Sunday, April 14, 2013

A living Wall.

A living Wall.

Elsie Gabriel

Vertical gardens or green walls enforce the green ecosystems, designed  as an aesthetic green structure. I experienced one of these outstanding examples right in the heart of a concrete jungle which took my breath away. I have to share this one hot spot which simply kisses the sky with it’s green vertical wall overlooking the sky pool. Meluha the Fern, the award winning ecotel in Powai, Mumbai India has the only one of its kind sky garden located on its rooftop. Made with the special and specific intentions of retaining sound  and  regulating heat.
The Ecotel highlights urban gardening, which is well-suited for the urban environment where space on the ground is very limited but vertical space is plentiful. This vertical garden wall is quite spectacular and colourful in appearance,
It not only improves the characteristics of  the ecotel green building but restores greenery in an unique manner using the sky rooftop.
The  seasonal appearance, multi colors of this vertical garden makes your stay and swimming at Meluha the Fern ecotel  awesome. This Green wall is part of an ecological revolution. It regulates heat gain and losses of buildings as well as humidity, improve air quality. Moreover it protects the walls of solar radiation and cools the surroundings.
The species of plants chosen here are well suited for this Indian micro climate, sun exposure and the surrounding context. The aim was to create a one of a kind and site-specific garden that stands beautiful through all the seasons of the year.
The right combination of plant species is used in order to keep the competition between plants at a healthy level. As ornamental objects, not only can the beauty of plants be fascinating, but also the fact that they are alive and always changing.
The ecotel truly reflects the green inspiration, sensation of the natural life and unpredictability that plants bring within themselves.
Theses plants stay green all year, therefore allowing it to continue to absorb carbon during all year around. To facilitate vegetation and maintain natural processes, vertical islands of vegetation like moss and  ferns is maintained in the facades.
If you ever dine at its terrace or hotel restaurants don’t forget to check out this vertical garden, for yourself!

I simply love the surprise and variation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Island Hopping in Bali -Indonesia

                  Island Hopping in Bali -Indonesia. Elsie Gabriel

An island of enchanting possibilities, Bali an island belonging to Indonesia, which beckons every traveler who longs for island getaways. Several islands are enclosed with blue lagoons, you wonder which island to travel first! Lets start first with the Lembongan island.Come dive with me under the ocean waters, off the coast of this small unspoiled Lembongan island, home to seaweed farmers in Indonesia. The sight of corals and coloured fishes envelope you, as you become one with nature underwater! It is sheer Nirvana!

If you want to pamper yourself then, cruise the spectacular waters of Bali to beautiful Lembongan Island with Bali's Hai Cruises. After lunch, join a guided village tour of  the Lembongan island. The cruise offers an array of water sports activities, including banana boat rides, pool volleyball, snorkeling, semi submersible coral viewer and glass bottomed boat tours. Other water sports options include a parasailing adventure which will take you high above the water for a birds' eye view of the island and then with scuba diving experience life beneath the waves in this vibrant ocean channel. And after all this, the international buffet lunch is endless!! Heaven!
For me, Life is surely a beach! Have you ever realized that a beach is so well contained, looks soft with white sand all around and yet strong enough to protect the inland from the ocean; filled with little turtles, star fishes, shells and crabs all very fascinating creatures you don’t really find elsewhere?  The Beach really turns me on!
My hearts desire to see about fifty beaches or more before I die, which is slowly but surely coming true. The island hopping trip to Indonesia last vacation was a high in itself, very different from the beaches I have been to in L.A., San frisco, Mauritius, Lakshwadeep, Coral Islands, Malaysia, Orissa and Kerala! Come take a break and share my trip from beach to beach!

Being in Bali is like being in a stationary time machine, where past and present coexist without any hints of contradiction. I planned to go on the offbeaten tracks and schedule my own itenary and tow the road less travlled! So, Island hopping from Turtle island to study marine turtles, to Lombok island for snorkeling trips to Gili island and on to unspoiled Lembongan island on the Bali Hai cruise for the thrilling submarine safari which is home to seaweed farmers was fulfilling!
Yes, Bali has been described truly as the ‘The Hidden Paradise’! This Island of Gods is situated approximately on latitude 8° South and longitude 115° East. Bali and the neighboring island of Lombok are the most westerly of the Little Sunda Islands and part of the 13,700 islands that make up Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world.
The Benoa beach is a good way to kickstart your interaction with locals and learn the history of the beach, flying gigantic dragon kites and talking to local fishermen about sea tales is what we did.

After parasailing, I took a boat trip to Serangan Island which is also known as Turtle Island as for many years it was nesting ground for the Green Sea Turtle. Locals used to catch the live turtles as well as their eggs for consumption and unfortunately this exploitation resulted in the near elimination of all turtles in this area. In 2004 with the aid of international funding a Turtle Conservation and Education Centre was established on the island and the government imposed a strict ban on turtle trading. With local help, the aim of this conservation centre is to nurture the growth of newly hatched turtles and release them at an age where survival rates are quite favourable. The fishermen of Serangan now try to safeguard these ocean creatures to prevent extinction.

Next was Lombok, which is the island located directly east of Bali across the 1300m deep Lombok Strait. Lombok has stunning bays with white sand beaches. Just take a drive north of Senggigi, the likelihood is you won’t see anyone on the beach. The south coast of Lombok also has great untouched beaches. Lombok Island has a lot of beautiful beaches and volcanoes which makes its landscape very diverse. Take a trip to the traditional weaving village of Sukarara and see how cloth is hand woven for their everyday sarongs. You will be amazed by the variety of pottery made in the Penujak Village and its designs are quite unique.

Lounge on the Kuta Beach and soak up the sun. The kids had a blast spending hours with baby starfishes, crabs, coloured fishes and sea urchins prancing around in the water.  If you are feeling adventurous, climb the promontory for spectacular views of the bays and beaches. This visit will let you interact with the local people and also enjoy the diverse topography of Lombok Island in Indonesia.

In the Gilli Islands, there is no shortage of small local boats willing to transport you, from island to island and back to the mainland. Sitting on a boat piled with vegetables and fish being transported by locals to fetch a price at the hotels nearby wasn’t exactly my idea of traveling but giggles and sign language fascinated my conversation all the way to my destination alright!The universal language of friendship is your SMILE –use it!! Otherwise, none of boats has any kind of safety equipment and the waters around the Gili’s can be choppy. Regardless, they are a handy form of transport and make exploring the islands easy.

From the popular tourist hotspots of Bali and Lombok to the white sandy beaches of the tranquil Gili Isles, Indonesia's archipelago is bursting with culture, dramatically rugged coastlines and bustling nightlife. The little known Gili Islands are a collection of three unspoilt havens, sitting off the north west coast of Lombok. Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air are all strikingly beautiful with vast swathes of pure white sand and evian-clear waters that boast stunning coral reefs.

With a variety of special flights, boat transfers and ferry services available, an island hopping adventure is a fantastic way of experiencing Indonesia's intriguing diversity.

Like I keep telling myself, beaches and water bodies strengthen my bond with nature. With this environmental tour of Indonesia Island hopping trip it was sheer rejuvenation !


Fact sheet on Bali-

There are direct and indirect flights to Denpasar which is  Bali’s international airport. The Indonesian Rupiah is the local currency. You can expect pleasant climate,day temperatures between 20 to 33 degrees Celsius or 68 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. From December to March, the West monsoon can bring heavy showers and high humidity, but usually days are sunny and the rains start during the night and pass quickly. From June to September the humidity is low, and it can be quite cool in the evenings. During this time of the year, you'll have hardly any rain in the coastal areas.People are very friendly.Truely an island Mother Earth has pampered!


Mauritius-The land of the extinct Dodo! Elsie Gabriel

Mauritius-The land of the extinct Dodo!

It is easy to run out of adjectives when attempting to describe the awesome natural luscious beauty of the tropical Indian Ocean island paradise of Mauritius. The volcanic island Republic, lies east of Madagascar, near Africa just south of the Equator. 

Besides the sun and sand, Mauritius is a very educational destination for the student community. Remember the ‘Dodo’, the extinct bird which always comes up at quiz time in school, well it lived in Mauritius before it disappeared. Amazingly, after man arrived on this island, it only took 30 years for the Mauritian Dodo to reach extinction in the late 1600s. This plump flightless bird is now seen as an emblem in every gift shop, t-shirt  and flag on the island. The country has some of the world's rarest stamps at the Blue Penny Stamp Musuem at Port Louis, founded by the Mauritius Commercial Bank, this museum houses items of high national heritage including the famous stamps of the “Post Office” series printed in the first ever race course to open in the southern hemisphere!

The ‘Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolan’ sixty-acre botanical garden features a pond of Victoria amazonica lilies and an extensive collection of palms, which bring back many science lessons. Then there is the glass factory where craftsmen bring glass back to life using traditional techniques with 100% recycled glass! Of course one can not miss the sugarcane factory, tracing the history of Indian men and women, who used simple methods to cultivating ‘Sugarcane’and contributed to making it the country’s largest industry. 

 Mauritius, since it’s discovery in 1505 by the Portuguese, the Dutch, French, British as well as Africans and Indians all have added to the melting pot that constitutes the island's human heritage over the centuries. Hindu is the most widely practiced religion, though Muslims, Christians and  Buddhists are also prominent. Amazingly a good proof that our Indians were among the first settlers here there is a Hindu temple on Lake Grand Bassin, said to be created with water from the Ganges River. During the Mahashivaratri Festival in February, thousands of Hindus make pilgrimages here to worship Lord Shiva, the Destroyer.
Another all-time favourite for kids and adults alike is Dolphin chasing!! Allow a full day for this catamaran cruise which combines dolphin watching and introduces you the exquisite beauty of the South West coast, Crystal Rock and Benitiers Island. Most often seen in the West of Mauritius and in groups of four or five, the dolphins are more than happy to perform their ballet in the water, as they ride alongside the boat! A sumptuous barbeque lunch with grilled chicken, lobster and fish await you on board, just after you finish snorkeling in the crystal clear waters for which masks and fins are also supplied. 

There are regular speed boat shuttles from the shore that take people to the famous islet of Ile-aux-Cerfs and back. One gets to see the importance of ‘Mangroves’ here, their long roots with plenty of fish and birds hovering around this breeding ground! Besides hunting for corals underwater,one can indulge in deep sea fishing,paragliding or go racing on the banana boat.

The official language of Mauritius is English, being part of the national curriculum, though in practice French or Creole are more widely used. Believe it or not Bhojpuri is quite widely spoken too confirming the original fact that most North Indians and Bihari Indians who came here were sugarcane farmers and business men who eventually setup Mauritius greatest export asset which is the sugarcane industry! I know the dialect well and had a field day speaking in Bhojpuri leave alone dancing to-‘ Chatnee Kaise Banee” famous naughty song from a Bhojpuri bollywood film back home, right there on the beach with a handful of local ladies! Full on orange sindur on the forehead Bihari  style and ulta palla saree and all…..on the beach!!!

 The coastline of 330 kilometres is almost entirely surrounded by one of the largest unbroken coral reefs in the world paradise oasis perfect for scuba diving, sunbathing and surfing. It is simply heaven on earth!
Ofcourse we took a private sail boat to Gabriel jokes and as you can imagine I was already in heaven, not knowing they had names an Island after me!!! Barbeque and champaigne teamed up well with more African beats and dances!
Hah! But I had a blast!

Meet the black and white beauties-Penguins in South Africa! Elsie Gabriel

Meet the black and white beauties-Penguins in South Africa!
Elsie Gabriel
Being a literary buff from West Bengal I took pride in not only reading but also trying to experience what I read. Over the years I found that travel added to my  years of reading and reading added depth to my travels.Therefore I would like to share this one travel experience which changed my life.

It’s the most perfect destination in South Africa for your family  to visit other families-only, this time it’s the Penguin families. All hurdled in groups, baby ones, teens and grown ups , they are all there in attendance for you to greet them and meet them. It is a ‘AHA ‘  once in a life time moment which leaves you gaping while you are overwhelmed by the sight of beautiful white beaches filled with black and white creatures, a true sight to behold!
I couldn’t control myself watching them in awe and kept capturing them on my camera from all angles. The fat one’s posed and relented, maybe because they were lazy on a sunny afternoon but the young chicks were shy and made a hurry for cover. Believe me, the sight will leave your children filled with memories with the real pictures of one of Gods most beautiful creatures.
While in Cape Town, do not forget to ask the local guides about the details and whereabouts of these penguin families if you have chosen a self-drive trip. We of course had the luxury of a tour guide cum chauffer all in one to drive us around and hep show off the southern most tipoff Africa in all it’s wonders.  You can not miss it for the world. It is not far at all.  Boulders Beach is located a few kilometers south of Simon’s Town and not far from Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is a popular tourist spot mainly because of this colony of African Penguins that have settled there. Another attraction is the fact that the sheltered area is made up of small coves with white sandy beaches and calm shallow waters. Swimmers can actually enjoy the calm waters right alongside the penguin colony. We did not venture into the water for two reasons, Sheer respect for the frightened Penguins and also because the waters were freezing cold during the summer vacations in May, so if you ever go at all, choose the ‘Diwali’; or ‘Winter ‘Vacations to swim with the black and white birds. Boulders Beach is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with the penguins.
While the penguins are generally not perturbed by people, swimmers should avoid harassing them or getting too close as their beaks are sharp and they will peck or bite if they feel threatened. If you’re not swimming, penguin viewing at Boulders Beach is also easily accessible via the boardwalks that traverse the beaches. You can also hear them braying and  screeching hoarsely to your amazement. Thats why theses Penguins were previously called Jackass penguins because their raucous cry resembles the sound of a tortured donkey, these flightless birds have not always had a good relationship with people .To spend the day with them is awesome where you learn that man and animal can live peacefully, conservation in South Africa takes over completely to save guard these tiny penguins. The story of the African penguins at Boulders Beach is one of remarkable urban colonisation, but the species as a whole faces many threats and these aquatic flightless birds are listed as endangered. Climate change has affected fish stocks, and increased severe weather incidences have depleted penguin chick numbers.  
We must spread the word that these are very rare creatures and must be saved before they get extinct. Like their less fortunate cousins, the flightless dodos that were hunted to extinction on Mauritius  but penguins can swim, so hopefully they live survive to live on not only in the heart of South Africa but in your kids hearts . Whenever I visit Mauritius I only see the Dodo’s on stamps and little statues only to my dismay. So cherish the Penguins and their habitat is my message to you as I write this. Think about it, if you ever plan a trip educate and teach your children and fill them with memories of little penguins which they will cherish for a life time and pass on may be to their next generation too.
Boulders beach in South Africa ..what a wonderful gift of nature to man!
A Western Cape holiday experience is like no other. Its spectacular beauty is unique as is the huge range of fun and varied activities on offer. Of course you can drive on to see the Congo caves and Ostrich farms nearby too.
How to get there –You can fly directly to Capetown in South Africa! Boulders Beach is located in Simon's Town, just over the hilly peninsula from Cape Town. It's easily accessible by bus, car, taxi or train.
Best time to visit -In January the juvenile penguins are moulting on the beach and adults are feeding-up for the breeding season, which lasts from February to August. Penguins feed at sea for much of September and October so the number of birds on the beach is lower.
Where to stay-The Cape Town area, including nearby Simon's Town and Fishhoek, has a wide variety of accommodation available from budget to luxury options.

The beach turns me on, anywhere, anytime!

The beach turns me on, anywhere, anytime! Elsie Gabriel.

I simply love the beach! I love swimming in the ocean; I love the smell of the salt in the air and the rolling, rhythmic sound of waves.
I simply am a backpack babe. An avid  traveler since childhood, with a passion for discovering insights into various cultures and social traits that form the very basis of the social fabric of life, the outdoors highly interest me.
 My attachments and tryst with waterholes, lakes, beaches and rivers have taken me to explore not only the Powai Lake which I live near here in Mumbai but  also the Hoover Dam in Las Vegas, Lakes in LA, Malaysia, HongKong. Mauritius, Swizterland, Holland, Nepal, Lakshwadeep, Bali and France besides numerous other water spots of the world.
I d love to share of my best experiences with some of the worlds greatest sun kissed beaches. My first experience was with the Puri beach closer to home in the Bay of Bengal, way back 30 years ago. As a child in total innocence I would let the waves envelope me, take me away and throw me back on it’s soft sand. Once I almost got swallowed I remember, by a strong current but it didn’t matter then, it was just for a brief few moments, how I had fought back and landed back on the beach as the waves came back in full swing with its usual high tide during noon. Of course I didn’t know or care about the high tide timings or low tide ebbs, but these are memories of my first innocent ‘touch and go’ love of the oceans.
I remember going back to Orissa to see the Chilka lake, the worlds largest lagoon, full of dolphins and various species of birds….as a teen later on too after high school and then after the vacations I had come back home to Mother, baked, black as a queen of spades! I refused to believe I looked ugly! But Mother was lashing out, splashing my face with turmeric and ripened dry gourd scrubbers. Gosh I kept wondering what all the fuss was about, It was only a tan, that would take ages to go away she said!For the love of the sea, I was so sun kissed and blatantly at bliss with my new escapade with the ocean, yet again…..we weren’t brought up with sun screen lotions nor fancy hats to the beach trip notes……  so I didn’t care what the beach did to me…I was already in love……..I had enjoyed pulling the hunchback horse shoe crabs from their race into their holes in the sand and loved to bring in the nets with the fisher folks and curiously simply watch….the rare rich wealth of slithering silvery catch of the sea…..  

Of course in Malaysia, I simply loved Lankawi, full of birds and frogs and fish swimming around the mangroves which twined themselves with the ocean waves, not letting go huge walking legs begging for existence… my own amazement I simply dived in…..shorts and all, I hadn’t planned on swimming just cruising…but none the less…swimming among the mangroves believe me is an ethereal experience only a budding environmentalist like me would know,,…no silvery sand, no fancy umbrellas around, just me ,the little shrimps and the frogs and the maze of gigantic roots…..I was one with the ocean……..
The aquarium at home has leftovers of my beach escapades like little broken old corals, shells, sand stones… world of ocean memories in my own sitting room mind you…………………
The Pacific Ocean offered another delight altogether! In, Bali I took off to Lambok, to the Turtle island…..on a  beautiful little plane…..another sublime experience swimming and pampering the rehabilitated marine turtles…..You have to feel them to know that the Ocean is mighty and has so much to offer…the ocean never fails to surprise me..move me… excite me….see what I mean……
Of course there are numerous dates with the beaches which I treasure as I grow and live off memories fondly of my beach experiences…enriching myself and being one with water …..I could go on and on….wait, here’s another one….in Mauritius…..I went swimming at ‘Flic en flac’ which is found on the west coast of Mauritius, Flic en flac derives its name from an old Dutch phrase that literally means 'free and flat land' and is one of the best beaches of the western coast.
I was doing my usual nose dives and playful underwater stunts when I heard the fisherfolks speaking in Bhojpuri…a colloquial hindi dialect… …..God …I took off too…. in the same dialect…’Kaisen bha shabh koi…angreji naikhe awat…?”..and then it was cheers to a new found friendship on the beach…..made friends instantly with them,they later took us to their home for lunch….of course we heard their 3 hours non stop history about the sugarcane farmers coming in from Bihar and UP from India to set up the sugar industry and how they mingled with the french and ultimately…..grew to be Mauritius in culture and a nation……..
The beach brought me back home on its Mauritius shores ,imagine….
How deeply you fall in love is ‘ to each his own’ but god am smitten……and can’t wait to see the beach again……although you don’t always have to wader abroad to see one. I went to the Arnala beach on the Maharashtra coastline just last week and it was gorgeous with black sand and swaying palm trees, quite clean mind you.
The beach never fails to mesmerize me, hold me and touch me, satisfy me…….I’ve fallen hard………see you at the beach……