Category Archives: India

Goa Hippie Paradise

Goa – Where Old Hippies Go To Die

Goa - where old hippies go to dieIf you grew up around hippies in the 1960s or 1970s you probably heard some stoned dude with a beard longer than an Imam’s talking about Goa and the scene there. The smallest state in India was and is a veritable Mecca for those interested in exotic culture, far out spiritual experience and unregulated drug and alcohol experiences. In the 1980’s Goa seemed to take a turn as a holiday spot for the jetset, but one thing is for sure no matter what decade you come from – Goa has a rep as a party spot that causes a lot of people to shun its potential for wildlife tourism, a safe exotic destination for families or solo travelers.

Goa has always seemed like a place that hippies from Western cultures would go to let loose. A place of hedonistic pleasure and fulfilling the desire for the exotic. To be honest, the past few years, I’ve avoided it because it seemed to be one of those places where young backpackers go to enjoy being away from home for the first time, but in truth – there really is a lot more to Goa than I’d imagined.

Sure, young Brits love to take low cost flights to Goa and it is all of those things I mentioned above, but there are layers to Goa. It has always been one of the top holiday destinations in India and there is a reason it is a top visited place among tourists, vacationers and honeymooners. In a word, Goa is amazing.

Goa Hippie ParadiseDuring the holiday period, Goa is filled with large numbers of tourists from all around the world and of course, the major attractions are the beaches in Goa. Goa beaches are where you can have a perfect holiday trip and everyone knows it. Some of the well known beaches are Palolem Beach, Baga Beach, Candolim beach, Dona Paula Beach and Anjuna beach. Parties, adventure activities and of course, plenty of beach time.

The beaches though, aren’t everything. There are also monuments, churches and wildlife sanctuaries in Goa. Panaji, Mapusa, Dona Paula and Margaon are just a few of the many cities and regions you can visit. Panaji is the capital of Goa and offers architecture, monuments and a lively and interesting culture. Mapusa, the third largest city in Goa is famous for its Friday market and crafts. Dona Paula is a well known beach lover’s paradise – famous for honeymoons. Margaon is a clean, fresh city filled with green spaces. Each place in Goa has its own rich history.
When you are looking for something to do in Goa though, look no further than the water. Snorkeling, Wind Surfing, Speed boating, Canoeing, Para Sailing and more are available. For the land minded you can book jungle safaris into your holiday package.

For the cultural traveler, you will find exotic cuisine, lively festivals and a nightlife that is up to the wildest of expectations. Want to see more of Goa? Why not cruise to Grande Island, St. George Island, Devagh Island, Pigeon Island, Candolim, Calangute, Arossim, Utorda, Mobor or Dona Paula beach?

One thing is for sure, Goa is a world of its own and there is plenty there for even the most intrepid of adventurers but if you are looking for hippies, drum circles and that whole vibe – you will still find it in Goa. It’s where old hippies go to die and young hippies go to find gurus.

The photos in this post are ccImages from the Flickr photostreams of Slavasizov, Iain Tait and Nimboo

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Kochi: City of Many Faces

Story and Photos of Kochi by Dave Stamboulis

kochi by Dave StamboulisTravelers often get confused over the various names given to Kerala’s port city of Kochi. The city used to be known as Cochin, and internationally as Fort Cochin, which is actually the name of the old harbor area of the city, while many Keralans may be heard referring to it as Ernakulam, which is actually the larger mainland part of the town. Yet names aside, Kochi is a fabulous mélange of cultures and people, perhaps due to its history of openness to the outside world.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Kochi has been known throughout the ages as the center of the spice trade on the subcontinent. Jewish, Roman, Arab, and Chinese merchants visited it from the 13th Century and the city became Europe’s first settlement in India when the Portuguese colonized it in the early 1500’s. The Dutch and later the British also had their period of rule, and even as an Indian city today, Kochi is characterized by its large numbers of ethnic minorities, ranging from Tamils to Jews to Gujaratis to Syrian Christians, and probably the largest concentration of Catholic churches and followers you’ll find in Asia outside of the Philippines.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Vestiges of all this multiculturalism can be seen everywhere, from the city’s iconic Chinese fishing nets, which date back to the 14th Century and are still used sparingly today, to the imposing Santa Cruz Basilica Cathedral and the St. Frances Church, the first European churches built in Asia (1502 and 1503) and still the site of well attended masses today. Kochi also boasts a Jew Town, with the Paradesi Synagogue as its centerpiece, and a living heritage site today. The father of the warden of the synagogue built the still standing Koder House (www.koderhouse.com), reconstructing it over a 19th century Portuguese mansion, and is just one example of the fine colonial architecture one will find meandering the pleasant back streets of Fort Cochin. The house serves as a fine boutique hotel today and gives a feel for what life must have been like during the days of old.

 kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Kochi prides itself on culture and spectacle. Leading the way is Kathakali, Kerala’s famed dance-drama performance art in which long periods of training, makeup, and ritual are fused into a colorful and mesmerizing spectacle. While short performances are staged for visiting tourists, the real deal still involves all night long temple shows and is a major part of the elaborate Keralan festival calendar each year.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Not far from one of the Kathakali performance theatres lies the ornate Dharmanath Desar Jain Mandir, a Jain temple founded by Gujaratis that engages in a rather bizarre pigeon feeding ritual each afternoon, in which pilgrims come and pray to the thousands of pigeons which descend from the rooftops to eat the birdseed put out by the temple monks each day. Needless to say, Kochi never ceases to astound.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

While the heat of the day drives many to shaded cafes, it’s still easy enough to find an auto rickshaw driver out seeking a fare who will be more than happy to show you all the old colonial buildings and act as a history lecturer at the same time, all the while trying to get you to stop in for a purchase of some of Kochi’s famous products such as pepper, cardamom seed, or tea from the nearby plantations in the Western Ghat Mountans.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

He will also be quick to point out his favorite Ayurvedic shop, as most of the plants used in this ancient traditional medicine practice come from Kerala and are traded out of Kochi’s busy port. An Ayurvedic massage, which features warm herbal oil head massages and relaxing steam treatments are extremely rejuvenating and yet just another reason to pay the bustling Kochi a visit.

Chinese fish nets at sunset in Fort Cochin (Kochi) in Kerala, In

It is a popular ritual for visitors and locals to gather along the promenade next to the Arabian Sea in Fort Cochin each night, drinking fresh mango shakes and portions of fried fish served up by enterprising hawkers. The backdrop of the sun setting behind the Chinese fishing nets is the most photographed site in Kerala, and yet this long running tradition may be seeing its final hours. The novel land operated cantilevered fishing nets which are counterbalanced by large rocks on ropes and need 5-6 men to work, have been reduced to only a dozen or so in the past decade, as the trade is no longer profitable enough for the fishermen due to market prices and local dredging. While cultural heritage and trust foundations have tried to get behind movements protecting the long running practice, the Indian government has not done anything to make the nets a natural treasure.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Yet undoubtedly Kochi will survive, just has it has all these years of the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and more, always open to the sea, to new faces, new ideas, and perhaps India’s most inviting destination, just waiting for what the drifting tides will bring in next.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Travel Tips:

Transport: Kochi’s International Airport is one of India’s busiest, with dozens of carriers calling in from around the world. The airport is about an hour’s drive from the city. In town, local ferries are a great way of getting around and avoid the heavy traffic that pervades Kochi during rush hours.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Stay and Eat: The Koder House Boutique Heritage Hotel has a fantastic location in Fort Cochin opposite the harbor and Chinese fishing nets, and the hotel’s unique restaurant serves sumptuous Keralan and Jewish cuisine. There are not many rooms at this gem, so make sure to book in advance especially during high season. The Koder House: Phone: +91 484 2218485, www.koderhouse.com

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Do: aside from all the local attractions, it is easy to visit the famed Kerala Backwaters for a boat trip or go up to the tea plantations of Munnar for an excursion from Kochi. Travel agents abound in Fort Cochin and can set this up.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis (Facebook Page)  is a global nomad who spent seven years traveling 40,000 kilometers around the world by bicycle. His book Odysseus Last Stand chronicles that journey. Dave resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he works for magazines, newspapers, and stock agencies as a freelance photojournalist.  His quest for stories and images in off the beaten track places has taken him to spots such as Borneo, Ethiopia, Bolivia, and other way out locations, often reached via bicycle, kayak, or on foot.  you can check out his work at www.davestamboulis.com and his most recent photography at his Flickr.

Kerala

Kerala Backwaters: An India You Never Imagined

Story and Photos by Dave Stamboulis

While India gets a lot of bad press for its crowds, hassles, and other impediments to the discerning traveler, the state of Kerala in the south is a far departure from this, and actually home to one of the world’s greatest escapes, the amazing “backwaters” of Kerala, a spot that is in fact even worth putting on that “50 places to go before you die” bucket list. Actually National Geographic did just that, naming the backwaters in their “50 destinations of a lifetime” list in their millennium collectors’ edition.

kerala

The backwaters are comprised of a chain of lakes, canals, and lagoons that lie just off the Malabar Coast and Arabian Sea, fed by around 40 rivers that snake their way out of the Western Ghat Mountains down to the ocean. One could say it is like an Indian Bayou, except that these backwaters are home to a thriving lifeline, as thousands of people live surrounded by water and have shaped their lives to living above the flow.

houseboat sailing on the backwaters of Kerala, India

The area of the backwaters most often visited is that around the towns of Alleppey, Kumarakom, and Kottayam, with ferries plying the larger routes, small boats navigating the smaller canals, and beautiful luxury houseboats cruising through the most scenic parts. Even Kerala, with its high literacy, history of foreign trade, and welcoming traditions, can be crowded and chaotic, thus nothing can compare with sitting back in style and silence, watching the water flow by and taking in the lush green canals without a care in the world.

enjoying the life on a houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala, In

The kettuvallams, as the houseboats are called, are traditional rice grain barges that were formerly used to transport rice from the wetland paddies to the coast. Made with thatched roofs and over 25 meters long, the boats are quite elegant, and used to be the preferred way of merchant travel prior to the coming of paved roads and motorized vehicles. These days, they are a huge tourist draw, as although motorized, they languidly drift throughout Kerala’s labyrinthine system of lakes and canals, where visitors can enjoy plenty of birdlife, with kingfishers and cormorants being some of the more common sightings, or focus on the cultural aspect of the backwaters, such as the coir industry, in which coconut husk fibers are used to make ropes fishing nets, and other local products that the native Keralite people use in their daily lives.

peaceful canal life in the backwaters of Kerala, India

Better yet, it’s just as pleasant to do absolutely nothing except sit out and enjoy the backwater scenery with ones feet propped up in an armchair drinking a cup of Indian chai or even a cold Kingfisher beer. The houseboats come equipped with all amenities; fans and air-conditioning, western toilets, televisions, showers, and period piece dining rooms and bedrooms. Additionally, they are staffed with cooks and attendants, and just about every whim and nuance is catered to, ensuring a journey of bliss.

sunset along the Malabar coast in the backwaters of Kerala, Indi

Most of the houseboats do a bit of canal touring before dropping anchor in one of the large freshwater lakes that dot the area, and spending a night under the stars. While there are huge numbers of houseboats to choose from, it is recommended to make reservations in advance, especially in the November-February high season, and this also assures getting a boat and operator of one’s choice. One of the best ways to go is to book a boat through a resort, which gives some accountability as well as getting some five star treatment both on and off the water.

houseboat sailing on the backwaters of Kerala, India

The Kumarakom Lake Resort, (http://www.kumarakomlakeresort.in/) perched on the banks of the serene Lake Vembanad, is the best place to stay in the area. Awarded as India’s Leading Resort by the World Travel Awards, this hideaway under the coconut trees has beautiful lake view villas with plunge pools, a restored traditional Keralan restaurant, and a superb spa that offers Ayurvedic massage and healing treatments. The resort also specializes in packages that offer a combination of houseboat overnights combined with a night relaxing at the resort.

sunset along the Malabar coast in the backwaters of Kerala, Indi

Sailing along like royalty on a Keralan houseboat is about as close to bliss as one can get in terms of pampered travel, and a trip one will be savoring for years afterwards.

peaceful canal life in the backwaters of Kerala, India

Travel Tips:

Go: All of India’s major airlines as well as numerous world carriers fly into Kochi (Fort Cochin) International Airport, which is just an hour’s drive from the backwaters.

Do: In addition to an overnight on a houseboat, canal tours on small dugout canoes are also recommended for seeing village life on intimate and slow terms. If you happen to be in Kerala in August, the Nehru Trophy Boat Races are a must see, as locals race traditional “snake boats” (crafted wood longboats in which 100 oarsmen can sit) through the backwaters.

houseboat sailing on the backwaters of Kerala, India

Stay: The Kumarakom Lake Resort is the best in the region, offering houseboats and private villas on the shores of Vembanad Lake. Tel: 00 91 481 2524900 or toll free out of India: 1 800 425 5030