Dudhsagar Plantation – A Homestay Hidden Away From Goa’s Beaches


Goa, a place synonymous with beach-life (to the casual traveller), has much more to offer those who seek something different. My friends reading this account will be flabbergasted when they learn that I did not see a single beach all through my recent trip to the ‘party capital of India’. What I saw instead was this:-

Acres Of Greens With No Sand Or Sea In Sight

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

If you are a fan of nature and forests and everything organic, get away from the coastline and drive into Sanvordem, and then further towards Kulem until you reach Karmane Village. There, where the road ends and the boundary of the Mollem National Park begins, you will find Dudhsagar Plantation – a farm-stay that is removed from the smoke of the cities and the noise of the parties. I had a chance to stay at one of the cottages here last month when monsoon was in full swing. This was perhaps the best way to begin my career as a full-time travel writer.

The Cottages At Dudhsagar Plantation

The property has 5 cottages with brick roofs which have 4 glass-patches to let light filter through in the mornings. There’s a nice sit-out area in the front porch of each cottage, with wooden lounging chairs to enjoy the view of the plantation. This eco-stay is basic, but comfortable. Every cottage is spacious and furnished with a double bed and a divan, besides shelves on a wall to store your things. The bathroom is well ventilated with grills, and the exposed brick and cement sections lend a rustic touch to it. The all-out in the room keeps mosquitoes away, but don’t be surprised if some harmless caterpillars, bugs or lizards stop by to say “hi”. 😉

Know Your Host

The Malkarnekar brothers - Ashok (right) runs the property

The Malkarnekar brothers – Ashok (right) runs the property

The plantation was started by the Malkarnekar family in 1985 and their home is built on the farm itself. Today, Ashok Malkarnekar, the eldest son, stays here and looks after the administrative bits of this home-stay. I was fortunate to be here when Ashok’s family and friends were around for a reunion, and we spent some good time chatting over chai and singing along with the guitarists in the house. The Malkarnekar siblings (2 brothers and a sister) are half German and half Goan, and fluent in Konkani, Hindi, German and English. They are all very friendly and warm. Throughout the duration of my stay at Dudhsagar Plantation, Ashok graciously showed me around the estate and took me to some interesting parts of Goa I’d never explored before.

Take A Spice Tour

(Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Every guest here can opt for an hour long guided tour of the spice garden. Spread over 50 acres, the plantation is a tropical paradise! Here, you will find a variety of trees and herbs – coconut, betel nut, starfruit, pepper, cinnamon and cashew, to name a few. Speaking of cashew, you can also learn how cashew feni is made through the fermentation process. A milder version of feni is the urak, which is distilled at an earlier stage. During my stay, I had their distinctive jungle juice – a cocktail they make with urak, limca and some “secret spices”. 😉

Jump Into The Family Well

Dive into the 15 feet natural well

Dive into the 15 feet deep natural well

Water babies will leap at the mention of a pool in a farmstay. Dudhsagar Plantation has something even better – a giant natural water well which is 15 feet deep! It was a lot of fun to swim here, the trees secluding us from the rest of the property. You might spot some friendly frogs and little fishes while you take a dip here. It is not uncommon either to sight snakes. (Yikes!!)

Relish Home-cooked Meals

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

I thoroughly savoured the freshly prepared meals at this homestay. The ingredients are locally sourced and mostly grown on the plantation itself. The food is completely organic as no pesticides or fertilizers are used for farming. Natural composting is practised here and manure is used for the plants. Ashok also showed me the nitrogen-fixing plants which absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and plug it back into the soil to improve its fertility. This reduces the need to add artificial fertilizers for the regular nitrogen-guzzling flora.

 

The food is generally vegetarian, but sometimes, the cook also prepares some fish or meat. You can have egg preparations for breakfast, and these are free range eggs from the domestic chickens on the farm. I had my fill of local vegan Goan curries which have a little bit of coconut in the form of its flesh-shavings or as coconut milk. They also use a lot of mushroom, which are my favourite! 🙂 I particularly loved the dishes for their mild flavours (I’m not a fan of spicy food) and judicious use of oil. Don’t forget to try their pineapple-banana butter, a house-speciality which I fell in love with! You will also like their homemade pickles and puranpoli.

Walk In The Rain

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Dudhsagar Plantation is a nice place to spend an intimate weekend with your significant other. The property feels especially romantic in the monsoon (read: Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains) when the raindrops rhythmically pelt on the brick roofs of the cottages and the thatched central dining gazebo. You may also want to want to laze in the swimming pool while you wait for the sun to set.

Swim In The Infinity Pool

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well (Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Not all visitors like natural wells, so the plantation also has a modern-style swimming pool that looks out to the green foliage. Fortunately, the pool’s water comes from the well, and has no chlorine. The host is building a yoga-shala close to the pool, which will be ready in a few weeks. He has plans to build a large hut which can serve as a dormitory for budget travellers who wish to learn yoga. This place has the potential to be a tranquil yoga retreat. Can you imagine how relaxing it will be to practise yoga in the middle of nature!

Read, Nap Or Do Absolutely Nothing On The Veranda

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Rejuvenating holidays are those where you don’t squeeze too many activities into your itinerary. The best way to spend your time at Dudhsagar Plantation is to read your favourite book or do a little bit of writing. The atmosphere is ripe with inspiration for those who find their joy in composing poems. Bring along a guitar and a mouth-organ, and make some soothing music if you are musically tilted. It really helps that internet connectivity is intermittent and slow here. You have another reason to tune out the world and tune in to your thoughts. The property has a wifi router installed at the common dining area, but that only worked for a few minutes during all the days I was there. No complaints, though. I quite enjoyed playing with the cute toddler (Ashok’s nephew) and the dogs (which guard the estate from trespassers and wild boars).

Things To Do Around Dudhsagar Plantation

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

If you are the restless type of traveller and cannot sit still, there’s plenty you can do around this place. I did the Tambdi Surla waterfall trek (close to the eponymous 12th century temple), peeped into a Portuguese villa, strolled atop the Salaulim dam and checked out 20-thousand-years old petroglyphs at Usgalimal. More on the activities in a separate blog post. 😉

Have you ever lived on a plantation?

Do you know of more non-touristy things to do in Goa?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

 

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to stay updated with pictures and stories of more such interesting hideouts that I keep discovering! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the Goa-fanatics you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by Dudhsagar Plantation. However, all views are entirely my own.

Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine


A journey to any new place is incomplete until you’ve eaten what the locals eat. If you have been following my recent blogposts on Sharjah, you must have guessed that I’d have had my fill of Emirati cuisine. I am a big eater, and was easily tempted by the interesting dishes served up before me while I stayed there.

Don't fall for the typical English breakfast trap!

Don’t fall for the typical English breakfast trap!

Perhaps the worst thing to do on any foreign trip is to stick to what you know and what you’ve always been eating. Life is too short to waste your time on the same dishes everyday and every vacation. Let your tastebuds explore new countries through their cuisines! When you heap up your plate with the complimentary breakfast at your hotel, don’t follow the crowd to the egg and toast counter. Instead, take spoonfuls of the new items you’ve never tried before. You’ll love yourself for giving your palate a break!

Keep Your Date With Arabic Coffee

In Sharjah (read – Sharjah at First Sight), I would begin my mornings with a cup of Arabic coffee and a date. I like my coffees strong – without milk or sugar. I love the raw flavour of the brew. Emiratis have a habit of chewing on a date while they take their coffee. This eliminates the need to add any sweetening agent to your beverage. Dates are a beloved accompaniment also for teas. And the dates you get in this part of the world are undeniably the best! I have never seen so much variety in colour, size, succulency and sweetness in the dates which are imported to my country.

Introduction To A Full Course Emirati Meal

Middle East has so many dishes on offer that your plate will not be able to hold them all!

Middle East has so many dishes on offer that your plate will not be able to hold them all!

All of my lunches and dinners in Sharjah during the annual Light Festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival) were elaborate affairs. They would begin with some soup and salad, and follow on to the mains, and finally, end with an array of desserts. My routine during those 5 days was to eat, explore the city, eat again, see the light festival, eat some more, and finally hit the bed! I had gained so much weight that I was really looking forward to my upcoming hiking vacation (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone).

Middle Eastern Dips & Salads

Salads and dips to whet your appetite

Salads and dips to whet your appetite

Middle Eastern salads are among the most nutritious, with an abundance of greens, chickpeas, eggplant and pomegranate. Fattoush is a healthy mix of vegetables and toasted flat-bread which adds a nice crunch to your mezze. Parsley lovers should give tabbouleh a try. You will be surprised to learn that foul madamas, a dish made of fava beans, which looks like something you’d have for dinner, is a breakfast staple here. When you are in Sharjah or any of its surrounding towns (read – Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret), don’t return unless you’ve had a ladle full of their delicious dips – hummus, mutabbal and baba ghanoush. Baba Ghanoush is similar to mutabbal (both have eggplant), except that it has pomegranate and parsley also. Mutabbal, on the other hand, is yogurt-based. All the three dips have tahini – a paste of powdered sesame seeds.

Breaking Bread in UAE

After you pick up some pita and other breads, it's time to get some pickles!

After you pick up some pita and other breads, it’s time to get some pickles!

With the dips, you will need some bread. There are several varieties of Arabic pita, naans and phulkas. The breads are rarely plain; they mostly come spiced with some thyme and sumac for enhanced flavour. Many restaurants will serve unlimited hummus and bread with their compliments when you order the mains. These breads are best enjoyed warm. So, if your bread has turned cold and chewy, ask for your breadbasket to be replaced.

Tickle Your Tastebuds With Some Pickle

So many pickles, you'll be spoilt for choice!

So many pickles, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

You can have bread not just with Arabic dips but also pickles. Emirati pickles are not like Indian pickles which are mostly fruit-based. They eat a lot of pickled olives (both green and black), jalapenos, carrots and cucumber. Another interesting accompaniment is the labneh – a sour Arabic cheese which is balled up and pickled, sometimes, also with zaatar – powdered herbs.

A Whole Meal

A vegetarian Emirati fare - Arabic bread, fattoush, baba ghanoush and mutabbal with some eggplant

A vegetarian Emirati fare – Arabic bread, fattoush, baba ghanoush and mutabbal with some eggplant

As a vegetarian gourmand, I am always looking to satiate my hunger for local food without compromising on my dietary choices. It is a myth that Emirati cuisine is mostly about meats. Yes, they do have a lot of exotic meat dishes (including camel-based dishes where an entire camel is stuffed with Levantine dips and condiments and cooked), but there is a plethora of vegan-friendly items one can have! You will notice the generous use of brinjal and olive oil, as many of their dishes are borrowed from the countries on the eastern side the Mediterranean Sea (Egypt, Syria, etc.). If you stay away from the meats, you will find that Arabic food is a healthier alternative to most other Asian cuisines. (Olive oil has mono-unsaturated fatty acids, or MUFA, which is much better than other oils used in Asian cooking.)

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth

When I am in UAE, western desserts can wait

When I am in UAE, western desserts can wait

When the mains are done, it’s time for the sweet dish! 🙂 All the 4 and 5 star properties in Sharjah that I dined at had a decent spread of continental desserts – mousses, cakes and chocolate boats, to name a few. The walnuts and almonds used in their plat du jour, however, were the highlight, as those were of a superior quality. The emirates are one of the best places to get your dry fruits from!

Delectable Desserts

Bored of the pastries (which one can find in about any country with ease), I was on a mission to find restaurants that would serve me Sharjah’s authentic desserts (which were playing hard to get). I had the privilege of tasting some unique Middle Eastern desserts at the Tulip Restaurant in Golden Tulip. I relished the Umm Ali (a milk-based pastry-pudding garnished with raisins, cashews and pistachio), Asabe’ Zainab (a hard deep fried semolina-dough drizzled with a sweet syrup), Aish El-Saraya (sweet bread slathered with cream) and  Luqmat al Qadi (honey-coated deep fried morsels) I had there.

 

Another great find was Zahr El-Laymoun by the Sharjah waterfront. Their classic cheesecake was topped with pomegranate seeds and lavender. The Halawat Al Jibn (philo pastry sweet rolls dressed with pomegranate and ground pistachio) was served with some rose water on the side, which was to be poured over the dish just before consumption.

Tea & Cookie After Lunch

The last course after dinner - tea with a ghorayeba cookie

The last course after dinner – tea with a ghorayeba cookie

After a large meal, you need some tea for the food to settle in. My pot of fragrant chamomile tea came with a locally baked ghorayeba biscuit which crumbled with ease in my mouth.

With this, we have come to the end of my Emirati dining experience. I hope you now know that there is more to this cuisine than shawarmas and hummus! 😉

Khor Fakkan - a town in Sharjah where the platter is just as beautiful as the panorama

Khor Fakkan – a town in Sharjah where the platter is just as beautiful as the panorama

Are you vegetarian and skeptical about trying local cuisine? Do you know about more middle eastern dishes which I haven’t tasted? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the foodies you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Onboard Air Arabia’s A320


I’m not a fan of late night flights, but there is little you can do to control the time you fly out of your home city (Mumbai in my case)  when you wish to arrive at your destination in the morning. I still remember my first flight to Goa over two decades ago, when I was only 4 and my sister, 2. I had thrown up just before the landing, and all the passengers had to leap over the puddle of vomit on the aisle. Those days of free unlimited candies and poor cabin pressure management are long gone. Cut to the present, and one can get an exclusive first class suite and a pre-booked slot for a shower cabin up in the air!

This post, however, is not to highlight the milestones the airline industry has crossed, but to tell you about my in-flight experience on Air Arabia.

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

A Look At Air Arabia’s Hub – Sharjah

The Sharjah airport is nothing to write home about. But this cost-effective hub means the planes landing and taking off from here will have to pay them less, and in turn, your flight tickets will be more affordable (hopefully). Being a low-cost carrier, Air Arabia has no exclusive lounge at this airport. The airport itself is like a fish market, full of commotion and little regard for queues. The staff seems reluctant to help. At the boarding gates, the ladies in charge behave like school teachers trying to tame an unruly class. After a couple of hours at the airport, it is finally time for me to board my plane.

There's nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

The Experience Onboard

Our A320 was a nifty aircraft, and I thought my seat in the economy class was fine. I asked for a cup of tea to relax for the next few hours that I’d be airborne. It must have worked, because I slept well. I always carry my eye mask and inflatable neck pillow to catch up on my sleep, which I never seem to get enough of (even on vacations). I was was in Sharjah to cover the light festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), and I did too much in too little time.

I pick what I'll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I pick what I’ll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I usually prep my mind to sleep by reading the in-flight magazine and waiting for the plane to go quiet. I previously wrote about my onward trip to Sharjah (read – Flying with Air Arabia), but on my return trip, the excitement had worn off as I wasn’t looking forward to going back to office and continuing with the long hours of work (usual at the investment bank). The air hostess soon cheered me up by getting me some dinner.

Time for Food! 🙂

My vegetable biryani arrives with coconut chutney on the side.

My vegetable biryani arrives with some raita on the side.

My early morning snack on my onward journey was a couple of dosa rolls with a filling of potato and chutney on the side. On my return journey to Mumbai, I had vegetable biryani with some raita. I thought the food was quite appetizing, even if a little too spicy for my palate. The portions were good too. They say that the way to a person’s heart is through her stomach. The rest of my flight seemed smooth after the meal, and the airline’s timing again was perfect! Here’s a selfie from my arrival in Sharjah (the smile is thanks to a full stomach 😉 ):-

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret


“Sharjah” – this name would often conjure up an image of a desert with mosques scattered across its parched terrain. I thought this Arab city would be a quick trip – a short walk by the souqs, a desert safari, and I’d have seen pretty much all that this place has to offer. I would realize on my maiden trip to this emirate how wrong I was in my imagination.

Khor Fakkan - beyond the desert plains

Sharjah – beyond the desert plains

Big Surprises Come in Small Packages

On my third day in Sharjah, the plan was to visit the town of Khor Fakkan. Little has been spoken or written about this place which technically is a part of Sharjah, but geographically surrounded by Fujairah. It was a long road journey which took us through the Hajar range of mountains, and well into the emirate of Fujairah.

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Time-Traveling to the 15th Century

We passed a couple of mosques on our way to Khor Fakkan, but the most striking of all was Al Bidiya – a mosque wrapped in layers of plaster from 1446 AD. This mosque is quite unusual in its architecture as it has four pointed domes – something missing in the modern mosque designs.

We had started ascending the Hajjar Mountains soon enough. And, I knew this when it started to get cold. I wasn’t carrying a jacket as I’d assumed Sharjah would be anything but cold on that sunny afternoon. I did not have the time to hike up those mountains, and I know I’ll have to go back to do just that someday.

We start gaining altitude on the Al Hajar mountains

We start gaining altitude on Al Hajar mountains

Mountain-Top Local Markets

We stopped for a while in a little village to have some Suleimani chai and succulent dates. You will be surprised to know of the amazing variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in the Emirates, especially around oases. The fertility of the soil varies here. This land is not all dry and barren. Local markets are also where you can bargain well. The friendly shopkeepers will let you taste some of their dry fruits on display when they know you will be buying. Food aside, you can also find warm kaftans and jackets with middle eastern prints as you stroll through the roadside.

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

Seeing the Arabian Sea

As we drove further, our view changed completely! We were driving along the Gulf of Oman, gulping down the dazzling waves of the Arabian Sea with our eyes. Khor Fakkan (which literally means ‘gulf of jaw’) is the only town in Sharjah which lets you see the Gulf of Oman.

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

A Bite of Luxury at the Oceanic Hotel

Khor Fakkan’s 4 star Oceanic Resort and Spa was the perfect place to put up my feet and take in the view of the turquoise waters of the Khor Fakkan Beach. Even though alcohol is strictly prohibited all across Sharjah, you will miss none of the beach excitement when you can spend your lazy afternoons sipping on some iced tea and gazing into the horizon before you.

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Meandering into Mleiha

A short drive from Khor Fakkan lies the Mleiha Desert. Its sand is distinctive with a touch of orange in the light brown. The Mleiha Archeological Centre is where they study fossils unearthed from this desert. There is a museum here that every kid touring Sharjah must be taken to. It’s quite experiential and informative.

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

Time for Desert Safari

Mleiha is also where you can take a desert safari over the undulating sands. Unlike in Dubai, the experience you have in Sharjah will be more intimate as you won’t have the crowd. This is also a no non-sense desert safari which focuses on nature, and skips the belly dance in the end. Plus, you get to stop at some locations to examine some fossils yourself! (I can already see the paleontologists smiling 😉 )

The smooth sands of Meliha desert are perfect for a safari!

The smooth sands of Mleiha desert are perfect for a safari!

Khor Fakkan and Mleiha may not be Sharjah’s only (open) secrets, but they sure are worth exploring! We often make the mistake of judging a place by the first look or through someone else’s opinion. It is time we went out on our own to discover what popular media won’t tell us. Some secrets are better kept when shared, don’t you think? I’ve let you in on Sharjah’s secret. Won’t you tell me yours?

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Have you also discovered lesser known things about popular places? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who think Sharjah is all about sand! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Flying with Air Arabia


It is past 2 in the night. My brain is only half awake. I cannot quite remember how I dragged my sleep-deprived body out of the waiting chair in front the boarding gate for my Air Arabia flight. I blinked through the aisle of this Airbus A320, found my window seat, took off my sneakers, pulled on my eye-mask and got ready to sleep through my 3 hour flight from Mumbai to Sharjah.

Air Arabia's Airbus A320 - the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Air Arabia’s Airbus A320 – the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Because Kids Do It Better!

I was woken suddenly by a bunch of babbling children reminding me to fasten my seat-belt and keep my seat-back upright. Air Arabia’s in-flight safety video is the cutest one I’ve ever watched! I’ve flown with this airline to Moscow before (read – Glimpses of Moscow – A Photo Essay), and I quite enjoyed watching the same clip. I think you should watch it too! 🙂

You Cannot Fly Without Reading At Least One Magazine!

It is hard to fall back into deep sleep once you’ve been woken. I shrugged at my situation and decided to skim through Nawras – Air Arabia’s in-flight magazine. ‘Nawras’ literally means ‘seagull’ in Arabic. The name is so apt for a publication aboard a plane! That month’s edition had stories from the places where Air Arabia flies. You may also want to read about my first impressions of Sharjah – Air Arabia’s hub.

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Food and Beverage

Before I could doze off again, the flight attendant brought me my pre-ordered meal of masala dosa and tea. Now, Air Arabia is a low-cost carrier, and its fare does not cover any in-flight meal. But you can buy your grub onboard or online. I really wasn’t hungry as this was way past my dinner time and too early for breakfast. But I never say “no” to food.

Time for some midnight snacking!

Time for some midnight snacking!

We Reached On Time!

I looked out my window, hoping to catch 40 winks before the landing, but I could already see signs of civilization, glittering to signal I should lace up my shoes and fold up my tray table. Sigh! But I perked up, remembering why I was in this emirate – to attend the Sharjah Light Festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival).

Bird's-eye view of Sharjah - just before we land

Bird’s-eye view of Sharjah – just before we land

Have you flown with Air Arabia before? I’d like to know your feedback in the comments below!

Do follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures and stories from my travels! Please spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who are looking for pocket-friendly airlines to fly to the UAE! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.