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India

India, Travel

Visiting a Spice Farm in Goa, India

September 30, 2015

Spice Plantation GoaAlong with the trip to Old Goa, we went to a Spice Farm. This one was the Sahakari Spice Farm. Since this wasn’t something I had expected to go on, I had no idea what to expect. It sounded interesting, so I figured why not! It turned out to be one of the most fascinating tours I have ever been on.

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When you arrive, you are greeted with a namaste and a red bindi. While you wait for the tour to start, you are given a hot tea made from lemon grass and some snacks. I think we were waiting for more people to arrive to go on our tour. Eventually, a small family of three showed up, and we started the tour. I expected to walk through the jungle to a farm, but instead the guide stopped in the middle of the jungle to start talking. He explained later that this part of the farm is wild, and the rest of the farm is laid out by type of spice and in an organized fashion. While I was disappointed we weren’t going to see the actual production of the spices, it was really interesting to see the spices growing in their natural state.

Spice Farm Goa

Our guide was great at having us guess what the spice was by smelling the leaves or giving us hints. He also told us all about how the spice was harvested and which spices were the most expensive. In the above photo is nutmeg. Nutmeg not only makes nutmeg but also mace! Mace as in the thing you spray at people in self-defense! Not only did I not know nutmeg made mace, I had no idea it looked like this. Such a beautiful plant!

Spice Farm Goa

The guide continued down a dirt path and would point out plants along the way. Here you see chocolate! I was very hungry at this point and was really tempted to rip the chocolate off the tree and eat it, but I knew it is still bitter at this stage and probably wouldn’t be too pleasant.

Spice Farm Goa

We even saw some things that were not spices, like these bananas. I had no idea that bananas looked like this on the tree. I wish there had been ones that were ripe so that we could have tried a banana fresh off the tree! As you can see it was not very farm like and I felt like I was in a jungle. Not that I minded. Just walking through it was really terrific and there was so much to see. It was also cooler as a result of all the lush greenery surrounding us. Below is a small pepper, which is growing up instead of down.

Spice Farm Goa

Spice Farm Goa

I didn’t get pictures of all the spice plants, but they included cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, cardamom, allspice, and turmeric. Very few of these did I recognize by sight, but a few of them I did manage to recognize by smell. Below is a vanilla bean vine that is growing up the side of a tree for support. Did you know that vanilla is an orchid? So the vanilla vine is not harming the tree and is only using it for support.

Spice Farm Goa

There were also creatures to see on this tour. We saw bees, spiders, and even an elephant! I have never seen a beehive like this. The guide explained that they are not pollinating bees, so the plants have to be hand pollinated. I guess the bees just enjoy being there. The hive reminded me of the beehives you see drawn in Winnie the Pooh books.

Spice Farm Goa

Spice Farm Goa

We also saw this lovely lady. We did not ride her, as I think it isn’t right to ride elephants. I asked what she was used for and the guide said for giving people baths. You can sit on her and get a bath from her trunk. I hope she is well treated here, but I couldn’t tell. One person had gotten a bath on her while we were there. According to the farm’s website, there are two more elephants there. While I don’t like that she is being kept there, it was the only time I saw an elephant in India, so I was glad I got to see her.

If you are visiting Goa, I highly recommend visiting a spice farm. It was very educational and beautiful. To reach the Sahakari Spice Farm, you should arrange for a taxi to take you and to wait for you. After the tour, you are served lunch, so this takes about two hours. We went earlier in the day, around 11 AM and when we left it was getting crowded.

Have you been on a unique tour that you weren’t expecting?

India, Museums, Travel

Am I in Europe or India? Old Goa, India

September 28, 2015

Old Goa

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Even though my trip to Goa, India was supposed to be a relaxing non-sightseeing trip, I couldn’t resist the urge to see something while I was there. I had done some research and discovered Old Goa. I figured I would just have the hotel get me a taxi there and back, but the hotel had a whole tour that we could take. More on the rest of the tour later. Many people think of Old Goa as a Portuguese city, but, in fact, there was a city there before the Portuguese arrived in 1510. This was when Goa began to look like a European city instead of an Indian city. Old Goa was the capital of Goa until 1843.

Old Goa

My reasons for wanting to visit Old Goa was the churches that the Portuguese had built during their time there. It was so odd to see these large European churches in the middle of the Goan jungle. The area is well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, and there is lots to see. There is a museum there, but you are not allowed to take photos inside, however if you enjoy archaeology, then I suggest you visit. It isn’t very large and only cost 10 Rupees to get in. The museum website says that it is open from 10 AM to 5 PM and is closed on Fridays, however it also states that it is 5 Rupees to get in, so you might want to check with your hotel. The museum is very well done and has labels in English and Hindi. The museum is located right next to the entrance to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. All the churches were free to enter and most of them were in walking distance of each other. Although, I know we didn’t see them all. We visited the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Sé Cathedral and Bom Jesus. It took us about an hour to see the museum and these three churches. Since we were there during the off-season, it wasn’t very crowded. The churches had some labeling, but not much so you might want a tour guide or bring your guide-book to know what you are looking at. I really enjoyed seeing these churches in the middle of India. While they were definitely Portuguese, you could feel the India vibe from some. Now, I will leave you with my photos from my visit to Old Goa, as I think they speak for themselves. First is the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and then Bom Jesus. I wasn’t able to take a photo inside Sé Cathedral as they seemed to be holding a service and photos are not allowed during services.

Old Goa

Old Goa

Old GoaOld Goa

Old Goa

Old Goa

Old Goa

Old Goa

Have you been to Old Goa? What was your favorite part?

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Goa, India

India, Passport, Prep, Travel

India e-Visa

September 24, 2015

India e-Visa

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Did you know that most people need a visa to go to India? It used to be that you had to get to an Indian Embassy to apply for an Indian visa, but now you can apply online for a visa on arrival if you hold a passport from one of 113 countries. This includes the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, UAE, and the Philippines. However, it does not include Qatar. Click here to get to the website. This is a great option for so many people. Getting a visa at an Indian Embassy can be done, but can be a hassle if you don’t have the time, aren’t near an embassy or just want an easier way to apply.

Before booking my trip to India, I almost hesitated to go to India because I thought you had to go to the Indian Embassy to get the visa and I had no idea where that was in Qatar. When I lived in New York, I had applied for Indian visas for my boss and the process was long and you had to go two days in a row. I have no idea where the India Embassy is located in Qatar. I only found out there was an e-visa process when I googled India visa to see where the embassy was located.  The process was very straightforward once I found it.

You need a few things before you get started. You need a passport sized photo that you can scan in, your passport, and a credit card. The application form is long and requires you to recall where you have traveled for the past 10 years! My travel for the past two years wouldn’t even fit in the space they allotted. They also wanted to know the names and places of birth for my parents. You should also have reserved your hotel or have an address to give in India. You also need to know which airport you are flying into as that will be the only place you can enter to get the visa on arrival. You should only apply 30 days in advance, as you have to arrive between the time given to you on the approval form. I applied in the afternoon and by the next morning, I had approval.

There was some slight confusion when I arrived at the Goa airport. There were no signs for people with e-visas or signs at all! Once I got to the immigration counter, I could tell he was looking for my visa and I said I had an e-visa. He told me I had to go to another room. The other room was to the left of the entrance to the immigration hall arrival area. There were about 15 other people in there, but no staff. Someone when out and asked how long it would be till someone arrived and they said five minutes. Not a long wait, but it was about 3 am at that point and we were all very tired. Slowly staff came in to get us sorted. Print out your visa approval as they will ask you for this. I also had printed out my application just in case. You had to have your photo and fingerprints taken. It took some time as the fingerprint machines were not liking the sweaty hands. They stamp your passport and you are on your way! Once I arrived at baggage claim, my bag was already there. It might be easier if you did go to the India Embassy in your country if you don’t want to wait at the airport, but it might depend on the process at the India Embassy in your country too. I was glad I had it already, but might try getting at the embassy next time to see which process is easier!

Have you gone to India? What was your visa process like?

India, Prep, Travel

India Trip Jitters

September 21, 2015

India Trip Jitters

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Hopefully by the time you read this, I will be in India. Due to some unusual experiences with my hotel, I am having some India trip jitters. My flight is arriving in the middle of the night there on Monday, so I am writing this in advance of the normal Monday post. The picture will, hopefully, be similar to my view from my room.

So far this trip as already stressed me out a little. When I tried to book the hotel online, the room I wanted was sold out. I called the hotel to see about booking the room. The room wasn’t available on the phone either. However, there was a better room available with a better price on the phone as compared to the website. Although hesitant to book a room on the phone, I did it to get the better rate. This is where I think I went wrong though and I won’t know until I arrive.

Once I booked the room on the phone, they said they would email me the confirmation. I didn’t receive one right away, but my friend who is coming to booked her room online and she received the confirmation the next day. I figured I would be patient and waited. My credit card was charged the next day, so I emailed the hotel to get a confirmation. I got no response. My friend, however, had emailed the hotel about getting the better room that I had booked and they emailed her right back. She gave me the direct email of the person she had received a response from.  I emailed that person to request my confirmation number, explaining that I had booked via the phone and did not get a confirmation number. She wrote back to say my reservation was confirmed, and I wrote again asking for the reservation number and she said it would be on my email confirmation I received when booking! At that point, I gave up. My credit card had been charged, work was getting stressful, and I figured I would try again later. Work continued to get more stressful, and I mostly forgot about it.

Last week it dawned on me that I didn’t have a confirmation, and I also needed to make sure that the hotel shuttle was at the airport to pick me up. Once again, my friend had emailed the hotel to have the shuttle pick her up; she was arriving the day before me. She got a response right away, and I got nothing. Now, I am beyond concerned. I have never had a hotel be so unresponsive to emails or not follow through. I called and was given the confirmation number and was assured there would be a shuttle to pick me up. The guy I spoke with said he would also email the reservation number, which of course, never came! Later that day, I took to Twitter and tweeted to the corporate Twitter at the hotel. They responded by the next day, and I finally got an email confirmation. Although that revealed that despite me emailing the hotel, they were typing my name out wrong in the email instead of replying.

You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. I am arriving in India in the middle of the night and want to be sure there is someone there to pick me up. I have already paid for this service with the hotel, and I really don’t want to pay for a taxi to the hotel. Also, the hotel is an hour away from the airport. Plus, I am a worrier and as I have mentioned before, a control freak! Hence, the India trip jitters I mentioned. As I am sure we all do, I want my trip to go smoothly so that I can enjoy every minute of it. Let’s hope the next post is me raving about the hotel!

P.S. I am not mentioning the hotel yet, in case it all turns out well in the end.

Have you ever had a trip go awry in the beginning? How did it turn out?

Picture courtesy of Jaakko Hakulinen, Flickr