Sunday, December 19, 2010

Explore Goa: Bird-Watching

Juvenile Brahminy Kit
I am on vacation. I go to sleep late at night and I would like to stay in bed till noon. But every morning, I end up being forced out of bed at 5 a.m., when it is still pitch black outside. That is the price I have to pay for living in a tropical paradise. The cacophony of thousand birds screaming their guts out means that morning sleep is just not possible.

Yesterday morning, I decided to take my revenge on the noisy birds by fixing the newly acquired 80-400mm lens and going out and shooting all the birds I could see. The biggest noise making culprits are, of course, the crows. There are thousands of crows screaming all day long. However, I was astonished to see the varied bird life that exists in Mobor. I managed to get the following captures in just 1 hour. I can only imagine what an avid birder can find here.

Explore Goa: Margao to Panjim.

National Highway NH17 connecting Margao to Panjim.
I decided to cycle from Margao to Panjim. Margao is the commercial hub of Goa, while Panjim is the capital of Goa. Since the distance is relatively short, I thought it might be a good idea to check out some of the places near Vasco (named after Vasco-da-Gama).

The weather was hazy without any clouds, so I knew in advance that my landscape photography was not going to be anything spectacular. I decided to focus on the journey. The route I followed is marked on the map in red.

Route from Panjim to Margao via Vasco.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Explore Goa: Fishing in Arabian Sea.

Early Morning on Mandovi River.
My brother Roy is an avid angler. Okay. Let me rephrase that. My brother is a crazy fisherman. He can spend hours in the sea waiting for the fish to bite. I have tried fishing on a number of occasions and always came back with the same conclusion. I don't have the patience for fishing. This does not mean I lack patience. I have plenty of patience. For example, when it comes to photography, I can sit for hours waiting for the sun to be at just the right position so that I can get the "perfect shot". The difference, for me, is that I know exactly how long I have to wait for the sun to be at a specific point. But when it comes to fishing, I don't know when (or if) the fish are going to bite - and that is what I find frustrating. I thrive on certainty. I leave uncertainty for others.

Roy called me late last night asking if I would join him for a fishing trip along with some friends of his. The fishing would be in a high-speed boat, which he felt I might enjoy. The was a catch (pardon the pun). I had to get up at 5:30 am!!. Even as I groaned at the prospect of getting up at such an ungodly hour, I agreed to join him - thinking that the trip might offer some photographic opportunities.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Explore Goa: Dudhsagar.

Dudhsagar Waterfalls
Dudhsagar (which literally means "sea of milk") is a waterfall on the Mandovi river, and a must-see destination for tourists. The falls dry up into a trickle during the dry seasons (January to May) but provide an awe-inspiring view during the monsoon season (June to September) - as the heavy monsoon water gushes over the mountain.

Dudhsagar is in a very remote location and not accessible by car or bicycle. I had a number of options to visit the place:
1. Ask my brother to drive me to the falls in his 4x4 SUV (most convenient).
2. Go on one of the tourist vehicles that take people to Kulem by car - and then a bumpy 1 hour ride to the waterfalls in a 4x4.

How about Trekking?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Explore Goa: Margao to Ponda and Back.

The "Old Market" in Margao.
After a nice rest in Margao at my Sisters place, I was unsure what to do next. I wanted to make the trip to Dudhsagar waterfalls, but felt that I should keep it for another day. Instead, I thought I'll take a trip to the Old Market and perhaps do a little cycling to Ponda & back. The "little cycling" eventually turned out to be 4 hours of solid cycling.

My bike trip from Margao to Ponda & back.

Explore Goa: River Sal Boat Trip.

Betty's Cruise on the River Sal.
A river trip in a tourist boat is about as close I wanted to get on my photography trip as a Turkish family wants to get to a Greek Salad. The only reason I decided to give it a try is:
1. The boat belongs to my brother and he captains the boat.
2. I felt like I needed a break to just sit back and relax.
3. Great food and drinks. Did I mention that its all free for me?

The boat trip is a major attraction for the visiting tourists who enjoy the scenic river and the sea. The trip starts in River Sal and briefly goes into the Arabian sea for dolphin viewing before returning back to the river. The trip continues upstream - going all the way to Varca before returning back to Mobor after 5 hours of cruising. Books on birds, plus a pair of binoculars are provided on each table.

Route taken by the boat.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Explore Goa: From Mobor to Palolem

My 21-gear Trek bicycle ride.
I decided to do the Mobor-Palolem route using a bicycle. I knew it would be challenging, considering that the route is full of small mountains but I felt my newly acquired 21-gear bike Trek bike would be up to the challenge. I was wrong.

I started early morning at 6:00 am. It was still dark as I cycled towards Cavelossim, to get to the ferry to cross over to Assolna.

My bike route from Mobor

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Explore Goa: Fontainhas.

One of the many Portuguese style homes in Fontainhas.

"Fontainhas (or Bairro das Fontainhas, in Portuguese) is an old Latin Quarter in the city of Panaji in Goa, India. It maintains to this day its Portuguese influence, namely at the architectonic level, such as narrow streets, old villas and buildings painted in lively colors. The quarter shows how Panaji was during the Portuguese rule of Goa." - Source: Wikipedia.

I used to work and live in Panjim 20 years ago. I would pass by Fontainhas almost every day, but never thought to give it a second glance. For my career-oriented eyes, it seemed like any other place. Last week, when I was flying from Mumbai to Goa on Spice Jet airlines, I started reading their in-flight magazine and found an article in their travel section called "Must-see places", and Fontainhas is listed as one of the places. That was an eye opener for me so I decided to check it out.

I got into an auto-rickshaw and asked the driver to drop me anywhere on the Fontainhas street. He stopped right in front of the place where Fontainhas (Portuguese word for "small fountains") begins. The water from the fountains looks very dirty. I am not sure if the locals use this water for their daily use.

Fontainhas (The little fountains).

Explore Goa: Cholta Cholta

Cholta Cholta at Panjim Gardens.
Cholta Cholta (A Konkani term which means "While walking") is a walking tour organized by Goa Bookworm. Goa Bookworm promotes reading for children. They have a special library where children can explore a fine selection of books organized by age group. Goa Bookworm organizes these Cholta Cholta tours so that children (and adults) learn more about the history of Goa.

My friend Cecil thought it would be a good opportunity for both of us to learn something about Panjim - especially since I am on a "Explore Goa" tour. I jumped at the opportunity and took a local bus to travel all the way to Panjim (The capital of Goa that is about 60 kilometers from where I live). My family (especially my brothers) were perplexed why I chose to travel by the local buses when I could easily ask one of them to drive me by car. I've been enjoying my travels by buses because I get to know a lot of interesting people-  so I plan to use buses as often as I can during my stay here in Goa.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Explore Goa: Aldona.

Aldona - North Goa
Aldona is a sleepy village in North Goa full of greenery and colorful people. One of the most colorful person being the well known Goan writer/humor columnist, and my long time friend Cecil Pinto. Cecil loves everything Goan and offered to drive me around his beautiful village looking for interesting things to photograph.

20 years back, I was a regular in Aldona and not much seems to have changed since then as far as the unique character of the village is concerned. There are a lot of new houses, but they retain their typical village architecture. Thankfully, there are no grotesque modern style concrete block houses in the Village.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Nikon 80-400: First Impressions.

The Nikkor 80-400 f4.5-f5.6.
As part of my plans to travel to Goa and photograph wildlife over there, I decided to invest in a suitable telephoto lens. I would have ideally preferred something along the lines of Nikkor 200-400 f4 but obviously, that's way over my budget - and even if I could arrange the money, it would be very impractical to carry around on a trek (due to its size and weight).

After reading various reviews, I decided to finally settle for the aging Nikkor 80-400. When this lens is mounted on my D300 (which has a crop sensor of 1.5x), this lens effectively becomes 120mm-600mm - which is ideal range for shooting wild-life (or snooping into your neighbors house).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Explore Goa: Introduction

Satellite View of Mobor

I was born and brought up in a small village called Mobor in Goa (India). Life was pretty hard for us as children. We had to walk nearly 1 hour to the nearest bus station as there were no roads where we lived. The River Sal flows 100 meters in front of our house, and the Arabian sea is 500 meters at the back of our house. Both the river and the sea meet up about 1 kilometer down and we are locked up in a peninsula.

When the monsoons hit, everything would get flooded. The only advantage of living in a peninsula with all this water surrounding us is that we never had to pay for fish. When we wanted to eat fish, we would go either to the river or the sea and catch fish. Fresh fish all day, every day!!.

It is only after I left Goa and started living in Kuwait that I came to the realization that I was brought up in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The pristine white sandy beaches, lush forests, amazing wildlife, fruit bearing trees all around. It's all there. In fact, I've realized that there are many interesting places in Goa that I have not yet been to - especially the wild life sanctuaries and the national parks.

I travel to Goa regularly for my vacations - but I always look at this time as an opportunity to sit with my family & friends, relax, eat good food and return back to Kuwait. Besides an occasional trip to the amazing Dudhsagar Falls, I have rarely ventured out to explore Goa.

I have decided to try something different this time. Instead of looking at Goa as my home town, I am going to look at Goa as a travel destination to explore and photograph. I plan to visit most of the wildlife sanctuaries (hello 80-400mm lens, you will come in handy here), and visit different villages and towns to appreciate Goa and the place that I call my home.

I fly to Goa on 4th December, and in the next 3 weeks, I will be documenting my journey on this blog.

My other passion (i.e. fitness), and the fitness blog, will have to take a backstage for 1 month.