Saturday, October 21, 2006

Diwali celebrations

Happy Diwali!! And, this is really a very happy one because Baba is with us again on this sparkling occasion. The diwalis of the three years when he was not with us, were also good but his presence will light up Diwali even more. My world is literally dark without my parents. So, Diwali can only be fully lighted up when I am with both of them.
In the morning, I attended my Biology coaching class(imagine,tuition even on Diwali day), after a breakfast of chicken sandwiches. Then, I came back from there to have a lunch of Fried rice and Lemon chicken prepared by Mammam. After this very delicious lunch, I went off to Landmark Bookstore with Baba. I had never visited Landmark before. But it is fantastic! So many books, arranged very neatly and divided into many sections. I bought "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes(Volumes 1& 2)", "Famous Five(three adventures in one book)","Fifth Formers of St.Clare's" and "The mystery of the Vanished Prince". I was very happy after buying just what I wanted.
And now, I have to go and get ready to attend a Kali Puja invitation. We'll go there along with my grandparents. We were supposed to start at six from our house. But now, it's already 5.50. I don't suppose we can start before 6.15. Whatever it is, I must go now. Anytime now, Mammam will call me.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Last Moments at Goa

After finishing two major tours at Goa, we decided to go around the city and buy gifts for our family and friends. We had not seen everything in Goa. Three major spots, Mayam Lake, Shaptokoteshwar Temple and Palolem Beach were still left. But Palolem is too far from Panaji and our driver didn’t seem to know much about it. Crocodiles had arrived at Mayam Lake and Shaptokoteshwar Temple was closed for the time-being. So, first thing in the morning, we went to have breakfast at Dona Paula. This time, we took grilled chicken sandwiches, omelettes and coffee at a better restaurant. That day, it was raining. Immediately after breakfast, we came back to the city’s market place. After roaming around a bit, we entered a Handicraft shop. Here, we found Goan Handicrafts for everyone. Very happily, we bought them and then, we bought two bags from another shop. I bought a cap for myself. But Goa is a pretty expensive place. All things, including food, clothing, shelter, conveyance, etc. are a lot more expensive than Kolkata. That afternoon, we had a very delicious lunch at Goa. It consisted of Rotis, Chicken Tandoori, One vegetable curry and Limca. This was the best meal we’ve had in Goa. After lunch, we saw a church situated in Panaji itself. It is called the Church of Emaculated Conception. We couldn’t go inside the church as prayers were going on inside it at that moment. So, we just looked around and came back. This church is not shown to the tourists in the conducted tours. Tourists have to see it by themselves. We saw the houses of businessmen and other VIPs [the Bishop, the Army Commander, Dempo Brothers (members of Dempo, the football club)] in a locality called Altino (meaning “height”). These houses are really beautiful. We also saw a temple of Hanumanji, which no tourist ever visits. It was completely empty. But it is very very beautiful. I don’t know why it is never shown to the tourists in the conducted tours. But it should be shown.
That night, we couldn’t go out for dinner because the drizzling continued. Instead, we sat in our room and tried the food at our holiday home. It was not bad.
Next morning, it was time for us to leave Goa. We checked out of the holiday home at 9.30 a.m. Then, we went to have breakfast for the third consecutive day at Dona Paula. This time we were lucky. After finishing the breakfast of Masala Dosa, Dahi Vada, Half-boiled eggs and coffee, we found a family of four searching for more people in order to rent the eight seater family boat. Immediately, we gave them half the cost for the boat and went with them to a blue boat which was waiting for us. And it was great! We enjoyed ourselves immensely in the 15-minute ride in the rivers of Mandavi and Zuari. At about 12 o’ clock, we reached Dabolim Airport. Biding adieu to Goa, we boarded the aircraft to Mumbai. From Mumbai, we were back to Kolkata by 7.30. Nothing very significant happened on the way, except that the woman at the Security check-point at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport opened my cap to see if I had hidden bombs there.
The Goa trip was fantastic. But I missed my maternal grandparents, Mama, Mami, Tanni Didi (who is known as Woodsmoke in blogosphere) and Riju Dada. After seeing the beautiful state of Goa for the first time, memories of our Rajasthan trip came rushing back to my mind. My grandparents stayed back at Kolkata to enjoy Durga Puja, while Tanni Didi is now miles away in Idaho. It’s pretty unfortunate that Mama, Mami and Riju Dada visited Goa just a week before we did. If we had known before, we could have made the trip together. I feel that Goa is a must-se place for everyone. It provides the perfect getaway from hectic city life. If you’ve not already visited Goa, please do so in your next vacation. And I promise you, you’ll feel better when you come back.

South Goa at its Greatest

My mind still full of what we had seen the previous day, I woke up on the day of Navami. We all got ready quickly for the tour of South Goa. It sounded promising. Our driver, Bhanudas arrived at about 9 o’ clock. Our first stop that day was Dona Paula. Dona, the daughter of a Portuguese viceroy had fallen in love with Paula, a fisherman’s son. They had committed suicide at this point, which is now a tourist spot. This is also the meeting place of two rivers, Mandavi and Zuari. First, we took breakfast in one of the restaurants by the riverside. It was amazing, eating and getting a majestic view of the rivers. Then, climbed up the steps to get a better view of the rivers. We also saw the statue of Dona and Paula. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go for boating in the rivers because there are only two kinds of boats here. You either board scooters supporting only one person at a time, or an eight-seater family boat. We were not ready to go venturing alone and we needed to pay the full cost of eight people for the family-boat. So, we left Dona Paula and went to the first church, The Basilica of Bom Jesus. This Basilica is dedicated to the infant Jesus and also has the Chapel of St.Xavier. The interesting fact about this Chapel is that it contains the remains of St. Xavier himself! We saw the remains, safely preserved in a glass box kept at a certain height. After coming out of this Basilica, we crossed the road and went to another church, Se Cathedral. This church has six chapels and fourteen altars. Beside this church, the St. Francis of Assisi Church is located. This is really beautiful. It shows St. Francis holding Jesus Christ during his Lord’s death. On either side of their statue, are the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul respectively. Next, we saw a museum erected by the Archaeological Survey of India. This museum has all the things which were used by the Portuguese in India and many portraits of Portuguese viceroys and other important people. In fact, 8 galleries are dedicated to those portraits. Of course, we couldn’t see so many. Then, we came out of the museum and prepared to leave the spot. In the same compound, we saw a deserted church named St. Catherine’s Cathedral. Leaving the churches, we now went to explore the temples. We saw two temples. First one is the Mangesh Temple and second one is the Shanta Durga Temple. Both the temples are beautiful and look, more or less, the same. Both are situated amidst the hills and both have a kind of pond within the temple premises. But the Shanta Durga Temple is more popular.
Around 3 o’ clock, we visited the Polva Beach. At first sight, it looked great as its waters gleamed in the sunlight like a silvery mass. But, as we were about to explore the beach, it started raining! So, we decided to have some food in one of the restaurants. We hoped that the rain would get over by the time we finished with our food. But, the rain continued even after we had finished a meal of rotis and Pomfret fish curry. Yet, we were not disheartened. Making good use of the umbrellas we had taken from Kolkata, we walked down to the beach. My God, what a wind was blowing! I was surprised it didn’t blow away our umbrellas. Even then, we took photographs. With that, our South Goa trip also ended.
That night, we had a dinner of Mixed fried rice, one vegetable curry, chicken curry and tomato juice ( tomato juice is the most sour thing I’ve ever tasted apart from “Center Shock”, the chewing gum) again at Sher-e-Punjab.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beautiful Beaches of North Goa

We went for a walk along Miramar Beach in Panaji the day we reached Goa. This is not exactly a sea beach. It is a beach along the river Mandavi. Nevertheless, it is beautiful. After eating panipuris, we boarded a launch for an evening cruise on the Mandavi. But there was no scope for observing the scenery. There were singers and dancers on board, ready to perform once the launch started. The first performances were good (one song, one dance, dancing by all the little kids on board and dancing by all the couples on board). But then, they called all the boys to dance. After that, it was pure ghost-dancing and needless to say, we didn’t enjoy it all. The music was being played at full volume. Moreover, the songs were mostly Himesh Reshamiya numbers. So, we didn’t get what we had expected from the cruise.
Next day, we went on a tour of North Goa. While going there, we witnessed the beautiful state of Goa. It is very clean and very green. The houses have sloping tiled roofs and are mostly two-storeyed. The street-lights are lined neatly and look different from the usual street-lights found in other Indian cities. Panaji looks like any foreign city. Yes, it is that much different from other Indian cities. Goa has a unique combination of hills and sea. We first visited Aguada Fort that day. Basically, it was used by the Portuguese to see the ships and get alerted. Situated atop a hill, this fort overlooks the sea on all sides. You get a really splendid view from there. It also hosts the remains of an old light-house. Our next stop was Sinquerim Beach. This beach is surrounded by small hills, some resorts and lines of coconut trees. Tourists are not allowed to go down to the beach. So, we watched it from the top of a kind of enclosure which has been constructed for tourists. Before reaching here, we had wanted to see dolphins in a lake near Aguada Fort. But the people there charged too much money. Besides, there is every doubt whether you’ll be able to see the dolphins or not. So, we decided to leave the creatures alone and go to the next beach. The net beach was Calangute Beach. This is the most popular one in Goa. It is very long and without trees or hills. We ventured a bit into the sea and then, drank Mirindas under one of the umbrellas which had been laid in front of the restaurants. This was also great. We sat there for a long time, watching people bathing and the lifeguards blowing their whistles. The next beach was Anjuna Beach. This is again, a bit different. You have to go down the hills using steps to reach the shore. There are big boulders on the shore and the beach is surrounded by hills and coconut trees. We had not noticed the steps while going down. So, we went down using a pathway laid with rocks. We also had to climb some of the boulders on the shore. It was both fun and danger. But it was more fun. While going to the next beach, we fed on cucumbers! Yes, we were already a bit hungry. Our Branch (Breakfast+Lunch) of chicken sandwiches, toasts and omelettes had been digested. Anyway, cucumbers were enough for the time-being. So, we visited Vagator Beach. This is almost like Anjuna Beach. But it is bigger and you need to climb down many more steps to reach the shore. It is more beautiful also. After that, we visited the Shree Bodgeshwar Sansthan in the town of Mapusa. It is a kind of temple. We also saw the Secretariat of Goa. It is indeed beautiful and is situated amidst the hills. With that, our tour of North Goa ended.
We returned to Panaji by evening. We took dinner at a restaurant called “Sher-e-Punjab”. You must have heard about it. It is there in almost all cities of India.

Reaching Goa

Our flight was scheduled at 6.05 a.m. on the day of Saptami. I got up at 4.20 a.m., took a bath and dressed quickly. My parents were almost ready. Since the airport is very near to our house, we reached the airport at exactly 5.00 a.m. After the baggage screening, security check and all those necessary things were over, we boarded the aircraft. Now, this flight was scheduled for Mumbai and from Mumbai, we had to board another flight for Goa. Oh, how nice it was! Slowly, the plane started moving and roamed over the whole runway. Then, it gathered tremendous speed and was up in the air! We got a breakfast consisting of a bun, fresh fruits, an omelette and tea (or coffee). It was a great journey and all through it, we witnessed the beautiful scenery outside. We could see both the Howrah Bridge and the Second Hooghly Bridge from the plane. A little above, we saw the big, white fluffy clouds floating in the blue sky. The plane landed at Mumbai at about 8.45 a.m. We didn’t go out of the airport because it was a normal working day for the Mumbaikars, which would cause traffic jam. Fearing that we may not be able to return to the airport in time, we stayed there. The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were on the aircraft to Goa. It was a journey of 45 minutes and the air hostesses served us lunch (mutton biryani and kheer) within that time. We got the first view of Goa from the plane. It was splendid. Lush green hills and valleys and light dirty-brown Arabian Sea. The plane landed at Dabolim Airport at about 1 p.m. First, we collected our baggage from the airport. Then, we went outside and searched for the placard bearing my father’s name. The driver of the car we had hired was supposed to come holding the placard. We noticed him and approached him. He brought the Maruti van nearer and we got inside the van. It was a great feeling. So, finally, we had reached Goa!

Puja Plans

I never mentioned our plans for the Durga Puja in my blog. But we had big plans on our mind. Air tickets to Goa had been taken; hotel booking and car hiring had been I never mentiofinalized. Only my parents needed a proper leave from office for five days. You would ask, “What leave? You’ll be going during the Puja and getting four readymade holidays.” But that was the problem. It was raining so much that we feared the West Bengal Government would cancel all holidays for government officers to control the flood. My mother is also a government officer (Joint Block Development Officer). Luckily, the rain stopped just after Mahalaya. My father’s bank’s half-yearly closing also got over the day before Shashti. So, all these holiday-problems were solved and we were ready to go to Goa. Like all other years, we were happy to go somewhere during the Puja. We don’t like to stay at Kolkata during the Puja because we don’t like pandal-hopping and, at least once in a year, we would like to get free from the crowds of Kolkata.