ZAGREB-1- KRK ISLAND

The Traditional Blends with the Contemporary. IMG_9955.JPG

Travelling the length and breadth of Croatia, I have recognised that this Adriatic star is waiting to be discovered by South Asians. One of the friendliest people this side of East Europe, tourists are greeted with great bonhomie.  What is notable about Croatia is the Roman conquest that began way back in 168 BC and was fully established after series of wars, by 11 BC. It is this heritage and legacy that Croatia is very proud of

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Croatia has always held sway as the Roman bastion for 5 or more centuries. Charting rich history, culture, tradition and trade that is still reflected in modern day Croatia. I was lucky enough to retrace much of the Roman carriageway, apart from Solin (not too far from Split), the other important Roman towns were Zadar, Porec, Pula and later Split.

IMG_9887.JPGFor Solo travellers this is a safe haven, I deeply regret travelling with a group that just posed for pics!

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ZAGREB – I was pleasantly surprised that charting an itinerary which features a varied topography would require a lot of rerouting, adding on cities that matter and link en route for a road trip. Zagreb situated in the central region of Northwest Croatia was the starting point. Arriving in Franjo Tudman or the new Zagreb Airport, the Swiss Airport I was transiting, paled in comparison as to the Swiss Airline!

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Zagreb turned out to be a big tourist destination, picturesque landscapes, mountain backdrop that interweaves with the forest giving it that evergreen cover panorama.

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The homestay had local police checking in diligently of all the guests who make the first entry spot into Zagreb. Considering Croatia is fast acquiring a foothold as the most tourist friendly destinations, getting a Croatian visa is a bit of a dampener, as it has to necessarily conform to the precise days of stay there. It’s advisable to hold Schengen visa to Croatia, neighbouring Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia, Romania are all an easy motorable distance away.

IMG_9903.JPGI spent 4 glorious days in  Krk Island

 KRK ISLAND- Few hours from Zagreb, KRK is the largest island in Croatia facing the Kvarner Bay, 30 km from the city of Rijeka. During summer the island’s golden beaches are completely swamped by tourists. Beautiful promenades surround the Bay speckled with gelato ice-cream parlours, restaurants and bars.

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Krk was one of the highlights really, this island commands the best view points, pebbled beaches and has a history that connects it to the cradle of Croatian culture. There are references to Krk by the Romans as the golden island.

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Croatia is widely known as a country with thousands of stunning islands, the Croatian coast is amazingly attractive. The island of Krk exemplifies that, and it is here that I learnt, about all those red tiled houses that one can spot from below and admire, so quintessentially Europe, is actually a steep climb to reach. Be warned if you are taking up a homestay high up in the hills, the view is breathtaking, walking downhill to the town square is fun, but it’s the climbing up that knocks you down!

IMG_9991.JPGHead towards Krk Island square, which is where all the action is. Gastronomy is part of the culture, heritage and tradition, Krk Island has enough and more of everyday life to offer any discerning tourists.

IMG_9987.JPGThe traditional Burek made of baked filled pastries or puffs made of thin flaky dough is available at all Patisseries. The most popular of the fillings and my favorite were goat’s cheese and poppy seeds, Yum! Neighboring Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia also makes similar versions.

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One of my favorite, most intriguing restaurant/bar at the KRK Square was Volsonis. I was so fascinated that I forgot my drink, I didn’t even bother to order food, instead I got hold of the handsome waiter to explain the history and prime location of Volsonis as the biggest bar lounge of Krk.

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It’s a genuine archaeological site and walking through transports you to the Roman era. Situated in an enormous 2000-year-old Roman archaeological site under ground, the original place had to be dug out all manually so deep, that some parts of Volsonis are under the sea!

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The bar lounge is split into many sections, some going as low as the rock extrusions dripping sea water into a channel. There are secret passages, rooms with well laid out tables, very exquisite romantic settings, a huge tv was a bit jarring to the ancient underground towers and corridors.

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The romantic garden was also referred to as the secret garden. The two Venus’s altars were fit to be in a museum, each section of Volsonis exuded astonishment and wonder.

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I didn’t stop at just one visit here, every visit was a new discovery and the food was simply divine.

 

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We are regulars to Goa come rain or shine, just 7 hour road trip, it’s proximity to Poona makes it an ideal getaway.
Poona has a growing no of residents owning 2nd homes in Goa and are fast edging out neighbouring Bombay who were the earliest to invest in properties. 
Delhites are the next wave migrating to Goa and I foresee a mass exodus in the future.

As for us owning a slice of this paradise in Goa has been lost opportunity, we contend ourselves to a temporary home away from home.
Gone are the days we would check in at some sterile Hotel reservation and not savour the sights and sounds of Goa. 
A chance recommendation by Rajan Eklahare who owns TheJungle Resort at Amba, to shift to Olaulim Backyards in North Goa, made us fall in love  with the concept of Home Stays.
We have never stepped inside the confines of a Hotel ever since and even though we have listed out numerous  home stays in Goa, Olaulim Backyards has been our 2nd house for all seasons.

IMG_2933.JPG When it comes to great city escapes from Melbourne nothing beats the oft-trodden Ocean drive. Much touted at every tourist bureau, the Great Ocean Road is nothing short of spectacular, with a dramatic sweep of landscapes, and boundless ocean (coastal) drive.IMG_2934.JPGBook your tickets online, there are many offerings, including lunch and various halts. I personally found it very short pitched especially if you get a driver who hustles you to hurry every step to pack in the drive and 12 Apostles not in one day, but only 6 hours!

IMG_2896.JPG Just an hour away from Melbourne Central begins the winding, windswept drive, extensively over cliff tops until a stretch of the blue ocean comes into full view. The majority part of the road drive is widespread by the Ocean, and the driver offers us time to imbue in the most popular part of surfers beach. 

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We continue on to the next circuit of the drive and it was mostly uphill. That is when the ancient rainforest appears and the south-west coastline that we were skirting along disappear. 

IMG_3178.JPGThe rainforest is another highlight and a trek deep within Otway Forest and National Park is fascinating. The topography of the National Park is home to ancient trees, ferns, and spreading roots far and wide giving thick overhead coverage.

IMG_3158.JPG I felt the Maits Rest Rainforest named after the forest official was a rushed walkway and one could do no justice to look up admire ancient trees with literal cave like gateways at its root.

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The rainforest in this gully has been evolved over millions of years and is a valuable source of information on life and history. For ten thousands of years, the local Aboriginal tribe called Maar held a spiritual connection with these forests and continues to provide cultural and historic links.

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Prehistoric massive ferns, lush, surrounding ponds and waterfalls was tempting to plunge into. Take a moment to stand still and tune into the tranquil surroundings and smell of the ancient forest. The old Myrtle beech trees stand tall providing a lush canopy above, providing shade to the plants below.

IMG_3189.JPGThere are signboards and brief on some pathways signifying trees that grow around, name and tag of the species of plant that thrive, age and ancestry. Some of the Redwood trees are over 500 years old, tallest in the world, well preserved and thriving.

IMG_3206.JPGAfter completing a short loop of this incredible rainforest exploration, back on the road and final stop is the magnificent 12 Apostles. 

IMG_3472.JPGThe Great Ocean Drive is one of Australia’s top journeys of a lifetime, the 12 Apostles (only 8 remaining) at Port Cambell National Park is really the most panoramic scenes high above the crash of waves, the cliffs and foaming waters below will keep you spellbound.

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These limestone outcrops stack up, off the shores in ghostly sizes and figures, being adjacent to the park, this road is highly popular with tourists.

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The Marine Park with the 8 limestone outcrops has Gog and Magog cliffs, the London Bridge with a hollow in the middle, the narrow openings to the sea blocked by the cliffs are few landmarks here.

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The Razorback is a rock stack with sharp edges and bumps caused by the wind blown spray eroding away the softer layer of stone leaving the hard uneven surface. With over one wave every 14 seconds there has been a lot of erosions over centuries!

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It’s very difficult to comprehend some of the spiel aforesaid by the Aussie guide, stories of intrigue and valour abound in these cliffs, also of ships and pirates.

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In all a great time, a great coastal drive of over 400 Kms, lots to see and ponder, a day trip isn’t enough.

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On my next visit here I plan to stay back and explore more as it takes 2 days or more to cover. Many homestays and apartments are available here, passing through old towns and villages we briefly stopped at a popular restaurant Stiks for lunch.

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More reasons to visit Australia, Melbourne again and retrace the Great Ocean Road

Text/Photos Jyoti Shetty.

 

IMG_3649.JPGNighoj Kund is 90 Km from Pune, Maharashtra in a village by the same name. Spreading across just 2 Km or more, the river Kukadi has carved out potholes that resemble a Martian landscape.

IMG_3638.JPGThe river stagnates at this stage to a shallow level, exposing the potholes on either side. It’s not a deep gorge as one can see during the summer, but the kUnd is part of the attraction, the main characteristic here is the potholes.

IMG_3653.JPGWe had learned so much about Nighoj Potholes, and Jayesh of Western Routes always announces group visits there, only during summer. These potholes are visible barely for less than two months.

IMG_3673.JPGThe monsoon fills up these craters of all frames and sizes may not be advisable to visit them to see the potholes.

IMG_3685.JPGMy first impression when I recently visited Nighoj Kund was a bit disappointing. I anticipated a more expansive coverage of this geological marvel, the potholes are centuries old, and these basalt rocks are geologist’s enchantment.

IMG_9763.JPGDuring acute summer the landscape changes drastically giving it the otherworldly upshot.

20170409_102350.jpgI could not avoid dropping off into a bathtub like a hole, sunbathed for quite a while. Some of the larger outcrops of rocks were layered in distinctive subtle shades, some even had shells embedded in the sediments.

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It’s worth watching your step while examining the strange outlines of cavities that the river etched as it swished and swirled around these basaltic rocks for centuries.

IMG_3637.JPGThe Nighoj Kund area is quite easily maintained, and considering its interior location in the village some of the smaller holes were filled with hay dump and a few plastic bottles.

IMG_3661.JPGLuckily the two Devi temples alongside the Kund safeguard the cleanliness initiative. The main Devi temple that towers above the kind has an interesting story, there are 9 such temples in the hamlet. According to the priest at the temple, goddess Devi carved out the gorge with her mere elbows.

IMG_9751.JPGThe temple compound provides the much-needed shade, do venture out here early morning, as the afternoon sun is unrelenting. We barely covered the Kund opposite to the newly constructed bridge. An ancient bridge could be viewed at a distance now abandoned.

IMG_3658.JPGDuring the height of monsoons the gorge fills up to prodigious levels and jumping into the gushing river makes it pleasurable. The potholes are completely submerged to form the riverbed. The incredible summer lunar landscape disappears only to appear until the succeeding year. These potholes and riverbeds are a mute testimony to our past and hold secrets of the river as also ecological insights.

IMG_3669.JPGNighoj Kund can be combined with temple visits nearby. The famous Ganpati temple and Devi temples of Nighoj. On your way out a fort built by Shivaji’s cousin is worth holding back for a quick look.

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Friendly villagers are quite overwhelmed by visitors to the hamlet, they will even tempt you to their homes for a meal and witness bullock cart (it’s not banned here) race on festive occasions.

IMG_4385.JPGRevisiting Coorg -with some last minute shopping to be done, I set out downtown, which is the pulse and marketplace of Coorg. Former glorious days these bustling towns catered to just bare essential ma and pa shops.

IMG_4328.JPGIt’s a far cry now with traffic snarls, narrow roads that intensify chaos amongst swelling crowds.

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The mid-90s witnessed a surge in tourist boom. The verdant forests, cool climate and manicured coffee estates are such an allure to this mountainous district in Karnataka. Home Stays (luckily in and around far-flung villages, coffee estates) and many Hotels (unfortunately around townships) have led to traffic woes and other adversities.

IMG_4372.JPGTourist preferences are indicative in these small towns of Coorg. The proliferation of restaurants catering to tourists from neighbouring states is inevitable. I was beyond shocked to see KFC (Kodagu for Chicken or something to that effect!).

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In Virajpet, several Delhi eating joints, Chaat shops, thankfully a few Kerala Paratha joints and Kerala cuisine, but North Indian food appears to have swept over local cuisine.

IMG_4374.JPGIndian tourists quite frankly are quite averse to trying out food other than what they are accustomed to, especially Vegetarians.

 IMG_4389.JPGCoorg Cuisine in Mercara, Main road, is one place not to avoid for the most authentic Kodava dishes.

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Girish Pemmaiah proudly serves well-known local cuisine handed over by his grandma a great cook and his Mother. He does show exasperation when tourists demand Dal Chaval and takes great trouble retaining and initiating them to Kodava food.

IMG_4393.JPGSome dishes like Pandi Curry Kadambutu, and Nuputu is to die for. Don’t miss the Bamboo curry, even though seasonal, at CC it’s available all year round.

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Authentic Coorg food is difficult to trace even in Mercara, couple another hole in the wall places exists but difficult to ascertain the quality of food.

COORG THEN AND NOW

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I found a sea change in the way Coorg has emerged from a sleepy coffee growing/farming district to hook on as a potential tourism destination.

IMG_4379.JPGTwo decades ago it was a chore driving down to my husband’s estate filled with potholes and bad roads. Today infrastructure has vastly improved, with smooth roads even in the deep interiors.

IMG_4387.JPGGarbage disposal was a problem, but now the District has that organised and maintains squeaky-clean streets, especially Mercara.

IMG_4438.JPGI remember climbing hilltop to catch network on my mobile, similarly that has greatly improved.

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The Kodavas guard their customs and traditions rather diligently especially in their hometown find progress slightly intrusive.

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The young Turks (Kodavas) on the other hand take great pride in nonconformity, welcoming change that is inevitable and returning home as was the norm.

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image8.JPGThe Nalknad is a palace full of covert windows and doors. The last Raja used this as his final outpost and refuge, the palace though secure as his hideout could not withstand the onslaught of the British army. Ironically Dodda Veerarajendra built this palace to commemorate his victory against Tipu Sultan ably assisted by the British!image1.JPG

A guide welcomed us and I distinctly remember asking him if this is a house like any other around these hills, why call it a palace?

image5.JPGOnce you step inside the simple architecture of the Nalknad, the fading geometrical designs, intricate colourful murals on the ceilings and walls, the carved pillars, this two-storied palace undeniably permeates everything royal.

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The secure palace compound wall that surrounds the palace is where some of the ingeniously designed hidden passageways begin. Just at the entrance is a veiled window, which acts as the guard’s secret viewing spot and also a secure room. The entrance door is massive and completely spiked to prevent any elephants from battering it down.

image4.JPGThe palace with many highlights – look out for bulky wooden latches on every door of the many tiny rooms that exist. Each latch simply slides into a wooden block ensuring secure closure of doors.

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The tunnel vision peephole is a decorative geometrical design open window panel that also doubles up as room ventilation. From a distant rear end of the building, one could directly watch the entrance through well-aligned narrow windows privately.

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The bathing room had a low partition within its interior for the actual bath area. There was no evidence of storage of water either hot or cold. The pots if at all must have vanished years ago.

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The Royal hideout was through various narrow passageways and stairs, steep leading to the hideout in the basement. Strangely there was no window or ventilation in that particular room. The wedding Mantap building exemplifies simplicity, this was built for the Raja’s sister’s nuptials.

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On our way out I met some government officials who had come to mark the presence of their visit. I categorically stated that this iconic building must be saved. The building is in a grave state of disrepair, the paintings are peeling off, and the floor is caving in certain places. The steps of the stairs were chipped, doors and windows disjointed, displaying apathy and disrespect to this iconic palace that could otherwise help tourism in Coorg.

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