Category Archives: Travel

Hokka Trees in Diu-A prehistoric legacy or a colonial one?

These unique palm trees known as hokka can be found on almost every corner in the UT.

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Hokka trees in Diu 

The hokka tree has a fascinating history. Some say, they were planted here first by the Portuguese, who had brought them in from their African colonies. As you know, Diu was a Portuguese settlement until  1961. Other stories suggest they have existed here since the time India and Africa were one continent.

What we do know now is that these trees grow only in this region in India, making them standalone attractions in and around Diu town.

Hoka tree in Diu

A hokka tree in bloom. 

Now, the locals have been known to eat the largish seeds of the tree, although I wasn’t courageous enough to try any. Give me my apples, anyday. They did look somewhat interesting, though. The red skin, when peeled off, reveals a yellow flesh. The seeds can also be used to make liquor, sometimes of the spurious variety. So all those who like their taadi, beware!

The hokka tree is also known as the doum palm or the gingerbread tree and was considered sacred in parts of Africa. What makes hokka seeds or doum fruits special is that they stay well for days and months and well, a real long time, even after they are separated from the tree. Case in point: Doum fruits were found, well-preserved in King Tut’s tomb. Generally offered at funerals, the fruits were meant to accompany the Pharoah on his last journey.

So the next time, you’re in Diu, be sure to take a selfie with this celebrity tree.


Images courtesy:




Diu Fort –Standing the Test of Time

The Portuguese certainly knew what they were doing when they captured India’s West Coast in order to control trade routes. Judging by the sheer size and expanse of the outstanding and absolutely robust Diu Fort, no force could have stood a chance against the Portuguese.

Built in 1535 as a vantage point over the Arabian Sea, the Diu Fort covers 56,736 sq mts. (I know, right?) and is a huge delight to explore. I won’t be surprised if, while exploring the fort, you start to feel like an intrepid sailor out to discover new lands.

The entrance, with its double moat and imposing walls, can be pretty intimidating. One architectural feature that lent an air of friendliness to this otherwise formidable monument was this balcony here.

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The balcony for the melancholy Portuguese soldier. 

Granted, it was meant as a look-out. Nevertheless, it offered a certain degree of human contact. All that was missing was a cute Portuguese soldier, singing fado, drinking port wine and mournfully waving out to visitors.

The entrance has a huge iron door where one has to bend to enter the fort. From what little I know of this standard practice, the bending was meant to instill a sense of deference on part of the visitor.

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The entrance to the Fort. 

Walking around, the mind boggles at the grandiosity of this monument. Although sparsely decorated, one gets a fairly good idea of its functionality. There are numerous chapels inside the fort, indicating the presence of a great many soldiers. In addition, you’ll find storage rooms, underground tunnels and of course, canons that menacingly look out over the sea. Needless to mention, the fort was built to withstand long sieges. (Note, though that certain areas of the fort may be closed off. )


On one end of the fort stands a lighthouse. Westwards, you’ll  see the Panikota Fort in the middle of the sea, built by the Portuguese to defend the supply on their boats. The Panikota Fort looks like a ship and houses a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady Of The Sea, in addition to a lighthouse.

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The Panikota Fort

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A lighthouse inside the Fort ramparts



Signs of vibrant life prevailed inside the fort, thanks to this gorgeous Gulmohur. Other signs of life include a prison on the premises of the Fort, obviously off-limits to visitors.

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Gulmohur inside the Fort

Provide a good hour  at least to explore the fort from end-to-end. Wear good sports shoes and carry your water bottle and camera with you. This one is a must-do for all those who love their history and adventure.


The Life of Toys (before batteries)

When adults, like me, are enamoured by cute and colourful wooden toys, you begin to wonder if it’s the inner child in you that’s harking back to the simple joys of childhood. Or could it just be the timeless appeal of those toys themselves?

Before I lose you, let me come straight to the point. I speak of the lacquered toys of Channapatna, or the toy town of Karnataka, lying 60 kms from Bangalore. Vibrantly coloured and completely non-toxic, these wooden articles of joy make for perfect showpieces, and toys, of course.

Channapatna toys date back to Tipu Sultan’s time. Tipu was greatly fascinated by wooden toys and invited Persian artists to train the local craftsmen in the art of toy-making and lacquering.

Cp artist

A craftsman at work 

The toys are produced in small workshops just outside the craftsman’s home, creating a cottage industry. Several toy workshops can be found in the many small gullies of this little town that has become synonymous with these attractive playthings.

The toys are made from locally-found ivory wood. The wood is soft and easily pliable, lending itself to many shapes. The lacquer is non-toxic and made from natural shellac. I can personally assure you that they are extremely durable, as well. I must have dropped my toys hundreds of times, but my small car and my adorable lil tortoise continue to smile back at me in a Zen-like manner, as if inured to the abuse.

car n turtle

My little car and tortoise. 

The craftsmen have also diversified into home decor articles, like vases, napkin rings, hangers and suchlike. A great number of these unique items are exported and you are sure to find a few big dealers in the town stocking everything from small cars to puzzles to toy aeroplane models and skip ropes.

The sheer numbers in which the toys are produced are mind-boggling.

A brief chat with a craftsman revealed that each workshop is responsible for a few toy designs, leading to specialisation. One workshop may produce only key chains and spinning tops, another, only cars and aeroplanes and so on. Each dealer will stock an average of 100 different types of toy designs for all ages. It’s not uncommon to find a shop spread across 3 floors, with hundreds of items dumped in shelves, baskets, boxes, sacks, crates and even covering the floors. Yes, the prospect of slipping on a child’s toy becomes all too real.

Channapatna makes for a quick stop-over on the way to or from Mysore. So spend some time here, buy these charming toys and go back to a simpler time, when you didn’t need batteries for everything you played with.

cp toys

These are a few of my favourite things. 



The Legend of Noh Ka Likai



Noh Ka Likai Falls, Sohra, Meghalaya

Ever looked at a waterfall and thought, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool so jump off that cliff?” Well, that thought is going to stop being funny once you read this story.

India’s tallest plunge waterfall Noh Ka Likai in Meghalaya’s Sohra district (formerly Cherrapunjee) has a rather sinister story behind it.

Legend has it that Ka Likai (Ka denotes the feminine gender) and her husband, Kynrem were deeply in love. However, Kynrem contracted a disease on one of his work trips to Sylhet (present-day Bangladesh) and died soon after. Likai’s daughter was barely a year old then. Likai was left to take care of her child all by herself. She toiled in the fields and did odd jobs to survive. But despite the hard life, she took great consolation in her only child, Lasubon.

Likai soon began to be courted by men. But she could not forget Kynrem and turned away her suitors. Except the very persistent U Snar, Kynrem’s old rival, who would not take ‘No’ for an answer. Likai’s friends and family asked her to consider the prospect of remarriage, since U Snar was rich and Likai would not have to work so hard anymore.

Likai was apprehensive since she expected the new man in her life to wholly accept her daughter, as well. But her relatives and people around convinced her that U Snar was endearing himself to Lasubon and would accept them both. After much deliberation, Likai agreed to marry U Snar.

For a while, life was good. Likai did not have to work so much. But U Snar’s parents did not approve of his new wife and threw him out of the family business. Likai was back to where she started.

U Snar would stay home, invite his friends over and get drunk while Likai went to work in the fields again, leaving Lasubon behind. One day, she came home to find U Snar beating Lasubon because she had said she did not know how to buy alcohol for U Snar and his friends. Likai threw a fit and warned U Snar not to lay a hand on her beloved daughter again.

The next day she returned home from work but Lasubon did not show up to welcome her. Thinking, she might still be playing with her friends, Likai went into the kitchen and found that U Snar had prepared a meaty curry for his wife. She thought U Snar had had a change of heart and had her fill of the meal. Looking to round it off with betel leaves, she found the severed hands of Lasubon in her betel nuts basket.

Horrified, she realised what had happened. U Snar had killed her daughter, cut her up into pieces, made a curry out of them and served it to Likai. Unable to bear her own grief, she plunged to her death from the waterfall that is today known as the “Jump of Ka Likai.” U Snar, on the other hand was never heard from again.

The council of elders then decided that the village where this tragedy occurred be resettled so that such evil may never befall the Khasi people again. The village no longer exists but the legend of Ka Likai lives on.

-Source “Around The Hearth: Khasi Legends” by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih

About the waterfall itself: Figuring among the ten tallest waterfalls in the world at just over 1000 feet, Noh Ka Likai is best experienced in the monsoon when the waters rush through the hills to plunge into a gorgeous green blue pool below. I saw it in March when it was just a steady trickle but the sheer drop is so frightening that even the mysterious pool below cannot redeem the darkness of Ka Likai’s story.










All things Oman

Here’s more write-ups on Oman for all those who heard me on the air on Radio One today!


Top 4 things to do in Munich

Munich, home of the Oktoberfest and FC Bayern, is also perhaps the most catholic city in Germany. Yet, an odd combination of those three seemingly incongruous elements need not put you off. For Munich is also one of the most visited cities in Europe, and not just during the annual beer chugathon celebrating the wedding of Ludwig I with Princess Therese. With its unconditionally welcoming stance towards refugees this year, Munich has also won itself a place in the most cynical of hearts. So here’s my top 4 things to do if you’re ever in the Bavarian capital.

4) Visit the Englischer Garten and watch people in wetsuits (and sometimes in Dirndls and Lederhosen) surf


Women in Dirndls surfing during Oktoberfest

If you, like me, enjoy watching other people indulge in adventure sports,head straight to Eisbach, the world’s only urban surfing spot on a manmade river. The Isar flows through Munich and a small arm of the river runs through the Englischer Garten, where it turns into a wicked little surfing spot, now haunted by hundreds of keen surfers. Feel free to stand on the bridge where you can catch some of the surfing action live at any time of the day and all times of the year, German winters notwithstanding. If watching these surfers makes you pant with excitement, you could always head back to one of the Biergaerten and chug a beer. (Only through the summer and sometimes in the autumn, depending on the weather.)

 3) Catch up on history and religion
The Ohel-Jakob synagogue in Munich is built on the Saint Jakob’s Platz close to the site of the old synagogue from the 20th century. Destroyed on the Kristallnacht like most Jewish establishments on that day, it has since been rebuilt and allows visitors inside. Munich is now home to a thriving Jewish community that supports this synagogue, among other Jewish centres located nearby, including a suave kosher restaurant and   a lovely museum with a quaint little bookshop. Be sure to book the Sunday visit 10 days in advance through its website. The synagogue tours are available in German and English and cost 5 Euros as of October 2015.

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The stunning Ohel-Jakob Synagogue


The hall of remembrance bears the names of the Holocaust victims .

2) Climb on top of old man Peter
Don’t worry! This is not some sordid sexual fantasy I’m talking about. Alter Peter (Old Man Peter) is the name of the tower of the Saint Peter’s Church opposite  the Rathaus am Marienplatz with its famous Glockenspiel. With nearly 300 steps leading to the top, the tower is a relic of the medieval era with its spiral staircase and narrow balcony. Need I say it, the view from the top is well-worth the literally breathtaking climb, I mean, literally, if you’re not fit, you’ll be stopping to catch your breath like, every three steps. On a good sunny day, you can see the snow-covered Alps. That apart, the view of the city in itself is rather charming, with its baroque architecture as also its stunning modern buildings. As of October 2015, a visit to the top cost 2 Euros.

1) Fill up on sugary treats.

Once you’ve had your fill of old Peter, come down and get yourself a much-needed sugar fix.  Rischart is Munich’s own family-run café chain with some of Germany’s most famous Kuchen and Kaffee. The alcohol and cake-lover in me was thoroughly spoilt that day with the rich, juicy, and rum-doused Tiramisu. Strange, you’d think, that the Germans would make a better Tiramisu than the Italians. But then again, Munich is also known as the the northern-most part of Italy. Friends, meanwhile, vouch for Rischart’s Kaiserschmarm, an egg-and sugar-based specialty, from the royal house of Ludwig. Incidentally, there is a Rischart diagonally opposite the Marienplatz and Rischart also has its own tent at the Oktoberfest themed along a fairy tale. This is where you’ll catch some of their best and most-delicious Kuchen doing the rounds, even as your mind boggles at the sheer variety of German confectionary.

Tiramisu rischart

The dreamy, droolworthy Tiramisu at Rischart.


Confectionery at Rischart’s Oktoberfest tent. Yummmmn……


Top 5 things to do in Dresden, Germany

Capital of Saxony and barely 200 km from Berlin, Dresden evokes images of complete destruction during WW II. But with most of its historic monuments now restored and its older apartments buildings modernised, Dresden is now an architectural delight. As a city it is also a little bit like Goldilock’s bed; not too big, like Berlin, not too small, like Bremen, but just right. That means when you want to go out, you’ll find a number of activities lined up for you by some invisible cultural curator or when you want to stay in, you don’t necessarily feel like a stranger among strangers.

Most travellers to Germany tend to skip Dresden, or drop in, perhaps on the way to its more popular neighbour, Prague. But that’s what makes Dresden so special…it’s not always infested with tourists. It retains that wonderful old-world feel about it and lends itself to all sorts of activities. So here’s my Top 5 to do in Dresden, even if you’re travelling just for a day or two.

5) Take the tram line 8 or 3 connecting the Altstadt and Neustadt.
The River Elbe divides the city naturally into what is known as the Altstadt (Old Town) and the Neustadt (New Town). So when you hop into one of these trams, you’re essentially travelling across the Elbe with stunning views of the historic buildings that give Dresden its epithet, ‘Florence on the Elbe.’

View from the tram

View from the tram





The Tram Line 3 on its way to 'Wild Man'

The Tram Line 3 on its way to ‘Wild Man’






4) Explore the Neustadt
With its hipster vibe and bohemian feel, Neustadt is home to the city’s many artists and liberals. Walk through the colourful Kunsthof Passage (Goerlitzer Strasse) and spot the funnel wall that turns into a musical instrument during the rain. Or visit the quaint art gallery Art + Form (Albertplatz) to find a treasure trove of handmade items, stuff you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.  Neustadt is also the best place to sample some of Germany’s famous multi-kulti cuisine, from my favourite Turkish restaurant in the Alaunstrasse to the famous Pfunds Molkerei  (“the most beautiful dairy in the world”) with its many different cheeses and milk varieties.

The funnel wall in the Kunsthof Passage

The funnel wall in the Kunsthof Passage



The most beautiful dairy in the world

The most beautiful dairy in the world, Pfunds Molkerei








3) Explore the Altstadt
Go from hipster to historic, and stop off at the dramatic Theaterplatz for the city’s most famous landmark, the Semper Oper. Surrounded by the Zwinger Oper and the Hofkirche, this square is the best place to go monument spotting, if that’s your thing. Baroque architecture abounds in this quarter and you will find a number of museums housed in these buildings today. Then, walk on to the spectacular Frauenkirche, sit yourself down at one of the many cafes in the vicinity and enjoy a locally brewed beer as you people-watch.

The fully-restored Frauenkirche

The fully-restored Frauenkirche

Theaterplatz referencing the Semper Oper

Theaterplatz referencing the Semper Oper








2) Cycle along the Elbe
The Elbe provides the city with much of its character. With its weekend flea market, or the Film Nights during the summer, or its famous cycling and walking paths, this is Dresden’s getaway in the middle of the city. Running through Dresden up to Prague, the cycling paths are well-designated. You’re unlikely to get lost, cos no matter where you exit the pathway, you’ll find a friendly little bus stop or a tram stop that’ll lead you back to the city centre. One major attraction along the Elbe cycle path is the 150-year old Siemank bakery. The bakery’s Bierstange or bread roll is a soft mixture of multipurpose flours, carrots, and oil seeds. It’s healthy, filling and the perfect snack after an exhausting cycle ride. For those who’d like their sugar fix, try the Dresdner Eierschecke, a melt-in-the-mouth Dresden speciality. All of this with wonderful views over the Elbe.

The Dresdner Eierscheke

The Dresdner Eierschecke



Cycling path with the Frauenkirche in the background

Cycling path with the Frauenkirche in the background







  1. Take in Dresden from the top
    Head to the old-worldly quarter of Loschwitz for a trip on one of the world’s oldest funicular railways or the Schwebebahn which makes a steep climb of 275 feet to its look-out point. With spectacular views over the Elbe Valley and what was once UNESCO World Heritage (derecognised as of 2009 thanks to a new bridge connecting the city), this is something only a true-blue Dresdner will want to share with you. So if you like your views from the top, this is certainly a must-do.

    One of the world's oldest funicular railways

    One of the world’s oldest funicular railways

    The View from the Top

    The View from the Top