Why The Serai Bandipur Is Every Birdwatcher’s Paradise

The gentle ruffle of feathers, a lone chirp in the wee hours of the morning… and then, a series of chirps in response to the first – these subtle sounds would wake me before sunrise in a land where the September air was nippy and nature, alive. I was at ‘The Serai Bandipur – Experiential Bloggers’ Retreat’ with a handful of bloggers from across India. We would spend our next few days exchanging ideas and stories over endless cups of coffee, bowls of soup, a jungle safari and a night-long party which would seal our friendship into something more lasting.

Befriending Bandipur

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

I would arise every day in a wonderland far removed from the cosmopolitan commotion of a city. This was Bandipur – a national park spanning over two hundred thousand acres in the South Indian state of Karnataka. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve attracts many travellers for the elusive big cat. In all honesty, it is not just the tiger, but also leopard that wildlife enthusiasts vie to catch a glimpse of. I, on the other hand, was not there just for the wild cat(s). I was on the hunt for some feathered friends.

Soaking In The Splendour Of The Serai

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage - Serai's floral greeting in the morning?

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage – Serai’s floral greeting in the morning?

Forests, although enchanting, can be exhausting in the sun and humidity. Fortunately, I was sheltered in a serene sanctum ensconced in luxury – The Serai Bandipur. This indulgent jungle resort kept me right in the middle of the wild, yet provided me with all creature comforts of an avant-garde property – a temperature controlled commodious room, fine bed-linen, a well-stocked swanky bathroom, a wood-panelled patio and a landscaped courtyard outside my cottage! With so much pampering, I knew I would never tire from my incessant birdwatching.

Sunbirds On Lilies & Babblers That Are Sly…

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

You must think I’m an early riser who staunchly lives by the proverb – ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ That notion cannot be further from the truth. I am a spoilt city brat who is stuck to her laptop at 2am – the quintessential night owl. I cannot open my eyes until I am wrenched out of bed by my mum, admonishing me to finish breakfast so the maid can do the dishes. Only a place like Bandipur can make me get up so early, and that too without an alarm! At The Serai, I would be roused from my restful slumber by the gentle rays of the sun filling up my cosy room through the French windows. Instead of a shrill alarm or a scolding from my mother, I would wake up to the sweet sounds of chirruping songbirds. That would set the tone of yet another day to be spent chasing exotic avifauna.

…Because Balconies Are For Birding! 😉

I use my verandah only for one thing - looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

I use my verandah only for one thing – looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

Stone-walled porches with varnished wooden railings,

Leather upholstered armchairs and sunroof ceilings –

These little luxuries pale when compared

To glorious sightings of bushchats and hares.

With the first ray of light, I would step out to the lanai and get my equipment ready. I can do without my morning cuppa, but I lose my cool if my DSLR’s battery is not charged. When my Benro tripod is in position and the Canon lenses cleaned and kitted out with a UV filter, I know I am ready to shoot!

Bandipur’s Birds On My Balcony! <3

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

The Serai rewarded me with quite a few gorgeous sightings of passerine birds. I did have some trouble managing shots that weren’t hazy. (These birdies are so restless, it’s hard to catch them clean!) I now have flowerpeckers, sunbirds, silverbills, flycatchers, magpies, cormorants, bulbuls and several babblers, among others in my collection. I know I’m still an amateur when it comes to clicking these flying figures, because I spotted many more that left me too stupefied for my limbs to make any movement. I could go hungry for hours if only my eyes would feed on birds! But one must eat to lug around a tripod and a bulky camera bag.

Fine Dining In The Fair Weather

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary - Serai's pan-cuisine restaurant.

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary – Serai’s pan-cuisine restaurant.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Serai’s in-house restaurant (Sanctuary) are elaborate affairs. Their buffet spread comprises dishes from across the world (read – Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine) and also some local favourites. I would generally have a platter of cut fruits, an egg – made to order, an idli, a pancake and a muffin with some freshly squeezed juice or a milkshake in the mornings. Afternoons would see me load my plate with assorted salads and dips, a baked pasta preparation, a hot naan – fresh off the pan, some grilled greens, a vegetable poriyal and some dish with gravy for the mains. I would finish off my meals with not less than 4 desserts – generally an ice cream, a mousse in a shot glass, some hot rabri with gulab jamun, and a decadent pastry.

Our evenings were usually spent at Moyar’s Edge – Serai’s bar, with a stunning view of the Nilgiri Hills of Ooty (only 2 hours away) and the crystal-clear swimming pool of the property. The bar is well stocked with aged single malts and imported wines, apart from the regular party-spirits and liqueurs. I avoid drinking these days to better practise my faith and cater to my diet as an athlete, so I took the opportunity to sample a couple of their mocktails. The evening chill helped stoke the warm conversations that flowed freely through the night.

Alcohol And Ornithology Don’t Go Together

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

Another reason I don’t like to drink is that it makes you too lethargic to wake up with the birds. I would never trade the chance of watching a munia fluttering towards her nest with a leaf in her beak for a night of mixed strong spirits leading to a hangover. That said, I couldn’t resist a glass of red wine (read – Sula Vineyards: A Fine-Wine Story) with my dinner on our last night at The Serai. I knew I would miss the place – the tranquillity of the 36-acre sprawling surroundings, the grandeur of the elegantly done interiors and the hospitality of the humble and helpful staff. They made me even more emotional with the intimate bonfire and the barbecued goodies that were served in the light drizzle in the evening.

Deep Tissue Massage Deep In The Forest

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

My time in Bandipur was not all birdwatching and gourmet dining and giggling with my new pals. I also booked myself into a 90-minute spa (which would ultimately stretch to 2 hours). My masseuse of North East Indian descent gave me the ‘fitness massage’ – one that not only releases the tension in my marathon-weathered muscles (read – Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) but also has elements of aromatherapy. I could not feel my bones after every part of my body was kneaded with hot oil. I also opted for 10 minutes of ‘hot stone massage’ which involves rolling hot river stones (which are boiled in hot water) across your well-oiled back and arms. After the relaxing massage, I sat 15 minutes in the steam chamber (to unclog my pores and let my skin breathe) before taking a long shower to wash off the oils.

You Point Your Lens Better When Your Arms Are Strong

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

After the rejuvenating spa session, I had a quick breakfast and continued on my quest for more winged wonders. I had caught quite a few birds from afar, but I was still thirsting for a close-up. I had walked most of the trail (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone) about the living quarters inside the property (spanning 18 acres), peeped up every tree that I could safely reach without being bitten by a snake, and stood still in my green pants and dark top (for camouflage), my camera delicately balanced on my palm. Yet, I hadn’t captured a bird so close it would blow my mind.

Would Passerines Pass By The Poolside?

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool - always afraid I'll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool – always afraid I’ll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

“C’mon! Change into your swimwear and jump in the water!” – My friends from Skreem prod me to leave my camera and enjoy the infinity pool (that has goalposts in case you and your gang wish to play a game of water polo). I am in two minds – I have come prepared with my towel and everything, but I can’t keep the DSLR aside. I am gripped by a fear that I will miss my best bird sighting when I am frolicking in the pool.

My Luck Finally Shines

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! :-)

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! 🙂

I spent that afternoon getting a tan on the sunbed by the swimming pool, but sacrificing pool-time did not yield me any sightings. (Sigh! 🙁 ) Next morning, however, as I got up to pack up my tripod, a look of resignation painted on my face, I was startled by the cacophonous chatter of a babbler. I’d almost dropped my zoom-lens in excitement! I quickly regained my composure and clicked away – delighted to have my feast served on a platter before my eyes. There wasn’t one, but half a dozen babblers that warbled away for close to a minute before disappearing from what seemed like a dream. My day was made.

Mission Accomplished!

I'm all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

I’m all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

That day, my joy knew no end! I wasn’t lost at the dinner table anymore. I did not forget to wish the couple that was celebrating their anniversary at this opulent resort. And, I was actually excited about the tiger sighting we had had in the afternoon. (I still don’t get the obsession over tigers, to be honest!)

In my eagerness for sharing my birding adventure with you, I have perhaps forgotten to tell you how swish our cottages were, or how breathtaking the views were from every corner of the property, or how we saw a tiger chase a spotted deer in the jungle. So, I’ve made a small video that captures some moments from my memorable stay at The Serai:-

Do birds make you feel the same way they make me feel?

Do you like tigers more than birds?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂 I would also really like some feedback on my writing and video. I am quite new to videography and your tips on editing and shooting will really help. Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to give me some encouragement!

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures of birds and luxury jungle properties from my nature-trips! Do spread the love by sharing this article with birdwatchers and lovers of the wild! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by The Serai – Bandipur. Nevertheless, all views are entirely my own.

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Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone (Part 1)

Rhythmic gurgle – a sound that my mind associates with struggle. I heard the rhythmic gurgling of the waters that seemed to wrestle with a multitude of obstacles on their way. I could see no sign of water, but the sound was conspicuous. “We’ll find her”, my guide assured me, almost reading my mind. He handed me the steel flask which clanged against the carabiner fastened to his rucksack. I gulped copious amounts of water, hoping it wouldn’t be my last drink. We were in the middle of the core zone of Satpura’s Tiger Reserve, and I could hear my heart beat over the loud gushing of the Denwa River.

The enchanting wilderness of Satpura

The enchanting wilderness of Satpura

Don’t startle a tiger, they say, and he won’t startle you. I wonder how a human keeps himself from startling a tiger, especially in a forest where humans have no business loitering! The more silence I was trying to create, the noisier I seemed to be. Dry sal leaves cheekily crushed themselves under my trekking shoes. I couldn’t blame the dead for failing to realize the value of life! The men in our small group broke into a boisterous laughter over a silly joke somebody had cracked. Did they really think they were invincible in a jungle full of tigers? The constant rustle of leaves from the towering sal trees convinced me that it was useless to be on my guard. If I indeed was meant to die at the hands (paws, rather) of a tiger, there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Resignation writ on my forehead, I trod on…

Dwarfed by the tall sal trees

Dwarfed by the tall sal trees

Walking through the woods

Rocky was here”, Chinmay – our naturalist, announced suddenly, referring to a tiger. He was pointing at an Arjun tree with a deep gash on its bark. I saw the perfect “R” in bold orange against the off white trunk which the wild cat had marked. I couldn’t help imagining how it would feel to be scratched by Rocky quite the same way. Would I then be as famous as Harry Potter because of my scar?

We were retracing the path taken by Captain James Forsyth, an explorer who served in the Indian Army in the late 19th century – while we were still under British rule. The more I walked, the more I realized that this was less about tigers and more about the other secrets of a forest. We came across ornate shells that clung to the rugged bark of a gum tree. The shell was actually the egg of the gum-tree-shield bug. How beautifully the mother protects her unborn!

Insects know the art of taking life just as well as that of giving life. I could confirm this when I saw a colony of termites methodically murdering a tree. Life and death scenes apart, Satpura showed us riveting patterns on the barks of distinct trees. I clearly remember what I now call the alligator-tree – Indian ebony with its bark designed to look like alligator hide.

Picnic in the forest

After a few hours of walking in the wild, our elaborate lunch was served under the shade of Arjun trees. The kitchen staff had prepared a fresh, hot spread of roasted cauliflower with potatoes and beans dressed in masala, phulkas, steamed rice, a thick gravy of lentil, and fruits for dessert. We cooled our heels by the stream, sipping on some coffee before beginning the next part of our walking safari.

Filling up some fuel for the walk that still remains

Filling up some fuel for the walk that still remains

After lunch, our terrain transformed from brown, flat earth to white, uneven pebbles. I could not feel the afternoon heat under the canopy of lime and savage green leaves. To my naïve eyes, this part of Madhya Pradesh appeared to be a rainforest.

A path full of pebbles, a roof of green

A path full of pebbles, a roof of green

Carnivores and herbivores

We did not stop running into interesting forest finds though! My botanist grandad would be proud of me to know how many plants we spotted. I particularly remember drosera – the carnivorous beauty that knows how to attract unsuspecting insects with its bright red colours, and then trap them on its sticky surface. Drosera, also known as sundew, can cure respiratory diseases. I should have gobbled fistfuls of that flower to get rid of my asthma!

In all my excitement, I almost forgot to be afraid of the crouching tiger. This is precisely when we spotted tiger pug-marks on our route. Soon after, we saw some animal scat. “That belongs to a herd of nilgai”, Chinmay informed us. “Pooping is a group activity for them.” It is amusing how poop can be so important in tracking animals. You can tell how far the beast is, what he has eaten, if he is diseased, just by studying his excrement.

Campsite in the core tiger zone

As the evening wore on, we drew closer to our campsite. The Pugdundee Safaris team was already waiting for us when crossed our final river to the elegantly set up tents. It would be an understatement to say the backdrop was stunning. We had a solid chunk of the Sahyadris looking over us, and columns of mahua trees to cordon off the rest of the forest. We were going to sleep in the core zone of the Satpura National Park! I was thrilled and hoped we’d encounter at least a leopard at night.

Our safari tents at the foot of the hills

Our safari tents at the foot of the hills

Luxury camping with creature comforts

This was my first glamping experience, and even though I love camping without frills, I thoroughly relished the luxury that was laid out before us. I was smack in the middle of nature, yet shielded from the unsavoury bits (I only mean insects). There was hot water in the wash basin in front my tent, private WC and even shower! The lever-operated shower bags were easily the most jaw-dropping piece of creature-comfort I’ve seen at a campsite. Weary from the long trek, my pleasure at being able to shower under the stars was immeasurable. In a  cloth-covered bathroom with nothing but the night sky for roof, I discovered what opulence truly was. I wouldn’t trade this for all the bathtubs at 5-star properties!

Campfire to warm the heart

We had joked all through the day, but it was at night when the serious conversations began. I cannot say whether it was the 22-year old Glenlivet or the chilly weather or the star-spangled sky or the enchantment of the wilderness, or simply, everything together, but we started talking about our lives, our sorrows, and the meaning of ‘love’. It is when your your trekking group is a close-knit one that you can talk into the night until there is no more wood to keep the fire going. (Okay, you can never run out of wood in a forest, especially when  you are glamour-camping. But it will kill the magic if I tell you Manav, Pugdundee’s co-founder, wouldn’t let us stay up any longer, because we had an early morning start for next day’s hike.)

Camaraderie by the campfire

Camaraderie by the campfire

I had planned on telling you the entire story in one blog post itself. However, my trip was so epic, that I had to keep the best bits saved for the sequel! 😉 My best moments from this walking safari was listening to the sounds of nature. I’m glad I did not have my earphones on (a bad habit I’ve picked up from the marathons I’ve been running).

 

The joy of doing nothing

The joy of doing nothing (Picture credit: Prabhat Verma)

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Have you ever tried glamping? Let me know of your experiences in the comments below!

Disclosure: I was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris. However, all views are entirely my own.

Road Trip to Bishnoi Village

Last year, when I opened my travel calendar with a trip to Jodhpur, I thought I was going to fall for the tourist trap of visiting the regular sightseeing spots in the “Blue City”. I did not know I would end up surprising myself with a road trip to a small but important village right around the corner.

The road watches us zoom past

The road watches us zoom past

En Route to Bishnoi

When I told my host in Jodhpur that I was more keen on seeing quaint hamlets than grand palaces and forts, he looked offended. But he recovered quickly and arranged for a jeep for my Rajasthani road trip. I would be going for a drive to the village of Bishnoi! My Rajput driver hailed from Pakistan. He told me stories of his childhood and how he still longed to see his uncle who continues to live in his home country.

The earth is gravely and the trees, thorny

The earth is gravely and the trees, thorny

The drive was a noisy one, with the old jeep’s engine sputtering to stay alive. Even though the road was narrow and dusty, the CEAT tyres ensured that the journey was smooth. All along the way, I listened to the story behind the name of the village. Bishnoi actually means twenty (bish) nine (noi). The Bishnoi tribe that lives here, follows twenty nine tenets set out by their guru. While some principles are quite regressive, I fully support some others which emphasize on the conservation of nature and kindness towards animals.

A peacock shies away from our jeep

A peacock shies away from our jeep

I knew we had almost reached Bishnoi when I spotted a peacock strolling by the green plant cover. We were at Guda Vishnoiyan – a great place to spot some exotic birds. The place was peaceful, with no other human in sight.

The simple landscape of Bishnoi

The simple landscape of Bishnoi

I got off my jeep an explored the area on foot. I saw land divided into plots. That must have been the humans’ side of the village. On the other side, there was no segregation. The trees were happy to share space with their neighbours and be home to a number of birds.

The little lake at Guda Vishnoiyan

The little lake at Guda Vishnoiyan

From the Pottery Wheel

I had started to daydream as I gazed at a lake that the trees looked over. I soon remembered that we had to reach a potter before sunset. Off we drove to the potter’s workshop! I had a lovely evening meeting the humble craftsman who even let me try my hand at spinning the pottery wheel.

A world full of clay

A world full of clay

As I observed the intricate designs on myriad clay objects, I became more curious about the techniques used to fashion those forms. The master patiently demonstrated how to shape the clay mould as it rotated on the wheel. Pottery isn’t as easy as it looks. It requires a lot of perseverance and practice.

The magic of kiln

The magic of kiln

Printing Blocks

My next visit was to a fabric painter’s place. His small room was full of colourful pieces of cloth with symmetrical designs all over. This art form was block printing. The real trick in this is to create a block with the pattern you like. The next steps are fun – dunking the block in dye and dabbing your cloth piece with it.

Block printing artist at work

Block printing artist at work

The patterns come through beautifully! With dyes in assorted colours and blocks in assorted shapes, you can create some really complex and wonderful designs! These Rajasthani prints are then used on table cloths, bedsheets, clothes and many other things.

Stories come alive on pieces of fabric

Stories come alive on pieces of fabric

The sky was turning dark when we were done touring the village. I silently watched the sunset from the deck above the lake. It was a colourful end to a colourful road trip.

The sun sets over this sleepy village

The sun sets over this sleepy village

I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.

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?

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!