Agonda Beach, Goa

Babar’s ears flapping in the wind as he sticks his neck out the car’s window

I, telling Sandeep that I am closing my eyes as we descend down a steep road without a divider

I, breaking two teacups

The sun, huge and bright and near as we drive in between and under a canopy of trees in a forest reserve

The red, red soil everywhere around us, and inside the car on Babar’s paw

And then the sight of water finally

The flickering lights on the diyas neatly arranged on the pathway in the front yard of our hotel

The bright fragmented reflection of the sun on the gentle waves

And Babar running towards Sandeep on the shallow part of the sea

A mother absentmindedly walking towards the shore until the water touches her feet

Her toddler stumbling behind her

I, enjoying my spinach and mushroom omelet, a large bowl of fruit and cappuccino

on the beach

The sound of laughter, faint, distant, dream like

A dead starfish by my feet

Duvet covers stained with red soil

Hippies in a holistic restaurant

Hippies on a scooter

A snake on the road towards Palolem beach

A middle age woman in a pink satin Sunday dress gripping a bible on her chest

An old church I will not enter

Are the only memories I have of our trip to Agonda beach in Goa two years ago.

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Babar The Lifeguard: Pondicherry

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“Babar’s been playing the lifeguard, honey,” Sandeep called out to me as I walked towards them. He sounded worried.

“He’s been running towards the sea every time someone would dip their heads under the water. He thinks they are drowning and he keeps trying to rescue them.”

Babar greeted me cheerfully with his wagging tail as I came near him. He was completely drenched.

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“He did the same thing with me when we were in Goa. Whenever I go underwater, Babar would swim towards me to rescue me. I am anxious these strong waves would carry him to the middle of the sea, and he might not be able to swim back to shore.” Sandeep added.

I looked at the waves. It did look extra violent that evening.

“Let’s walk further away from these people,” Sandeep suggested. I saw a group of five people half-submerged in the water, holding hands to brace themselves from the onslaught of the thundering waves. It seemed to thrill them each time the waves assaulted them. A little girl kept shrieking whenever the waves hit them. In turn, we kept urging  Babar to move on when we see him turning his head towards them every time she screams.

It was then our second evening in Pondicherry, well in Tamil Nadu technically, since the pet-friendly resort where we were staying at was located almost outside the border of Pondicherry.

We were staying in an eco-resort and spa of sorts. That was our second time there. We chose to stay in this place again because they allow dogs in their property and they have a nice enough private beach. It is located about 20 km away from the main town of Pondicherry though.

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The sprawling property is vast; we have to take a short ride in their resort cab to reach our cottage. The cottages are expensive during peak season at 7500 rupees per night for nature cooled bamboo hut but drops to 5000 rupees on the lean season. The air-conditioned private bungalows could be as costly as 15000 rupees to 30000 rupees per night. If you feel like splurging, you can book the most expensive ones with private swimming pools. The most popular accommodation is the tower suite which offers gorgeous panoramic views of the sea. Breakfast buffet is included in the room rates. ( Be sure to read reviews from travel websites like Tripadvisors or Booking.com before booking your rooms to have realistic expectations of your accommodation and browse travelers photos instead of the professional ones taken by the resorts themselves.)

 

 

The resort ambiance is quaint in its rural village appeal. It has glimpses of some artistic concept, but overall, the grounds lack proper maintenance. The landscaping looks too wild, unkempt, semi-desert, semi-tropical beach-inspired. Towering coconut trees lining the pathways and giant cactuses serving as fences in between bamboo bungalows. While roaming around, I felt like a castaway in an abandoned resort where wilderness crept in and swallowed it.

 

 

 

 

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It is the nearest beach from Bangalore and the only resort allowing dogs we did not have many choices if we want to go on a quick drive to a coastal town. And the city of Pondicherry is always lovely to visit especially the French town area, though parking is often a problem. We spent our Christmas holiday there thinking that, Pondicherry is a former French colony,  the Christians in Pondicherry would be celebrating the Christmas festival more earnestly that they would in Bangalore. I saw a couple of churches with some Christmas lanterns on them, but there was none of the Christmas cheer I was expecting. The resort itself did not have any Christmas decorations. There was a magician who performed in the resort restaurant on Christmas eve, but that was it.

 

 

 

 

Ten kilometers away from the resort, we discovered a nice pizzeria serving delicious woodfired pizzas at a reasonable price. They allowed Babar to sit with us on their outdoor table, so that was a plus. 

 

 

One good thing about Babar in this kind of trips, he’ll be so exhausted playing outdoors and would snooze away while we have our meal. We never have to worry about him bothering anybody. Before coming in with Babar in any restaurant, I would always ask the owner’s permission. Babar usually slept so quietly that the manager or owner would often ask me where is the dog that came with us. They would laugh upon seeing him sleeping so sedately under the table.

The restaurant in the resort prohibited us from taking Babar there while we eat. Sandeep and I have to eat separately, one at a time. One has to stay with Babar in the cottage while the other eats at the restaurant. It’s not an unusual practice for us whenever we visit in places offering breakfast buffet meals. In our six years of travelling with Babar, we have developed an efficient routine in reducing the chances of Babar being a nuisance to other holidayers.

 

 

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In the balcony of the cottage we rented for this Christmas weekend, a fraction of the sea was visible framed by overgrown hibiscus and bougainvillaea shrubs. From a distance, the whiteness of the surf merges with the sky. If not for the movement of the waves, you would not be able to tell where the sky and sea meet.

 

 

It made me sad to see a bit of debris on the beach. It would be nice if they can keep the place litter-free. Although the sea itself does the job of cleaning the shores each push, the waves as it come and go keep the coast clean. The rubbish retreats to where the water could not reach it. It was a pity since it is a lovely beach.

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On our last day on the beach Babar, the self-appointed lifeguard of Kalapet beach, suddenly needed some rescuing himself but not from the tumultous waves. Aside from playing in the water, Babar’s enjoyment comes from meeting other dogs. The resort has a couple of resident dogs, and Babar has wanted to meet them. Sandeep, thinking the dogs were friendly, let Babar approached them. One of the dogs started growling, menacingly, as he came nearer then lunged towards Babar’s leg all of a sudden. Sandeep bolted to where they were to rescue Babar from getting bitten. Babar let out a pained whine. He felt hurt that his friendly gesture was reciprocated with violence. We examined his body thoroughly. Thankfully we did not find any bite wounds, only wounded pride.

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I was glad the unfortunate incident did not dampen Babar’s happiness.  He forgot about the mean dog as soon as he started playing in the water again, flirting with the waves as it advanced and retreated.

 

 

 

One Sad Duck Confit At Montmartre

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Sandeep’s disappointment was palpable as we ascended the steep cobbled street towards Montmartre. It was my idea to check out the place. Sandeep had been to Paris several times but has not been to Montmartre even once. I insisted that we visit because it used to be the hub of some of our favourite artists, like Van Gogh, Modigliani and Lutrec. I thought it would be a shame not to walk on the streets they use to tread.

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Upon alighting from the taxi, I understood right away Sandeep’s reservation in going there. The moment we stepped out of the car, we were mobbed by ‘artists’ asking to draw our portraits for a few euros. They were incredibly persistent and hounded us for several minutes until they spotted a new prey. Sandeep is passionate about art and has little patience for posers; Montmartre seemed to be teeming with them. A bohemian hang-out turned tourist trap.

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But despite all this, I still found the place charming. In my mind, I stripped down the current touristy ambience of the area and tried to imagine how it would have been back then; the cafes, the pubs and the artists. I imagine it would have been quite scintillating with those colourful artists, writers and musicians swarming the place.

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Before exploring the village entirely, we decided to have some lunch. We were eyeing an outdoor eating area but chose to eat in a proper restaurant where there’s an option to use the washroom. Upon entering the place, I had an eerie feeling that we made a poor choice as there were very few people eating there. In spite of the swarm of tourists outside, the restaurant looked strangely deserted.

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A waiter who looked like the living caricature of Woody Allen came to take our order once we sat down. I stifled my laughter as he scribbled our orders on his notepad. He was very much the embodiment of the ‘French-Waiter’ cliche. Though the scowl on his face dampened the cartoonish hilarity of his waiter uniform, he still looked pretty comical in his cerulean tilted beret with matching cerulean striped apron.

There was nothing funny, though, in the dishes that he laid down on our table after a few minutes. In fact, the duck confit and the side dish of potatoes and veggies looked quite sad and ill-humoured.

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2 duck confit with side dishes plus beer and red wine about 80 euros

I wanted to kick myself for choosing that place when after roaming around, I could see more restaurants that seemed to offer better food. Strolling in between the cafes lining the slightly elevated roads made me feel like I am really walking in a small French village. And the aroma wafting from their kitchens smelt divine and ambrosial. It was just how I imagined a European village would be.

We kept walking aimlessly but eventually reached the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. From the steps in front of the church, despite the huge crowd, you’ll be able to behold a breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Paris.

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IMG_1753.jpgParis looks gorgeous from up there, and no amount of hawkers and posers or bad food could diminish the romance and charisma of Montmartre.

 

The Merdog In Bhimtal

I was watching him nervously. It was his first time to be on the boat. I could feel his excitement and anxiety as he tried to decide what to do. The boat rocked as he leaned on the edge. I was afraid he would tip the boat over as he leaned closer and closer to the water, it seemed to be calling him, urging him to come to them. His water-dog genes over powered him finally. The blasted canine did it. He jumped in the water! In under a minute Babar, our beloved Labrador, was already  thirty meters away from us. I laughed nervously, so did my husband as we watched him propel his body through the water guided by some primal instinct. I felt proud too though, seeing him swam with ease like an Olympic swimmer. He looked so graceful, so beautiful.

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Because it was Babar’s first time to swim when he retuned to his senses he got overwhelmed. He swam back apprehensively towards the boat. Sandeep helped him climb the boat. He happily shook his thoroughly drenched body once he was safely aboard sprinkling lake water all over us.

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We were then on a boat at Bhimtal Lake in Bhimtal, where we were spending our three day holiday. Bhimtal is in Uttrakhand, India and is just about 7 hours from Delhi by car. It is a nice, green and hilly place with several lakes in the vicinity. This sleepy town remains peaceful and quiet despite it being a popular tourist destination. The weather was nice and cool especially on the hillside where we were staying, just outside the main town area.

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rrWe found a very nice pet friendly accommodation by the hillside. A pretty cottage with is own huge backyard with a fence. The fence was helpful as Babar could roam  around freely  without troubling the other guests. The cottage that we rented was the owner’s holiday place suited for living with his own dogs.

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Emerald Trail Homestay offers more rooms in the adjacent two-storey house. We were relieved to find that these two properties were separated by a fence and a gate. Babar will not able to scare the other guests who are not fond of dogs. All our meals and Babar’s as well were included in the  3,500 rupees per night room charge (as of August 2014).

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After this trip, seeing how Babar loved swimming in the lake, we wondered if he’ll enjoy swimming in the sea too. So we took him to Pondycherry and Goa. Did he love it there? Well that’s another tale for another time.

Grilled Chicken and The Hangry Hulk at De Pijp, Amsterdam

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“It’s just somewhere around here, honey. Let’s walk a bit more. You’ll love it, I promise you. “ Sandeep reassured me once more as we walk the length of Albert Cuyp Market. I could hear the tension in his voice. I knew he could see me slowly metamorphosing into THE HANGRY HULK and he has to get some food in me as soon as possible. (That was not a typo. If you don’t already know, hangry is the combination of the two words hungry and angry. A common condition in women like myself who lose our shit when starving.)

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It was then three in the afternoon already, and we still haven’t eaten anything yet besides our measly airport breakfast. We were underslept and exhausted. We needed a comforting meal, but Sandeep was dragging it on and on to find this magical food stall that he loves. I told him I would be happy with a burger from McDonalds when we passed it earlier on the way there, but he insisted on finding this gastronomical wonder. He probably thought it would change my life or something once I tasted it. I did understand even then though, that he wanted to share this special treat with me, but during that desperate moment, the sweetness of his gesture was lost on me.

“I think this is it!’ Sandeep announced triumphantly in front of a food truck serving grilled chicken, meatballs and sandwich rolls.

The tall guy wearing a black apron behind the counter was very animated and was calling the women ladies, almost theatrically.

To me, he said, “Are you ready, lady?” as he handed me the enormous burger I ordered.

The stall seemed like a popular spot and was the most crowded food stall among the area. The tables next to it were constantly full. Customers came and went in rapid rotation while we were eating there. Some people were even fine with just standing while they eat their grilled chicken sandwiches and meatballs. Others also came to buy some takeaway.

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Lunch for 2 with cola about 9 Euros

Sandeep loved his grilled chicken wings and chicken sandwich rolls, costing him 2 euros each. My 150 grams burger at 3 euros was a bit dry and had a flavour I am not very fond of, so I did not ‘love it’. I could taste cumin in the patty quite strongly mixed with some other spices I often taste in Indian Kebabs. It was the wrong thing to order I thought later on, and if not for my sour mood, I would have liked the food too, I ‘m sure.

Though I did not enjoy the meal, my energy was replenished. I began to appreciate the quaintness of the market as we strolled back towards the main street.

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Albert Cuyp market offers a variety of items for sale at a fair price. There are stalls for all kinds of souvenirs, clothing and accessories, flowers, meat, cheese, seafood, even CDs, books and vintage records.

We also passed by a huge dried fruit and nuts stall. There were peanuts, walnuts, figs, chocolate balls and the tastiest nougat I’ve eaten so far. It was not so sweet and almost as soft as a marshmallow. We got 200 grams for 2 euros if I remember correctly.

By the time we exited the market, my mood has improved considerably. We sat down for a cup of coffee (6 euros for a cappuccino and latte) enjoying the outdoors devoid of pollution, chaos and jarring noises. That part of De Pijp seemed almost idyllic; filled with people just enjoying their evening, some hanging out with their friends, some passing by on bicycles, a few patiently waiting for the trams that occasionally pass by.

I heard laughter coming from a group of youngsters farther away. The faint laughter sounded dream-like, adding a tone of cheer in the scenery. I leaned back on the chair, relaxing while I sipped my coffee, taking it all in. It was a wonder to witness a peaceful and orderly scene not often seen in modern and bustling cities. I knew right away that Amsterdam is an extraordinary city, very, very special, and that I would love being there.