Beach infatuation, Holi and Hampi

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March 31st 2013
Published: April 2nd 2013
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Long time, no Blog! Truth is, there's nothing exceptional to report. That said, I've still got a barrel of experiences to rummage around in, and here are a few token ones plucked out to keep the hungry Blog audience at bay!

As the title suggests, this week and a bit of travel has been beach-based. From Mumbai, I took the ferry and bus to Murad - a small fishing village between Goa and Mumbai. It's in the Lonely Planet for its long empty beach and chilled-out local "vibe" and I was not disappointed. Surprisingly, I had the beach to myself for the couple of days I spent there. Even more surprisingly, I couldn't help but set out on various pointless excursions around the area to appease my restless legs. You might've thought I'd earnt a break!

On the second day there, I spent a morning at the famous sea fort to the south of my beach - a hulking mass of stone that stands rigid and defiant 500m off the coast in the Arabian sea. It was once inhabited by pirates and was apparently never successfully invaded! To get there, I had to cram onto one of the local fishing boats and use the traditional sails to sweep us over to the solitary doorway that thankfully opened up to receive us. Annoyingly, I was the biggest tourist attraction in the vicinity. The domestic tourists I explored with were forever sneaking photos of me and asking for posed ones next to me instead of next to the gigantic canon that the guide was jabbing at in Hindi. It felt faintly ludicrous that throughout their tour they were filling their camera phone with images of a red-nosed white man, so I began implementing a pseudo-charge for my services (a very reasonable 10 rupee per photo). The fort itself was not a patch on some of those I've seen in India and Turkey, but it was still a great couple of hours and gave me the excuse to walk the beaches and bays back to my beach-side hotel, alone in a paradise of sand, palms and rhythmic blue waves.

It was a long old journey to Goa. It was one of those days that the backpacker chucks into the junk pile of their experiences and tries not to think about. I did see potentially the world's biggest rat on the street of my destination city - Mapusa - though, so every cloud! I was advised by a friend to check out Asterix Hostel in Vagator (northern beach area jammed with Russians) and so took the bus there in the morning and headed to the hostel. It was a brillaint place and one I'd advise anyone in Goa to visit. 10 minutes after arriving, I was setting off on an impromptu trip to a spice plantation and waterfall with 10 other backpackers. Both were nothing to shout about, but the involvement started a few good friendships, two of which carried through to my next destination - Palolem beach, Goa.

Dave and Ronan - 2 post-grads from London on an 8-month trip to escape the realities of adulthood (I hope they approve of that assessment)- kindly invited me to join them in their beach hut/shack/flimsy structure. On our second attempt, we got a beach "hut" for 100R a night each (1.20 quid a night!) which is pretty unbeatable. Though I think we all only planned to spend 2 nights there, we ended up staying a week on Palolem beach. Whether it was the flow of cheap beer, the ready availability of mouth-watering vindaloos or just the comfortable and secure friendship that we'd settled into; we sunk our backpacker roots deeper into the warm sand than intended, and had a fantastic week in paradise.

Holi, the famous festival of colour that is now being (fairly poorly) recreated in the Western world, struck when we were on Palolem - on the full moon of the 27th March. We'd stumbled, two days previously, across a brilliant local drum display in the backstreets behind our hut area, and this was promising for the festivities ahead. Ronan captured the enthralling pounding and hokey-kokey-like dancing on his camera. We were all tempted to join in, but hung back respectfully as the crowds cheered with joy, shouted with passion and roared at the crescendo with animated ecstasy. As the fierce drumming abated, the crowd marched past us to the next houshold on the road, and repeated the raucous display. Top quality entertainment, and some that whet the apetite ahead of Holi.

We laid off the drinking on the night before Holi in the anticipation of a brilliant day of celebrating. I was the first to rise in the morning and, with the eagerness of a child running to check their Christmas stocking, I rushed outside to inspect the scenes of carnage that I'd expected to be unfolding all around us. Colour, indeed, was daubed everywhere. Every slender palm, every unsuspecting cow and every small patch of sand had a splattering of coloured powder to create an eccentric multicoloured scene or surreal dream-world. I bounded to our hotel bar where I asked the lady where I could find the local celebrations. She delivered some devastating news: the main festivities had taken place the previous evening - the only evening that we'd delibratley hit the hay before 2am! Disaster! Surely we hadn't slept through Holi!? I ruched back to deliver the news to the barely conscious Ronan and Dave. Equally horrified, they jumped up (at a snail's pace) and set off with me to meet a couple of girls from Stoke that we'd agreed to share the Holi experience with the previous night.

Happily, the Stoke girls (Becky and Amy) had been conprehensibly Holi'ed. They were barely recognisable beneath layers of bright powders that matted their clothes and hair. Hurrah! Holi continues! It turns out that we'd missed a large chunk of "authentic" Holi. It was a pity, but we all knew that whatever Holi we'd see on a beach in Goa would be a world apart from the Holis taking place all over rural and less-touristy India. We all have unfinished business with Holi, and we know we'll return to sample the best Holi scenes, which tend to be in the northern cities.

We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon marching around the main streets, being engulfed in delerious hugs from partying locals - "HAPPY HOLI FRIEND" - and slightly awkward hugs from fellow tourists. There was a festival, celebratory air clogged with flying powders and one that we sunk into, purchasing our own batch of powder and quickly becoming walking canvasses of pinks, oranges, blues, greens, yellows, reds and purples. I think the Stoke girls were pretty pleased to be with us - the combination of drunken repressed Indian men and the touchy-feely festival had produced a fair few gropes and sexual advances in our absence. After roaming the streets and converting ourselves from drably dressed tourists into Holi-loving lunatics, we hit the long stretch of beach. Here, we found still more celebrating locals to ournumber the tourist crowds. Nearly everyone smiling on the beach was doing so because someone had just ruined their best top with powder. It was a wicked atmosphere.
Further entertainment was available in watching a struggling intoxicated fat Indian staggering around in the sand, his friends having given up on him completely. Indians simply cannot handle their booze! We nicknamed him "Wild Snorlax" after his collapse in the surf, seemingly blocking large swathes of the beach thoroughfare.

After another hour of mucking about with the powders, things got serious. The local kids (aged between 6 and 15) invited us into a local cricket game. I am proud to say that despite having been nearly blinded by a cloud of green, I managed to catch Dave out with heroic reflex handling. As usual, I was swiped from my high horse swiftly after bowling an over of wides and being bowled out for zero (again)! The game became a hybrid with a footie kickabout and eventually descended into discord through the unhelpful break in play triggered by flurries of powder throwing. The jury is out on the result, but Ronan came out particularly well with impressive batting and a couple of diving catches. All the excitement called for a beer, but this brief respite would be ended quickly as we left the bar and were ambushed by a well-armed group of Danes that obliterated us once again. To the outsider, it mustve looked like our bodies were spontaneously erupting large puffs of colour. And that is exactly how I'll remember Holi 2013. The colour still shows on my satchel, shirt and, I'm pretty sure, parts of my skin. Now, in the aftermath, it's still heart-warming and funny to see a cow grumble past with a huge pink blotch on one side. You've been Holi'ed, mate!

I now find myself in Hampi, the home of the famous temples and monuments that constitute (another) World Heritage site. The temples are less impressive than their awesome backdrop, though. The shy peaks of stone buildings are dwarfed by the surrounding mounds of boulders - some stacked up to ludicrous heights merely by the powers of weathering and erosion. Around these red and brown behomoths are the tall, angled plam trees that give the area it's lush greenery. A brilliant, sparkling river runs through the centre of the monuments and completes the inland paradise.

I am tomorrow embarking on a grim, grim journey to Kolkata to meet a couple of Brits who will accompany me in Bangladesh. 50 hours in the lowest class on the Indian rail system. I think it'll be one of those "at least I'm not in Allahabad" moments! Thoroughly excited for the unknown delving that'll greet me in Bangladesh, and twice as excited to be sharing it (if all goes well) with Kev and Rich, who I met in Ellora. Roll on April!

Love to all at home xxx


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