Swimming through the Gardens of Coral & Fish – The Maldives

The Maldives - Cyan Blue Paradise

The Maldives – Cyan Blue Paradise

A country with 1100 islands, ring reefs with its own sandy lagoon and the abundance of beautiful fish makes Maldives an infinite paradise. When I say it is a paradise it means this country is naturally supported and is lucky to have excellent weather conditions to be able to sustain its beauty. It  is located outside the normal cyclonic zones and thus violent storms are rarely been experienced. Not only that, since there is any absence of rivers on these islands sediments from inland sources are almost nil and hence the waters around Maldives are very clear and exhibit ideal conditions for coral growth. Hence I call it a wonderland of colours and textures!

The Maldives with its stunning White Beaches

The Maldives with its stunning White Beaches

Atolls of the Maldives

Atolls of the Maldives

 

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While flying over these islands, we noticed circular stretches of lagoons still submerged under the sea leaving behind an azure colour to them. I was a bit confused because they didn’t seem like islands yet they were shallower then the rest of the sea. I wondered what that was. It seems that they are atolls. They form borders along the shoreline and surrounding islands even though they may be submerged under water. When a fringing reef continues to grow upward from a volcanic island that has sunk entirely below sea level, an atoll is formed. Atolls are usually circular or oval in shape, with an open lagoon in the center. They looked so enigmatic and alluring and it was unbelievable because they are a pile of dead coral.

Descending in to the deep sea to swim between the fish & corals

Descending in to the deep sea to swim between the fish & corals

We visited the Maldives dreaming about water activities we would do, our preference for scuba over all the others. The idea of the dive thrilled us more than what we were going to see because it was beyond our imagination. These islands in the Indian Ocean are not only coral-fringed with their cyan waters but have a  rainbow-coloured coral reefs below its surface.

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Since we had snorkeled in the Hawai’i islands, we were equipped with a simple yet a very handy water camera. We tried capturing most of what we saw though the pictures still don’t do justice to its beauty.

The Reef & its life

The Reef & its life

So started our scuba dive in the shallow sea and we were further going to be taken into the Banana reef to be able to witness what gardens of the sea are. In our minds we worried about being able to handle breathing through our mouth and handling the equipment and the depths of the sea over what we would actually witness. Slowly we swam further towards the reef… slowly forgetting that breathing became less relevant than the forthcoming beauty of the sea bed. Unawares came a steep valley…the reef with the azure blue of the sea changing to the  shades of cerulean and thats when it dawned upon us that we will be going deeper and beholding an unimaginable reality.

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As we descended slowly into the deep sea,  we saw bewildering array of fish of course, with imaginable colours, shapes and sizes darting in and out of the corals.  We also saw various corals with breathtaking designs over them… some like a brain, some more like spike noses and some like ferns with pinks, magentas and oranges. It was so incredible, nothing mattered at that time. Just looking at every being under these waters and conceiving how magnificent this is, made us want to live there our whole lives!

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The Purple Pocillopora Coral

The Purple Pocillopora Coral

Snorkeling in the shallow seas

Snorkeling in the shallow seas

A day after we scuba dived we shifted our room from the beach villa to the water villa. Basically a room with a private deck constructed in the sea. So when you looked down, you saw corals, dainty fish, small reef sharks and the rays fly and glide through the sea. Our deck had a private staircase which lead us in to the sea and the whole two days we swam, snorkeled and covered every coral around that area. There wasn’t a single undersea garden we wanted to miss. It was a vacation which promised never-ending romance, infinite horizons of kaleidoscopic blues, hundreds pristine corals, a beautiful reef which teemed with life. This place is indeed a  real stunner.

View from our Water Villa

View from our Water Villa

 

Sting Ray gliding from below our Deck

Sting Ray gliding from below our Deck

 

The Staircase from the Deck of our Water Villa that dipped in to the Sea

The Staircase from the Deck of our Water Villa that dipped in to the Sea

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Puebla – Mole Poblano – Talavera & My Unlimited Memories!

When I think of Mexico, I think of Puebla and then unlimited things come rushing to my mind. Puebla was an experience where I saw, tasted and felt things for the first time in my life. You may be confused about what exactly I mean. Well it means I experienced this city in a very different way. All the things I did here in this beautiful colonial mountain city were the first time in my life! If you have visited this place perhaps you may agree with me.

Postcard from Puebla

Postcard from Puebla

While driving down from Mexico City with my dear friend Trinette whom I visited long time ago, we passed by the volcano of Popocateptl. I’d heard a lot of stories about it and couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes. I’d never seen one in my life and she couldn’t stop telling me stories….I just wanted to see it and… really desperately! So..finally after a while, I see this imposing Popo as the locals call it! The sight of it was overwhelming. A stream of ash rose above the snow clad peak making it look magnificent and powerful. We waited by the highway and I watched it until my heart felt content. The best part was since it was seen from every part of Puebla since it stands tall at  17,802 feet. I’d decided to write a post on it because it also had a very heart-rending legend behind its stoicism. You can read up more about it on the “The Legend of Popo“.

Volcano Popocatepetl

Volcano Popocatepetl

So…this Popo, stole my heart and it was one of the best memories I carry until today about Puebla even before entering this lovely city!

Streets of Puebla

Streets of Puebla

Then came the warmth and welcome from Trinettes family. Along with it came good food of course! Then suddenly my mind jumps to best lunch I had with my friend Trinette and her Dad of Mole Poblano. On the streets of this city, in a dainty restaurant, a special dish of Mole Poblano was ordered for me. Can you guess what it was? It was a thick, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce and certainly not sweet! I had the pollo en mole poblano which had a deep mixture of chocolate and chilli with chicken, two of the most characteristically Mexican ingredients. It also had a small side dish which I was unaware of. It was  sour-spicy-salty and asked my friend what was it. She said they are chapulines – grasshoppers! For a moment I couldn’t believe I was relishing them….but then..what the heck…I loved them! Food satisfies…Puebla certainly contributed! chapulines mole Until today, I have sweeping memories of this art which I love and still have it adorning my walls at home – the Talavera! This ceramic of Talavera, that garnishes practically every building, every patio, every square and even kitchens in this city! Here when I went to see potters make these beautiful pieces of art, I was told that a potter’s gild was formed and ordinances were laid down, that all of the potters that wished to produce Talavera had to follow. This was done so that the quality of the ceramics called Talavera was uniform and that this earthenware had a distinctive style and excellence. Until today, pottery from Puebla still holds a seal! I will really not do much justice writing about it, check out some of the pictures below…

The Original Sealed Talavera from Puebla

The Original Sealed Talavera from Puebla

more-talavera-frogs-23jan11 So…along the memory road, Puebla plays a very important part in my life. There was so much to experience here that until today I clearly remember every bit of it. Some day, I would love to travel back there and take in every moment slowly and embrace it once again!

Driving along the Streets of Puebla - Trinette & I

Driving along the Streets of Puebla – Trinette & I

Talavera Fountain

Talavera Fountain

PS: Talavera Pottery stills plays a very important part of my life. While I lived in Dayton, USA, a dear friend of mine owned a Talavera store and I still have it all displayed at home. Adding two more photos below to show my fondness towards it!

Delia & her Store called Little Bit of Mexico at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Delia & her Store called Little Bit of Mexico at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Shallow Waters & Mangroves – The Land of Crocodiles & Alligators

Everglades – Swamps of Kissimme River

In 2005, for the first time, I had a chance to see crocodiles and alligators swimming together in the shallow waters of Everglades. This swampy land is situated in Florida in the United States. Everglades hosts over 350 bird and over 1,000 plant and tree species. A place swarmed with reptiles, is an experience which excites and frightens you at the same time.

So now the question begins from what is the difference between an alligator and crocodile? Alligators are in fresh water and crocodiles are in salt water. Did you know that? I didn’t!  However in Florida, in the zone where the salt water meets the fresh water, both can be found. Another distinct feature is that the alligator has a wide U shaped snout and the crocodile has a pointed V shaped snout. So now we are clear about the difference, right? Lets move on to the Everglades swamps and my experience.

Baby Alligator with a U shaped snout

The V shaped snout of a crocodile

Standing on a bridge over looking the thick mangroves and a sea of these reptiles was an inexplicable sight! Overlooking this flimsy bridge was a tributary of Kissimme River with innumerable crocodiles and alligators swimming, lazing and hiding the the eerie mangroves. Since they seemed undisturbed by the presence of a few people watching and fishing at the same time, we got a good view of them. There is this one alligator that intrigued me…he lay like a rock on the bank very close to a guy fishing. And then suddenly slid into the grassy river scaring me! That moment, I was sure that the fisherman was its lunch! I should say that these men who find fish in these dodgy areas are certainly brave!

Lazy Crocodiles

Another very interesting feature of this place were the eerie, dense and mysterious mangroves. I noticed that they were twined thickly into each other and penetrated into the murky water where the fresh and salt water mixed. It seemed that it was almost like a playground or a recreational place for birds and insects. Despite the eeriness, it was strangely lively. I was told that in the dry months birds and smaller animals congregate here to feed and nest since the larger animals cannot break in through. They also protect during the common storm surge of hurricanes. Apart from that, I didn’t know if there were different species of mangroves or just one. It looked like it had a few other colours mixed in them, colours like red, light brown, black and white. I asked the guide and he said that there were two types. The red mangroves identified by their stilt-like roots, and the black and white mangroves which thrive in tidal waters, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Bipin & I gliding through the eerie swamps of Everglades ( The white & red mangroves are seen here)

White Iron Wood Tree seen in Everglade swamps

A tourist attraction which actually lost value in my eyes were alligator farms. I wondered what they did with alligators since their leather was banned in the country. I was curious and wanted to find out more. So, basically, these  farms are simple an exhibition of Florida reptiles and has became a quintessential Florida attraction. It simply  functions as a modern zoo serving the public and the scientific community with educational shows, research and exhibits. The eggs produced by these animals are exchanged or sold to other farms to increase the number of alligators on their property! The concept of alligator farming didn’t please me but certainly educated me.

Alligator Farm

Just for an experience

The stories of the Everglades kept pouring in until we left Florida. What amused me were stories of alligator trespassing and crossing highways. People told us stories like an alligator was found swimming in their swimming pools. Alligators chilling in their backyards. There is special team of people who catch this wild reptile and release it in their natural habitat. Also, all the way through this swampy land, on roads, are signs of alligator crossing. I found the whole caution signs hilarious yet perilous.

This world of reptiles is some experience. It is a sea of knowledge about these creatures who have a tag of being dangerous and a menace to the society. As a rule, you should exercise caution around any of these reptiles. But quite unlike the impression, these creatures if unprovoked are well-behaved and laze, swim and hunt what is available in the marsh.

Small Pleasures of a Farmhouse…far far away…

Wheat Field - A fantastic shot taken by my friend Ashutosh

As kids, activities like climbing trees, soaking in little streams that ran through lanes, walking through uncut grass, collecting insects, butterflies, tadpoles seem so unreal anymore! We have no time, no space and all these little elements of nature, just do not exist around us! Very often, I get this urge to explore some hidden waterfalls, or a cave or simply walk through a road which doesn’t exist. When such a feeling arises, off we go to our farmhouse in the outskirts of Pune around a small shabby town of Varasgaon.

Farmhouse at Varasgaon

Like any other farm, we have a farmhouse maintained by my family members with so much love and care. It is a sloping land full of mango, banana, papaya, chikoo trees and many small crops like the potato, ginger, rice, beans, etc! It is a lush piece of land with another beautiful feature, it has a vivacious stream flowing through it with a tiny 7 feet waterfall with a canopy of ancient trees which look mysterious, eerie and yet magnificient!

View of the Farmhouse with the Banana Plantation


Some fun with family


So now lets see what makes Varasgaon farmhouse so much fun! My favourite activity is going down to the well and then walking through the unleashed grass to the stream. The up and down walk through the weeds and over the rocks, along the wheat fields while collecting crystals, dried tree barks and flowers unshackles a feeling so different and satisfying. We walk by sometimes collecting some vegetables to take back home, or sometimes pick a fruit and start eating it on our way or just walk through the rumbling stream slipping, falling, bruising, yet doing the same thing over and over again!

How would it look if I climbed a tree in the hustle bustle of my city? The idea seems so funny ain’t it? Over to the farm, who cares?! Just climb one, swing over or simply enjoy the view from top….there isn’t a thing to bother!

A family picture in the tree

Forever meowing cat


Bipin with Nyanoba & Tukai

With a lot of love and care are bred a few animals on our farm. I really look forward to go there in order to connect to that part of nature that I enjoy over everything. A mommy cow Kapila and her youngun, a dog named Nyanoba and his mother Dolly, a forever meowing cat and a bunch of chickens are running all over the farm and rest in their meadow cum barn under a cool shade of a tree. The whole time we are there, we have Nyanoba chasing us from the farmhouse to the stream and when its time for us to leave, he sighs to show how much he wants us to stay. We adore them and so do they…..

Kapila the cow and her Youngun

Mama Dolly demanding attention

The day ends very soon! But the darkness brings in two very exciting activities……just listening to the crickets and enjoying the stillness and dark and it also ‘barbeque’ time. This activity is the most popular activity at the farmhouse. The mess and flavour of charcoal, the smell of roasting chicken, fish and veggies with some bhakri and gavran rassa. The pleasure of this feast is so much more satisfying than that of a restaurant! The day and stay ends with so much fun, relaxation and a calm which doesn’t come very often!

Time for Barbeque!


A great union of friends!

Secrets of Amsterdam!

Unlike a lot of places, Amsterdam stands out loud, clear, weird and exotic in its true sense! Its full of life, bikes, dope, canals, good looking people, weird museums and an interesting red light area! I loved it instantly!!

Dutch city of Amsterdam

It is always nice to know all the fun facts about the places you travel but its even better when you know some other little things that give a clear picture of the place. While in Amsterdam, I tried to find out more about its myths, Dutch ghosts, people’s beliefs along with the other usual things! I found out some bizzare facts about this place which I want to share in my post…

The sinister secret of Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

All cultures have some ghost stories and Amsterdam seems to have some about Anne Frank. I didn’t get a chance to go in to the Anne Frank House due to a huge crowd but heard about her little appearances in the window. People talk about a sinister secret in her hideout. It is often reported that you can feel cold spots in certain areas of Anne’s room. Some thumping noises are heard in the basement and on the stairs at midnight.

A lot of cultures beileve in ghots and spirits under water hence the Netherlands, being a country built largely under the sea level, does allow some paranormal speculation!

The Norms of the Red Light District

Red Light District

The Red Light district of Amsterdam is one of the most bizzare display of woman trying to get men laid. They look bold, sexy, hideous, innocent and is shocking to see the diversity in age, colour, size and specialty! When I walked through this buzzing area seeing people negotiate the time and money to get laid, I decided to find out more. Apparently, it cost anywhere between €50 to €100 for half hour depending on the jobs demanded by the customers. I also read a few things about which nationalities were easily accepted by these hookers, for example, Moroccons and Turks weren’t easily acceptable because they treat women like dirt or Indians too, because they were a bit weird, etc. It looked vibrant and normal yet I felt a little sad. I thought of choices can have such an enormous effect on people’s lives, the choice to sell your body!

Poezenboot House Boat…not for HUMANS!

Poezenboot House Boat for Cats!

On one of the canals of Amsterdam, has a long house boat occupied by stray cats of the city called the Poezenboot. Imagine how rich these cats must be to own a house boat? After all, if people can live in them, why not cats? It was quite dilapitated but now it lives on and is taken care of some enthusiastic cat lovers of Amsterdam!

How can I forget the dope?

Dope Menu in a Cafe

Amsterdam has over 250 coffee shops which can legally sell up to 5 grams of drugs to each person. What really amused me was the selling of cannabis (dope) is illegal, but not punishable. They have to stick to a few norms like no advertising, no selling it to children, no public nuisance, etc. When you talk about a café, it is equivalent to a bar, the non-marijuana selling cafés are called koffiehuis (which actually mean coffee shops). It also has a backdoor policy, the cafés are allowed to sell dope, yet not buy it…I wonder how it really works??

Hmmm….so these are the little stories I collected from Amsterdam! A city with a mixture of rolling dope with a subtle coffee outlet, houses meant for cats and ghosts below sea level!!

10 Incredible Facts about Wild Wild Africa….

Two days ago, I came back from a 14 days vacation to the richest continent I’ve ever seen in my life…AFRICA!! It is a land of resources in such abundance that it makes me feel that it can survive alone in this world! Well of course, I didn’t see it all and what I saw was a miniscule of the continent. I visited Kenya, Tanzania & Zanzibar!

I am going to write about all of them but for now, I want to write more about the strange and exotic wild life. Queer animals, their behaviour, and some strange incidences! Hmm…so what should I start with?

Masai Mara National Forest Reserve

Lets see…may be with some “Did you know” questions. Now the answers to all my questions may not really be found on the internet but are a result of a little bit of observation, a little bit of knowledge given to us by our guides and simply an urge to know more about these beautiful wild creatures…

1. Do you know why predators like lions or cheetahs travel in the opposite direction of the wind while hunting?
Guess!! Well we learnt that they often hunt in the opposite direction of the wind so that their scent does not travel far enough for the herbivores to find out that they will be hunted down soon….

Lionesses on a hunt..

2. Did you know why the wildebeest, zebras and gazelles in Africa migrate together?
The wildebeest have a strong sense of smell while the zebras have an excellent vision and gazelles have both is abundance and hence they protect each other from predators. One sees, the other one smells and cries out in a specific way to indicate that its time to run!

The Wildebeest and Zebras just migrated from Tanzania to Kenya

3. Did you know the zebras are wiser than the wildebeest?
During migration, while crossing the Mara river, the zebras let the wildebeest cross the rivers before them..you know why? Its because they get eaten by the crocodiles and while the crocodiles are busy chewing their meals, the zebras get a free and hassel free passage through the waters.

The Wildebeest


The Zebras & Wildebeest migrating in a line..all together..

4. Did you know that the black rhino is actually grey?
Sighting a black rhino…..woah…you are lucky! Thats what my guide told me!! Anyway as soon as I saw one! I wondered, why is it called a black rhino when it is grey. But well thats that…its grey and much smaller, shyier and timid than the common grey one!

The Black & Grey Rhino

5. Did you know there was a species of monkeys with “Blue Balls”?
I was shocked, so shocked seeing the common monkey…brownish grey, with a velvet black face and an exotic sky blue colour to its balls!!! I almost stared at them…why blue??

Black velvet faced monkey with sky blue balls

6. Do you know why hippos gape?
It is a genuine yawn where the jaws are opened widely but not always! Gaping is also a standard threat display, exposing the obviously large lower canines. Its funny to see them lazying with their open jaws. They indeed have very long lower teeth!

Hippo lazing & yawning in Lake Naivasha

7. Did you know there are albino zebras?
Another very astounding sighting was the albino zebras! Well they are white with grey stripes on them! They are actually not albinos but another breed of our bold striped buddies though not so bold! Yeah…the albino zebra!!

The Albino Zebra

8. Did you know that the hyenas eat everything under the sun but it is not commonly hunted for its meat?
The Hyenas are not only scavengers but they eat anything and everything! They hunt in packs and eat their prey alive starting from the abdomen area! They are the nastiest, ugliest and stinkiest animals. Almost all animals stay away from them unless the hyenas interfere in their business.

Hyena

9. Did you know that a giraffe sleeps for 5 to 20 minutes in 24 hours?
I loved these animals the moment I saw them. The first herd we saw was in Masai Mara. I was very surprised to see one sitting down and yet seemed so high up in the bushes. I asked my guide whether they actually sleep like this. He told me that they sleep sitting or lying or even standing up and not more than 20 mins. These naps last them for quite sometime.

A resting giraffe

10. Did you know elephants mourn over their dead and also make graves?
I read this wonderful book once called To the Elephant Graveyard by Tarquin Hall which is a true story of an elephant on rampant human killings which describes the behaviour of the creature. In Africa this time, I actually witnessed how wise and mighty this animal is. Of course, I didn’t see it making graves, definitely! We were narrated a story by some locals in the Aberdares Forest…it goes like this…..The Ark Lodge at Aberdares National Park overlooks a floodlit waterhole. A lot of animals come to drink water and also lick the mineral rich soil around the pond. A few years ago, a rhino and its baby along with a herd of 30-35 elephants came to the waterhole. The mother rhino got threatened by the elephants and attacked one of the baby elephant and as a result got trampled by the herd and died. Even though she didn’t belong to the herd, the elephants went in to the forest and brought a branch each and lay it on her. The locals from the lodge witnessed this disheartening yet an amazing incident. Thus, proving that these mighty creatures, the elephants build graves…..

Herd of Elephnats at a Waterhole in front of the Ark Lodge in Aberdares Forest

I am not sure if these little facts are very popular but I think they are incredible. The natural world blends and folds itself so perfectly in to each other that to imagine such wisdom and accuracy among animals is inconvinceible!

Chorla Ghat….untouched, dense, gorgeous!

I am sorry for not being around in the month of March. I totally missed being on the blog but time just flew and I didn’t get my hands on till today. Just last week, I went to this beautiful thick forest of the Chorla Ghat. One of the most dense ones I have seen after the Amazon. Well what can I say about its location…its situated on the borders on Maharashtra, Karnataka & Goa and I think all these states need to be proud of what they own!

View of Chorla Ghat

There isn’t much to write about except for the forest and its greenery, beautiful valley, cliffs, and this enchanting place we stayed at called Wildernest. I think it is so much better than just visiting Goa and hoping bar to bar or lazing on the beach. This two days trip, we hiked through the jungle, swam in the pool which overlooked the valley giving us an exceptional view of the sunset!

Cottages at Wildernest

The dining area of the resort

The best part of the hike was our 4 km walk to a small water body from our resort. The hike was through a very deep jungle with unsual raw smell of weeds, the crunching of dry leaves, calls from birds and monkeys and of course glimpses of grey lizards, tarantulas, butterflies and many small insects quite rarely spotted in cities.

Hike down to the river

The deep jungle of Chorla Ghat

Though it was hot, we hardly felt the heat since the canopy of trees over us protected us from the scorching heat. It gave us a thrill to go down to the dry water body. It did make us feel a bit sad to see no water but our curious member Bipin wanted to explore more and more. He made us walk upstream through the huge bolders and rocks which indeed did take a lot of time and effort! I should say the time and effort did pay off…..the sight we saw wasn’t spectacular but the little trickling water before us, made our day! It was completely unexpected so see one in the middle of the summers!

The dry river bed with the two lions of the jungle

Furthermore, there was another surprise….there were two coracles in the little pond! Wow that was something! None of us had ever been in one and it was indeed a treat for all of us to be able to have an experience in one! Our excitement knew no bounds and my friend Ashutosh decided to plunge in one! What followed after that was hilarious! The coracles had holes! Bipin and Ashutosh tried hard to sail down to the waterfall until they realised that if they do not get back to the shore, they would sink….sink in 4 feet!!! Hahahaha, Ritika and I could stop laughing! We giggled and chuckled till our eyes watered! Check out the pictures!

Our first bait in the Coracle...Ashutosh!

Ashutosh & Bipin before sinking!

One other attarction at Wildernest was its pool. It is the most stunning pool I was ever seen. We spent so much time in it, on one of the evenings! The water was warm and inviting, the sun was about to set and we just needed to laze after a long day! It was just so perfect….a perfect place to be when you need calm and peace!

Sunset while in The pool

Bipin and I, enjoying the evening in the pool

Ashutosh, Bipin & I...having some fun!

On way back to Belgaum, we visited this small, remote and beautiful village of Chorla! It was clean, the houses were all in one line with chillies drying in their front yards and villagers peering at their visitors, quite surpirsed to see us walk down to the Chorla temple. The simplest and sweetest I have ever seen!

Drying chillies

The Chorla Temple

The cool shade of the Chorla Temple

And so was our little trip to the place of the animals, trees, waterfalls and all such temperaments of nature which bring so much peace and happiness to our lives. It is so important for us to preserve and safe our planet Earth!