INDIA

Goa is an amazingly beautiful place, enriched with culture, nature, great food and fantastic picturesque landscapes. I spent 3 weeks in Goa, and a few days visiting the sites in Karnataka to see just what this amazing place had to offer! I went in January, as at this time it isn't scorching hot but still hot enough to cook - I think the average temperature when I went was around 30 to 35 Degrees Celsius, which is just about on the cusp of what I can handle ( even then I ended up with heat stroke for the first few days - which was not very nice).

My base of operations was Calangute, an area popular with tourists who like to wander around the busy town shopping and bartering for clothes and trinkets, with a golden sandy beaches to visit when tired of shopping and sunbathing by the hotel pool. I stayed in Calangute because it gave me easy access to some amazing tours outside of the area, and an abundance of chatty Tuk Tuk drivers to get me around. There are a lot of tour companies, that now do Goa as a long haul tourist destination,  and will be easy for you to get everything booked in one go and then use that as your base of operations to see what there is to see.

 

The beaches are beautiful in India, and my favourite was Sinquerim beach purely for the amazing ship wrecked shipping container boat that you can walk right up to in the sea (you end up about waist high in water when you get to the boat). There is also a small outdoor beach hut/restaurant right at the end of the beach that sells amazing fruit smoothies to help you get your energy levels back if you walked right down the beach from the top of Calangute down to Sinquerim and/or the steep walk upto the Fort Aguarda.

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 Up the hill from the beach is Fort Aguarda- which isn't really a foreign tourist spot, but is still interesting if you have a local to help you know more about it ( my 'guide' pretended to be a tour guide, which I didn't mind because he helped me understand what the fort was all about and he got a generous tip for it also).  I have to say - prepare to possibly be harassed (not in a bad way) if you are of fair skin and female. This is mostly an Indian tourist place - and for many who do not live in tourist areas - white skin is a novelty to them and there was a fair few people who wanted their photograph taken with me, so if you do visit, cover up and prepare for some attention. *I visited a number of years ago and it seems that, through research, the area has become more tourist orientated so it might be a lot calmer now.

 

Fort Aguada is a stone fort  which was constructed by the Portuguese in 1612. At the top of the fort is a 4 storey lighthouse which was the first of its kind in Asia. At sea level, there’s a watering station, which is how the fort got its name (in Portuguese, agua means water). 

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About 2 1/2 hours drive from Calangute is the amazing Dudhsagar Falls, close to the borders of Karnataka. The name ‘Dudhsagar’ translates to ‘sea of milk’ which many believe is because of  the white spray and foam that the great waterfall creates as it cascades into the waters of the lake.​

 

Dudhsagar Falls is a part of the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, which means that you can trek from your point of arrival (either train or by taxi) through the lush forests of the national park to the waterfall, often seeing monkeys along the way. The monkeys are used to tourists and often show up at peak times that tourists arrive in the hopes of trying to score a free meal. Be warned though - these monkeys are wild animals and if you annoy them, they can get a bit pissed off, or they can try and steal from you. I didnt see any other forms of wildlife apart from the monkeys when I visited, but for me, the monkeys were more than enough, especially the gorgeous baby monkeys that were too busy playing with each other to notice the tourists lovingly looking at how amazingly cute they were!

I would recommend going to see the falls if you visit Goa or the surrounding areas. It was well worth the 2 1/2 hour journey. After the journey you can take a dip in the pool to cool off.... and you will cool off because the water is freezing cold! So remember to take some swimming gear with you, or you will just have to settle for some toe dipping and looking enviously at everyone who did remember to take swimming costumes.

 

Our taxi driver was amazing and when there was gridlock traffic (caused by lots of lorries) he literally went off road to get past them all. Another taxi behind us tried to do the same thing, but ended up getting stuck on a large boulder. Thank god our taxi had decent ground clearance or we might have ended up the same way! 

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Another amazing place I will recommend to visit (especially if you love ancient temples and architecture) is Hampi. It is an ancient village in the south Indian state of Karnataka. It is dotted with numerous ruined,but beautiful, temple complexes from the Vijayanagara Empire. 

The journey is long (about 7 or 8 hrs) from  Margao on the VSG-Howrah Express train, but even the train journey is worth it, just for the experience of being on a sleeper train. Grab yourselves a bunk and take a nap along the way, whilst enjoying the scenery grab a cup of chi from the food and drink vendors that walk the train carriages. Chi is a very sweet milky tea that comes in a really small cup, and costs pennies, so its well worth getting addicted to it on the train. I still miss the taste of train Chi today, and fondly remember the vendors walking down the isles shouting " Coffee Coffee Chi Chi Chi" 

I would recommend booking the train and Hampi trip through a travel agency, as it will save you the hassle of trying to book tickets at the busy station, and won't cost you that much more, and also you will get a tour guide to show you around the ruins of Hampi.

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Hampi (Hampe) is a village and temple town recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as the Group of Monuments at Hampi in northern Karnataka, India. It is located in the ruins of the  of Vijayanagara city, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. The word Hampi originally comes from the word Pampa, the old name of the Tungabhadra River (Pampa was Lord Brahma's daughter, who was later married to Lord Shiva) on whose southern banks the city is built.

The magnificent ruins of Hampi are dotted around a vast area of seemingly alien landscape that has captivated travellers for hundreds of years. Giant boulders perch precariously over waving, uneven terrain, with their rusty tones contrasting the palm groves, and paddy fields. While it’s possible to see this World Heritage Site in a day I would probably say that you can do a good couple of days here seeing all the amazing architecture, landscapes, and history it has to offer.

Virupaksha Temple is the most prominant and iconic building in Hampi - It is located on the south bank of the river Tungabadra and towers over every other building in the area.It believed that this temple has been functioning ever since its inception in the 7th century AD, which would make it one of the oldest functioning temples in India. There are carved erotic figures of amorous couples located at the south side of the tower which connect with fertility rites. I would recommend some binoculars or a zoom lens to see some of these carvings - some are very imaginative!! 

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Shree Krishna Temple is a famous Hindu temple dedicated to god Krishna and Dvaita Matha located in the city of Udupi in Karnataka, India. There are many festivals like Makara Sankranthi, Ratha Sapthami, Madhva Navami, Hanuman Jayanthi, Sri Krishna Janmashtami, Navarathi Mahotsava, Madhva Jayanti (Vijaya Dashami), Naraka Chathurdashi, Deepavali, Geetha Jayanthi etc. and are celebrated  every year. I cannot remember exactly which festival this one was, but it was a very eye opening experience to see people coming together to celebrate their religion. Crowds of people followed a depiction of a god with a procession of elephants and people holding up torches. It was truly an amazing site to see. I didnt get many photos (that were decent) from here as I didn't want to scare the elephants by using a flash, so it was just a case of trying to get some lucky shots in the dark really.

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Sakrebyle Elephant Camp is a place where not only can you get to observe the activities, but actually get to interact with the elephants. You spend about 3 to 4 hours with the elephants, watching them being given a scrub-bath in the river. Once the bath is done, you learn how elephant food is prepared and how they’re fed. The Mahouts (elephant carers) will also demonstrate how elephants obey commands and how they functioned during their earlier role in logging operations. 

This place is like a retirement home for elephants, where they are no longer needed in the logging trade in that area of India. I found it really interesting and these animals are just beautiful and seem to be really cared for at the camp. When I visited there was a baby elephant on the prowl for tourist attention - nudging us and wanting to play. The Mahouts told us to be cautious and kept an eye on the little elephant, because even though they are super cute, if it accidentally knocks you over, you can get crushed!!

Sakrebyle Elephant Camp and Dubare Elephant Camp offer accommodation in or close to the elephant camps. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant and relax in these beautiful places. If you are interested you can find the accommodation on booking.com

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Even more incredible and exciting excursions can be found on Urban Adventures

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Titan travel have some fantastic packages for group and solo travelers 

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