Runcationing in Rishikesh

A year since I ran my first Himalayan run, I sit down to write about my experience. I had been on a hunt for an exotic run in India when I heard about Running and Living’s Rishikesh Cross Country run. I signed up for the 15k trail run and geared up for the mountains. Most of you know how much I enjoy running (read: Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad). But when you throw in a vacation to the mix, you get a girl giddy with glee! 🙂

My private sundeck with a view of the chocolate-hills

My private sundeck with a view of the chocolate-hills

Austerity Before Indulgence

My first night in Rishikesh was an Airbnb find. It was a meditation centre run by monks from Spain. The place was slightly expensive, considering how basic the room and facilities were. But if you decide to stay here, don’t forget to use my Airbnb travel credit – www.airbnb.co.in/c/ode2 for a 1679 INR (~25 USD) discount.

My Airbnb homestay - with the Spanish monks

My Airbnb homestay – with the Spanish monks

Getting to Know the Ganga

Before the sun could set, I hopped and skipped over to one of the stepped embankments of the River Ganga. This river of national pride is rapidly becoming an open drain that carries garbage along its course. This garbage is of a special kind – full of paraffin, flowers, sweets (used as prayer offering) and toxic oils. It worries me to think of all the innocent fishes which are dying a slow death in what might otherwise have been a holy place for them to swim in.

Ganga aarti in full swing

Ganga aarti in full swing

Flavours from the Street

After the disturbing sight of the rituals at the Ganga, I strolled over to the inner sanctums of Rishishesh, to explore its street food. If you have been cheating on your workout, this is a dangerous place for you to be. There is gorgeous looking food peeping out of every roadside establishment – kachoris, samosas, pooris, and all of their cousins. I gave in to my temptations and sat down inside a shop where the man behind the cooking pot knew that his stuffings of sin were stronger than my weak spirit.

Deep fried street food - carboloading for the run! ;-)

Deep fried street food – carboloading for the run! 😉

Spanish Food in Rishikesh

After feasting on North Indian street food, it was time for me to eat some more! 😀 I had the Spanish dinner (read: Lleida – A Reminiscence) which a new monk freshly prepared for me. I had a bowl of salad, baked bread, tortilla de patatas and pisto (a ratatouille of sorts). This meal was indeed the best part of my stay at this homestay.

An appetizing Spanish meal cooked by a Spanish monk

An appetizing Spanish meal cooked by a Spanish monk

Rafting through the Rapids

I spent my next morning doing what every adventure junkie does in Rishikesh – RAFTING!!! 🙂 White water rafting was not new to me (read: White Water Rafting in Kolad). But rafting in the Ganga is an experience of a lifetime! We negotiated some really nasty rapids, some as difficult as level-4. At the end of the last rapid, our guide let us jump into the river and swim in water that was easily 90 feet deep.

Selfie from my raft!

Selfie from my raft!

Nature never stops showing me how small I am in the grander scheme of things. My existence and dreams and opinions simply don’t matter when I look up at the sky and see how big the real world really is. I smiled as I saw the Himalayas from inside the river – so majestic and inviting (and the reason why in a few months I did my first Himalayan trek).

A view worth rafting for!

A view worth rafting for!

A Luxury Retreat

My next two days were spent in the most opulent resort in all of Rishikesh – Raga on the Ganges. I will do a separate blog post on my stay there as I was thoroughly impressed by their hospitality. My lodging and boarding was fully sponsored by them. It is quite luxurious to have the waters of the River Ganga flow through your shower! 😉

My luxurious hideaway at Raga On The Ganges

My luxurious hideaway at Raga On The Ganges

The Day of the Run

My big day was finally there, and I realized I was going to run 15 kilometers with only a handful of other runners (15 to be precise). I have never felt like an elite marathoner, but that day, I felt special because I was one of  select few people who decided to get out of their comfy blankets on a cold wintry morning and show up in the middle of the mountains to run over stones and pebbles.

The running trail

The running trail

This was one of my scariest runs so far. I had wild langoors and mountain dogs for company. I remember stopping on my tracks a zillion times as I ran into monkeys who looked liked they wanted to snatch my cellphone. There was also the danger of getting run over by a truck on the national highway.

We had macaques to cheer us on the way

We had macaques to cheer us on the way

I met some stray cows too after I crossed a bridge after the 9k mark. But all of this was nothing compared to having a herd of wild mountain goats block my path on a narrow trail. I was praying I’d meet their shepherd somewhere, but I was plain unlucky. I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me because there was the vast expanse of mountain behind me, a group of crazy goats in front of me, the vertical wall of rock to my right, and the endless river (which I’d get to only if I rolled to my death down the steep escarpment) below.

The bridge to victory was finally visible!

The bridge to victory was finally visible!

I was saved by another runner who tore a branch, herded the goats away, grabbed my hand and led me across the trail. I cannot thank that man enough! He was my angel that morning. I had some much needed potatoes and eggs with electrolyte after my adventure, and even managed a grainy picture at the finish line with Rahul Verghese – the organizer of this scenic run. He happens to be a veteran runner himself.

At the finish line with Rahul Verghese - the organiser

At the finish line with Rahul Verghese – the organiser

The bounty of nature provides a nice space for us humans to sit and ponder over why the world was created and who we really are. I ended my trip by gazing into infinity and thanking God for revealing the beauty of His creations to me in the lap of my favourite mountains.

I indulge in some self reflection by the Ganga

I indulge in some self reflection by the Ganga

For more pictures, follow my daily micro blogs on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/oindrilade/.

You can also find inspiration from my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/OindrilaGoesFootloose/.

I am on Twitter too! 🙂 https://twitter.com/OindrilaDe

Let me know if you too are into runcationing. Have you been to Rishikesh? Has your experience been any different? I’m all ears! 🙂

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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?

Camping by the Tungarli Lake

This month last year, I happened to go on my first camping trip. It was a resolution of sorts, and I’ll revisit that weekend today. I had no tent, no sleeping bag and obviously, no experience in the wilderness. So, I went with Let’s Camp Out to tick one thing off my list of resolutions – at Tungarli Lake!

The Tungarli dam stretches over the eponymous lake

The Tungarli dam stretches over the eponymous lake

Getting There

The campsite is located about 5 km from Lonavala, which is a couple of hours’ drive from Mumbai. You can also take a train as I did. Once you reach the Tungarli dam, you’ll have to trek up and cover the rest of the stretch on foot. The dam is quite a charming spot! It was built in the 1930’s for irrigation, but that day, it appeared to be an abandoned watchpost up on the hill.

During the train journey, I met a group of trekkers who were getting ready to do the Rajmachi trek. Tungarli, is a nice stopover before you undertake that one. The view of the lake is refreshing.

Water buffaloes can be spotted cooling themselves in the inviting waters of Tungarli

Water buffaloes can be spotted cooling themselves in the inviting waters of Tungarli

Tungarli Lake

Somewhere in the Sahyadri range of mountains, the quaint village of Tungarli lives undisturbed by the city slickers. The lake is a watering hole for cows and buffaloes herded by the farmers from the village. If you are lucky, you can also spot some wild water buffaloes submerged in the waters of Tungarli Lake. This keeps them cool in hot afternoons. After drinking up the gorgeous view, we headed over to our campsite.

Our little green tents are all set to house us!

Our little green tents are all set to house us!

Camping amidst Nature

Our little green tents were already set up for us when we reached. They were Coleman sundome tents with a capacity of 3 each. When I first thought of camping, I imagined I’d have to endure hardships and sleep on thin tarpaulin sheets which would make me feel the stones and twigs beneath. But I was in for a surprise – a pleasant one.

Our tents were wind and water resistant, with a nice awning at the entrance. We could fully seal our tents with the double zippers. There were even two net-windows which could be zipped open or close a per our requirement for light and air. And some more air vents for cross ventilation. I could barely feel the ground for we had airbeds and inflatable pillows. Finally, there were a couple of pockets on the side-walls of the tent to stash our stuff.

If you are wondering where the washroom was, there was a toilet-tent (with ziplock) with a portable commode seat and a shovel inside. But because this is nature, you have bare earth beneath all this. Eco camping requires that you cover up your waste with earth (which you will have dug up to create a deep pit in the ground). Never forget to carry toilet paper if you are organizing your own camping trip.

From my vantage point, I could see the Tungarli village, Rajmachi, and also some parts of Lonavala

From my vantage point, I could see the Tungarli village, Rajmachi, and also some parts of Lonavala

Evening Trek

We had some tea and biscuits before setting out west on a trek to explore these hills on the Western Ghats. Our trekking guide took us to the very top of our hill and we stood there for a long time, taking in the view of the villages in the valley. From up there, we could also see Rajmachi and perhaps, Lonavala.

I feel treks are rewarding. Not only for the panoramic sights you get to see but also for the interesting plants and insects that you come across. Tungarli’s terrain is arid at places, and this has resulted in the growth of a variety of cacti.

Oh, my! What a giant cactus this one is!

Oh, my! What a giant cactus this one is!

I came across several cactus plants and also some buds which were yet to bloom. Nature gives you a nice lesson in botany if you care to explore and be inquisitive.

Cactus flower buds before bloom

Cactus flower buds before bloom

Not far from all the cacti were ant nests. You can identify these by the circular patterns they have around the burrow. I later found out that those belonged to harvester ants which are common in sandy soils. These ants mainly collect seeds as it is difficult to find honeydew (which the ordinary ant would normally go after). Ant nests are good for the soil as they provide aeration and help in mixing different layers of soil.

An ant-nest hides close to the cactus vegetation

An ant-nest hides close to the cactus vegetation

Sunset in the Sahyadris

The sky turned auburn as the sun signalled it was about to set. We sat on our elevated seats and watched the city pull up its dark blanket. Despite the altitude, the absence of daylight and the winter season, the temperature barely touched 20 degrees Celsius. But it was night, and we had to head back to our camp.

The sun sets over Tungarli

The sun sets over Tungarli

Bring Out the Barbecue!

After the trek, it was time to eat, and we had a portable barbecue to get the party started! 🙂 We grilled sliced pineapples, paneer cubes and potato halves on the burning charcoal. I had never had so much fun drizzling oil over starters and coating them with pepper. I realized that day that food tastes better when you have helped prepare it. After a filling meal of appetizers, we tightened our shoelaces again – for the night trek! 😀

It's fun to barbecue your own dinner :-)

It’s fun to barbecue your own dinner 🙂

The Night Trek

I don’t think I can ever get enough of trekking, especially if they’re short and easy. The weather was so lovely that night, that we decided to trek again. This time, to the east. We strapped on a couple of solar-charged torches and set out to explore the hills’ beauty in the night-time. This one was a tad bit difficult as compare to the evening trek, but the moon shone brilliantly and made it worth the effort. We indulged in a lot of stargazing and constellation spotting that night. Wintertime is the best to spot a lot of stars which one will miss in the summers, and also to clearly see the zodiac of the month. If you have a stargazing app, don’t forget to use it on night treks!

Solar lights are handy for night treks

Solar lights are handy for night treks

Campfires are for Singing

When we started getting hungry again, we found our way back to our camp. Our tents were visible in the warm glow of the campfire. The crackling of dried leaves and twigs in the fire made for some nice music in the otherwise silent night. The time was perfect for some old melodies. We sang as our dinner was being unpacked. We were floored by the eclectic mix of home-cooked Maharashtrian dishes from the village below. All that singing, trekking and good food made it very easy to fall asleep. I used to worry I’d never be able to sleep in the wild with the threat of animals attacking me in the middle of the night. But I was so wrong! I slept like a baby.

It's time to sit around the campfire and sing some good old songs! :-)

It’s time to sit around the campfire and sing some good old songs! 🙂

Waking Up In a Tent

I awoke as the sun rose and filled my little green tent with light. I zipped open the door and went out to watch a morning scene I’d never see in the city.

Insects are early risers, and get to work real quick. I spotted ants sucking on the cactus flowers. These harvester ants contribute to seed dispersal and improve cactus population.

A couple of ants suck on a cactus branch

A couple of ants suck on a cactus branch

Desert plants are not limited to cacti. I also came across what looked like wild ground berries.

These cute orange fruits look like physalis or wild ground berries

These cute orange fruits look like physalis or wild ground berries

My overnight camping trip came to an end with a delicious breakfast of poha, bread and jam with tea and biscuits. We helped each other dismantle the tents and fold them back into the portable bags. We carried all the non-biodegradable wastes with us to leave that spot of nature untarnished. I walked away from Tungarli Lake content to have finally camped in a tent.

We left Tungarli Lake just as we found it

We left Tungarli Lake just as we found it

I am hoping to go camping again this year. Have you ever camped out? How has your experience with nature been?

Silvassa in the Sizzling Summer Heat

The month of May started with a nice, long weekend, urging me to leave my polluted city and hop on a train to a neighbouring state. I almost flashpasked for this trip and decided to explore my fifth Union Territory – Dadra and Nagar Haveli [Read about my trips to Daman and Pondicherry]. As you read this post, you will discover that Silvassa (the capital) makes for a convenient and captivating weekend getaway from Mumbai.

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

Most people avoid Silvassa in the sweltering heat, but this is actually a good time to have the place all to yourself and give the tourist crowd a miss. There are several trains that halt at Vapi (Gujarat), and it’s a forty-minute rickshaw ride to Nagar Haveli from there on.

I had booked myself into Lotus Riverside Resort and was welcomed by a panoramic view of the Daman Ganga River surrounded by bountiful flowering trees on either bank. Despite the summer, the Sahyadris kept me cool.

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

It was evening by the time I reached my hotel and I was weary from the train journey, so I spent my first day enjoying a drink by the poolside. Later at night, I walked about a park nearby and admired the hedges and flowers in the moonlight. I did not know then that I would come across the tallest tree in the city early next morning.

On Day-2, I hired a car and a friendly local to drive me through the entire stretch of this union territory. It was going to be a busy day, and I knew I was going to love it!

This towering tree reminds me of 'Jack and the Beanstalk'

This towering tree reminds me of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

My first stop was at the Vasona Wildlife Sanctuary. While I waited for my safari bus to arrive, I “walked” into (and I really mean ‘inside’) a giant, hollow tree.

Once our minibus whooshed into the forest, I prepared my camera for the alpha male of the jungle – the Lion. Vasona only has one lion but two lionesses in the expansive woodland. This is a grave reminder for us to step up our efforts to save these cats. I caught the lion in a rather docile state as he slept on his alluvial bed with his paramour keeping him company.

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps [Shot during the Lion Safari]

A little away from the lions, we had the company of peafowls. I captured this handsome peacock as he strutted his shimmering blue neck and ornate crown. It is said that peacocks are polygamous and the more intricate their tails, the more chances they have of fathering another peacock. Peahens are plain Janes in front of their male counterparts.

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India's national bird - the peacock

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India’s national bird – the peacock

With one safari ticked off my list, I embarked on another. [Love the wild? Read about my trip to Bannerghatta National Park.] The Deer Park lay sprawled on another part of the Dadra and Nagar Haveli wildlife sanctuary. This safari was more intimate than the previous one as we had a roofless jeep with only four wildlife enthusiasts aboard.

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

The Deer Park is home to over four hundred deer, sambars and nilgais. If you are lucky, you will also spot some porcupines and peacocks. I passed quite a few chitals (or spotted deer, as they are commonly known) strolling about in the afternoon, their woody antlers smoothly blending with twigs and the barks of trees. Did you know that they shed their antlers every year?

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa's Deer Park

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa’s Deer Park

As our jeep moved further inside the forest, we were met with a herd of female sambars. These deer are nocturnal, but I guess the constant flurry of tourist activity has changed their sleep cycle. Does this mean we should stop commercializing forest safaris? I always find myself torn between the feeling of protecting wildlife and letting them be and that of knowing more about them and getting a closer look at their lives.

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

The jeep sputtered to a halt in front of a newly built viewpoint at the top of a hill. I jumped off the dusty seat and swung my DSLR over my head. When I reached the edge of the man-made escarpment, the sight left me breathless. I could see cows grazing merrily on the lush meadows and a narrow tributary crisscrossing across the fields. The greens gave way to yellow fields with a handful of trees breaking the pattern. Further ahead, I saw the Dudhni Lake and the dense woods beyond. Countryside is certainly beautiful!

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

If I ever have to choose between land and water, I might just pick water. That’s the kind of water-baby I am! The moment I glimpsed at the Dudhni Lake, I knew I wanted to swim in it. Well, swimming is not permitted, but that didn’t stop me from taking a shikara-ride across the lake! Shikaras are small boats with a fourposter roof. My oarsman was kind enough to let me try my hand at rowing. 🙂 And believe you me, rowing is wonderful (not only for your spirit but also for your arms 😉 )!

My shikara floats on the Daman Ganga River

My shikara floats on the Dudhni Lake

You can go as far as the Madhuban Dam or just enjoy the plains covered by boscage. The lake has small fishes, but the water isn’t clear enough for you to spot too many of them. After a while, I realized I was falling asleep on the mat with the cushions supporting my head. So, I decided to head back to the bank and go on to my next destination.

The land looks inviting from the water

The land looks inviting from the water

My driver took me to the Vanganga Garden in the evening, and I was ecstatic at the sight of more water and plants. The landscape of Silvassa confuses me. There are hills, forests, lakes and even barren lands and sandy stretches with palm trees sprouting up every few steps apart. The Vanganga Garden is spread over several acres and has bridges to help you get from one landmass to another. It is a nice place for a morning jog or an evening stroll with little children.

The breeze was soothing in the Vanganga Lake Garden

The Vanganga Lake Garden – a picture of calmness

Vanganga Lake is livelier than Dudhni, with rafts of ducks paddling about in the tranquil waters. If you look closely, you will spot turtles peeking out of the water from time to time.

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

I had seen most of the union territory before sundown, but one place remained – the Tribal Museum. Entry to the museum is free and you will be asked to leave your shoes outside before you enter. I was unaware of the rich heritage of Nagar Haveli prior to my visit. The museum told me stories of the Dhodias, Kathodis and Warlis. This union territory is home to several tribes and a majority of its population is tribal. The museum is ill maintained but it still stores pictures, murals, paintings, weapons and utensils belonging to many tribal communities.

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Despite Portuguese presence in Dadra and Nagar Haveli for almost two hundred years, I could spot no trace of Portuguese influence in this area.

When I returned to my resort, I was drenched to the bone in sweat and exhaustion. My only cure was a long swim in the cold pool. I have recently started booking my stay with places that have a pool. As my thirst for exploration increases, my body craves more comfort as compensation for the endless treks and weightlifting (DSLR, bulky lenses and power banks take their toll on your muscles).

There's nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

There’s nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

Useful Tips to Plan Your Silvassa Trip

1. Make your hotel booking in advance. Silvassa is a small place with very few decent accommodation options. To add to this, Airbnb does not have any relevant listings. I had a hard time finding something in my budget as all of the places were full. It took me a few phone calls and some loosening of my purse strings to get something I would actually like.

2. A weekend trip is more than enough to get a taste of Nagar Haveli and Dadra. Unless you wish to live with the local tribals in their huts, there isn’t much for you to do after the first two days.

3. The temperature can get on your nerves if you aren’t prepared for it. So make sure you carry some sunscreen lotion and light cotton clothes to keep you cool. Keep yourself hydrated with some nimbu-pani (lemonade), coconut water or sugarcane juice as you hop skip and jump across attractions. Remember that tea, coffee and milk are dehydrating agents in reality. So don’t fool yourself with that smoothie or iced tea!

4. This union territory is not covered by Gujarat’s dry-state law, so booze here flows freely. Also thanks to negligible taxes, most alcohol will cost you one third of what it will in Mumbai. [Do you believe drinking is an art? Read about my trip to Sula Vineyards.]

5. The place doesn’t have any unique cuisine to call its own. The closest you can get to a local dish is the odd Gujarati food, and not even that at most restaurants. You can see from the pic below that I was served a mishmash of Marathi, Continental and South Indian food for breakfast – basically, everything except Gujarati. 😛

Fusion breakfast - the secret to my energy

Fusion breakfast – the secret to my energy

This brings us to the end of my Silvassa trip. Have you been here before? If you have, then tell me how you did the trip differently! If you haven’t, then plan your trip soon before this becomes yet another crowded tourist-spot! And remember to ask me for help if you are stuck planning your getaway. For more pictures and action, follow my Facebook page – Oindrila Goes Footloose.