Diu – The Discoverer’s Favourite

Chilled by the European winds, I wanted my next vacation to keep me warm. I was looking to get away from the noise and crowd of my city. I searched. And I found. Diu was so small, yet so empty – as if it had been waiting to just see me all this while.

Diu's music is in its waves

Diu’s music is in its waves

It’s Nothing Like Daman

I had previously been to Diu’s cousin – Daman (read: How Daman Delighted Me), and I thought this island would be a reminder of that trip. But I was wrong. Diu is more beautiful… in many different ways. Its beaches are cleaner, its streets are lined with a cycling lane (which unfortunately goes unused), and it rewards its admirers with unique places to eat and hide inside.

Ghoghla Beach - the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla Beach – the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla – The Morning Beach

Diu is no Goa. It’s not a wild, party place. It’s a place to nurse your hangover, and find peace amidst nature. Still, it is easy to rent a car, bike or scooty in this ‘Isle of Calm’. I did not find a place to rent a bicycle though. However, if you are a possessed walker or runner, you will enjoy exploring Diu just as much on foot.

My first evening here was spent watching the sun set over Nagoa Beach, close to my hotel – The Hoka Island Villa. The port wine I had that night gave me a nice sleep. This is why I surprised myself when I woke up early the next morning. My little white scooty urged me to cross the bridge and leave the little island.

I was on Ghoghla Beach. It was too early for the tourists to pour in. Too early for the sun to burn my skin. It was just perfect – my tripod agreed. I saw a little kid turn cartwheels on the sand. I stopped fiddling with my camera and ran to the sea, the breeze encouraging my hair to let go. I told myself that day that I would do a beach marathon someday. (And I am doing it this year! 🙂 )

Fortim do Mar - The Fortress of Panikota

Fortim do Mar – The Fortress of Panikota

A Fortress in the Sea

Fortim do Mar is visible from most of Diu’s coastline. It is hard to miss this seafort which seems to stand in the middle of nothing but water. I wonder sometimes if it is possible to rent this place to spend some quiet time with oneself. There’s a lighthouse there which perhaps offers a nice view of Diu from the top.

Baroque beauty - St. Paul's Church

Baroque beauty – St. Paul’s Church

What Portugal Left Behind

Visiting places of historical importance always unsettles me. A part of me wants to marvel at the wonders of the era bygone – the architectural ruins, the fusion cuisines, the stories and the ways of life. At the same time, another part of me fills up with rage at the masterminds of organised slavery. But time teaches us to move on. To forgive. To accept the good. And to make a promise not to repeat the bad.

St. Paul’s Church is a 17th century building, manifested in the Baroque style. One is reminded of Portugal when one observes the artfully decorated windows and doorways, the arched wooden doors and the murals on the ceiling. The church is still in operation, and you will find the 10 commandments framed against each pillar along the aisle.

Chakratirth Beach... guarded by a lighthouse?

Chakratirth Beach… guarded by a lighthouse?

Some Beaches Find You

As the day wore on, I saw people filling up the streets of Diu. I had to escape before my paradise of peace would vanish. So, I took another road and came across an amphitheatre with a sea-view. It was a viewing space for the grand performance by nature! The sea is so vast, it can help you forget all your troubles.

On the other side of the step-amphitheatre is the Chakratirth Beach, so named because of its semicircular shape. In between the two is an elevated perforated rocky patch. This is where I saw the sun go down again.

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Myth or Mystery?

A 5 minute ride from Chakratirth brought me to the Gangeshwar Temple. This one is located underground. The legend goes that the 5 Pandavas (from the Indian epic Mahabharata) spent some time during their exile at this spot, worshiping Lord Shiva. Today, there are 5 shivalingas (one of Shiva’s manifestations) at the same spot. You can climb down the steps to watch the sea wash over the shivalingas at high tide, as if offering its own prayers to the Hindu God.

Naida Caves - where light plays hide and seek

Naida Caves – where light plays hide and seek

Caves that Will Haunt You

Diu is home to another kind of caves – this one, man-made. Naida Caves were formed due to the activities of the ruling Portuguese. They would cut away rocks from here and build monuments on the island. Nevertheless, these hollows and crevices are quite enchanting today. Climbers and creepers have wrapped some parts of the caves. Aerial roots have sheathed some other portions, almost turning this cave into a palace with many rooms. Moss has coloured some walls in shades of surreal green. Sunlight plays wonderful tricks on the human eye when it enters these caves through the rough openings and green canopies. It is poetic how destruction can also be beautiful.

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

The Abandoned Church

What is today known as Diu Museum, once used to be the Church of St. Thomas. Built in 1598, this Gothic white church was abandoned several years ago. It is not used for prayers anymore, but houses relics from the past – sculptures and scriptures carved in stone.

Diu has another old church which has been converted to a hospital now.

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

Diu Fort – Where Warriors Lived

I was saving the best for the last! 🙂 Diu Fort is a large complex that housed soldiers in the barracks, ammunition in underground chambers and canons at every gap in the walls of the mighty structure. This fort is perhaps the largest store of so many canons of different types. Somewhere in this enclosure is a lighthouse – the tallest one in Diu. At every nook and cranny, there is a viewpoint to see the infinite Arabian Sea softly making waves under the sun. Exploring the entire fort takes at least a couple of hours, so plan your day accordingly.

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

Diu is a small union territory in India, but it packs quite a punch! Have you been to similar quaint places that have surprised you with how much they can offer?

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Commuting in Mumbai – on a Budget

If you are a Mumbaikar, you probably spend about two hours on your daily commute on an average. And if you are planning a weekend trip out of the city, you will easily be travelling for over three hours each way. The longer you travel, the more you spend. Given the high cost of living in this city, your mode of commute only adds to your expenses. You might like to point out local trains and BEST buses as affordable ways to travel. But those are fertile grounds for pickpocketers and way too crowded for comfort. I have heard countless stories of friends losing their phones and wallets on a crowded bus or a packed train. Today, I’m going to tell you about some cheap yet comfortable and safe ways to travel in Mumbai!

The ubiquitous auto rickshaw - you can dislike it, but you cannot ignore it! ;-)

The ubiquitous auto rickshaw – you can dislike it, but you cannot ignore it! 😉

A popular way is to make use of the taxi service in Mumbai. Taxis are safer and much faster than auto rickshaws. The chances of having your purse or other valuable item snatched from the sides is much lower. Petrol and diesel are quite expensive here. This might lead you to assume that there is no affordable cab service in Mumbai. However, many private players have entered the market and made commuting much cheaper. Ola Cabs and Meru are undoubtedly the market leaders in Mumbai, but there are many lesser known cab companies that you can rely on. Most of these cabs are air conditioned, and will get you to your destination looking fresh. Mumbai has a perpetual humidity problem, and in the summers, you perspire all your fluids out. Also, if you have a long office commute like I do, you must definitely opt for air conditioned taxis. Another advantage of private cabs is that they are constantly tracked via GPS, and your location is known to the control centre at all times. Their GPS enabled smartphones also help the drivers take the best route to your destination to get you there as quickly as possible. Nowadays, some cabs also have the option of letting your friend or family member track your location real-time. The fact that most of these operators have their own mobile app makes it very simple to book and cancel cabs. You will also be able to book through their web portals and over a phone-call.

Would you prefer a cycle rickshaw to a taxi in the torrential Mumbai rains?

Would you prefer a cycle rickshaw to a taxi in the torrential Mumbai rains?

For those of you who have plans that change as frequently as the weather changes in London, and require cabs on the go, there is Uber. The Uber app lets you find any cab near you and you have a ride in a few minutes. Many of these online ride sourcing firms offer huge discounts and award referral credits when you onboard a friend or family member. If you are smart, you can actually ride free at most times! The recent news of safety breaches by these companies are worrying. But they are all making their rides safer, so don’t write them off just yet.

I dream of the day when commoners like me will be able to rent a stretch limo...

I dream of the day when commoners like me will be able to rent a stretch limo…

Most of my friends love to drive, but don’t have cars. And what do you do when you don’t want a driver listening in on all your group secrets in the cab? Well, self drive cars is the answer to your dilemma! Car rental for self drive purposes is very popular in the States and Australasia. But India is catching up just fine. If you are bored of the cheap Mumbai cab service and wish to drive a car on your own, hire one of the self drive cars and zip away without a care in the world! And on that note, I would like to tell you about an interesting venture that my friends have started up – Justride. Next month, I will be taking out one of their luxury cars on a spin. Stay tuned for that blog post!

Top 5 Cricket World Cup Destinations

With the ICC Cricket World Cup in full swing, I have decided to bring you my specially curated travel-list for the cricket-lover in you! From the first World Cup in 1975 to the one that you’re watching on your big screens right now, cricket has taken us across 16 beautiful nations, spanning 4 continents. While most will be engrossed in the game, there are many of us who yearn to go beyond the stadium and explore the wondrous sights each host country has to offer. Let’s set the ball rolling!

1. United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales)

The World Cup tradition began in England, and this country hosted the first three World Cups until India and Pakistan ended the hat-trick. Once you are done gaping in awe at the Lord’s Cricket Ground, you must grab a seat on one of the 32 capsules of the London Eye. You will get a bird’s eye view of over 55 famous landmarks of London while the giant wheels takes 30 minutes to complete a round. Don’t forget to take some selfies on the London Bridge – one of the seven wonders of the world! Then, as the Big Ben strikes six, head on over to Madam Tussaud’s and marvel at the lifelike wax statues of celebrities from all over the world. If you have more time, don’t forget to visit the Buckingham Palace and several state-of-the-art museums.

Scotland is a country straight out of a fairytale! Home to the magnificent castle of Edinburgh and the haunted waters of Loch Ness. (Remember the sea monster, Nessie?) Explore Skara Brae, a stone-age village, and ruins of imposing castles and brochs. The beaches and hills are sure to take your breath away!

Wales, not unlike Scotland, has scores of alluring castles. But the prettiest attraction here is surely Snowdonia – a visually appealing national park. You might also want to take a look at Sygun Copper Mine and National Slate Museum.

2. India

Source: maharajas-express-india.com

Source: maharajas-express-india.com

India has hosted the World Cups thrice so far, and it arguably has the highest number of cricket fans in the world. My country is one of the most diverse, both in terms of terrain and culture. You can enjoy the snow in Gulmarg, up North, or laze inside a boathouse in the backwaters of Kerala, down South. India has the mighty Thar desert, the holy land of Gaya, the crazy party-scene in Goa, the beautiful Taj Mahal and the beguiling Sundarbans all in between. Your experiences in India will be as unique and colourful as its people and cuisines!

3. Australasia (Australia and New Zealand)

Source: bonfireexpeditions.com

Source: bonfireexpeditions.com

The largest country in Australasia, Oz is a spectacle of natural and man-made beauty. The Great Barrier Reef, the 12 Apostles, the Blue Mountains and clear beaches are nature’s gift to the Aussies. By the same token, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, the Eureka Tower and the Great Ocean Road are gifts from the Aussies to the rest of the world. As Australia hosts various matches for this season, let’s hope India lifts the cup again!

Source: placestoseeinyourlifetime.com

Source: placestoseeinyourlifetime.com

Kiwiland is co-hosting this year, and it’s a wonderful excuse to explore its two islands. If you’re an LOTR fan, hop over to Hobbiton and feel like a hobbit yourself! NZ gives you plenty of chances to interact with its indigenous Maori people and taste their scrumptious food. After a long match, relax at one of the hot springs. New Zealand is chock a block with volcanoes and the natural geysers and hot springs come as no surprise. The beauty of it all will surprise you though! 😉

4. The Netherlands

Source: travel.nationalgeographic.com

Source: travel.nationalgeographic.com

Holland is a small European country that has only co-hosted the World Cup once, but it packs quite a punch! The land of windmills has enough to keep you here for several days. Its charming streets are best explored on a rented bicycle and its canals, best crossed in a gondola. The Netherlands is steeped in history. From Anne Frank’s House to Rijksmuseum, there’s so much to see! Holland is also famous for its liberal laws on weed. One can order “magic mushrooms” and “space cakes” in restaurants! The best thing about “NE” of BENELUX is that it’s a part of the Schengen region, and a Schengen visa gives you the power to travel through most of Europe! 😀

5. Kenya

Source: animalorphanagekenya.org

Source: animalorphanagekenya.org

Africa’s lesser known cricket destination is a magical country which is true to its roots. The Kenyan cricket team may not have been able to beat South Africa too many times, but Kenya sure beat it to make it to my travel-list for this year! This West African country is the abode of a mind-boggling variety of wild animals and birds. Maasai Mara is a global-favourite when it comes to observing animals in their natural habitat. Animal-watching does not have to be all about roughing it out. You can opt for elegant luxury tents and try “glamping” (glamorous camping) if your budget allows it.

Do you ever plan a trip around cricket matches? Have you been to any of the destinations on my top-5? Let me hear your stories in the comments below!

This blog is part of the Blogger Dream Team.

Congenial Hotels in Mumbai

If you are planning to visit Mumbai anytime soon, the first question on your mind (even before you think of the sightseeing list) will be “where to stay?” Mumbai has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in not only India but also the world. And the most expensive of all things in Mumbai is the real estate rate. With such skyrocketing prices, one wonders how and where to stay in Mumbai.

Do you prefer king size beds?

Do you prefer king size beds?

But the best hotels in Mumbai are not necessarily expensive. Any list of hotels in Mumbai will certainly have some excellent options for the budget traveller. And affordable hotels need not be run of the mill. There are budget hotel-chains of some very prominent luxury hoteliers. These hotels provide you not only the best in class services but also don’t cost you a bomb. There are also some tips and tricks to make sure you get the best deal out of our stay in Mumbai.

Cleanliness of the washroom is just as important as the room itself!

Cleanliness of the washroom is just as important as the room itself!

The first trick is to plan ahead and book as early as possible. Remember that if you travel in the off season (think monsoon), hotel bookings in Mumbai will be dirt cheap for you! Another trick is to travel in groups, as family or couple. The room-rates for single occupancy and double or family occupancy is almost the same in Mumbai! It makes no sense then to pay for two people when you are travelling alone. Once in your room, avoid eating out of the mini refrigerator. The products will always be marked up. It is better to eat at the in-house restaurant or any place nearby. Also, making phone-calls from the room-phone to numbers outside of the hotel will accrue extra charges on the final bill.

Five star hotels have a charm of their own

Five star hotels have a charm of their own

Most hotels in Mumbai are congenial and very professional. They will change your bed linen and towels every day or two. If you require your room to be cleaned more frequently, call up the room service. These services are mostly not billed extra. Also, beware of the high taxes in Mumbai! Most hotel menus will quote a price excluding all taxes. Your final bill will have VAT, service tax, service charge and in some cases, charity-charge. (Yes, it’s true!!) So, plan your spending accordingly and read the fine print.

Business hotels have a no-nonsense atmosphere

Business hotels have a no-nonsense atmosphere

While you may be tempted to sneak the wall-mounted hairdryer and cutlery (when you call for your food to be served in the room) to make up for your huge bill, refrain from doing so. Good etiquette demands that you respect the property you stay in and leave it for the next occupant as good as you found it when you first moved in. The complimentary sachets of shampoo, soap, toothbrush and comb can be safely stashed away in your travel-kit, though! 😉

Have you ever had a case of "more cushions than my fingers can count"?

Have you ever had a case of “more cushions than your fingers can count”? 🙂

Mumbai is a fairly safe place for tourists and has a plethora of stay options for all kinds of travellers – business, hostelites, sightseers and honeymooners. From luxury resorts and five star hotels to homestays and budget bed-and-breakfast places, you will not have any trouble securing a roof over your head! Happy travels to you!

This post has been written in association with askme.com.

Travelling With Children

On my blog, I’ve always written about travelling solo or with adult friends. But in reality, most vacationers are family-trippers. And while it’s wonderful to have your close people around you, it becomes a little challenging if you have little kids. 🙂

I have fond memories of travelling to multiple destinations with my parents and sister as a child. I loved each and every one of those moments, but it is only today that I realize what my folks must have gone through, handling two mischievous kids! 😉 Kids add a kind of excitement to every vacation as they view the world with their innocent minds. To help you experience magical trips and avoid misery as you tag along your little ones, I have curated a list of things to do and know when travelling with children:-

Kids Love the Sand and the Sun

If there’s any group of people that loves beaches the most, it is children! If you want to have a relaxing vacation, head to the beach. Leave your kids with some plastic spades and buckets so they can make their own sand castles, and sunbathe without their constant chatter! But remember to slather some sunscreen lotion on them as their sensitive skin is prone to sunburns.

Kids are the world's cutest beach-bums!

Kids are the world’s cutest beach-bums!

Snacks Can Save the Day!

Do you know the main reason kids are always agitated on a trip? They are hungry! Always carry titbits for your toddlers, especially when on a long road trip. You may not always find kid-friendly restaurants or food  on your way. As far as I know, road-side dhabas make food that’s way too spicy for children. So pack some sandwiches, nuts, crackers and chocolates when your bundle of joy accompanies you on that weekend break. Remember, not to make the food boring. Your kids don’t have to drink milk or eat bitter veggies when they are on holiday! Cut them some slack and indulge them with some junk food. (It’s okay once a while!)

The Bangali puchka

Food can keep your kids calm when all else fails!

Playgrounds Are Kid-Magnets

When you need some quiet time with your better half, head to the local park and let your kids have the time of their lives. Children can be surprisingly easy to manage if they have something or somebody to play with. The slides, see-saws and swings at playgrounds will keep your kids happy and active at the same time! Be careful of ride-injuries though. Make sure you carry some basic first-aid stuff with you. Nothing fancy, just band-aids and ointment. You can always buy other things from the local pharma-store. And this reminds me of medication! Do not forget to keep a few tablets or syrups for stomache-ache, acidity and fever. Dehydration can be quite common in the summers. A packet of Electral will see you through any eventuality.

Footloose in Kodagu

Swings and slides and swing your kids’ mood in your favour! 😉

Theme-Parks and Cartoons

Your trips with your children should not just be about keeping them busy or out of your way. You must plan something that they will truly enjoy. And what better than a trip to a theme park! From my visits to Ramoji Film City, Essel World, Water Kingdom and a few others, I have realized how wonderful it feels to go back to being a kid again. If you can take your kids to any of the Disneyland(s), there’s nothing like it! If you can’t, there’s plenty of other stuff you can plan. There are doll-museums around the world (one in New Delhi) and toy trains in many touristy places.

Nordic nights

Children love animated experiences

Children have their own way of perceiving vacations. They can give us some interesting insights into the places we take them to. You will be amazed to know how kids write their travelogues. Catch a glimpse of their words here – http://www.clubmahindra.com/teddytravelogues/