Omus’s Weblog

Politics, Trekking, Environment & Personal

On your mark, All set, Go….Goa [18th-20th August-2012] August 26, 2012

Goa defined in a photo…credits to Avijit Mishra

The above photo very much define the majority of taste of vacation in Goa. Although it is much more than that.

This was my 3rd trip to Goa, but my first blog on it. Although this blog will just another drop in travel blogs on Goa, but will try to pour in my all three travel experiences, to make it as comprehensive & detail, to help future visitors to Goa.

The first one was with my office team, with base at Varca Beach resort. If you have money, this is one of the best bets to stay in. Second trip base was in Dona Paulo, heart of Goa government, thus very neat & clean by Indian standards. Stayed there in IOCL guest house, “just awesome”: two wors to describe it. Third trip base was in Calangute beach, one of the busiest beach of Goa.

How to reach Goa?

Goa is well connected by Rail, road & air with all major cities. Budget way of reaching Goa is by road (bus) or by rail. Konkan railways is one of the most scenic rail routes of India. Goa is overnight journey (12-15 hrs) from major cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mangalore.

How to explore Goa?

If you want to explore Goa at its maximum, rented bikes are the best way to do it. All major beaches have rented bike shop & so availability of bike won’t be a problem (DL is must). Bikes from 100cc to 500cc are available. Avenger (200cc), a cruise bike, seems to be the most popular rented bike, which costs Rs 300 per day. It’s mileage can be 20-30 kms/liter. Acitva (125cc) costs Rs 200 per day. These price are as on 18-20th August-2012 & may vary depending upon seasonal demand.

Calangute beach, Baga beach, Anjuna beach, Panaji are dotted with rented bike shops.

Facilities in Goa:

– All big mobile operators are present.

– Panaji, Madgaon, Vasco, Marmagoa are biggest cities of Goa with all required facilities. Dabolim is the name of airport, Vasco & Madgaon are biggest railway junctions connecting Goa with rest of India

– Panaji is major bus stop for all long route buses. Situated close to Mandovi river bridge, bus stop also connects to all places of goa by small rickety buses. But local buses frequency can be very erradic.

Where to stay in Goa?

There are options n options. Options of all kinds depending upon budget & needs. From cheap shacks to luxury 5 star resorts. Home stay options to hotels. During peak season, one can find anywhere & everywhere in Goa. In off season, Calangute, Baga beach, Anjuna beach are the ones that are open. We stayed in a 3BHK-home stay 300 mtrs from Calangute beach (Rs 1400 per day -Aug’12). In my first visit to Goa (July-2007), I stayed at Varca Beast resort (Rs 4000 for two people). Second visit, I stayed in IOCL guest house free of cost (Dona Paulo).

In peak season, prices are very high & during off season prices are least.

What to do in Goa?

Goa is more about partying, chilaxing. If you are for like Indian cultural tour or religious tour or meditation tour, Goa certainly is not the place. For Indians, Goa is the best place to break shackles of traditions & break sef imposed boundaries. If your taste is:

– Drink, eat, read n chilax: Just grab a seat in one of the many sea beach shacks.

– Explore places: Get a rented bike n helmet & fill in ur petrol to expore 100 kms of coastline.

– Historical tour: Centuries old churches & forts will keep you busy for couple of days

– Sea food: Goa makes sure, you are spoilt of choices.

– Getting Tattoos (temporary, permanent)

In short, whether it is famiy, friends, honeymooners or GF-BF combo, Goa is one of the best place to go in India.

Tourists Season in Goa:

Tourist season is function of weather patterns. Winter months (Nov to Feb) are peak times & expect everything overrated during this period. February to June are too hot to visit Goa & June to October are monsoon months. During monsoon more than 50% of hotes & restaurants gets closed & is cheapest time to visit Goa. Infact many beaches like Anjuna, Vagator, Candolim, Varca etc. gets drowned in Sea during monsoon.

Best time to visit depends upon taste. Having visited during Jan & August, I found Goa beautiful both times. Jan is golden & August it’s green.

Places to Explore:

Unofficially Goa has been divided in two tourists zone: North Goa & South Goa. Anything north of Panaji is North Goa & South of Panaji is South Goa. North Goa is more popular among tourists, with hotels remaining open during off season as well. In South Goa, besides major beaches like Colva, many hotels n resturants remain closed during off season.

North Goa: Calangute Beach, Fort Aguada, Chapora Fort, Chapora River, Morjim Beach, Candolim Beach, Baga Beach, Anjuna Beach

South Goa: Colva beach, Varca Beach, Palolem Beach, Benaulim beach

Panaji : Dona Paulo, Velha Goa, Mandovi River, Miramar Beach

East Goa: Dudhsagar falls, Mahaveer Jain Wildlife sanctuary

Goa as base: Gokarna (100 Kms), Dandeli (100 Kms), Terekhol Fort (50 Kms) [all from Panaji]

How to plan travel in Goa?

Below plan is based if one stays in Panaji or any where in North Goa.

Day 1/2: Explore North Goa beaches. Morjim beach, Anjuna Beach, Vagator beach, Candolim Beach, Baga beach, Calangute beach, Fort Aguada, Chapora fort. Fort Aguada, Chapora Fort (famousy known as DCH point among younsters), Calangute Beach, Morjim Beach are must visit places.

Calangute Beach is most popular among all these & remain hyper active even late night. It is even open during off season as well & has very good eating options as well. Lobo restaurant & Sea Queen restaurant on Calangute are good places to eat. Besides this, there are few more beach shacks which remain open during off season as well. Om restaurant, Kajal restaurant,Spicy restaurant  near Baga circle, remain open late in night. All basic necesseties (except petrol pump…4KM from Calangute enroute to Panaji) like ATM, hotels, restaurants,rented bike shop, medicine shop etc. are availabe in Calangute Beach. This is one of the best place to stay, if crowd is not a problem.

Baga beach (must visit): Another popular beach, 2 km from Calangute, which remain open late night even during off season. Beach donot get drowned in peak monsoon as well & so many of hotels n restaurants do remain open in off season. Calangute to Baga beach are dotted with hotels, restaurants, Home stays, rented bike shops n all tourist feeding infrastructure. Baga beach bosts of Tito’s, one of the most popular restaurant cum staying option cum partying place cum pub of Goa. It is one of the place for who’s who. It’s disco is only for couples. Baga beach has quite good number of shacks, which remain open in off season as well.

Fort Aguada (must visit): One of the oldest fort in Goa built in 16th Century. The sea facing granite stone fort sits on a hill top & is a good spot as a sunset viewpoint. Often confused as DCH point, but it is not. Getting to seashore by hiking through vegetation, beside light house, can be rewarding in terms of peace & views. It has few snacking options only. No entry fee, no parking fee.

Fort Chapora (must visit): Resembling like Fort Aguada, this granite fort also sits on a hill top, overlooking Arabian sea & Chapora River. This place became famous because of Bollywood Movie Dil Chahta Hai & among young Indian Hippies, it is popuarly known as DCH point. Personally, I like place better than Fort Aguada, because is slightly less crowded & has got superb 360 degree view. Again this has great sunset views. The place has hardly any shops for snacks or water, so do carry your own. Fort Chapora is some 15 Kms from Calangute.

Morjim Beach (must visit): Morjim beach sits on conjunction of River Chapora & Arabian sea. The beach can be seen from Chapora fort. Very few people visit this beach & so it has hardly any tourist infrastructure (just saw only 2 resorts). Since few people visit, it is relatively clean beach & a driving beach. Yes, one can drive in this beach, as it has hard sand, which can sustain weight of vehicles. Driving in the waves can be fun (but beware, salty water is very very bad of health of vehicle). As river Chapora gets drained here, it is beautiful to see transition of strong wave to calm waves at the same place. But other side is, river brings with it lots of human waste n pollution, which gets deposited on beach.Distance & this pollution could be other reason why few  people visit this place. Nevertheless, it is one of the place to have solitary time.

Terekhol Fort: This fort is the first thing as one crosses Goa to Maharastra. Although, I have not been there, it is said to be very beautiful fort overseeing Arabian Sea. One has to cross Terekhol River to reach this place, which can be done by free ferry service. There is hardly any tourist infrastructure there.

Candolim Beach: This beach gets almost drowned in Monsoon & has a fort. Most of the area is occupied by Taj Vivanta hotel. Besides beach, there is nothing much. In off season, it has deserted looks.

Anjuna & Vagator beach: Again very popular among tourist, but it seems beach gets drowned in Monsoon. It has got decent tourist infrastructure like Hotels, restaurants n bike renting facility. Anjuna beach is famous for its Wednesday market. Enroute to Anjuna has got many posh restaurants & high end staying options, Taj Vivanta & Kingfisher to name a few. We had lunch in Tin-Tin restaurant, which serve American food plus some live English Music. Fisherman’s Cove on Calangute to Anjuna is a very good place to have food & drinks.

Day 3: Panaji, Miramar Beach, Dona Paulo, Velha Goa, Mandovi River cruise.

Panaji: Capital of Goa & situated on junction of Mandovi River & Arabnian sea, this is one of the neatest cities in India. Home to high end hotels & restaurants, besides housing colonial style roads, houses & shops. The road running parallel to Sea & river, has got few museums & children parks. It is heaven for shopalcoholics.

Miramar Beach: Popular among among the localites, this somewhat dirty beach, sits on junction of Mandovi river & Arabian Sea. It is site of evening Indian snacking action. Water is too dirty to take a bath here.

Dona Paulo: Close to Governer house, this Arabian sea facing view point is not a sea beach & is popular among localites because of its proximity to Panaji. Some water sports activites has started here, but not worth spending on. This place has got few eating options.

Velha Goa/Old Goa (must visit): As the name suggests, it is the oldest part of Goa. Situated 10 Kms from Panaji & 10 kms upstream of Mandovi river, Velha Goa once rivaled Lisbon (capital of Portugal). It houses 16th century big churches & gets very busy on prayer days. Road to Panaji to Velha Goa is also a scenic package in itself, with once side of road running parallel to voluminous Mandovi river & other side dotted with colonial style houses. NH-4A bisects Velha Goa & so be careful of fast highway traffic. It has got numerous eating + guiding option.

Mandovi River cruise (must visit, if 1st time): Near the main river bridge, on Panaji, is action place for cruise boats n ships. It gets very crowded in evening & it is advisabe to book your tickets before hand. Cost may vary depending on quality of ship. Idea is to spend couple of hour in River Mandovi, as ship goes till mouth of the river. Again best time to get into this cruise ship is sunset time & no wonder that is most crowded time. Food n drinks inside ship is over rated & also beware of touts. Royal casino is most costliest among all these & not sure how it is?

Day 4/5: South Goa: Margagoa, Madgaon, Vasco-Da-Gama, Benaulim beach, Colva beach, Varca beach, Palolem beach, Agonda beach, Cabo-De-Rama fort

South Goa is mirror image of North Goa, with exception being it is longer & less crowded compared to North Goa. Mirror image because it aso houses beaches & few forts. The long coastline of South Goa boasts of many 5 star hotels like Inter Continental, Taj, Leela & so on. Many of these resorts have their own private beach. South Goa also boasts of biggest cities of Goa: Madgaon, Marmagao & Vasco-Dagama. Marmagao is one of the largest ports of India. There are many few other small beaches, but with minimum tourist infrastructure & gets drowned in monsoon season.

Colva beach has got some water sports options during peak season & is a white sand beach. It has few options to stay right on beach.

Day 6: Dudhsagar Falls (must visit): The fall is the 2nd highest waterfall in India. Situated on Karnataka-Goa border, 100 Kms from Panaji, it is at its best in Monsoon season. It can get off in peak monsoon by road. Best way is to go Castle Rock station & do some trekking to reach the falls. Trekking is the best way to get some photogenic views of falls & is strongy recommended during monsoon season, when it is at its best. But it is important to go in a group & be well informed about the place. Situated in Western ghat jungles, mobile network, finding food & water can be a problem.

Other near by places to explore from Goa are Gokarna & Dandeli forests. Gokarna is a temple town & carry tag of cheap Goa. Nevertheless, it is a sexy place to visit.


Dandeli: Situated 50Kms further east of Dudhsagar falls, in state of Karnataka, it famous for Wildlife & river rafting. Off from many tourist map, it can be very reaxing place to visit.

In short, Goa is perfect place for a relaxing vacation. It is a place where, group of bachelors guys envy couples & boys in couple would envy bachelors 😉 . For Indians at least, it is a must visit place, at least once in lifetime.


– In you/your friends/family  do experiment booz: Feni can be a good option. Available in Coconut & Cashewnut flavour, Feni is the local drink of Goa.

– Handicrafts from Anjuna beach market. But do bargain.

– For Indian families, cashewnut can be a good option.

– For hippies, Goa is flooded with “rock” type cloths.

– Lastly for self, Tattoo can a good option.

Lastly few cautions:

– Avoid swimming in sea during Monsoon season (June-September).

– Donot drink & drive.

– Wear helmet & drive. Cops can catch, especially in Panaji. Also it is for your own safety. Roads are narrow & driving with caution is best option.

– Make sure to check all necessary papers in rented Bike.

– Taking drugs is illegal. Think twice before you take.

– Touts are in plenty, better to avoid them

– Get permanent tattoo in a safe place. Do not compromise on hygiene.

– Lastly please donot trash. All beaches & forts are littered with broken booz bottles & littered with plastic bottles & chip packets. Please be an explorative & not an exploitive tourist. If cannot be one, better stay indoors.


At DCH Point….Chapora fort


Gokarna Trip: 14th-15th July,2012 July 16, 2012

Disclaimer: Whatever I have written, is based on my 2 days experience (July 14-15,2012 -which is considered an off-season). But let me tell you, monsoon is also one of the best time to visit Gokarna, especially if there is an adventure & demophobia gene in you.

Popularly known as Gokarna, it actual name is Gokarn or “Cow ears”. Situated on northern coast of Karnataka, facing Arabian sea, the place is a popular Hindu pilgrimage, which also boast of number of sea beaches.

The village revolves around Mahabaleshwar temple (Atma lingam-Lord Shiva temple) & spread over few fishing villages cum beach. This gives town a very contrasting view, especially in peak season. At one end we have a more traditional temple going pilgrimage tourism & on other hand is “beach n booze” tourism.

About town:

–          More of a temple tourist rather than hip-hop booze tourists

–          Has got ATM facilities (SBI, AXIS bank, Karnataka Bank to name few)

–          a “filthy” toilet/bathroom facility near beach (near to temple).

–          Near temple, dharamshala & other plenty of cheap staying options are available. Unless a tourist season (winter months of Nov-Feb) or some festival, accommodation should be easily available.

–          In town, eating options are limited restricted to mainly vegetarian south Indian food.

–          Bus stand, hardly 500 mtrs from temple.

–          Main beach (200 mtrs from temple) has got parking facility

–          All major phone network works here

In & around town:

–          More about booze tourism

–          No ATM facility (so make sure you withdraw enough money from Gokarna)

–          Better stay options

–          Variety in cuisine food (especially sea food)

–          Less crowded, at least in off season

–          Hiring Auto/Taxi only mode of public transport

–          Phone network becomes weak as you move away from town. (No network in Paradise beach)

Season: October – Feb. The rates, availability, crowd etc. is function of season & festivals. During season, be ready to pay extra & in off season, do bargain a bit.


By road: Gokarna is well connected by major towns like Bangalore (480Kms) ,Mangalore (250KMs), Hubli (50 Kms), Vasco,Margo, Panaji (~200Kms) etc.

Both government & private buses run, with options on luxury & cost. Check out websites of Redbus, KSRTC, NWKRTC, Goa Transport, Maharastra transport, Travel Yaari, SRS, VRL, Seabird etc. to plan your travel.

 By train: Gokarna railway station (Railway Code: GOK) is 5-6 Kms from temple & is well connected by Konkan railways (Trivandrum to Mumbai).

By air: Goa, Hubli & Mangalore are closest airports.

By sea: Not an option, unless you are a fisherman

 Wondering, How many days to stay?

For some Foreigners, this is Cheap Goa & so many stay like months long. Indian tourist generally stay for 2 days but majority drop by for a day to peek into temple & Om beach.

So it depends on your adventure & budget & exclusivity needs. My recommendations, especially to Bangaloreans & Hyderabadis & Mumbaikars, it’s worth  staying a weekend.

 What to do (in 2 days)?

–          Visit temple, even if you are an atheist (it doesn’t do any harm). It would be just another traveling experience

–          Trek/Hike along the beach. Cover Kudlee beach, OM beach, Half-moon beach, Paradise beach (see details below)

–          Chilax in any one of beach side restaurant (Namaste Café- recommended. It is one of the few which are open through-out the year). Most of the beach side shacks disappear beyond season.

–          Visit Yana, some 60 Kms from Gokarna.

–          Salt water bath in any of the beach (recommended : Kudlee beach)

 We did all of these, with still plenty of time remaining to Kill.

 Beach Hiking:

 Route: Main beach-Kudle beach-Om beach- Half moon beach- Paradise beach-Bellekan

One side distance will be around 12 Kms & can take up-to 5-6 hrs. leaving aside Main beach, we did all in close to 5 hrs.

One can to return by tracing same trek or by taking road from Bellekan village. Bellekan village is connected by bus ( one every 1.5 hrs from 9AM to 7PM). If lucky, you may get an auto (Rs.250 to OM beach).

 We started like 11AM from Om beach, reached Half-moon beach by 12:30 followed by Paradise beach by 1:15PM. Got Auto from Bellekan Village & were back to OM beach by 3PM. After having lunch, we headed again towards Kudlee beach which is half n hour picturesque hike from OM beach.

 Point to be noted: During monsoon, trek may get very slippery & also you will find hardly (infact none) any shop or help. So be prepared. If needed just in case, you can take help of passing by fishermen. But my recommendation: it’s worth the every drop of sweat. Also hardly the beaches are named, so may not know that you have reached the destination.

 Om beach: It got its name from Sanskrit character, to which beach shape resembles, which is pronounced as OM. Interestingly, my short name in OM, but I warn it is not named after me. The beach is rocky, course sand & dotted by fisherman huts. Namaste café (for eaters n drinkers) & nearby park are main attractions. It does not have proper parking facility, so expect chaos unwarned. The park atop is worth spending time, especially on sea shell made Raja like seats.

 Om beach to Half-moon beach: The trek involves crossing few small hills. The hill edge, where a palm tree still holds its fort is worth sitting n relaxing sea views. Also views of OM beach from here, confirms why it is called so.

 Half-moon beach: Supposedly in shape of moon crescent, one still wonders why is it called so? Any ways the blood red stones on this & in-n-around sea shore does give it an alien planet touch. Only problem it is littered.

 Paradise beach: (Now a hell beach) When we went, we knew we were there. Reason, at that time it resembled like Kashmir. YES Kashmir, a beautiful place, but ravaged. The beach locked by two hills is accessible by trek or by boat. All the hut-stay options were destroyed by forest department, as it flouted many laws. The place was littered by remains of stones, plastic bottles & booze bottles (Old Monk & KF seemed to be ruling here). It can be dangerous to walk bare footed. It is beautiful, but man just gave it too many wounds, just like Kashmir. Anyways, it is treacherous trek from supposedly “Paradise” to Bellekan. You will feel like lost, but just follow the trails, as we did.

 Bellekan village: It is a beautiful paddy growing village with hospitable people. Just ask anyone & they will point to bus stop (right on edge of the sea).

 Om beach to Kudlee Beach: Although just half an hour walk, but it was the best part. It started with small but beautiful garden maintained by tourism department, followed by plain igneous rocked hill top with superb sun set view points, followed by fine sand Kudlee beach. Kudlee resort is here (but was closed). We had an hour salt water bath here in this long fine sand beach. It is littered, but not to extent others are, thanks to limited accessibility.

 Yana: 60 kms from Gokarna, these volcanic rock are millions of years old, belonging to Gondwana age. Situated in deep forest, it is good 2KM hike from road. The circling around 300 mtr circumference of the rock involves some risk, as it is mandatory to be done bare footed ( I guess for safety reason). Pointed stones, slippery, darkness, insects will all make you scream at the end, “oh! Oh!..It’s end”. A taxi from Gokarna (to-n-fro) will cost Rs. 1500. Public transport is not there. Note: it will be criminal to litter here. It is a raw jungle & villagers have provided a dustbin every 200-300 mtr. And someone who litters despite this, should be hanged.

 Temples: Although there are many small temples dotting the main town, but Mahabaleswar & Ganesh temple are two major ones. Mahabaleswar Temple is believed to be a Atma-lingam, revered by Hindus & Lord shiva followers. The two chariots near temple come to action only during Shivratri (month March). Men have to go topless inside temple, as per rituals. When we went (4-5PM), there was hardly any crowd, as one in used to see in a major Indian temple, so we were kind of lucky.

 Temple Beach: It is just 200 mtrs from temple & is also the longest. It has got parking, toilet & eating options. If not littered, it would have been a very beautiful beach.

 Nearby places: Murudeshwar, Honavar, Karwar, Jog falls.

 So about our trip:

 Who all: Five friends: Avijit, Smruti, Srikant, Nihar & myself

Dates: 13th July (Friday evening) Started from Bangalore. 16th July Morning (Monday) we were back. [10-11 hrs journey each way]

How: By SRS sleeper buses (Rs 500). Try to get front sits. Back sleeper seats may make you feel like going in Bullock-cart. Buses are ok with decent neatness & cleanliness (6/10).

Stay: Namaste café (OM Beach). Rs 900 dual share cottages (upstairs). They also had Rs. 1500 cottages (downstairs n more closure to beach). Being one of the few options that remain open through-out the year, so expect crowd here, especially on weekends. It is also known for best food servicing restaurant in the town (western food, salad, pasta, pizza, sandwiches n North Indian food). It was serving only KF beer.

 Cottage neat ness n cleanliness : 6/10. Although provided with mosquito net, bed, hot water & cold water facility, everything was bit dampy (becoz of rain & off season factor). But then “itna paise main itna hij milega”. For couple, downstair cottages are recommended (Rs. 1500). For bachelors, upstairs are fine 😉

Environment: 8/10. It is green & it boasts of many small creatures (especially during monsoon). Beware of one of such creatures in your room.

Namaste Café food taste: 7-8/10.

Cost: 8/10. The cost was below my expectations. Location, ambience, service are all worth the money spent.

Overall Experience of stay: 8/10. If localities had taken care of neatness in beaches, it would have 9/10.

  Day1 (14th July): Reached Gokarna by 8:30AM. Auto from bus stand to Namaste café (7-8KMs), charged 125 bucks. After having cold-hot water bath & savoring on western style sandwich, we headed straight to hiking (from OM beach to Paradise beach to Bellekan village). Returned from Bellekan to OM Café in an auto, coughing out 250 bucks. After having lunch went to Kudlee beach via beautiful OM beach garden. After having bath n fun in Kudlee beach, we trekked back to OM beach just before final rays of sun were to hit Gokarna for the day. Whole evening n night was to be spend with friends & celebrate French revolution day in our own way, as occasional monsoon clouds hit the land for the first time in their journey.

 Day 2 (15th July): While all my friends were dozing off after late night sleep, I woke up at 7 to inhale fresh morning sea breeze along the coast. To my surprise, there were many like me doing the same. I just sat on a rock to gaze sea above sea, albeit a black one. While fishermen were going n coming from sea, dogs were sleeping after securing the beeches whole night (don’t know from whom). People like me had looks of appreciation towards hard working, but scantily earning fishermen, who were busy in removing the smallest & scantiest of the fishes, who were unlucky to get into their nets. For couple of hours the same drama continued, as I thought about the clouds, which will travel more thousands of kms in this country giving life to millions while taking back few in return. Wish I were a monsoon cloud. With this note, I returned to my room to freshen up. Finally after morning activities & breakfast we made a sudden plan to go to Yana. By 12:30 we checked out & were on our way to Yana. Reached there by 2:30PM. After 1.5 hrs walk of historical geography, we went to Gokarna to pay our homage to al-mighty for creating such a beautiful world & giving us an opportunity to enjoy a part of it. It was 5:30PM with still two hours left for our bus to leave for Bangalore. Killed half n hour in beach & then just relaxed in bus stop for an hour.

 Bus started at 7:30 PM & we reached Bangalore next day 6:30 AM, after a humpy n bumpy ride. Overall a relaxing holiday came to an end, with plans for next in the making.


Gokarna: 8/10 (Good for anyone & everyone, for a chillax weekend)

Namaste Café: 8/10….so highly recommended

SRS travel for journey: 6/10

 Just be flexible, respectful to culture, respectful to nature (please please don’t litter), drink responsibly. Wish you a happy, safe & clean journey.


Gokarna is indeed very beautiful. But littering is a serious problem. All the beaches are littered with plastic water bottles, chips packet & booze bottles. Let’s not be the last one to appreciate it’s beauty.

Please be an “explorative & not an exploitive tourist”.

Useful links: