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Mumbai & Goa with Janhavi Acharekar

1. Mumbai and Goa are vastly different. How would you briefly describe these two destinations?

Mumbai’s crazy traffic, vibrant nightlife and daily buzz contribute to a frenetic city where it’s always rush-hour. Its nightlife is vibrant and international. At the same time, this is where you can view migratory flamingos in an industrial area and visit a heritage village or a 9th century stepped well in the middle of the city. Goa, on the other hand, is defined by its attitude of ‘sossegarde’ – a laidback, unhurried pace of life where everything can wait. Goa’s meditative calm in the daytime is complemented by its carnival-like beachside parties, flamethrowers and acrobatic shows. What they have in common is their energy and unpredictability.

2. Both destinations have great carnivals and festivals. What are the most popular and when do they occur?

The Banganga Music Festival, the Elephanta Festival and the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival vie for top place in Mumbai, along with the religious Ganesh Festival. The latter takes place around September and is a treat for tourists with its colorful clay images of the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesh, while the other three are a celebration of the arts amid the city’s heritage architecture, in the months of January and February. Gokulashtami, a religious festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, makes for an interesting sight as the city’s youth form human pyramids across the city and break earthen pots strung at a height of up to 30 meters.

In Goa, it has to be the Carnival. A three day extravaganza of colorful parades, floats and music held on the Saturday just before the period of Lent, it’s the state’s biggest draw.

3. There are many beautiful beaches on the Northern Coast of Goa. What are a couple of your favorites?

My personal favorites are Vagator Beach with its nearby Chapora Fort, and the Morjim to Mandrem stretch if I’m in a pensive mood or looking for some quiet time. When I’m in the mood to party, or simply seeking a festive atmosphere, I head to the restaurant shacks and bars of Candolim, Baga or Anjuna.

4. When is the best time of the year to visit?

November to March is certainly the best time of year, weather-wise, to visit. It is also when most of the festivals take place. If you’re looking for bargains in accommodation, the off season or the monsoon period from June to September is when room rates are considerably reduced. Be prepared, however, for heavy rain (that could ruin travel plans) and closure of Goan shacks.

5. Mumbai is famous for Bollywood. Where should visitors go to see the stars?

It depends on whether you prefer the on-screen version or the real thing. To catch a Bollywood flick, the old art deco theatres – Regal, Eros, New Excelsior and Metro – are the most charming.

If you’re looking for the off-screen persona, Mumbai’s Film City (located in the suburb of Goregaon), is a complex of studios where you are likely to chance upon a Bollywood star. Five star restaurants and bars such as Olive and Aurus too have their share of Bollywood visitors. If you’re really desperate, stand below the balcony of actor Salman Khan in Bandstand, Bandra. If you’re lucky, he may blow you a kiss or two.

6. Goa seems to have some hippie history. Can you talk about the beach shacks?

Goa’s beach shacks are makeshift straw and bamboo structures, made available as both accommodation and as restaurants/ bars. Goa’s best form of budget accommodation in the peak season, the shacks find their origins in the hippie era when flower children landed on Goan shores. The shacks were where they (literally) shacked up for the night, did drugs and listened to rock and roll. Today, these are the best places to chill with a beer, lounge around on deck chairs by day and watch live entertainment at night.

7. What are a few of your favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations that you would recommend to visitors?

Mumbai is all about experiences while Goa is about exploration. Be sure to combine the usual with the unusual. While tourist attractions are must sees in Mumbai, so are the ‘dabbawallas’ or tiffin carriers, the train stations, the flamingos and the massive laundry vat called Dhobi Ghat.

In Goa, it’s best to rent a bike and make your way into the interior once you’ve sunned yourself a bit on the beaches. The spice plantations make for an interesting lunchtime detour from Old Goa. In the north, the beaches of Anjuna and Vagator may be combined with a ride through the villages of Saligao, Sangolda, Aldona, and Assagao. In the south, make sure you catch a casa or two at Loutolim and Chandor along with the southern beaches. The northern beach of Mandrem and the southern beach of Agonda are wonderfully pristine. Also, not enough people visit the quaint and historic Latin Quarter in Panaji called Fontainhas. It makes for a wonderful break from the beaches.

8. What’s the best way to get around in Mumbai and Goa?

The best way to get around in Mumbai is to take the black-and-yellow taxi (or the autorickshaw if you’re in the suburbs). Make sure you ask for the tariff card once you’ve reached your destination or you could be (literally) taken for a ride. If you have the courage to face the crowds, try the local train.

In Goa, rent a car, motorbike or even a bicycle. The Goan landscape is lovely but be warned that milestones and signboards are scarce, if you’re traveling long distances. If you have a driver for the journey, fix the rate before you set off on your trip. Goa is also well-connected by bus and train for those who prefer these modes of transport.

9. What are a couple of your favorite restaurants in Mumbai, and what do you consider a can’t miss Indian dish?

That’s a tough one – there are so many! Leopold Café and Café Mondegar in Colaba are favorites for their relaxed ambience and light eats; Starlit Café for its kebabs and harbor view; Rajdhani near Crawford Market and Chetna at Kala Ghoda for their vegetarian ‘thalis’ or unlimited platters; Samovar at the Jehangir Art Gallery and Tea Centre near Churchgate Station if I’m in the mood for tea and a light meal.

There is no one can’t-miss Indian dish as the cuisines of each state are so varied and equally tempting in their offerings. The one Mumbai dish that I find irresistible is the street snack called ‘paani puri’. It’s sweet, spicy, tangy and crunchy all at once but make sure you try it at a place where it’s made with mineral water.

10. Where are the best places to stay for a budget-conscious traveler?

In Mumbai, the YMCA, Bentley’s Hotel and the heritage Regency Inn are great low-range accommodations that are conveniently located in the downtown area of Colaba.

Goa has no dearth of budget hotels and shacks with Afonso Guest House and Panjim Inn making for great living options in the Latin Quarter in Panaji. On the northern beaches, the heritage Hotel Bougainvillea and the secluded Lotus Inn in Anjuna are great value for money. In the southern beaches, it has to be the beachside Common Home in Agonda, as well as the beach huts of Ordosounsar and eco-friendly Bhakti Kutir in Palolem.

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“Pulling a Hemingway”: The Idea of Living Abroad

During my final semester at Cal, I remember sitting in class and looking at various flyers tacked onto the wall, one of which stood out in all its neon pink glory and boldfaced text that read: “SEMESTER AT SEA.” Like many people, I’ve always associated living abroad with studying abroad, especially since I had considered going to London for a semester. Though it never ended up happening, I still feel an itch to let my endeavors run rampant on foreign territory.

In light of the current economy and unpromising job market, many people are turning to the idea of living abroad because they’re more encouraged to make this change knowing that they’re not missing out on many job opportunities if they leave—in other words, riding out the recession as an expatriate. And in doing so, rare and interesting opportunities—both in work and leisure—could arise. This seems to be an attractive venture for young people, especially recent college graduates such as myself. I have many friends who are not only studying abroad, but also teaching English or just living spontaneously in another country.

I’ve never lived a geographically stagnant life; I’ve called New Jersey, Ontario, Alberta, and the Philippines home before moving to California 12 years ago. So given my nomadic history and the fact that today’s job climate is rather bleak, I am considering my next big move. I currently have my sights on England, France, and Italy. Given the past few years, I guess I’ve been gearing up for these destinations since I have spent amazing family vacations in those countries and have taken both French and Italian language courses. Okay, so perhaps the title of this blog post and epigraph reveal that the English major in me is allowing Ernest Hemingway’s expatriate European life to weigh additional influence. Literary works aside, I’ve also been consulting John Moretti’s Moon Living Abroad in Italy for a practical emigrate perspective. One thing I’ve learned so far is that the process won’t be easy —the laborious procedure of getting your work visa, relatively high costs of living, and overall culture shock—but Moretti stresses that the valuable, life-changing experience of foreign living is what makes it all worthwhile.

If you ask me, having a fulfilling time abroad during this economic downtime definitely seems worthwhile, as opposed to reeling in post-grad “now what?” frustration. A college counselor once told me, “With your degree, the world is pretty much your oyster.” Cliché, but I’ll have to agree with it quite literally.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

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Tombstone Tripping: Touring Unique Graveyards

Like it or not, nearly everyone will visit a graveyard at some point in their lives (or shortly thereafter). But once you get beyond the initial apprehension many people feel toward graveyards, they are fascinating places to visit.

Whenever I go to a cemetery to visit a loved one, I invariably find myself strolling the rows admiring headstones. From the ornate marble and granite sculptures of the Victorian era to the simple stone slabs of homesteaders, cemeteries reveal quite a bit about the lives and times of the people they commemorate.

After asking around the office, I’m apparently not the only one who enjoys a trip to a graveyard. Whether you’re interested in genealogy, admiring funerary art, or just looking for a quiet spot to read a book or contemplate—check out these cemeteries featured in a few of our guidebooks.

In the United States

The landmark Bonaventure Cemetery just east of Savannah, Georgia, along the banks of the Wilmington River, is probably most famous for its “Bird Girl” statute, a photo of which was used for the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Bonaventure’s residents date back to as early as 1794 when Georgia’s then-Governor Josiah Tattnall buried a relative here.

The Pioneer Cemetery in Calistoga, California holds the graves of the Napa Valley’s earliest pioneers. This is an excellent cemetery for seeing the passage of time on the headstones.

Tucked in a shady corner of Kit Carson Park, Kit Carson Cemetery in downtown Taos, New Mexico, contains the graves of many of Taos’s oldest (and sometimes most notorious) residents.

Many gravestones in Boston, Massachusetts’ Granary Burying Ground date from the 17th century. The bar across the street bills itself as the only place you can have a Samuel Adams beer while looking at the grave of Samuel Adams.

Barre, Vermont’s Hope Cemetery was established in 1895. Today, it’s essentially an open-air art gallery, featuring some of the finest memorial designs and granite craftsmanship in the United States.

Benjamin Franklin is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Burial Ground reopened to the public in 2003 after being closed for 25 years. More than 1,400 grave markers remain of the more than 5,000 early Philadelphians laid to rest here.

Two other Philadelphia cemeteries, Laurel Hill and Woodlands were unique in their day for their elaborate landscaping and architecture, as well as their isolated locations when compared to earlier city-church cemeteries like Christ Church Burial Ground.

Apparently the idea caught on. Established in 1852, the Elmwood Cemetery southwest of Memphis, Tennessee was founded with the idea that it would be a park for the living as well as a resting place for the dead. The one-hour audio tour ($7) really brings Memphis’s diverse history and people to life.

In Latin America

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of the most prestigious addresses for the living and dead alike is in barrio Recoleta. Cementerio de la Recoleta’s ornate mausoleums and crypts are the final resting place for Buenos Aires’ elite.

All but two of Chile’s former presidents are interred at Cementario General in barrio Providencia in Santiago. Sculptures here have Gothic, Greek, Moorish, and Egyptian influences.

With more than 500 elaborate mausoleums, chapels, vaults, tombs, and galleries, the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón in Havana, Cuba has been described as “an exercise in pious excesses.” There’s an interesting Chinese Cemetery adjacent to the Necropólis, as well.

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Discover the Charm of Chiapas, Mexico

Small buckets filled with fruit stacked pyramidally are sold by women in a busy market.
A bustling street market in San Cristobal. Photo by Graeme Churchard licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Along a winding highland road in Chiapas is a tidy 18th-century chapel called Templo Carmen Arcotete. Built as a retreat for the state’s local bishop, the chapel overlooks a picturesque valley, a patchwork of corn and cabbage fields dotted by low adobe homes. Down the road is a towering stone arch, the remnants of an ancient cave system, complete with dangling stalactites; a clear icy river burbles through the vaulted stone, great for swimming if you can stand the cold.

A short distance up the road is the Maya village of El Romerillo, where every November 1—Día de Todos Santos—families gather at the local cemetery to speak with loved ones through wood doors placed over their mounded graves. A few kilometers away is San Cristóbal de las Casas, one of Mexico’s finest colonial cities, known for its rich history and bohemian air; and beyond that, the modern state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, whose gleaming new airport connects travelers to Mexico City and beyond.

Neither Templo Carmen Arcotete, the archway, nor El Romerillo are major tourist attractions, even for those visiting San Cristóbal. But that’s the amazing thing about Chiapas — whether it’s a marquee attraction or a quiet stretch of mountain road, the state bursts with natural beauty, intriguing history, and fascinating culture. Of course, for many people Chiapas is synonymous with the armed uprising that broke out in 1994, and the movement’s charismatic pipe-smoking spokesman Subcomandante Marcos. But it doesn’t take long to discover just how remarkable (and peaceful) the state really is.

Chiapas has gorgeous colonial cities, a prominent and highly independent indigenous population, and some of Mesoamerica’s most stunning ancient Maya ruins, including Palenque and Yaxchilán. Chiapas’s landscape ranges from scenic beaches to jagged peaks cloaked in cloud forest — and just about everything in between, even an active volcano. The state’s massive Lacandón rainforest forms part of one of the largest tropical rainforests north of the Amazon, and, unbeknownst to many, Chiapas is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.

Best of all, Chiapas is as charming and pleasant as it is fascinating and engaging, full of quiet coffee shops and tree-lined plazas, and home to a diverse and gracious population. It is a place to linger — and a place that will linger in you, long after you’ve left.

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Fall Favorites: Pumpkin Patches, Corn Mazes, and Apple Orchards

Daylight hours get shorter and temperatures begin to drop with the arrival of fall and there seems an almost urgent need to get outside to enjoy every fair weather day before the arrival of winter.

I especially notice this behavior in myself. Perhaps it is a by-product from having grown up in the Pacific Northwest where, after the vitality of summer, clear, sunny days become something of a rarity.

Here are some of my favorite outdoor fall activities—and they’re family-friendly.

Visit a Pumpkin Patch

Much more fun than picking out a pumpkin at the local supermarket, and more affordable too, heading out to a pumpkin patch is an annual tradition. I’ll usually hit the patch at least twice in October.

I love going to a pumpkin patch in early-October when the crop has just been brought in; all the vibrant shades of orange set against the still green fields takes me back to my childhood. I typically pick up a few smaller gourds for cooking and decorations on the first trip and I return later in the month, about a week before Halloween to find a few pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns. If I purchase carving pumpkins on my first trip, they usually begin to go soft before Halloween has a good resource on what to look for when choosing pumpkins for carving or cooking.

I love carving pumpkins, but making that first cut on a jack-o’-lantern is such a big step—once you start, you’re committed. If you’re like me and need a little help getting started, check out eHow’s How to Carve a Pumpkin instructions, and Pumpkin Carving 101 for templates and more pumpkin-related tips.

I live near a farm, so finding a pumpkin patch is as easy as walking down the street. If you don’t happen to have a farm next door, try Pumpkin Patches and More to find a patch near you.

Get Lost in a Corn Maze

Although mazes date back over 4,000 years, the corn maze as a fall tradition hasn’t been around all that long really—the first modern corn maze was constructed in 1993. Today, farms across the United States (well over 200 this year) commission fall mazes.

I look forward to maze season, and often combine a trip to the corn maze with a pumpkin patch outing. Though a corn maze isn’t as easy to come by as a pumpkin patch, it’s well worth a small trip out of your way to find one, especially if you have children.

A couple of tips to keep in mind when walking a maze: bring a light jacket or windbreaker, once you’re in among the corn stalks and out of the sun you’ll likely get chilled quickly; start the maze well before nightfall, especially with little ones, you’re bound to get turned around at least a couple of times (that’s part of the fun!) and being lost in a maze at night may dampen the experience, especially for children afraid of the dark. Most mazes are designed so that you can complete them within 1–4 hours.

To find a corn maze near you try the websites for The MAiZE or the Amazing Maize Maze (builders of the first corn maze).

U-Pick at an Apple Orchard

In addition to hitting the pumpkin patches and finding a maze, another fall favorite is visiting a local apple orchard and cider mill—there is just something about being out in an orchard on a brisk day picking your own fruit.

Travel + Leisure put together a nice round up of America’s Best Apple Picking Farms. My favorite farms also have a cider mill. I absolutely love having a picnic with a warm cup of cider after an afternoon spent picking apples.

To find an orchard near you, visit All About Apples. Not all orchards have a U-Pick option, so it’s best to call ahead.

What are some of your favorite outdoor fall activities?

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On Nature Lovers, Classic Hiking Gear, and Our National Parks

Last night I caught part of Ken Burns’ gorgeous new documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, on public television. If you haven’t heard, it’s a six (six!) part, twelve-hour series that charts the history of US national parks, from the dreams of a few nature-loving people to the park system as we know it today.

One of the things I enjoyed about this first part of the series, airing all this week, were the stories of the early days of the parks, including some of the crazy ideas for drawing new visitors that were fortunately vetoed. For example, did you know someone considered stringing a cable car across the Grand Canyon? Even more, I loved the contemporary film footage juxtaposed with photographs from the parks’ early days in the 1920s, showing rangers and visitors hiking in what I’d consider dressy attire: collared shirts and ties, long skirts and buttoned blouses. I’d like to see outfits like these next to the fleece at REI!

Besides re-thinking my hiking outfit, I’m now making a list of new parks I’d like to pay a visit: Mesa Verde, for its cliff dwellings and Pueblo archaeological sites; Glacier, to see if that icy water really is as mirrorlike as it appears in its famous photos; and farthest-north Denali, peaks perpetually covered in snow.

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