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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hill Stations In India – Cool Places To Visit In Summer!

There are many popular hill stations in India that are really cool places to visit in the summer. Ranging from North India to South India and East to West, each region has their own picturesque hill station to choose from. Kashmir has some of the most beautiful hill stations in the world like Srinagar, Gulmarg and Sonmarg.

I have been to quite a few of these hill stations in the North and South of India; namely :- Shimla, Kasuali, Dalhousie, Mussoorie, Munnar, Kodaikanal, Ooty, and Mahabaleshwar. Each place has its own unique features and beauty that cannot be compared to any other. And due to their high altitude by virtue of their being located in the top of the mountain ranges stretched all across the Indian terrain, they offer cooler temperatures and so are really pleasant to visit in the summer. The British cleverly recognized this feature of the hill stations and were quick to establish them as their summer capitals during their Raj in India.

 Himachal Pradesh

Most of the hill stations have beautiful tea gardens (specially in the south and east of India) which stretch for miles all along the face of the mountain ranges. They are absolutely breathtaking and make the mountains look green. You will be able to see the local women busy plucking the leaves of the tea plants with a basket tied to their backs. It is very refreshing to be away from all the hustle and bustle of the city traffic and life and enjoy the quiet and peace of the hills. There are plenty of hill resorts where one can book accommodation in advance to enjoy the holiday without any hassles or tensions.

Himachal Pradesh - The Mall Road, Shimla.

Another attractive feature of getting to some of these hill stations are the special trains provided by the Indian Railways. They are just like toy trains but a lot of fun to travel in the mountains to view the scenic beauty on the way there. It may take longer than other conventional methods (by air or road)of getting there, but you will miss all the fun and excitement of the journey. Kids will absolutely love this ride. Some of the special luxury trains worth traveling in are: The Royal Orient Express, The Palace on Wheels, The Deccan Odyssey.

 Tea Gardens of Munnar, Kerala.  
Source of image:

Once you have reached your destination there are lots of activities that one can indulge in to keep you busy. Start with sight seeing the place including all the important landmarks. There will be trekking spots if you like to take a walk in the nature, along with mountain climbing. Some hill stations, for eg. Kodaikanal and Mahabaleshwar, have a lake nearby offering water sports activities like motor boats, water scooters, paddle boats or even row boats. Most of the places offer horse riding activity, so you can gallop away on the roads of the hills. 

Toy Trains
 Image sourced from:

Every hill station has some unique feature of their own and so one can also indulge in shopping for curios or mementos to take home as fond memories of the place. Mahabaleshwar is famous for its strawberries and so you can get all kinds of jams, pickles, sauces, ice creams or plain straw berries to take home. There are even special summer camps organized in some of these places that can be booked in advance. Or, if you are the adventurous sorts, take your own camping gear and live out in the wild, although you need to be careful of wild animals as some of the places are real forests and home to tigers or leopards etc. So do find out if it is safe to camp in the area. 

Ropeway at Mussourie
Image sourced from:

Some hill stations have rope ways to go to a place that is at a higher altitude, for eg. in Mussoorie. The place on top is like a Mini-Market and has shops for all kinds of things, and the most popular of them being the magic shops. Yes, you can buy magic tricks (they will show you how to do them) and amuse your friends with them at home.

Hill stations have become a popular retreat for tourists (Indian and Foreign) during the summers. Definitely the best place to be in!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beyond Sula Vineyards Hotel Resort - Weekend Getaways From Mumbai

The summer vacations were looming ahead, in the month of may, with the prospect of a whole month of heat and nothing much to do. We had already been to all the nearby places, where one could drive for a holiday, places like Mahabaleshwar, Ganapatiphule, Alibaug, Lonavala, Khandala and even Shirdi. So, where could we go next? A friend suggested that we try out the Sula Vineyards at Nashik. That sounded pretty interesting since it seemed quite nearby promising a good enjoyable drive and also offering something new that we had never seen before, namely a vineyard.

We checked out their website and found out that they have a resort called "Beyond" at the vineyards where one could book rooms or even a three bedroom luxury villa for a comfortable stay. Well, not wasting much time, we went ahead and booked a deluxe room for ourself for two days and two nights. The package included all three meals and coupons for the tour to the Sula Vineyards and bottling factory followed by wine tasting. Sounded good to me!

We set off on Monday morning in our car from Thane taking the Nashik highway. The day was fortunately overcast with clouds, therefore making the drive very pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable for us. It didn't take us long to reach our destination, around three hours, inspite of stopping a few times to ask directions.

When we reached Beyond Sula Vineyards Resort, I really loved the location and the beauty of the place and the fact that it was isolated from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It looked very peaceful surrounded by the hills, the vineyards in front and a lake closeby. We were given the key to our room, which was situated at one end of the resort on the first floor. The resort had beautiful wine themed rooms, named after diferent varieties of grapes or Sula wines.

 We were just in time to have lunch at the Cafe Rose. The food was excellent with a good spread and variety for the vegetarians as well as the non-vegetarians. All the three meals that we had there subsequently were also good and worth it. The room was big enough to fit another bed for my son, with an attached bath and a balcony that overlooked the pool and the vineyard at the front of the hotel. The resort looked like a luxury hotel from every angle. They had a game room with a pool table, board games, and lots of reading material that you could take to your room and read at your leisure. They also offered free bicycles that you could take to drive around the hillside nearby or go down to the lakeside, which was not very far off. They also have a gym and a spa facility.

Obviously, I could not let the opportunity to use the spa go to waste. I got myself a good back and neck massage along with a footmassage. It was very relaxing and removed all the tensions from the muscles. The view from the balcony was very beautiful, as we could see the lake nestled below the hills in front and the sunset was absolutely breathtaking. There was a good breeze also blowing and so one can sit on the balcony sipping tea, coffee or even wine, that they had kept in the minibar. (of course, these extra items have to be paid for and are not included in the package).

In the evening, we took the bicycles and rode down to the lake. Going downhill was easy, but the climb back up to the resort was enough exercise for the leg muscles. Then we headed to the pool room to cool off and play some pool. Had a hearty dinner at night and retired to our rooms for a good sleep. Next morning, we lazed around while I had my massage at the spa and in the evening we went for the tour to the vineyards, which is situated about a kilometer from the resort. There they have the bottling factory for the Sula wines and also a kind of wine tasting restaurant on the first floor, where you can sit and enjoy the view of the vineyards while sipping on the wines and having some cheese crackers for snacks.

We learned a lot about the different types of wines, the different varieties of grapes and how wine is processed and bottled at the factory. It was fascinating. Later we were taken to the tasting room to taste their red and white varieties of wines. We also learned how one should taste wine and to differentiate between the different tastes. (Not that we had to be taught really)!

Apart from the factory and the vineyards they also have two restuarants at the place, an Italian and an Indian restuarant. Lttle Italy is a popular Italian restuarant chain that is a Mediterranian-style 50 seater set amongst the estate vineyards offering the visitors a very delightful and unique experience. Or you could visit the Soma, Indian Restuarant situated right next to Lttle Italy, where you can enjoy great food, wine and a warm ambience.

The two days and two nights stay was very pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable. Very relaxing and proved to be a good stress buster. The staff was very efficient and hospitable. The rooms were clean and very well ventilated and also beautifully decorated. It almost felt like living in a home away from home. Wouldn't mind going there again and again. Definitely a place that I would recommend as probably one of the best weekend getaways from Mumbai.

Original Article Posted on Xomba

Enjoy Para Sailing In Goa This Summer!

I know just the perfect stimulating and thrilling high flying adventure activity that your family will love to indulge in this summer: Para sailing in Goa. Goa is the perfect haven for all tourists in summer. There is plenty to do, see and "feel" and chill out too in Goa. The place has plenty of beaches to head to if you need to cool down by taking a dip in the Arabian Sea. The most popular beaches for the tourists in Goa are Calangute, Anjuna beach, Baga beach, Condolim beach, Majorda beach, Dona Paula beach, etc.

Enjoy the thrill and excitement of water sports activities at any of the beaches mentioned above. You can indulge in Para sailing, Windsurfing, Dinghy Sailing, Water-Skiing, Body boards, Motor-boats rides, Water-scooter rides, Snorkeling and Jet-ski rides. Not only this you can also indulge in Scuba diving, Canoeing and Fishing.

Beaches in Goa

Para sailing is an ideal sport to indulge in while in Goa, specially during the summers. The best time for this activity is between October-May. If you love the idea of flying high like a bird and looking at the world from the top, then this is a thrilling adventure sport for you. Para sailing is one of the best and the favorite amongst all the adventure lovers. Imagine yourself flying high on the Arabian Sea with clear blue skies of the summer, feeling the cool breeze against your face as you take in all the sights, from high up there, of the beach, the surrounding shores and coastline. Hey, don't you feel on top of the world? It's a real once in a lifetime experience.

Para Sailing in Goa

One can also get to spot Dolphins in the Arabian Sea from any of the above mentioned beaches. They usually swim in pairs and can be seen from quite close quarters. They even come quite close to your boat and swim alongside if you don't disturb them too much. There are boats that take you out to the sea for an hour or so for this activity. Kids just love to see Dolphins.

Para Sailing in Arabian Sea, Goa

Goa is a place that anybody would fall in love with in an instance. The local people (Goans) are very friendly and so very hospitable. The best place to chill out in Goa is at the beach. Of course, you need to be in good company, either with your friends, family or even by yourself. If you are alone, you will never feel lonely at the beach. Just chill out at one of the beach shacks with a cool drink of your choice along with some mouth watering appetizers and enjoy the scenery of the waves crashing on the sands, people enjoying in the water, beautiful women or handsome guys in their swim suits tanning themselves on the beach chairs under the colorful umbrellas.

Spotting Dolphins in the Arabian Sea, Goa

Sit around long enough to watch the sunset and take in the sights and smells of the sea and food. Goan food is excellent to taste and so if you visit Goa then don't forget to indulge yourself in the culinary delights of Goan Cuisine. You get delicious sea food at any of the beach shacks restaurants that are simply delightful.

Goa is a beach paradise. The perfect place and an ideal destination to spend your holiday in the summer. It is a perfect place for Swimmers, anglers, sunbathers and water sport enthusiasts, for whom the coastline will seem like heaven. Goa is surrounded with greenery due to its lush forests of coconut trees, mango trees, cashew trees etc, and so it is very refreshing to drive around the countryside in a two wheeler or a four wheeler, if you have driven down, say from Mumbai or a similar place close to Goa. Most tourists (foreign) just hire a two wheeler and drive around to explore all the places in Goa.

Sunset on the Beach, Goa

I personally love to visit Goa whenever I can. I love to sit in one of the beach shacks and watch other people having fun while I indulge myself in some delicious sea food appetizers and a cool drink. The best time to visit Goa is also during Christmas time. That's the time when all the people are in a festive mood and the streets are lit up with lights. It is an exhilarating experience to take a boat cruise down the Mandovi river at this time as the shores are all brightly lit. There are also Casino boats that go out on a cruise on the river while you are busy floundering and gambling away all your money.

Come to Goa and experience the warmth and hospitality of the place and the people. You will remember this experience for the rest of your life and will always want to come back for more...!

A Plea - Stop Polluting The Andaman Seas!

I have just returned from a very exciting, thrilling and enjoyable trip to the Andaman Islands. As we had only 6 days at our disposal we were able to visit only a few of the islands and Port Blair.

There are a lot of foreign and Indian tourists who visit the Andaman Islands for a holiday or sight seeing. While some places are very strict about not polluting the sea and the beaches with plastic water bottles or polythene bags, I was shocked to see the Andaman sea flooded with water bottles all the way from the Port Blair (Aberdeen) Jetty to the Ross Island Jetty.

The sight of all those water bottles bobbing up and down in the sea was very disheartening and a sore for the eyes. I really had a strong urge to jump into the water and collect all those bottles and bring them ashore, to clean up the seas.

The Andaman Sea water is very deep blue in color on a normal sunny day and the waters are crystal clear. It's a pity to see it being polluted this way by water bottles, which were obviously been thrown overboard from the ferries that went up and down between Ross Island and Aberdeen Jetty.

I was wondering why the authorities did not take strong action against these offenders who were responsible for this dastardly act. What are the Port authorities, environmentalists, fisheries department, Muncipal council authorities doing? Are they not aware of the waters being polluted? They could very easily impose a fine on anyone caught red handed throwing water bottles in this manner.

This is a strong plea to all those who are going to visit Port Blair or the Andaman Seas to STOP polluting the seas! And also to the concerned Government officials and authorities in Port Blair...Please Do something to stop this menace before it's too late..! SAVE OUR ENVIRONMENT!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Holiday in Andaman Islands - Day 5 & 6 Neil and Ross Island

(30th March 2009): After a relaxing morning at Havelock island, we checked out of our rooms after lunch and set off for the jetty to reach there by 2:00pm. We arrived well before the time of departure, 3:00pm so that we don't miss the ferry. We had asked the hotel reception to purchase our tickets for the ferry the day before and so we had no hassles to board the ferry. We realized that nobody gives out the real information regarding availability or booking of the boat tickets so that the agents can fleece money from you by asking exorbitant sums just to book your ticket for you. So my advice is, don't fall for these guys. All correct information is available at the ticket counter and you can book the tickets in advance contrary to what the agents are going to tell you.

The ferry departed on time and it took almost 2 hrs to reach Neil island. The journey on the boat was fun as we came out to stand in the open deck and could get cool breeze. We were served hot tea for Rs/-10, which was very good. No snacks though. Unfortunately, by the time we landed on the island, it was already time for sunset and so we did not get any time to see anything much on this island.

The sight of the beach next to the jetty was sad as there was a lot of rubbish and waste lying on the beach which sort of put us off. So far all the rest of the places had absolutely clean beaches. Anyway, we hired a taxi and asked him to take us to the Hotel, a government accommodation, which had only 5 rooms and all were booked. We dumped our bags in the room and asked the taxi driver to take us around wherever he could before it got dark.

He took us to a beach called "Sitapur" to see the sunset and made us walk quite a stretch of the beach right till the end. Basically, there was nothing much to see there. We did see the sunset and a few foreigners camping on the beach. See photos.

There are four popular beaches on Neil's Island, namely; Sitapur, Bharatpur, Laxmanpur1 and Laxmanpur2. Laxamanpur beach has some natural rock formations like a bridge which can be seen only during low tide and you need to walk a bit on the rocks to get there. There are also some natural caves on the other Laxmanpur beach, which also can be visited only during low tide. Then they make you walk in the shallow waters in Bharatpur beach to see the corals. Apart from that there really isn't much on this island to see. Unfortunately for us the tide was high all the time we were there.

Neil island has dense forest all around and very scarce population. It is a small island and so one can hire bicycles to roam around the place, from one beach to another. Though you need time to be able to do that. I personally would skip this island altogether from my itinerary. There were many other islands that we could have visited instead. Well, we did not waste much time here, had breakfast early next morning and took the first ferry at 8:30 back to Port Blair. The tickets for this journey are given on the ferry itself and so there is no need for advance booking. It took us another 2 hrs to reach Port Blair.

There we waited on the jetty for the boat to take us to Ross Island which is just opposite to Port Blair and is only 10 minutes away by boat. There was a naval hired boat that came specially to pick us up. We reached Ross Island at noon and in time for lunch.

Ross Island is special due to its historical background and so it becomes mandatory to make a mention of it here. This island was chosen very carefully by a Marine Surveyor Sir Daniel Ross, after whom this island has been named. During the British Raj, many Indian freedom fighters struggled to regain our independence and were becoming a pain in the **s for the Britishers and so to contain them and punish them severely they began to search for a place. They found Port Blair and the cellular jail was constructed to penalize these freedom fighters. Another jail was constructed in Viper Island for the female prisoners. Ross Island was the perfect place for the British officers to put base and be able to guard Port Blair from a distance. They build their residence and office buildings on the island and made a small settlement with all the lavish comforts and lifestyle that they were used to back home. To build this place they used the convicts as laborers and rickshaw pullers. The island is very small, but they managed to build everything they needed for the place to serve as a headquarters to the prison.

Col. M.L. Ferror was appointed as the Chief Commissioner and he stayed at the huge Government Mansion that was the center of attraction of the place. It had many rooms that served as offices and home and had a huge ballroom on the first floor. There was a cannon out on the driveway. 

More about the history later, first let me update you on our movements so far. We were taken to our rooms which were really big with an attached bath and sitting room. The charges for the rooms are different for the day and for the night. Not many people opt to stay overnight on the island. The whole place is being maintained by the Indian Navy as it had been handed over to them by the British after they left. The Indian Navy has turned the place into a tourist attraction and charge a minimal entry fee of Rs 20/-. The place is well looked after and kept clean with well marked areas.

The place looks very attractive and peaceful. There are plenty of deers, peacocks and geese here that roam around freely unmindful of people. You can feed the deers with your hands and they also enjoy the cafeteria food leftovers, as we discovered later. It was really amazing to be amongst nature this way.

Since the cafeteria was far, we asked for packed lunch to be sent to our rooms. We had hot Chicken Biriyani with papads which was very delicious and we enjoyed the meal thoroughly. Then we rested for a while as we were told that the deer come out at around 3:30pm to the park area. At that time we got up and proceeded to the park and indeed saw a sight that was unforgettable. Deers all over the place grazing on leaves and drinking water from a trough. Although they were vary of us, they stayed their ground as we approached and we were able to take pictures with them.

We then walked around the park to explore the area further. There were steps going up to a pond (which used to serve as the main water reserve for the Britishers). Further ahead was a Presbyterian Church whose main structure is still standing tall. From this place there are trails leading in all directions to the government house, troops barracks to the left side of the Church and British Officer’s Mess/Club, the Cemetary and the Ferror Beach to the right side.

Feror beach

We proceeded towards the beach and spent some time taking pictures of ourselves and the beach. Ross Island was the first to be affected by the tsunami in Dec 2004 and the evidence of that can be seen on the beach. Parts of the island are now submerged under water. After sunset, we headed back to our rooms and had the dinner that had been already sent to our rooms earlier as the cafeteria closes down at 5:00 pm. We were the only people left on the island other than two security personnel from the navy. The feeling of being completely secluded on the island was fantastic.

Since the whole place is run on generators, they tend to switch off the power supply in between. So, to our surprise, the power was turned off at 3:00am and thereafter I just couldn’t go back to sleep. For one, there were the mosquitoes to contend with and second the heat. Around 4:00 am I came out of the room and sat out for some time. There was a cool breeze blowing and I also startled a deer who was probably sleeping. The others were still sleeping and so to pass time I went to the Memorial that has been built and shows the complete history of the place.

Memorial on Ross Island

I saw all the pictures of the old Ross Island as it used to be then and the buildings that used to exist. There is also a copy of the letter written by Col. Ferror to his mother in which he has described the place in detail as to how he found it on arrival. It was really interesting to read everything in first person and one could imagine the plight of the Britishers in this place.

After reading the history, I became really curious about the place and had a strong desire to locate all the places mentioned. The place that was most mentioned was the “Settlement Club” which seemed to be the Exclusive club for all senior British Officers and their wives. It was considered to be a status symbol to be a member of this club. They had a swimming pool filled with sea water where they used to come for a dip in the evenings. This was right next to the sea. The other junior white officers were not allowed entry to this place and had a separate club of their own called the “Subordinate’s Club” . I took a trek around the island and located the swimming pool. There is a printing press building right next to it. Ahead of that is the bakery, which used to be quite popular. Near to this place is the Farzand Ali Store who had anything and everything one could need on the island. This store has been turned into a museum and it also contains a first hand account of an Indian Naval Officer who was caught on the island during the tsunami.

Swimming Pool "Settlement Club"

I walked all around the island and saw the troop’s barracks and the government house which has been destroyed completely now. There are just a few walls still standing. No cannon in the driveway. All the splendor and grandiosity of the place reduced to rubble and neglect. One can still see the cooks and servants quarters below. I then came upon the “Subordinate’s Club” and was again taken in by the destruction and neglect of the place. There are just haunting remains of the place left. The whole place had a very sinister feel to it and I quickly went ahead back to the park area, where I saw remains of a post office and back to our rooms on the way are the British Officer’s quarters, a Bazaar, a temple and hospital complex and some more troops barracks. There is also a trail to a light house that was built by the British and near that lies a cannon that used to be fired at noon everyday. I could imagine the whole place coming to life and the kind of life they must have had on this island. There were two tennis courts near the swimming pool, which can still be made out clearly.

The place somehow evoked all kinds of mixed emotions in me. I just can’t describe the feeling. On the one hand in Port Blair, one could see the harsh conditions of the solitary confinement of the Indian freedom fighters and here on Ross island one could appreciate the efforts made by the British Officers to build a home away from home. Somehow I just couldn’t make myself hate them.

 The Temple

According to the history, the Japanese invaded and took over the island from the Britishers and beheaded the then Chief Commissioner in front of the clock tower near Aberdeen jetty in Port Blair. They built a bunker on the island, which can still be seen and after the world war was over, the island was again taken over by the British, only to leave soon again as India gained her Independence on 15th August 1947. They handed over the island to the Indian Navy. But the island remained uninhabited for a long time afterward due to rumors of it sinking.

 It feels sad to see the ruins in this state today.After a hearty breakfast and tea at the cafeteria we left to pack our bags to go back to Port Blair. And the next day we caught the early morning flight back to Chennai and the connecting flight from there to Mumbai.

Holiday in Andaman Islands - Day 3 & 4 - Havelock Island

(30th March 2009): The next day we got up early to catch the 6:45 am ferry to Havelock Island from the Pheonix Bay. This ferry takes 4 hrs to reach the destination as it is very slow. We managed to get concessional tickets (specially for defense officers) of Rs 25/- only, as against the regular fare of Rs 250/-. Let me remind you again that all the tickets were booked in advance by our friend for us and so we could go straight ahead with our trip without much hassles.
The sun rises early in Port Blair as it is on the east coast and so light breaks as early as 5:00am. Therefore, there was bright sunlight when we boarded the ship/ferry and found our seats on the upper deck. We carried some snacks and water bottles with us (from a tea stall nearby) as we had no information if we would get anything on board. But, we later discovered that it was really not necessary as tea and snacks were available in the cafeteria.

Ramanujam Ferry
The ferry departed on time and we stood out in the open to watch the bay and the nearby islands as we made slow progress in our onward journey. I enjoyed the whole trip (even if it was slow) watching the still and calm clear deep blue waters of the ocean. Wow, I had never seen such clear waters before in my life, except in pictures and movies of places like Mauritius or Maldives or probably the Caribbean sea, and I was absolutely fascinated and mesmerized by the sight. We saw plenty of jelly fish swimming around on the surface of the water and also plenty of flying fishes.

I was lucky to spot three dolphins swimming together and tried to capture them with my camera, but they had disappeared before I could spot them in the lens of my camera. The trip was thrilling and I felt like I was on a luxury cruise..(at least it was for me)! We reached the Havelock jetty at around 10:30 am and hired a taxi to take us to the Dolphin Resort, where we had our rooms booked for one day.
View of sea from Dolphin Resort
The view of the sea from the Dolphin Resort was fantastic and the colors of the shallow and deep waters could be distinguished clearly as the sun was nice and high by this time. I was absolutely floored by the sight. We quickly dumped our bags in the room and came out to take pictures of the scenery. It was breathtaking.

Dolphin Resort

This is a Government Resort and so we had to have lunch in the common dining room. The food was good and cheap too. We enjoyed our meal of chicken curry, rice, rotis, vegetables and dal; a real wholesome meal. After lunch we rested in our rooms for a while till evening, then we had tea and went to explore the place. There was a small private beach next to the resort and we went to sit there and watch the sunset (which also happens early in the evening, 5:00pm).

The beach was very nice and quiet with white silvery soft sands and clear calm waters. If you see the pictures of the beach, you will be able to appreciate the beauty of the place. We relaxed on the beach till sunset and took pictures of each other. Then we went back to the Resort for dinner. We had fish curry which was delicious along with the other same menu as lunch.

Beach at Dolphin Resort

Sunset view

At night we sat out in the lounge and watched a movie on our laptop till it was time to sleep. The night was clear and we could see all the stars brightly in the sky. The only problem was the mosquitoes. Anyway, we retired to bed and had to check out of this hotel at 8:30am the next morning soon after tea and breakfast.

We had to move to another hotel, called "Sea Shells" and proceeded there in the hired taxi. The hotel there had no rooms available till 12:00pm and so we decided to deposit our bags there and go ahead to Elephant beach where we could see some more corals in a glass bottom boat. So we set off to the same jetty point and got a hired boat (individual boats) and took off to the Elephant beach. It takes half an hour to reach the place, but we enjoyed the ride. See these pictures.
Boat ride to Elephant beach

White Light House
Elephant Beach

On reaching the beach we immediately switched over to a glass bottom boat and went for a ride around to see the underwater marine life and corals. It was amazing and fascinating sight, once again, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, as the sun was getting higher, it began to get really hot and humid so we came back to our boat and made the return trip fast. We managed to reach back by 12:00 pm and luckily the rooms in the hotel were ready and so we went to freshen up and proceed for lunch.

The food here was excellent and very delicious. The hotel too had good rooms and was very comfortable. It had an excellent view of the sea with deck chairs to sit on and enjoy the cool breeze by the sea. I would recommend this hotel as a first choice for anyone making a trip to this place. There are Ac and Non Ac rooms available and both are equally comfortable. Check out these pictures for yourself.
Sea Shells Hotel

A Beautiful Rainbow
After a bout of quite heavy rainfall in the afternoon a most beautiful huge rainbow appeared in the sky and what was even more fascinating and amazing was the sight of not one but two rainbows together spanning the whole horizon!

In the evening we set off for Radha Nagar beach to watch the sunset (supposed to be the primary tourist attraction of this place)! We set off at 3:30pm and reached the beach around 4:00pm well in time for the sunset. The beach is a very big one and is good for beaching. My son immediately removed his shirt and jumped into the water. He stayed there till sunset and my husband was forced to join him too, since I wasn't very keen to get wet. I took a stroll on the beach and saw some strange sights. Take a look at this picture. I really don't know what or why this was there on the beach, but it sure was mysterious and sinister!
Sinister figures made of straw at Radha Nagar Beach

It had rained in the afternoon and so the sky was still overcast with clouds. The sun escaped behind these clouds at the time of sunset and this was how it looked.
Sunset at Radha Nagar Beach

All in all, we had a great time in Havelock Island. It was a very peaceful place. The next day, we had to catch a boat to Neil island at 3:00pm and so had the full morning to waste time. So we decided to go to the market close by and check out the internet to catch up with our mails. We managed to find one shop which offered us the facility and we took one hour as the connection was very slow.
After lunch we checked out of the hotel and set off to the jetty to catch the boat to Neil Island. But again that's another story.

Holiday in Andaman Islands – Day 2 – Jolly Buoy

(30th March 2009): The next day we proceeded to Wandoor, which is about 29 Km from Port Blair to catch the ferry to Jolly Buoy. Wandoor consists of stunningly beautiful group of 15 islands that form part of the 280 sq kms of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. It took us about half an hour to reach the jetty where the boat was ready.

The best time to leave for Jolly Buoy is around 9:00am when both the boats leave the jetty together and also return together. Jolly Buoy is an uninhabited island and so we had to carry packed lunch and snacks with us as also drinking water. The island is a strictly "No Plastics" zone and so you are not allowed to carry any polythene bags with you to the island. We were also told to bring back all the empty water bottles back with us. A thorough checking of our bags was done before we were allowed to board the boat.

We reached the jetty well in time as we were under the impression that the boat would depart at 8:30am. As we had enough time to spare, we sat in a nearby tea stall and had hot tea accompanied with fresh hot "medu vaddas". They were absolutely delicious.

We then proceeded to the ticket counter to pay extra fare for the cameras and handycam that we were carrying along with us. We then boarded the boat and started off for Jolly Buoy with great anticipation.

One can visit both Jolly buoy and Red skin island from this jetty point in Wandoor beach. Red Skin island is also similar to Jolly Buoy and offers the same attractions of pristine clear water beaches with silvery sands, under water coral view, snorkeling, scuba diving etc from glass bottom boats that are available at the islands.
Boat trip to Jolly Bouy

The boat ride took about an hour to reach the island and I enjoyed the ride thoroughly. It was the first time that I was seeing such clear blue water in my life. Since the weather was calm, the water too was absolutely calm and looked very inviting. I felt a strong urge to jump into the water (if only I knew how to swim)!

Boats anchored off Beach at Jolly Bouy

We reached Jolly Buoy about 10:00am and the boat anchored at some distance from the beach. Two glass bottom boats took the passengers in trips to the beach. We boarded the first boat and had an amazing view of the corals and the underwater marine life through the glass bottom. It was absolutely breathtaking. However, most of the corals in the area are dead due to the effect of the tsunami and some new growth could be seen at the tips of the dead corals. It was sad to see so much destruction in the sea bed.
The beach at Jolly Bouy

We were safely deposited on the beach along with our bags from where we proceeded to change our clothes and jump into the water for a swim. There are straw thatched umbrellas with benches where you can sit in the shade and also a special shack made with cubicles as a changing room for the "ladies". We quickly grabbed one of the umbrellas for ourselves, deposited our bags there and then ran into the water.
Straw thatched umbrellas

The beach is absolutely beautiful with white soft sand that does not cling to you. The waters were calm that day and so the waves were very soft and gentle. This was the first beach where I actually enjoyed getting into the water and did not want to come out at all. There we got an opportunity to do snorkeling too. I was scared initially, as I did not know to swim. But, the guy whom I was with was very patient and assured me that everything would be alright, if I just followed his directions. Well, I managed to go to the deeper water along with the life buoy around my waist and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. It was nerve racking, but the view of the corals and colorful fishes and other marine life was fascinating and definitely worth it. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.
View of under water corals

We enjoyed playing in the water for a few hours and then got out to have lunch. Soon after lunch, the boats came back to pick us up for the journey back to the jetty. We were all tired and exhausted from our beaching and the sun too was beginning to get hot. Earlier in the day the sky was overcast with clouds and so we were very comfortable throughout the morning.

We returned at the jetty around 2:30pm, just in time as it started raining. We ran for cover to the same tea stall nearby and had some hot tea and vadas again while we waited for our car to come and pick us up and take us back to Port Blair.

We didn't do anything else that day as we were tired from the trip to Jolly Buoy and just relaxed in the room. Later at night we had dinner in "Annapurna" restaurant. We had some nice hot dosas, idlis and vadas dipped in sambhar and enjoyed the meal.

The next day we were to go by the early morning (6:45 am) ferry to Havelock Island, so we retired to bed early that night after watching some television. But, then that's another story and you can read all about it in my next byte.

Holiday in Andaman Islands – Day 1 - Port Blair

(30th March 2009): I am just back from an exciting holiday in the Andaman Islands. It was the most beautiful and enchanting place I have ever seen. It’s been a soul enriching experience and I would definitely recommend anyone who hasn’t been there yet to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. However, you need to do a little planning well in advance to be able to enjoy your experience. Here is how we went about it.

Our tickets were booked in advance on the Kingfisher Airlines via Chennai to Port Blair. You need to book your flights well in advance to get the maximum discounts in the airfare, as the rates keep fluctuating like the stock market closer to your date of journey. We took the early morning flight (6:45 am) to Chennai, which took about 2 hrs and a connecting flight from there to Port Blair.

Aerial View Port Blair
We had the whole package planned and laid out for us by a friend who is posted there at present in the Naval Base. As we were booked into the Naval accommodation for the first night we immediately proceeded to our rooms to freshen up and have lunch with our friend.

During lunch we learned a lot about Port Blair and the surrounding Islands, which only increased our enthusiasm to see the place. Port Blair, named after Lieutenant Archibald Blair, is a union territory and the largest town in Andaman district. It is also the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands situated on the east coast of South Andaman Island and is the main entry point to the islands. At present it serves as a major base for the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard and is the headquarters of the Tri Services Command.

One can reach Port Blair by air or sea from Kolkatta, Chennai or Vishakhapatnam. There is a rich history related to Port Blair associated with British colonial rule and the Independence struggle by the Indian freedom fighters. The presence of the “cellular jail” in Port Blair is a stark reminder of our history and the British Raj. From Port Blair there are various ferries and boats available to go to the surrounding islands with different packages. The main attraction is beaching, snorkeling, scuba diving, and seeing nature. One can also do trekking in some of the islands that are forest reserves. All the bookings need to be done in advance to avoid last minute disappointments.

We relaxed the first day at Port Blair since we were tired out from the trip and had to set off early the next morning to Jolly Buoy. We managed to see Port Blair on the last day of our trip after returning from Ross Island, which is just ten minutes away from the Aberdeen jetty. They have built a huge park all around this jetty and also a water amusement park where you can rent all kinds of water boats and enjoy a ride in the lake. The place is all lit up in the night and looks very beautiful. There are museums and an aquarium that is worth seeing. The aquarium has all kinds of colorful fishes in it and kids will really love to see this.

The cellular jail is, of course, the main attraction of this place due to its relevance in our history of Independence and one cannot leave Port Blair without visiting it. The jail has numerous cells distributed in six wings that are laid in a “circular” pattern around a central structure. In between one of these wings is the courtyard where the prisoners were given “punishment” and also the “gallows” where they were subsequently hanged to death. One wing has been converted to a museum where there are pictures, and other artifacts that belonged to that era. Subhash Chandra Bose played a very important role in the freedom struggle and Port Blair was the headquarters to the Indian National Army. A part of the museum is dedicated to the history of Subhash Chandra Bose. There is a light and sound show in the evening which is shown at 5.00 pm after sunset. There are entry tickets for the show separate from the entry to the museum. Due to time constraints we were unable to see this show. Take a look at these pictures from the cellular jail.

Cellular Jail Model
Amar Jyoti

Court Yard used to punish the convicts

We took a drive around the main road and saw the Governer’s house (Raj Niwas) and also the Joggers park which is a huge park situated right on top of a hill that overlooks the runway of the airport. It has a spectacular view from top. We also drove to see the Chatham island and the famous “Saw Mill” which had been bombarded by the Japanese during the world war. The saw mill was restored subsequently and is operational now.
We visited the Fortune Bay Island Hotel in Port Blair in the evening to sit and have some snacks in the restaurant which has a spectacular view of the sea and the light house on an island right in front. The climate in Port Blair is very hot and humid generally but luckily for us this day had an overcast sky and so there was a cool breeze in the evening. Later we took a drive to Corbyne’s cove which is also a prominent tourist place and used to be a place where the British Officers gave lavish parties. Post Tsunami there have been a lot of changes in Port Blair and the surrounding islands due to the raised sea level and destruction of the trees, beaches, corals and marine life. The evidence of tsunami is still visible in many places.

We had dinner in a restaurant called “Light House” close to the Aberdeen jetty and enjoyed the food. Port Blair is known for its sea food and due to its mixed culture it also serves all kinds of cuisines to suit each and every palate.

On the last day of our trip, we booked ourselves into a hotel called Megapodes Nest as no rooms were available in the Naval base. The rooms were good, although slightly expensive for our budget but definitely worth it, and had a fantastic view of the harbor. However, the food at the hotel was horrible (the only place where we didn’t like the food).

The next day we proceeded to Wandoor, which is about 29 Km from Port Blair to catch the ferry to Jolly Buoy. Wandoor consists of stunningly beautiful group of 15 islands that form part of the 280 sq kms of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. It took us about half an hour to reach the jetty where the boat was ready. Read all about that in the next byte...