.
My learning, Hampi is an amazing place to be and is a must visit. It is better if you visit with a friend, but then I met people who were solo camping on the banks of the river too. It takes at least 3 full days to travel around and explore the place. So, fix a time, and get there; you ll love it.
It had been long overdue, and a holiday was coming up too, so, without wasting much time contemplating, I made the necessary arrangements to get to Hampi.
Hampi, is a tiny village on the banks of the river Tungabhadra in Kartaka. It is famous for the ruins of the erstwhile Vijayanagar kingdom. There are ruins of temples, baths, forts, bridges, markets, etc, an entire township in ruins. A major appeal to the place, apart from the ruins and the endless opportunities to hike around, is the setting of the location. It appears to be a valley full of sand coloured boulders all around. There is a warm tone to the entire place, and it feels….cosy!
Getting to Hampi is not the easiest of jobs. It does not have a direct train, bus or flight connection. Hospet or Hosapet is the nearest well connected location, about 15 kms out. Auto rickshaws are available to ply between the towns. Trains are available from Mumbai, Goa and Bangalore. Bus connections exist, but they are long and tiring.
I took a sleeper bus from Mumbai, and it was the second most horrible bus journey in recent times. For about 15 hours, I spent rolling left and right and feeling dizzy. Reached Hospet in one piece, a little dizzy and hating bus travel to the core.
I will talk a bit about hotel bookings at Hampi. The place is divided into two major hubs, the Hampi village, and the Hippie Island. The village is on the mainland side, while the island, is across the river. You can find plenty of hotels and homestays on either side within your budget. The hotels in the village are simple and offer a more peaceful environment to stay in. Good for people who want some peace at night. The other side, is a different story all together. You can find a nightlife on the Hippie Island. Free flowing alcohol and puffs of smoke all around, a little party island! As I said earlier, depending on your budget, you can find accommodation almost any time of the year without much hassles. Most of the hotels operate on the Booking. com website so, do check that out. I made my booking at Kiran Guest House for two nights, and then extended for another. Kiran, the host, and his family was very welcoming and the stay was hassle free. He also made sure that there was an auto rickshaw waiting for me at the bus stop and also to drop me back. His is a no frills hotel, I recommend it. Within Hampi, getting around is easy. One can roam around walking, or on bicycles, which are readily available. Most of the temples are nearby.
Upon reaching Hampi, my day began with a nice long sleep. Woke up, strolled out famished. A place of choice is the Mango Tree Restaurant. I had omelette and bread and was off.
First stop, the Virupaksha Temple! It is the main temple of the place and dedicated to Shiva. Entry is free, camera chargeable. Inside, you can find Lakhsmi, the temple elephant, blessing people and posing for photos, having bananas, and doing other elephanty stuffs. There are a few Nandis around too to keep you company. One must also remember, that Hampi, is also known as Kishkinda. So, anyone who read Ramayana, would know, that Kishkinda used to be the capital of the monkey kingdom, so, you ll find a few of them there too.
Having visited the temple, I strolled out towards the Kadalekalu Ganesha. He is called so for he appears to have a peanut shaped belly. Grand and carved out of a single stone, Ganesha here is massive. One can see ruins of erstwhile jain temples around too. The setting is beautiful and peaceful.
Next, I turned towards the Vitthala temple. This temple is famous for the Stone Chariots of Hampi, which is widely found printed on the Rs. 50 note of the indian currency. En route, the Kings’ Balance and some other temples were also crossed.
After I was done with the trip to the chariots, I went to the nearby Matanga hill. The hill top is the highest point in Hampi and offers amazing panaromic view of the village. It is a view worth climbing the 600 or so steps.
Later, I returned back to my lodging and went to sleep. Next day, I had a bicycle tour of the place booked and I was going to need all the rest that I could get.
In this post, let me take you to the fields of my village. My village, Birati, is located in Hooghly district in West Bengal, India. Agriculture is still pretty much the mainstay source of income for the majority of the population out there.
I was there for a couple of days last month, and it was the beginning of the rice plantation season. So, here is what transplantation of paddy looks like. Transplantation is when the saplings of paddy are moved from the nursery where they germinate to the fields where they shall actually grow to become lush green paddy.
In about three months time, these fields will turn golden yellow and the rice plants shall be ready to be cut, sheafed, thrashed, and go on to become edible rice grains. That is also the time around Durga Puja, so, I will be in my village for the same. An update can be expected on this topic. Plus, posts with insights into a Durga Puja at a bengali household shall be up too.
I was at a noodle making workshop lately. While learning how to make noodles, some amazing photo opportunities did come up, and I shall share them here, in the next post. Stay tuned.
I had become quite restless at the lack of what I perceived as apt content for a blog post and it was making me jittery. A text out of the blue from dear old Subhanjana asking about Sassoon Docks was the best thing that happened a couple of days back. I realized that it had been more than a year, here in Mumbai, and I was yet to pay one of the largest fish market of the place and the first wet dock of Mumbai a visit. I called up Haldar if she would be interested to join in, and she was. So, Sunday was the planned day.
Information was that one must get to the docks as early as first light to get the fishing trawlers coming in and fishes being unloaded. Since, we had to travel by train and cab to the docks, we were late, and did not get those shots.
What we got were shots of the fishing auctions and the market, with all the chaos and hustle bustle. Enjoy.
As we were walking about taking photos, this lady in the following photos took interest in showing off her merchandises. She also showcased the octopuses. Live octopuses. We were quite excited 🙂
Sassoon Docks is also famous for the street art one can find in the location. It was the site for a street art exhibition in November, 2017. There is an art exhibition centre at the docks, which were not open when we were there, so, we shot the walls.
As we walked out of the place, I noticed a crow, flying with a fish in its mouth. Lens cap was off already. In one fluid motion, the camera was switched on, tracked the crow and let the continuous high mode fire.
Behold the result:
I am mighty impressed by the auto focus system of the Nikon D7200. Am yet to fully understand and use the 3D focussing system properly on the camera.
As we got to Churchgate station, a piece of art caught my eye.
Apparently similar installations shall be done in other stations too. That shall be something to look forward to.
A sequel of this post shall follow soon with Haldar’s shots!
Recently, I and three of my friends, Manas, Ankita and Ritwik, we went to the amazing country of Vietnam. Detailed accounts of the planning, travel, places we visited, food we ate, what we liked, what we didn’t are typed down in the links below:
You can go through each of the above links or find them all at a glance by following this tag: A week in Vietnam.
There are a few things I wanted to add which I felt is necessary to be known to all the travellers who are planning to make the trip:
Plan early and plan meticulously. Go through every blog, website, journal and book that you can find and gather as much information that you can get.
Save money for the trip. Yes, Vietnam trip can be done on a shoestring budget, you never know what extra expense you may incurr or rather what new dress shall entice you suddenly. It is always good to have a certain amount of headroom.
Travel insurance is a must. No arguments whatsoever.
Book through tickets. Cant stress this enough. Book tickets which belong to a single airline. The booking must be point to point, say from Mumbai to HCMC. In case there is a need to change flights, and the journey is in parts, please make sure you have the Visa already. It becomes very frustrating when you have the boarding passes but cannot get past the immigration to transfer the luggage to the next flight.
Get a local sim. You may not need the calling facility, but to have internet is a blessing. Most of the places within the country has a good network coverage and speeds are decent.
It is generally a better deal to withdraw cash from the ATMs in Vietnam than to trade in USD at restaurants or jewellery stores.
You will need to pay USD 25 as visa stamping fee at your port of entry.
Do not give up on the opportunity to travel in the train in this country. The trains are smaller, so are the berths. The view is scenic. I can vouch for the Da Nang to Hue.
The Ben Thanh market at HCMC is pricey, the food is fine though. A must visit off course, maybe just to enjoy the place. Bargain, and bargain hard. Be ready to be hear “You handsome/pretty, I give you best price…xyz dongs”.
Despite being pricey, the collection in this place is damn impressive.
Try your best to transact in VNDs. Every time you transact in USD, you lose out some value.
Be careful of the notes. The denominations have a lot of zeros. Mostly the shopkeepers return or point out the correct denomination if you are paying excess or less.
The paper cut out cards are really interesting.
Veg food is rare. Chicken is scarce. Pork and beef galore.
Banh Mi is a lifesaver. Pho is bland, to a Bengali palate at least.
Pack carefully; for south of the country is warm and cosy, while the north is chilly and grey.
It is a beautiful country, Vietnam and I suggest you do visit it. Respond in the comments if there is any thing that you would want to enquire about.
It was effectively the last day at Hanoi, for the next day, we would fly back home.
Our day began, yet again with the tour bus picking us up from our AirBnb and we were happy to know that we were headed to Ha Long bay. Our back up plan was Ninh Binh province.
En route, we crossed the Red River and realized that kids, in both our country and theirs, are absolutely same. They get excited to see a bus full of foreigners always 🙂
Now, as we were closing in on the coast, we could see the isles at distance and it was very beautiful! Honestly, it felt very much out of the world.
Soon, we were at the dock, which looked more like a transit station, with people bustling all about. Our tour guide kind of herded us to our boat. As soon as we were seated, we were underway and lunch was served.
Lunch included eggs, chicken, squid, prawns, potatoes, rice rolls and a full fish. Accompanying these was a bowl full of sticky rice and some condiments.
Now, that we were well fed, we moved to the upper deck of the boat to take in the views and we were amazed. The islets rising out of the bay, hundreds of them and some even had caves.
As we cruised on, we approached an encircled area within the bay where there seemed to be a floating jetty of sorts.
On that floating jetty, it turned out to be a hub for kayaking or guided boating. Now, neither of us had ever done kayaking, and when offered with the prospect of kayaking, I and Ritwik were beyond ready, immediately. Ankita and Manas were hesitant, but since a boat would take 4 people, and the two of us had left them on the jetty and were donning our life vests already, they got themselves a kayak too. It seemed very easy to kayak, you pedal, you move, simple. Except it was not. Instead of us taking a turn and going towards the caves, we were moving towards the open sea, unable to turn left or right. Finally, we realized that we were horrible kayakers and pedalled back to the jetty. The men took pity on us and let me and Ritwik to the boats. In the meantime, Ankita and Manas, also first timers, had proved that they understood physics better and were already kayaking away to glory.
Boating on the emerald green waters of the Ha Long bay was nothing short of a cinematic sequence.
There were collective ooohs and aaaahs as we crossed the caves with limestone karsts and we spotted Ankita and Manas, happily kayaking away.
We went about boating for some more time and then headed back, on towards the limestone caves.
The limestone caves with their stalactites and stalagmites all about, was eerie and it fueled our imaginations.
The views within and from the top of the hill were just amazing.
We had booked the tour after extensive searches on TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet websites and came across many wonderful options, including this one Halong Bay luxury day tour, which turned out to be quite interesting.
I thank Ankita for being steadfast in her orders to go to Ha Long Bay, no matter what! Glad we carried it out 🙂
That evening, after we were back, we went back to the streets near the Hoan Kiem lake and got sloshed. Tottering, we made our way to a tiny shop, which was closing down, and asked for food. The guy had two options, a roasted quail soup or a beef jerky salad. We took one of each type and wolfed them down. Honestly, they tasted horrible!
We had our taxi booked, and the next day, we flew out of Hanoi!
With this, our tour of Vietnam came to an end. It was an amazing experience and a welcome break from the daily grind back home.
In the next post, I shall do a quick recapitulation of the places, and also thrown in the learnings from the trip.
Apologies for being away for so long, the previous weeks had been hectic.
Anyway, we reached Hanoi on the noon of 5th of April, 2018. We met an amazing Portuguese couple in the airport and they suggested we take the bus to the Old Quarters. So, we boarded the bus number 17 (bus number 7 also takes a similar route) for a ride which dropped us close to our place, a lovely AirBnB located on the Hang Ma road in the Hoan Kiem district.
That evening, we just strolled around the place, enjoying an occasional Banh Mi with a Bia Ha Noi. The street 9 Ta Hien is a an amazing place to be. Foodie’s paradise and you shall be spoilt for variety.
We were excited about the next day, for we were scheduled to go the amazing Ha Long Bay.
The weather next day was gloomy as the tour bus came to pick us up. There were chances of rain, and by the time we made it to the halfway point between Hanoi and Halong, news arrived that it was too dangerous to go to sea. So, we turned back. Apparently, this happens quite often, and we blessed our lucky stars that we had planned the trip on the first day at Hanoi, we still had the next day to take a shot. If a situation like this happens with you, make it a point to talk to your booking agent so that an alternate may be arranged.
Once back in the city, we found no reason to waste any time by not sightseeing within the city. Leaving Ankita and Manas lounging back home, scheduled to join us in some time, I and Ritwik went out on foot.
There is a Train street in Hanoi, which is basically a train crossing right in the middle of the city, with houses very close to the track.
We had our customary Banh mi, yet again, and were headed towards the Hoan Kiem lake.
The lake sits in the middle of the crowded city, with buildings on the banks and people thronging all about. Despite the bustle, there is a sense of calm and peace near the lake. Within the lake, is the Turtle Tower.
Next up we made our way to the famous Opera House. This is a grand French opera house in the city centre, which was commissioned in the early 1900s and is still in operation.
A short walk ahead, took us to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a grand building in memory of the country’s leader Ho Chi Minh. Right beside the mausoleum is the museum, which we could not go in to.
Somehow, I am not getting the actual photo of the pagoda, so, making do with a paper cut-out pop-up model’s photo of the same. These pop-up models were available in plenty in the night market street.
Now, it was getting dark, so we decided to meet up near the lake. We took an Uber to the night market on the way, which turned out to be a long street, where almost everything is up for sale, from apparels to jewellery to food and the market culminated at the lake.
Soon, we met up and were trying to find a decent place to have dinner, when we heard the unmistakable music of the song Despacito. We followed the music, and found this.
He had a small team on a synthesizer and drums to back him up and he played around effortlessly to a crowd. Since we had nothing else to do, and were quite enjoying the music, we stayed there for more than an hour listening.
We found some banh mi yet again, and wrapped up for the day.
For the ones who want to explore the city, wandering around is a way to go. For the more structured ones, Hanoi Walking tour may be the easier way.
The next day, would be our shot at going to Ha Long bay.
The next day, our itinerary was clear, get to the Imperial Citadel, have a tour of the place, get to the airport, and fly away to Hanoi.
So, we hopped on our bikes and made for the citadel. Getting to the citadel was simple and easy. The signposts are ample, and the maps are easy enough to follow. An entrance fee of VND 150k / pax is present, which includes the Royal Antiquities Museum within the citadel.
There is a huge courtyard within the citadel, which has the massive flagpost we had seen the previous night, right opposite the main entrance.
Within the citadel, are the old palaces, a museum, numerous gates and loads of places to walk. Honestly, I was not vastly mesmerized by the place.
The gates had nice carvings though, and Manas did get a nice photo 🙂
The place seemed to be frequented by school children.
The place is huge, and needs patience to go through each of the buildings and read all the plaques. Patience and time were something which we didn’t have then. Ritwik went in to look at the museum, while the three of us found shade and rested.
Later, we got to the airport and were on a flight to Hanoi. We were excited for Hanoi as a city, as we had read, was amazing…and then there was Ha Long Bay.
We arrived at Huế in the afternoon. As we made our way out of the railway station, we noticed the absence of Uber in the area. So, we settled for USD5 for a Toyota Innova to carry us with our baggage to the Serene Shining Hotel. The hotel was quite a nice one, with rooms facing the river. But, we did not have time to enjoy the views from the hotel, for we were already late for the day’s plan.
Huế has a lot of tombs scattered all over the place and the imperial citadel as its main attraction. There is also a bridge, Truong Tien Bridge, on the Perfume river, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel. Now, the problem was that all the tombs and temples and pagodas close for the day by 1700h, and it was about 1600h already. We decided to skip the tombs all together, and went directly to the Thien Mu Pagoda.
We had hired a couple of bikes for us, cost us USD 25 for 24h. Fuel extra. So, Ritwik and Ankita were on one bike, while Manas and I followed them. The roads are wide, clean and people seem to follow the traffic rules here better than Hanoi. So, without any scare or incident, we made it to the pagoda. It was beautiful, peaceful and serene.
Since we were in no hurry, we spent quite some time there. While Manas and Ankita sat on the stairs of the pagoda, listening to distant chants from boats on the river, I and Ritwik were experimenting with long exposure shots of the gates of the pagoda.
Then, some time later, as the dusk had passed and night descended, we rode our bikes on the way back. Agenda, to take shots of the Truong Tien Bridge.
On the way we passed the citadel, which has a huge flagpost and a gigantic Vietnamese flag fluttering in the wind. Looked nice. Took a shot 🙂
In my opinion, the best view of the Truong Tien bridge will be from the parallel, Phu Xuan bridge with a wide angle lens, 18mm-ish. Since the parallel bridge was under renovation, we chose a park kind of place, between the bridges on the citadel side bank and set up our cameras.
I found the results quite satisfying. To watch the water of the river turn into a mirror and to get the glittery lights with starbursts, I was happy.
We had our daily dose of Banh Mi for dinner, and rode our bikes back to the hotel. Be aware, in the evening, you will find men on bikes, come at you with offers of girls, marijuana and cocaine. Tread carefully. The Phú Hội district of Huế is a hotspot for tourists, with numerous bars and backpackers hostels all around.
Next day, we would be off to the citadel. But for now, a couple of beers and a good night’s sleep was on the charts!
By now, we were getting the hang of the country by a tiny bit, the people felt more approachable, and the beer felt much more palatable. Our next destination was the imperial city of Huế. All about the city and its sights, that ll come in the next post, but this time, let me tell you about the journey.
From Hoi An, there are two budget and recommended ways to get to Huế, take the bus or the train. You can always hire a motorbike, join a bike tour or hire a private car for the journey. This website, I Love Hue Tour is a good source of the information and one can never plan a trip without active use of Seat61. We took the comfortable way out, and booked ourselves a coupe in the soft sleeper in the SE2 train, which runs from HCMC to Ha Noi. The coach was air conditioned, and quite comfortable. Not the Indian trains’ first class type comfortable, but good enough; a bit cramped though. For a travel time of about 3 hours, we had each paid 1600 INR. We may have had a thought to grumble about the cost, but it was laid to rest within the first 15 minutes of the journey.
The entire route of the journey is through the hills, which hug the coastline. The view was amazing. The train chugs along slowly enough to take photos all the way. The aisle is generally filled with tourists and locals alike, taking in the sights and clicking away happily. I was no exception to this 🙂
The views continued to keep us mesmerized, spaced with dark spells through the numerous tunnels.
Soon we had reached plain land, and it felt very much similar to train journeys back home. Rolling fields with paddy, men and women working, etc.
And then, all of a sudden, we were in Huế. So, we picked our bags, and hopped off!
All about Huế, coming up shortly in the next post.
After we were back, we had just crashed into our beds, tired and exhausted. We had planned to go to the beach, the An Bang beach. When we woke up, twilight was fast fading. So, we quickly got on our bicycles, and rode for about 4 kms to the beach.
We paid 30000 VND per bicycle as parking fees and went in. It was dark by then, and we could see lights of far away ships near the horizon. There were deck chairs on the beaches, and it seemed that they were free to use. We sat there for some time, and were hungry. A hour and a Banh Mi later, we were ready to leave.
As we were retrieving our bicycle, Ankita noticed that here phone was missing. She had put it in the cycle’s basket an instant earlier and now it was gone. We started searching for it desperately everywhere. Our primary suspect was the attendant, who had suddenly turned deaf and mute! We glared and growled at him, and bared our teeth, and he slithered away to a hidey hole. Ritwik followed him, came back victorious with the phone. We made a swift exit out of the area to avoid any such risks any more.
We crossed into the old town soon, and it was just wow! Lights all around, lamps, lanterns, LED lights. Best bit, no vehicles. We parked our bicycles beside the Japanese Covered Bridge and hit the streets.
Camera set on lowest ISO, long shutter exposures and deep apertures, I went about shooting.
Every other street had lamps in them lighting up the street. The shops had various happy hour offers and it was thronging with tourists and locals alike.
The Thu Bon river, now had multiple boats with tourists on board, rowing up and down. Some had the floating prayer lamps with them while some were simply enjoying the ride. Ritwik and I got interested in the long exposure opportunities while Ankita and Manas went ahead to a nearby museum.
Now, it was almost 2100h and we were hungry too. So, we crossed the river and went to the other bank, where it was as if a carnival was on. All shops were glittering with lights, live music being played, food and ale galore. And then, the street which had every kind of food imaginable.
The other bank also gave a perfect shot of the Japanese Covered Bridge.
Promptly at 2200h, the lights went out and the music subsided and it was the end of a long day. We lingered back to enjoy the quite and calm atmosphere of the place for some time, and shot some more photos.
We reached back around 2330h to find the receptionist at our hotel fast asleep. Had to wake her up for the keys though, guess people sleep early in this side of the world. And, that is how our stay in Hoi An ended. Next day, we would leave Hue, via train! The journey would be something to look forward at.