The Strawberry and Cashew Trail -- IndiaAuthor: soumana datta
Date of Trip: October 2006
A group of enthusiastic students and staff from Maharanis College, Jaipur, travelled to the western part of India in October 2006. The seven day tour covered the western ghats, including Mumbai, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Finally, we reachedsun-kissed Goa after a long arduous drive through the ghats which is a paradise for all plant lovers.
When we reached Mumbai, the commerce capital of India, we were greeted by the the sky touching buildings and spruced up highways, jazzy marketplaces and long queues of cars and buses in a traffic jam! Time was at a premium so we did hurried visits to the magnificent marine drive, Tarapore aquarium, the Gateway of India and the famous Juhu beach. A vast collection of sea animals , fishes and shells were the highlight of the aquarium. Giant turtles, a hockey stick fish, some deadly sharks and even an octopus were housed in this place. Our zoology students and other girls too gaped at these sweet and vicious fauna from the sea. Shell earrings and necklaces, lamps and other utility items beckoned all fashion conscious students to try out these elegant pieces. The Gateway is a majestic sight. The Taj hotel opposite it is even grander.
Our eyes were glued to these architectural marvels as we walked along the sea face and clicked with our cameras. Offering pink lotus flowers at the famous Mahalaxmi Temple, our spiritual needs were satisfied. Heavy security guarded the gold flecked temple interiors and the statue decked with gold and silver ornaments. Driving along the queens necklace at night and watching the reflections of street lights dancing in the sea is a sight to behold. The city really comes alive at night when the temperature also cools down. Juhu beach was a big let down. It appeared like a huge mela with lots of stalls of the local delicacies like vada pau, paani puri, ice creams etc. The polluted and crowded beach is a place for citizens to relax, but we were disappointed at Juhu. Our nerves cooled a bit when we reached fashion street for a bout of shopping, a maddening experience to bargain for clothes as cheap as 50/rs and shoes for 80.
The winding uphill drive to Mahabaleshwar and forests of Panchgani was a wonderful experience notwithstandingthe flat tire we had enroute!! It was cooler there and in the morning, we visited some lakes and a table top mountain where we did some buggy rides. How can a mountain have a flat top we wondered? One has to see it to believe it. We were walking on the mountain top as if it was Tonk road of Jaipur -- flat and long!
Near Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani market had an old bakery about hundred years old. The aroma of fresh baked bread was heady. Mahabaleshwar has an old Shiv mandir and the Shivling is not the usual one but a flat one like a rudraksh bead, which was housed in a small garbhgriha. The strawberry fields were the highlight of the trip. The farmers have adapted the technology from California and are growing strawberries in this area. Drip irrigation and sprinklers are used to water them and under each plant plastic sheets are laid so that the ripe berries don't touch the ground and get dirty!! We saw a factory making strawberry jam, crushes and ice cream. It was a grand picnic for all of us as we browsed the shops and brought strawberry goodies for our loved ones back home.
A long overnight journey brought us to Goa, rightly the number one tourist destination of India. Clean roads, no garbage sights and lush greens/gardens greeted us. Coconut and Date palms, Pandanus, cashew trees dotted the scenic roads. Flowers of daisies, Mussaendas, wild berries, Teccoma, were seen. As we entered Panjim city we crossed the bridge over the Mandovi River, where cruise ships are permanently parked. Many chemical and medicine factories are situated on hilltops in and around Goa. The National Institute of Oceanography overlooks the sea at Dona Paula.
Our hotel was atop the Mandovi River which was a treat to watch. One can never have enough of Goa, the beaches are so marvellous and long that we never felt like leaving them. All streets leading to the beaches have small cottages of the locals which they hire out to tourists. Colva Beach was fun as it was secluded and the sun kissed waves came gently to the shore. Others like Calangute were flooded with people as there are a lot of water sports like parasailing, water scooters,etc offered by tour operators. Cruising on the Mandovi River for an hour at night we watched the local konkani dances amidst dancing lights in the river. Local wines and seafood are a treat for the lover of sea food cuisine. Marketplaces are clean and women are seen everywhere working and managing shops including wineshops! Tourists are never ill-treated and the ambience is relaxing. No wonder people say that, "Goa is a way of life".
The churches in Vella Goa or old Goa are numerous but the famous Bom Jesus church which houses the remains of Saint Francis Xavier is a spiritual experience for many. Such grand structures amidst landscaped gardens, the gold carved church interiors are a testimony to the Portuguese architectural style. In Goa, Vasco De Gama's heritage is alive even today.
When we touched Jaipur it was a sad moment as newly made friends were departing to their homes. All of us were enriched by the new ways and lives of people of a different part of India and it was a truly great learning experience for all of us. The seven day holiday we all shared have hopefully have made us a bit like Goans -- friendly , hospitable and full of joy.
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