Monday, February 6, 2023

Sagres- Where the World Ends


A Panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean from Fort Sagres

After spending the day in Lagos, we decided to hop over to Sagres, another 30 km from there. Sitting at the most south-westerly point of Europe it is a small settlement. It was the most explored point in the ancient world, and we knew little about the place. Perhaps for this reason, the Romans called Sagres the Promontouirm Sacrum or the end of the world. This wind-swept high cliffed region is at the end of the Algarve region in Portugal and is known for the breathtaking views of the surroundings. The place has remained an important location, especially for the sailors, before attempting long voyages. 

The Main entrance to the fort

The moment we stepped out of the car at the fag end of a drive, a huge fort appeared before us. Before entering the huge sentinel, we looked around to see the unending view of the Atlantic ocean around us, the huge boulders and hills where the sea waves crashed on either side of the rocky coastline, sending a huge spray of misty water all around. The deep gorges looked very inviting to explore but since we had limited time we had to make the best use of it. So we headed towards the huge entry gate. 

The walls of the fort

This huge fortress was uniquely designed to protect the town from the raiders from North Africa in ancient times. From this very place Henery - The Navigator planned the trips to explore the continents around the world. 

The Mariner's Compass Dial

In 1919 a Mariner's Compass ( Rosa dos Ventos) that has a diameter of 50 m was excavated and still stands as a testimony of the marine pursuits from the 16th century. There is also a small chapel in the vicinity, Nossa Senhora da Gracas. Fortaleza de Sagres or the Sagres fort has high walls around the periphery which offer some of the most stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the flora and fauna here. The strategic importance of the place was well understood in the 15th century to establish the trade links with adjoining Africa and the Mediterranean coast. 

The Lighthouse

There is also a lighthouse inside Fort Sagres. In 1587 Sir Frances Drake an English Captain mounted an attack on Fort Sagres when it was under Spanish rule, The place saw several tsunamis and earthquakes and suffered severe damages. Though it has been repaired, the old glory could never be restored.

The Nautical School of Sagres was set up during the time of Henery The Navigator. Many important discoveries, cartography, improved sundials and maps were regularly updated at this school. A number of sailors like Ferdinand Magellan( circumnavigation), Vasco da Gama( found the sea route to India), Pedro Cabral ( discovered Brazil), and Bartoloemu Dias ( went around Africa) had all studied at this Navigation School in Sagres. In 1476, Christopher Columbus was also washed ashore here after being shipwrecked.

It is said that the pilgrims who used to visit the place in the olden days were not allowed to stay at night here, as the place was for God alone! Rick Steves the well-known travel writer has collaborated with Smithsonian Institute to write lucid accounts of this place.

Lovely views of the coastline and sea

The sun was setting in the west and the birds returning to their nests when we decided to pack up and head back to Faro after a very satisfying day. In my next post, I will take you to another amazing destination in Portugal.

PS- All pics are mine

Monday, January 30, 2023

A Gateway to the Slave Market- Lagos


The streets of Lagos decorated for Christmas
Perched at the mouth of the Bensafrim River along the Atlantic Ocean lies the pretty town of Lagos in the Algarve region of Portugal. It is an ancient maritime town with more than 2000 years of history. The city was colonized by the Romans, Byzantines, and Moors at different periods of history. The place is also associated with one of the greatest voyages Christopher Columbus, Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama set sail under the stewardship of Henry the Navigator to discover the different parts of the world such as America, The Cape of Good Hope and India. On a sunny day in December, closer to Christmas, we set off from Faro for a 90 km drive to this little town, The scenic lush green orchards of Oranges were overflowing with fruit on either side of the highway. In less than two hours we landed in the quaint silent town which was decked up for Christmas with buntings, and hundreds of small illuminating lights shimmering from the small houses and shops.

The pretty cobbled streets of Lagos
The town is endowed with a rich history in form of towering forts, cathedrals and churches, a Slave Museum (Yes! You read it right- The Slave Museum!) beside sparkling beaches, grottos, limestone formations and much more. A special mention needs to be made about this unique Slave Museum which is one of its kind. 
A toiling slave at Mercado de Escravos or the Slave Market
It is called Mercado de Escravos or the Slave Market. The market is dated 1444 but the present building has stood the test of time since the 17th century. This emphasizes the connection of Lagos to the idea of the first sale of Slaves in Europe. This was the place where the slaves acquired from adjoining Africa were sold. The stories of the gruesome lives led by the slaves are so well depicted that it sends a chill down the spine. The exhibits of chains, ropes and wristbands make the horror alive even after the ages. Currently, this monument has been used as a Museum but has been a Customs House and a military administrative centre in other periods. The Slave routes from where the slaves were brought to Lagos to be sold include Africa, Goa, Malaca and Macau. One has to be strong-hearted to read the heart-wrenching narratives and view the atrocities inflicted.

The Potato beach at Lagos

There are endless options to admire the natural beauty including beaches such as Praia de Camilo, and Potato Beach right in the middle of the town offering some lovely views and the turquoise blue sea covered with bobbing boats tethered alongside or tied to buoys. We were blessed to see a white rainbow appear over the sky when we were strolling at the Potato beach

A White Rainbow
Colourful buildings, cobblestone streets, seafood restaurants, laid back cafeterias are good reasons to explore the beauty of this town. The city centre is really charming. A nice place to stretch tired legs is Jardinm da Constituciao which offers a green shade and a whiff of beautiful flowers. The park is bordered by the stone walls of Fort Ponta da Banderia across the street with a picturesque setting of the sea in the backdrop. A tour of the waterfront along the fort walls is a ‘must’ when in Lagos.

Igrejia de Santa Antonio
Among other top attractions are the Igrejia de Santa Antonio (the church), a dolphin-watching cruise and rock tunnels. According to a fable King Sebastian granted the title of city to Lagos in 1573. He disappeared in 1578 when he was on a military mission to Morocco. Some locals believe that he would return one day. The statute of the king is located at the main city centre at Plaza Gil Eannes opposite the Town Hall.
The statue of King Sebastian

We had to give miss the Dolphin watching and visiting the rock tunnels due to the paucity of time and we had to set the course to see Sagris a place where Europe begins in the latter part of the day. I will narrate more about Sagris in the next post

PS- All pics are mine

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Lagoon of Ria Foromsa


The boat jetty at Faro

Portugal is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty beside historic monuments, great food and friendly people. I had given a glimpse of Faro, a small town in the Algarve region, in my previous post. Picking the thread from there I continue with the day one proceeding of the evening in Faro. After a quick walk around the Old Town, we headed for the boat jetty which was a short walk from the Old Town.  In fact, the entire lagoon of the Faro overlooks the town and is known as Ria Formosa.

The boats berthed in the lagoon

Ria Farmsoa in Faro is made up of a cluster of small islands and some are so small that they disappear when there is a high tide. The barrier islands are connected with the six inlets through the sea. Of these, the five inlets have mobility characteristics. The sixth inlet is an artificial one or manmade which was created as an engineering marvel in 1952. The lagoon has a triangular shape with the smallest distance being 100m and the farthest being 6 km.  In the year 2010, this lagoon was recognized among the seven natural wonders of Portugal. Ria Formosa gives economic impetus to the region as a number of people are engaged in fishing, seafood, chain of small restaurants around the area. Since this area is a protected one, no polluting boats are allowed to operate to preserve the frail ecosystem. It also serves as a stopping place for the migratory birds. Over 200 migratory birds can be spotted in the region.

A view of Faro town from the Ria Formosa lagoon

We had an English-speaking guide who heralded us into a small 75-ton boat of which the weight of rechargeable copper batteries was around 50 tons! It had a noiseless engine and a smooth cruising speed of about 6 knots. It was a bright sunny afternoon as the boat sailed through silent waters manoeuvring through the little islands. It was an incredible experience to see rare birds, flora, and fauna. We were lucky to spot the rare purple swamphen which is also the mascot of the national park. There are a number of salt pans in the area and has a long history of salt production from the Roman times. The barrier islands have an exciting topography ranging from marshes, mudflats, swamps, dunes and tidal channels. The trip lasted around 2 hours and we managed to get a glimpse of some unique things like a lighthouse, some small beaches, an old fort, and water-operated mills that work on the principle of difference in heights of water levels during low and high tides.

The Old Town as seen from the boat

The magical sunset over the Ria Formosa lagoon

The boat slowly brought us back to the pier from where we had left with some beautiful memories of rare sights and an amazing sunset happening right before us. I will write about more interesting places in Portugal in the next post.

PS- All pics are mine

Monday, January 16, 2023

A Flavour of Faro


The town of Faro

It seldom happens that after an almost crystal clear plan to travel, everything turns upside down and a hard course correction is needed. A trip was planned well in advance to visit Israel after more than twenty years but for reasons beyond control had to be abandoned and a new itinerary was worked out in a jiffy. The new trip would entail travel to the Algarve region of Portugal and parts of Spain. After all the preparatory work was done, on a cold winter morning in Amsterdam we boarded a flight to Faro in Portugal. The Schiphol airport was swarming with people as many holidaymakers were leaving for destinations to celebrate Christmas. It was still dark at 7AM when the EasyJet flight took off!

The hangover of having woken up at an unearthly hour was still there when the aircraft landed in Faro. The bright sunny day was a welcome change from the cold days I had witnessed in the Netherlands. Faro is the capital of the Southern Algarve region of Portugal. It seeps with rich history, beautiful beaches, colourful architecture, delicious food, and architecture. Soon after checking in at the place where we were to stay, we set out to explore the town. The small cobbled streets resembled the parts of Goa, where I had lived for over two years a long time back. The nostalgia and aroma from the nearby cafeteria worked like a magnet. The ‘Demo Urban Bakery’ was crowded with people which was an indication of its popularity. We were informed that we will have to wait for about half an hour to be served, but we decided to wait and enjoy the sun. The choice of Bolo Fatia( a pastry), Pao de Deus( the bread of Gods as translated from Portuguese) and Almond Chocolate Croissant with seaming hot coffee more than made up for the wait. Each of these dishes melted in the mouth with a rush of flavours hitherto not known. The place was literally a paradise for food lovers.

The plaque of Christopher Columbus

After a fill, we decided to explore the old town where a huge imposing gate marks the entrance to the Old Town.  Just before we entered the Old Town, we came across a huge Plaque embedded on a wall at the nearby Tourist Office that tells the story of the life of Christopher Columbus who discovered America. A little-known fact is that the actual name was Christopher Colon which got distorted and he gained popularity around the world with the name Christopher Columbus. I will cover more stories on Christopher Columbus in the blogs that will follow.

The huge gate of the Old Town is known as Cidade Velha. As you look up at the imposing gate, you cannot miss the huge stork nests atop the gate. It is said that a few years ago the largest stork’s nest weighing over 800 kg was brought down in the town. The storks can be found all over the Algarve region and their nests can sometimes be even 9 feet deep and 6 ft wide. The walk up a small climb on the cobbled streets did not last long as we had earlier booked a boat trip to see the shallow lagoons of Rio Formosa that overlook the Faro town. It is one of the most stunning locations which I will describe in the next post.

The main entrance to Old Town- notice the stork nests atop!

PS- All pics are mine

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Navy Day


A long association with the Navy always triggers a chain of fascinating memories on this day. Historically, this day is celebrated to commemorate the victory during the 1971 Indo-Pak war when the Navy turned the tide by mounting attacks on the enemy ships and Karachi port that changed the course of the war.It finally resulted in the first recorded history of a win in the war.  Every time I stepped on board a ship from the day I joined the service, my chest would swell with the pride to be a part of this great service. 

The day when I first landed at Kochi Harbour Terminal by train, little did I realize that my life will change forever. After the gruelling training at the Naval Academy, I learnt lessons that would serve me in good stead in the years to come. Some of these included the physical toughness, camaraderie, and bonds with fellow trainees that strengthened with time. I still remember my first sea acquaintance was on board ' INS Brahamputra which was based in Kochi. The ship was commanded by Cdr Janardan Dev, a tough sailor and a strict disciplinarian. A short stint on board the ship made me familiar with small crafts like tying knots, to reading maps. I also familiarised with a host of things I had never seen in my life like the complex engine room, navigation aids, the radars, echo sounders to name a few. How quickly the days passed. I first got a glimpse of Mumbai's coastline one morning when the ship entered the harbour.

Those were the times when one got an opportunity to learn every day. The time flew by with more training at Jamnagar, Lonavala before I was an active member with an assigned responsibility on board the premier aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. Till the last day in service with the Navy, INS Vikrant was another mother where the bond continued in every rank and appeared that the umbilical cord was never cut! My association on board this ship was for over five years and the stories of the time onboard the ship would appear like a fantasy or a fairytale! As a young officer, not only did I see the political luminaries. but also megastars of Bollywood like Amitabh Bachaan, Rekha, Zeenat Ama, Praveen Babi, Padmini Kolhapure, Asha Bhosle and RD Burman just to name a few that were the guests onboard for the premiere of 'Shaan' .

The sailing in rough weather, with sea waves touching a height of 30 feet gave an experience of a thrill of what I would have missed, had I not joined the Navy. I witnessed the induction of Vertical Take Off and Landing Sea Harrier aircraft, night flying from the deck of the ship, booming guns of the newly inducted L-70 Bofors guns and so much more. Every exercise on board a ship was as much an adventure as every other day on the sprawling ship.

The kaleidascope of memories will keep on weaving endless patterns that will go beyond the length of a normal blog post. There are memories of ' Sailing Regatta' in Goa, ' Muskeetry Championship' at Coimbatore, a trek from  Karjat to Matheran, night march from Jamnagar to Okha through the desert are just a very few adventures that flicker before my eyes.

Recently, in the month of September, I got a rare opportunity to witness the unveiling of the newly built aircraft carrier 'INS Vikrant' at Kochi! Never in my wildest imagination I had thought, that I too would be a guest to attend the dedication of the ship by our prime minister Narendra Modi to the nation. It was heartening to see the old veterans with whom I had rubbed shoulders more than three decades back admiring in awe the newly built indigenous ship.

It is a matter of pride that three girls have joined the ranks of under training officers for the Navy at the premier training establishment, the National Defence Academy at Kharakvasla near Pune, this year. I am sure in the years to come the Navy will achieve many more laurels and do our country proud.

PS- All pictures and the video kind courtesy Google and You Tube

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Changing World of Foods

The Wellness Tree

Essential eating habits in humans keep evolving with time. I am yet to come across someone whose choices of foods have not changed over time.  What we ate as small children at home changed when we started going to school. Our friends ate different cuisines, as they hailed from other parts of the country.  We too were enticed to experiment with these different foods. Later some of them got adopted into our menu too. This continues to this day. The present time is certainly the most interesting, considering the options available for trying new foods. The preferences of people have changed, Some like imbibing celebrities to maintain lean frames while others look for options to sculpt their bodies better. Eating has a very close association with our wellness and the tree shown above indicates linkages of diseases to the different factors. The primary cause is the choice of wrong foods besides others.

A recent experience in Continuous Glucose Monitoring( CGM) using a probe to see the change in glucose levels as different foods are consumed, needs to be mentioned. In all these years I never realized that certain grains and foods do cause a jump in glucose levels which is not considered good. The viewpoints differ in the conventional medicine world vis a vis the Functional Medicine world. According to conventional medicine, a glucose level beyond  200 mg/dL is a diabetic condition. Up to 180 mg/dL after 2 hours of eating is considered okay. However, in Functional Medicine, the endeavour should be to ensure that the glucose levels never exceed 140mg/dL.  It was interesting to notice that most of the foods that I love to eat most of the time, were the ones that created a spike in the glucose level. The phenomena differ for each individual so there are no thumb rules when it comes to eating but the choices should be such that the glucose spikes do not occur even after eating food. There are experts who opine that consuming proteins, apple cider vinegar and certain fats, prior to eating grains or certain pulses help in containing the glucose spike or flattening it. The endeavour should be to ensure that glucose levels stay within a range of 140 mg/dL or below most of the time. In a normal healthy person, a range between 80mg/dL-120 mg/ DL is a good marker of the glucose level

A whole new world has opened up and the choices of foods are now undergoing yet another change. The comfort foods that I enjoyed all along have now taken a back seat. Consuming more significant portions of green leafy vegetables, the right balance of rainbow colour vegetables to encompass the wide array of phytonutrients is now more on the platter.  Learning never ends and likewise, it is never too late to learn new food paradigms and make wise choices

PS- All information in this post is based on personal experience. In no way this post is a suggestion to try things that override personal physical health conditions of individuals and remedies being adopted by them.
2. Picture kind courtesy of Google

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Beauty of Rituals


Novak Djokovic the Serbian tennis star does not use the same shower to take a bath twice. So for many sporting events, he may have skipped taking a bath before the sporting event. Also, he loves to carry his poodle, Pierre to sporting events though he was refused entry to Wimbledon in 2011 for the same reason. Despite the distress, he won the tournament.

Likewise, Rafael Nadal, the multiple title winner,tennis ace likes to face the water bottles with their labels overlooking the court before the match commences. He always wears socks of the same length and holds only one racquet when entering or stepping into the court with his right foot first. He is a perfectionist, though these habits may reflect eccentricity.

Yet another tennis sensation Serena Williams never washes her socks during the entire tournament, ties her shoelaces in every match and uses the same shower, unlike Djokovic.

The list is endless and these rituals in which these sporting sensations indulge are with a purpose. Before delving into the reasons let us know of some more strange rituals. Just to name a few:

a) Play of the Tigers - Puli Kali- On fourth day of Onam this traditional dance is performed in Kerala where the dancers dress as tigers and perform with a wild spirit to the beat of drums

b) Kill or Get Killed- Bani Festival- Performed on the Dusshera day in Andhra Pradesh when Malleswaram Swamy( Lord Shiva) and Malamma( Godddess Parvati) are brought to the temple at Devaragattu Temple in Kurnool.The act of thrashing each other with blood flowing from body parts, though leaves many hurt, has never resulted in casualties so far.

c) Walk of Fire - Thimiti - This takes place in Tamilnadu, Singapore etc where men walk over fire embers as a devotion towards Draupti Amman( Draupadi of Mahabharata).The fire walkers come out unsctched

There are many more like Thaipusam involving body piercing or Ayudha Puja involving worship of weapons. The rituals enable us to connect with our deepest thoughts and feelings on profound occasions. our highest hopes and most debilitating fears.

According to Scientific American a recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear.Even simple rituals can be very effective. Certain rituals performed after experiencing loss of loved ones help in allevating grief.Certain rituals performed before appearing on stage for a big event like music, sports or live performance help in reduced anxiety and fear, The research has also shown that rituals have a causal impact of people;s emotions, feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Several experiments both in the laboratory and onsite have shown a high correlation in increased coping  abillitirs in those performing certain rituals vs those who did not after experiencing stressful situations like facing natural calamities.

 The biggest benefits in improved physical and mental health have been extensively recorded for those following some of the rituals as follows:

1.Waking early and exposing skin to the natural environment

2. Deep breathing and yoga if possible

3. A hearty wholesome breakfast

4. A Walk

5. Eating greens

6. Limiting scree time

7. Drinking a lot of water to maintain hydration

8. Introspection/ meditation

9. A good sleep

One sees different rituals right from birth and as one grows learns from environment around. The choices are individualistic based on learning and often others experiences too!Every part of the world has witnessed some form of rituals. All said and done the ritulas continue to be an important part of our lives in all stages. Making the right choices is what makes the difference