Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Another Goa

I first visited Goa as a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. The students of only one department (Urban and Rural Community Development), were privileged a second study tour. Almost everyone who heard, including inside and outside of TISS chuckled “Goa, yeh, study tour!?” This near universal expression, we the privileged (URCD-ies) interpreted as envy, a second study tour that too Goa!

Like many other, the good thing about the tour was also the background work. We read up Fish Curry and Rice by Claude Alvares, we read up about Du Pont and the controversial Asia’s largest Nylon 6.6 plant, tourism and how it impacts local culture, five-star hotels, and what they are doing to the fishing based livelihoods, the sea, the waste they generate, privatisation of common properties like the sea face and the beach and most importantly the projected image of Goa “Wine, Women and … (song, food, sun, beach, drugs..You name it), and why that is just not right. 
Paddy Fields in the rain
We have been there one more time after almost more than a decade with friends and stayed closer to the beach. Contrary to the Sun, Sand and the Sea, this time we went to experience the rains, forests, rivers and peace.

Our visit in early July was to watch it rain. Once you love the rains, you will watch them, hear them and feel them very differently. The rains change from place to place, the sound they make on the roofs, tin or clay, on rivers, on hills, on roads is so very different. From the tiniest drops that stick to your hair like sparkling diamonds, the big fat drops, to the sheets of rain that come crashing down to cover the earth, they bring such joy and happiness.

So, we followed the progress of monsoon (been inspired by Chasing the Monsoon/ Alexander Frater). Sadly there was very little to follow. It had rained earlier on, but as we got closer to the date of travel, there was not even as much as a drizzle, neither in Hyderabad nor in Goa!  We were waiting like the Chataka bird (as we call it in Odiya – the cuckoo, Clamator jacobinus), that waits for rains to quench its thirst.

Still, we went with hope.

As your cab turns inwards leaving the coastline behind, and you enter into the inside, curved roads, leaving the city behind, you know you have chosen well. The lush green of paddy fields, shadowy trees, cashew plants engulfs you into a different side of Goa.
Arco Iris
We were staying at a place called Arco Iris (which is Portuguese for rainbow) at Curtorim. A 200-year-old Portuguese house renovated as a homestay. The house faces the unending paddy fields. The walk around is surrounded by similar old houses, some abandoned and dilapidated, some locked up and some being still lived in, surfacing issues around property, ownership and the migratory status of most of us. We do not know where we belong; whether where we physically are or where our heart yearns to be.

The quiet that our countryside offers is amazing. No sound of vehicles, hardly any honking and one can walk miles without being interrupted by any sound that is not local. There is the local fish man/woman who brings in fresh fish. There is also the local bread (pui) which is delivered twice daily.

There is a peaceful rhythm to life. The paths, the river, the cats, dogs, birds make for excellent walking and living companions.

At Arco Iris, besides the lovely family of four, there is also Feni, a beautiful Labrador. The first time she saw us, she barked and then immediately became friends. We also bribed her with tiny bits of pui every day, so that we develop affinity quickly, without wasting the short vacation time of two days, expecting she will come and sit with us in the balcao and walk with us.
Rain-drenched Sunday
As it happened, Curtorim is a good friend’s village and this fact added to the fun, that we were going to be staying in her village, walking those same paths! On a Sunday morning we went to see the old village church, nice atmosphere of familiarity of Sunday mass. Since Sunday is also church day, when everyone steps out to go to the church, I noticed during our walks, two persons on the road who looked mentally challenged. But unlike in urban areas, where we see them uncared for, destitute and living off the road, these persons looked like they were being taken care of. Struck me what we had studied and experienced in community organising (TISS course work) that a close knit community takes care of its difficulties and problems together. It may just be out of charity, but in a country like ours, with multiple and multi-layered issues, we need to exercise both, Charity and Rights.

It rained that night, so we woke up to the rain washed surrounding, looking at the plants and trees, holding last night’s rain drops on their leaves. In no time, it poured! Lovely lovely heavy rains! Our friend (Gouthami works on Responsible tourism and has set up, Travel Another India, she suggested experiencing this side of Goa, other than the beach and sand) drove us around in pouring rain through nice long undulating empty roads. That drive is etched forever as one of the brilliant drives spent in the rain.
Rock Paintings
Since we were that side, we drove around looking for Usgalimal rock engravings, which is one of the most important prehistoric sites in western India. When we got there, about one km down from the main road between Rivona to Neturlim, on the banks of river Kushavati, the river was flowing full since the rains, it took us sometime to find the engravings, but as soon as we figured out one, we found them all! These petroglyphs (rock art) are approximately 20,000 to 30,000 years old and belong to the Upper Palaeolithic or Mesolithic eras. More than 100 distinct figures in an area of 500 sqm, with images of bulls, labyrinths and human figures are carved on laterite stones. The fun part was that there was nobody around; and jamun (Syzygium cumini) trees in plenty laden with fruit, no one to eat or guard. Feast!
Wonder what they were trying to draw?
We also stopped at the beautiful Braganza Mansions, nice, old furniture, knick knacks, the mansion presenting bygone days and ways of a household.
An old toilet at Braganza Mansion
At Braganza Mansion
I have often longed for Rain tourism! May be for us, Rain has come to mean either floods, when too much, or drought when none. But to go from place to place, to be in the rains, to cleanse the summer dust, to fill the lungs with the fresh smell of wet earth and to sit down and watch, to rest and to be in peace, ah! 
Anu and Dilip with Feni in the balcao
Thanks to Travel Another India and Gouthami, and Arco Iris, it was wonderful two days spent in a renovated Portuguese house, with Goan food and Feni.

http://travelanotherindia.com/goa.html - for bookings, gou@travelanotherindia.com or call +91 9940 559 513

Anuradha Pati
July 2014

Monday, 6 April 2015

A for Authenticity

Authenticity – The A of Responsible Tourism

To explain the principles of Responsible Tourism, The Blue Yonder has come up with the A to Z of Responsible Tourism (www.atozofrt.com). I was inspired by this to write a series of article for Consumer Voice Magazine in Delhi - http://consumer-voice.org/ShowMagazines.aspx. 

As urbanites travel more and more looking for newer experiences, a slew of “village experiences” are coming up right outside the cities. These are run by hotel chains that excel in the hospitality business. You come away having had fun and being fed a variety of food that could be new for you. To you it doesn’t make a difference whether it was authentic or not, you went to relax and have fun and you achieved that.

The purist in me is a little disgruntled at these experiences. As long as guests have fun, I should be satisfied. However, when they start talking of “village life” and how they know all about it based on that visit, then I feel the need to intervene. Travelling around India, what is fabulous is that the experience you are likely to have changes almost every 100 kms. To standardise these myriad experiences into a uniform one outside every big city is doing an injustice to the peoples of India.

What is the solution?

Avoid the short cut. If you want to know how a Mewari village is, (not even Rajasthani), you need to travel to Udaipur and go on beyond to stay with a family or in a local guest house. It is then that you get the smell of mud and that of burning cow dung that is very unique to Mewar. However much you try, this uniqueness cannot be made available outside Delhi. I think it has to do with the water, the air and the hospitality of the people there which cannot be transferred as is anywhere else.

To give an example, however many photographs of the Taj Mahal you may have seen, going to Agra and seeing it live at different times of the day and night is very special. Keep that in mind the next time you see a piece of craft or stay in a “local style” hut.

I knew little of architecture when I started out in the field of tourism about seven years ago. As I travelled I realised that housing styles in rural India are suitable for the climate as well as make use of natural resources available in the surrounding areas. This would mean that as you go along the West Coast, the houses are built using the laterite rock with tiled roofs having a high slope and big overhang to handle the heavy South West Monsoons. As you go up the Western Ghats, the rock is replaced by mud, which is protected by thatching on all four sides during the monsoons. In the Himalayas, it is the stone that is favoured for both roof and walls – with those areas affected by earthquakes moving to corrugated sheet roofs. In Kutch the cottages are perfectly circular and made of mud with tiny windows to keep out the heat and dust. Where ever you travel, the house construction ensures that the temperature within remains ambient regardless of the temperature without.
Weaver's House in Pranpur - made of local stone

People, world over, have made the effort to live comfortably using the resources available to them. And then over the last half century this has been turned topsy turvy with concrete taking over the world. It has its uses and I am not asking for a ban, but when a Kutchi farmer builds a house of concrete and then adds a layer of mud on top, I would like to register my protest. Probably from having stayed in the all-mud huts, I can actually feel the difference. Yes, mud construction needs regular maintenance, but it doesn’t need an air-conditioner in summer or a heater in summer. What you say on electricity bills makes up for what you put into maintenance.

The smell of wet earth after the first rains – I wait a whole year for it. If it were bottled and available online, would it still be as special?

What is an authentic experience without local cuisines? What I enjoy most about travelling is the variety of food in India. If I enjoy a kothu parota on the streets of Madurai, can it really be replicated on the streets of Panjim? Why not enjoy the poee-bhaji in Panjim instead? Yes, I yearn for a good fafda-jalebi sometimes – but I know that if I have it anywhere outside Gujarat, I am just not going to be satisfied. And that gives me something to look forward to. When I travel, I stick to the local food as much as possible – those flavours just cannot be had elsewhere.
Breakfast in Ahwa, Dangs District
Next time you travel try to appreciate what is unique to where you are going – enjoy the special flavour of authenticity. Hold out for the real thing.


Appeared in Consumer Voice dated August 2014 http://consumer-voice.org/ShowMagazines.aspx 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Orchha - Pranpur - Chanderi

We thought we were headed for a quiet Holi getaway to Madhya Pradesh. Orchha-Pranpur-Chanderi. We anticipated the grandeur of the Orchha palaces and a restful Holi in the mango orchards. But were completely unprepared for the breadth and depth of experience that Travel Another India and Gouthami curated for us.

Four days and a flood of stories, sights and encounters. Sample some:

-        A guest house walled in by mango trees, designed and managed by farmers, village scientists and community-tourism entrepreneurs. The Amraee quickly made us their own. It has swept all awards possible for responsible rural tourism. The Bundeli thaali served on Holi swept us into a minor culinary exploration.

-          A day-long tour of Chanderi (one must spend three to fully immerse in the stories of its 300+ historical monuments). My favourite was the walk through Sadar Bazaar - an ancient market frequented by Khilji rulers and Mughal royals and chronicled by Ibn Batuta.

At its prime, the Bazaar was a three-tier retail hotspot - the lowest tier of shops for customers on foot, a second level for consumers on horseback, and the highest storey for royal shoppers on elephant back. The same goods were sold at three different price tags for the three customer segments. A super example of inclusive commerce!

-       A drive through sandstone quarries to the 1000-year old Nanoun caves. We spotted crocodiles sunbathing on the banks of the river Urvashi. And witnessed the chronicling of life through cave paintings from the chalcolithic age. Across the banks, not far away, lay burial grounds from the Mesolithic age.
Cave Paintings in Nanoun
River Urvashi had crocodiles on its banks!
 -    A walk across Asia's largest earthen dam that submerged 85 villages (all re-settled in Chanderi) and temples and palaces of the 14th and 15th century. When the waters of the Betwa recede in June, the submerged monuments re-emerge, with paintings on their walls still undiminished. Massive flocks of migratory birds conference on the lakes of this dam. You need to be here at sunset.
Sunset from the Rajghat Dam
-          Lunch in the balcony of a 13th century royal hunting lodge, ensconced in the winding ghats and forest's of Katighati. The verandah flanks out into a massive lake with boatmen plying iron boats. Here, Babur's troops had taken shelter for months and planned their strategy of attack on Chanderi. Here, we ate guava curry, and fish freshly fried on the banks of the lake.
Lake of the Royal Hunting Lodge

14th Century Royal Hunting Lodge
View from the Lunch Table

-          Conversations with metal workers, potters and weavers. A family of metalworkers invited us into their home in Pranpur and walked us through the intricacies of their practice - a forgotten metal art form, which has probably not been documented. Mud over wax moulds through which molten metal is poured and baked in earthen ovens. The two layered mould is then cooled and cracked open to produce intricate metal jewellery. Do not contest the prices fixed by the village tourism council for this master craftsperson’s wares. Because you pay not just for the product, but for an art form that may disappear in the next decade of your life.
The Charkha in Pranpur

Weaving the Chanderi fabric in Pranpur

-          And finally the showstopper- an impulsive plunge into the flowing, rocky pools of the river Betwa with Surendra bhai and his daughters, who are part of Friends of Orchha - a network of village home stays in Orchha. The extended frolicking in the cold waters delayed us by several hours to the next spot on our map. But did we care?

Betwa River in Orchha
The oxygen that breathed colour and life into our trip was the indomitable Kallebhai. A school drop-out, self-taught, barefoot historian, who has published four books on the history of Chanderi, and is at the forefront of working with UNESCO to have his town declared as a World Heritage City. If not for anything else, visit Chanderi to just hear his story of life entrepreneurship.

Oh! And we did play Holi under the mango trees. And purchased a Chanderi stole or two. Thank you Travel Another India for this largess.

Manisha Gupta
March 2015
The Mango Orchard at Amraee Guest House

Doorway of the Jama Masjid in Chanderi - the designs continue to inspire the weavers!

My favourite- children of the 1000-year old village, nestled among stone quarries, play holi with adandon and chase us with cowdung balls in their hands

Rajpal - the farmer-scientist- inventor with three patents to his name. He manages the Amraee guest house out of his passion and love for the region he was born in. Not often is he photo-bombed by guests.

100-year old mud home in Orchha

An ancient metal pot discovered by the Archeological Survey of India. Displayed in an open museum at the Raja-Rani palace in Chanderi.

Baodi or step-well in Chanderi

Frescoes in the palace in Orchha

Jahangir Palace, Orchha

Jama Masjid, Chanderi

Mango blooms, Amraee Guest House, Pranpur