Saturday, 29 January 2011

Nashik - visit to Sula vineyard

Next day I woke up to a confused state of mind as I had forgotten to set my alarm after the Indus Creed concert. Anil was shaking my shoulder and asked me if I was coming. Yes, I said, give me five minutes to get dressed. I quickly dashed out of bed, washed my teeth, grabbed some clothes and my trusty bellybag set (that I wear over my shoulder) and sprinted for the aft deck. There was a tender waiting and crew was milling around and finally we got away to the waiting transport. Our Company had arranged a mini bus to take the crew but Anil had his own car as he had some bad experiences from a previous study trip to Sula. We settled down with Nik in the back seat and took a relaxing pose and dosed off while Anil’s driver was negotiating his way out of Mumbai to Nashik.

Some hours later we woke up near Nashik and stopped at a highway dhaba for breakfast. We discovered the minibus was some 37km astern of us so we ordered and dug in. I had a delicious masala dosa while Nik and Anil was enjoying a Marathan brekkie with chickpeas and stuff. After this my head felt like clearing off the Old Monk fumes and I started to look at the Maharashtrian landscape.

Grapes at Sula vineyard

I noticed that the traditional dress seemed to be for many elderly men the white dhoty with white shirt and white Nehru cap that is also displayed by the Thackeray founded party of Shiv Sena. I can’t say if the dress is a message of loyalty to Shiv Sena or just a dress that is normally worn by Maharashtrian men. In contrast the women at dressed in colorful saree’s and churidars or salwar khameez with dupattas and whatnot accessories while carrying handis and matkas on their heads from the village well or while washing laundry at the tank.

At the dam w/ Anil & Nik

Soon enough we arrived Sula vineyard in Nashik and at the gate we were told by the guard that they were not open yet, we were about 45 minutes too early. The guard recommended us to go see the local dam that was close by.

Local laundromat

Well, said and done we got into the car and headed to the dam and after some 5 minutes driving came to the artificial lake shores created by the dam and got out to savor the surroundings. We could see local women doing laundry at the well that was some way off from us, and then there was cows being herded to the water and the quiet and tranquility of the pace of life in the country side. At the shore was local fishing dinghies pulled up waiting for their Owners and cranes paced the shoreline. It didn’t take us long to get bored so hopped in the car and drove back to the vineyard by the time the minibus had also arrived with other crew.

Cows at the dam

Maharashtran entourage

We still had to wait some 15 minutes more and a guide appeared to take us on the tour of the vineyard. The guide explained how the vineyard had started some 10 years ago after the Owner had had a vision after finishing his US studies and settled on growing wine in India. Four different Grapevines were imported from California and France. The current farming area was at this stage a staggering 1400 acres including the rented grape farms. We were explained an acre gives 2 tons amount of grape and one need 2kgs of grape to produce 1 bottle of wine. There are 2 harvest per year but in terms of quality the other harvest is not utilized. We can deduce that production per year is about 260.000 litres of wine.

Wine tanks, a total of 7million litres of storage capacity

Maturing barrels

At first we were shown where the grapes are taken in and mashed and also explained the difference on white and red grapes as well as sweet from sour. We could not see any vats filled with grapes where women with bare feet adorned in saree’s and sweet smiles adding their own flavor to the wine.

Vines at Sula

Next step we were showed the storage facility and were explained that they could store up to 7million liters of wine in the tanks. The whole facility was cooled down to a convenient 17 degrees. From here the wine was matured and then passed onto the next step of the process and the wine was put into oak barrels. After this we were showed the maturing sheds with the barrels and the bottles of sparkling wine that was maturing and then the tour was over. We headed back to the main building where we could watch the bottling plant in action and then we were invited to join the wine tasting session (150 Rs/ person). We got to taste 5 different wines of the vineyard, one sparkling, one white, one rose’, one red and one dessert wine. I quite liked the light sparkling wine and whites but the red was not in my taste at all. The dessert wine was ok or probably great in someone else’s mouth but I’m not a great fan of sweet in my wine. Then the session was over and there was a rush to the sales counter to buy Sula wines by the case load, the prices are dirt cheap.

IE beauties -  Kavi, Jan and Atu

Myself, I invested in some 6 btls of light wines for later enjoyment and other crew also got their own fancy. Soon enough we were to have dinner at the local restaurant but we discovered they served Italian and north Indian cuisine but no Maharashtrian food so we decided with Anil to skip the lunch and have something on the way at a dhaba.


We loaded ourselves into the car and soon enough we found us at the Ka-ka family restaurant. We climbed the stairs up and seated ourselves in the A/C room of the restaurant where the windows were open to provide good air exchange. First order was beer as we felt parched after the long day. As starters we had some goat brain and masala pappads which then were followed by some delicious goat curry and local roti’s. The curry was so god we had to order in another plate. After some time we stuffed ourselves and felt content enough to order for the bill and we rolled downstairs into the car and headed back towards Mumbai.

After a few minutes on the road all three of us nicked off and slept for a good few hours while digesting the heavy lunch. The suburbs arrived and we kept on plodding into the rush hour traffic of Mumbai and eventually arrived at Gateway about 7pm.  From there we hopped in the tender ad got back onboard, it had been a long day albeit sitting in the car can also be tiring.

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Friday, 28 January 2011

Blue Frog and Indus Creed

One morning Nik and I was perusing the Times of India entertainment section and he discovered an ad for Indus Creed performing at Blue Frog. He got all excited and claimed they were the best rock band in India and so we decided to go see them.

Mumbai by night

Came Friday and me, Nik and Anil headed out to paint the town blue or whatever color. At first we went to Gokul’s for some feed and a few drinks and then we caught a taxi to Blue Frog, of course we got a quart of and some sada paan to keep us content for the ride.

Blue Frog is situated in the cotton mill area of Mumbai that saw big upheavals in the 90’s as lot of people lost their jobs and property speculators bought up factory plots to redevelop them into high end night clubs et al.
Blue frog turned out to be a small club with round booths to seat 8-10 persons. Nice design but nobody took into account that if one person in the other end of the circle had a nature call, all other people had to get up to let him pass, there was no space to get up and go behind the seats.

We studied the menu and could not even find Kingfisher on it, and considered Budweiser an insult to our tastebuds, so we settled for Old Monk, the only Indian product on the menu. We ordered in some Indian appetizers for exorbitant prices and got some odd continental Indian fusion of stuff, nevermind, we ate it with gusto and washed it down with Old Monk.

The warm up duo

Then a couple appeared to perform some jazzy number, the guy was playing the guitar and the beauty was singing. Once they were done the audience had not warmed much up at all in my opinion but our spirit was soaring high in anticipation of Indus Creed.

Soon enough they appeared and opened up with a nice rock ensemble. As it was we stood next to the mixing table and could see the whole playlist. The staff told us not to use the flash so I recorded the songs Nik wanted. At one stage they brought in a troupe of violinist and performed a really nice song called the “Fly”.

The "bad: Trio

At some stage I ran out of batteries and the night descended into a foggy memory due to the Old Monk and next thing I knew we were on our way to Gateway and realized we had missed the last tender. Luckily enough we saw at Gateway the tender of m/y Ashena and asked the boys to do us a favor and bring us onboard, they were happy enough to oblige as our ship was on the way to theirs..
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Friday, 14 January 2011

Male' atoll - voyage to Mumbai

8th I am invited to join Nina, Avnish and Joya to have lunch on Banyan tree resort to give Nina a farewell as she was signing off. It is a small resort north of Male’ Island and we arrive on the jetty were we get to moor our tender boat. The lunch is buffet with mixed Continental and Chinese cuisine. The food was not that great but I guess that is the norm as everything has to be flown or shipped into the country so nothing is ever fresh off the fields. 

Nina on the way to Banyan Tree

Joya at Banyan Tree

Banyan Tree resort

The E-W path that crossed the Island

The pavilion, perfect to sit and get hammered

More beach

Sting Ray feeding

Before leaving Banyan Tree we saw the daily Sting Ray feeding taking place at the jetty. The local guide fed the Sting Rays some kind of fish while giving the audience a lecture of the habits of Sting Rays, pretty interesting.

The next 2 days went diving with the deck crew at Banana reef and Furana south. Spotted turtles and Napoleon Wrasse fish along with Moray Eels and Lion fish, cool fun dives.  

Banana Reef

On the 10th I was giving Joya a snorkeling lesson at Bandos Island and was rewarded with lunch. Bandos is still the same “Bandit” Island as it was in 2007 when I was there the last time, pure daylight robbery by charging 20 US$ to enter the Island. Well, I guess one has to make a living somehow.

Huge school of small fish at Furana

In the evening I took a stroll in Male’ while Avnish was taking care of business with our agent. Noticed that the tourist shops selling sea shells just got cheaper the further into the Island one wandered. At the beach front a fist sized cowrie sold for 25 USD, a few blocks in it sold for 10 USD and at a non-descript general store it sold for 1 USD. Otherwise Male’ residents seemed quite well off as many famous trademark shops lined the streets and displayed their wares.

The flag was still up after sunset

At 10pm we weigh anchor and leave for Mumbai. We had to take pilot onboard as apparently it is required when you enter and exit the country.

Last Maldivian sunset for us

Next day on 11th at sea it is Zina’s birthday so the crew arranges a birthday card with the requisite cake to wish her a Happy Birthday.

Happy Birtday Zina :)

13th morning we arrive Mumbai and there is heavy traffic and fog (smog?) bringing the visibility under 1'. I could barely see the stranded MSC Chitra by the fairway. The pilot was delayed for hours but eventually we get him also onboard. Anchored as usual in front of Gateway of India about noon. Another cruise had come to an end.

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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ari atoll

On the 5th morning we arrive Rangali Island in Ari atoll and anchor outside the Conrad-Hilton resort. We also had company from the Greek yacht m/y Magna Grecia who was also anchored off the resort. The resort has been built on 2 natural Islands connected by a bridge and a 3rd Islet has been constructed artificially to house a restaurant.

The Conrad-Hilton resort on Rangali Island

The entrance to the resort lagoon goes by the artificial islet and from there one can make his way straight to the jetty constructed. The resort sends a launch out for every new arriving yacht to escort the it tender into the bay, the resort do not allow jetskis into the lagoon (understandably). There is also an underwater restaurant where guests can watch fish while dining or the fish can watch humans eating. 

Aerial shot of Rangali Is. (Copyright Conrad-Hilton resort)

The 6th Guests spend ashore on the resort and crew gets a short respite to work on some gear maintenance and take some rest. During the evening the resort launches a wonderful fireworks display that lasts for minutes, probably for its Russian guests who are celebrating their Christmas. Upon return we are told the by some guests that the food was "pathetic" as in the food ad been dry and bland, it also had apparently been sitting in the chafing dishes far too long. Always a difficult issue to tackle when everything is imported...

The underwater restaurant (Copyright Conrad-Hilton resort)

On the 7th we pick up anchor early morning again and sail for North Male’ atoll where Guests disembarks at noon. After this the covering and stowing starts and deck and interior are busy to set everything into standby  mode for our next guest visit. 

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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Dive Madivaru

In the afternoon on the 5th we dive the Madivaru dive site just south of the Conrad-Hilton resort on Rangali Island. The tide is flowing out so we drift dive. 

Oriental sweetlips

During the dive we spotted Turtles, Moray Eels, White tip shark and to top it all off, a Manta Ray. She came suddenly upon us and majestically swam past us against the current. The corals were not too great, understandably due to us being on the outer side of the atoll.

Turtle & Oriental sweetlips

Turtle head


Moray eel hiding under huge table coral

Sabre squirrelfish

Nemo again, Maldive anemonefish

Manta Ray

The visibility was abt 10-13m. When surfacing we notice the dive boat some 500m distance off and it eventually took the crew 1.5hrs to find us.

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Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Diving Havodigalaa pinnacle

On the 3rd we are diving a pinnacle between the Tinadhoo and Havodigalaa Island. It is a very easy dive and has awesome coral formations along the drop offs. Suddenly we come across a resting leopard shark. Eventually he swims off, maybe disturbed by so many visitors. According to our local dive guide, Mr. Mohamed Siraj, the shark is extremely rare in this area of Maldives.

Huge 2m diameter table coral, all intact

Finding Nemo

The leopard shark

Giant clam

Afterwards guests head out to Havodigalaa Island for some day BBQ and fun n the sun. I go ashore as well and walk around the Island to see what it got to offer. The Island itself is a nature reserve for breeding birds with a few buildings with Bengali residents that I assume are some kind of caretakers. While walking around I can see only chickens on the Island, maybe it is not nesting time for the local wild birds. The beaches look pristine but only one glimpse under the surrounding mangroves shows the staggering amount of rubbish that has washed ashore: empty plastic bottles, discarded slippers and other floating debris. Ah, the cost of civilization…

Nina on Havodigalaa


Once back onboard and dusk coming upon us some guests went on a fishing dhoni for night fishing and this time they got a decent catch and returning at 2am back onboard.

Havodigalaa postcard views
Coconut palm avenue
More Beach...

On the 4th Half of the Guests disembark for home and the rest of the group goes to Tinadhoo Island for sightseeing the rural conditions. Upon return 1730hrs we heave up anchor and start towards our next destination: Ari atoll.

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Monday, 3 January 2011

Huvadhoo atoll

Couple of hours later we enter the Huvadhoo atoll and anchor near the main Island of Tinadhoo. 

Fish drying racks S of Tinadhoo

Small shallow lagoon but gravelly beach

Same again

We reconnoiter the nearby Islands that looks very picturesque from afar but find the beaches pretty mediocre with rough coral gravel at the shores. The lagoons though would make excellent snorkeling grounds with a lot of live coral heads in 1-3 m depth. Unfortunately the entrances are a tad too shallow for our tenders. At one Island we spot multiple fish drying racks for tuna.

Locals going by their daily life

Disappointed in the Islands nearby we head to the nearest Island inside the atoll, Havodigalaa Island. The beaches there have white powdery coral sand beaches and th word goes to setup a beach BBQ there. As we approach the beach we can see a lot of people milling around on the beach and Mr. Siraj, our dive guide, explains that is a public holiday in Maldives and that the people are probably just picnicking here. I am also told the Island is actually a nature reserve for breeding birds that migrate here. From the quick look I get from the beach I can only see a few chicken running around. We are approached by two men that are revealed to be the caretakers of the Island and actually hails from Bengal. Luckily we have on our boat people who are proficient in Bengal and we make immediate friends with them.  

Havodigalaa Island

Picknicking locals

Havodigalaa beach

In the evening the weather spoils the BBQ plans yet again as rainy squalls keeps passing above us.  

Locals heading off

Our agent Shafeeq arranges a local group of Maldivians to play music on the aft deck. They start with golden oldies but soon change their music to traditional songs that involve clapping and a drum with singing together. Quite special performance and everybody enjoyed the beat. They are also accompanied by a young Russian girl and after a short chat I find out she's the girlfriend of one of the guitarists and plans to marry and settle in Maldives, ah the folly of youth and love...

Later some fishing is attempted from aft swimming platform but again with a poor catch.

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