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Published: March 2nd 2015
Namaste from Goa! This is India with a subtle difference. We are no longer the odd ones out that locals want a photograph with. Candolim beach resort has a plentiful supply of Brits which incidentally make Colin look like a teenager and me a foetus! Benidorm does vindaloo is the tourist demographic here and I'm fitting in just fine.
I didn't understand the 'package deal' attraction to Goa until now. It's more than double flying time compared to your average Canary Island, and probably the same mathematical formula for the price. Maybe, just maybe, there are cute little resorts all over southern Europe with warm air temperatures in certain months? But then you go to the beach! Sorry but nowhere equals this, not in my experience anyway. Miles and miles of beautiful hot golden sand with palm trees, straw umbrellas, beach shacks falling over themselves to pour 650ml of Kingfisher for you and charge £1, and a blue sea warmer than my sunburn.
Tidal conditions are 'fun' to say the least. I've seen no serious surfers, and with zero knowledge of this I guess its because the waves form too close to the shore. Boy do they 'form' though! You can duck, dive, get bowled over, get de-trunked and bodysurf to destruction (or 15 minutes, whichever comes first).
My Goa daily ritual has become:- 8am wake up and get destroyed by the sea. 9:30am full English breakfast (this is Colin's idea and YES, they do them here) 10:30am misc shopping/wandering aimlessly. We mooch past bazaars, barbers (they keep asking me in??!) foot massage and shoe shine (would work well together but they arn't), contact lens and dental canvassers, and the bars. 11:30am Give in and go to the bar. 1pm Sunbed. 2pm Get destroyed by the sea. 4pm Colin re-appears from his darkened room and we both get destroyed by the sea. 5pm Beach shack beer. 6pm Get destroyed by the shower (the rooms are lovely by the way) 7pm Back to this morning's bar. 8pm Bengali Chicken, hottest curry I've had here, and it's the perfect balance of heat and spice. 10pm Balcony with 650ml Kingfisher which is only 57p at the supermarket. Oh and in case you were wondering...Colin had the steak.
Seems like I've been in Candolim for ages, and it took Sunday mornings taxi ride to Miramar to remind me we are still in a poverty stricken country. Five minutes along the road and we were back in 'India', albeit for a good reason. We'd found the Kingdom Hall for the Panaji English speaking congregation. Meetings are few and far between here, and so far we'd missed them all. Goa is actually a Christian state, so it wasn't long before the taxi driver told us he was Roman Catholic and keen to know what we were up to. He ended up attending the meeting with us and getting a copy of the Revised NWT!
Going back to the 'reminding me where I am' bit, I must tell you about Mumbai and Udiapur. Mumbai...wasn't nice...it just wasn't! This was the one place I really wanted to visit along with the Taj Mahal and I did see EVERYTHING I came to see. One morning spent in Dhobi Ghat, India's largest open air laundry. 10,000 people live and work here in appalling conditions. The entrepreneurs among them own or rent one huge concrete basin which they fill with water and detergent, throw in the laundry and then climb in themselves to beat the clothes against a rock and rub them with soap. Every item is numbered, then washed and dried according to colour. Finally the items are reunited and the numbers rubbed out. These were the 'better off' Dhobi's, the others did the same work for someone else, and a pitiful wage.
This wasn't the reason Mumbai 'wasn't nice', and Dharvi wasn't the reason either. Dharvi is oficially the world's largest slum, and this was what I wanted to see. My initial voyeuristic guilt was eased by reading about the industry and hard working ethics of Dharvi's residents. They were proud of what they'd achieved, and wanted you to see. But the bottom line was you should take an organised tour...just to be safe...and book it in advance!
Too late, there wasn't time to book the clinically constructed tour now. If we were going, it had to be that afternoon, so we went! Even the poor taxi driver didn't seem to know where to take us, which I found astonishing. Dharvi is infamous! But I now realise the slum is so big he didn't know which part we wanted, and why we would want the very middle of it anyway. On arrival he cagily offered to wait for us and this seemed good. Then we walked, and walked, and walked. We followed a straight line so there was at least a chance we'd find our way back. Every few feet there was an alley to the left or right, bearly wide enough to walk down. On the outskirts people seemed to 'expect' us and would say hello or shake hands. Youngsters smiled and looked away embarrassed when we smilied back. The further we walked the narrower the street became, until it was as restrictive as the side streets. We found ourselves turning sideways or rubbing along the wall to navigate past the now surprised residents. It got darker and darker as crumbling buildings nearly met overhead. Every industry is here in miniature, from tyre re-treading to cardboard recycling, garment manufacturing to car stereo repairs. And the darker it got, the more the children's smiles shone as we walked toward them.
So we walked right through the middle of Dharvi, and even managed to find our taxi driver dutifully waiting. None of this was what I didn't like about Mumbai, it was a truly amazing, life changing experience. The problem was all the other people we met, excluding this taxi driver. The hotel was squalid, inside and out, and staffed by the most unhelpful people I've met here. This seemed to extend to every local who comes in contact with tourists. The pre-paid, police controlled taxi driver who collected us from the airport should be certified, pulling over to shout at us on numerous occasions and demanding more and more money when he couldn't 'find' the hotel. I phoned for directions twice and gave him the handset but he shouted at them too and drove on. We 'jumped' from the taxi when an hour later he found the hotel, only for him to chase us into the reception where he had a full on shouting match with the manager.
The one and only place that people were actually 'nice' was the Taj Mahal Hotel. The famous afternoon tea is as good as, no BETTER, than everyone says, with customer service I haven't seen for years!
In between all of this we had three nights in Udiapur, the Venice of the East. Built on a man made lake, this walled city and fort is breathtakingly beautiful, and hot! Plenty of lakeside restaurants provided Kingfisher stops though, and we even got to stay an extra night! The eighteen hour sleeper train to Mumbai became two trains, 25 hours, and no reserved seats when the travel agent 'forgot' to book on time. A few text messages later we were booked on a 2 hour Indigo Airbus which was so new I don't think it was out of the wrapper yet!
Oh and Cliff Richard? The manageress at the hotel in Candolim thinks I look like him, a younger version I think. Really??!?
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