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Published: April 11th 2010
28/2 - 10/03
I've always had this vision of Goa as a kind of hippy-exotic-psychedelic hang out place. I had envisioned dance parties that would last for days and random guitar and bongo sessions on the sand with people with names like Sky and Zed. I think we may have missed the boat slightly though as we met more middle-class, middle-aged beer-drinking Russians than dance-til-dawn global ageless nomads. The closest I got to a dance party was during the pre-Holi celebrations where I managed to sneak into a roving street party blessing each house and then rousing the Gods with ear splitting drums. That said, we found a little haven in Goa called Palolem beach and very happily whiled away almost a week soaking up the sun and playing in the bath-warm water.
Palolem is actually one of the quieter beaches in Goa (I think there are actually still parties happening in the north but we didn’t venture that far). It’s set on a beautiful half moon of Golden sand with an endless string of beach huts along the waters edge which are rebuilt after the storms each year. For every group of huts there’s a little
restaurant/bar which all serve pretty much exactly the same food and happy hour cocktails (drink is much cheaper here than elsewhere in India). Matt was very happy because he could finally have steak again - Goa is predominantly Christian so not the same restrictions on beef and alcohol. Tal, our Israeli friend had travelled with us from Hampi and we also met up again with Minnesota Michael and his friend jack from the UK. After a few days of sunshine, swimming and Frisbee, we decided to see a bit more of the place and hired some scooters to explore the surrounding area. We had a great day whizzing around to all the local beaches (there’s some really spectacular and quiet ones north of Palolem) and also seeing some of the beautiful Goan countryside. It’s a small state but very green and lush and the Goan people are fantastic. As I mentioned, we were there in the run up to Holi - one of the biggest annual Hindu celebrations. For five nights before Holi, preparations are made by way of house blessings and general musical shenanigans. Different families host a local street party each night preparing food for anyone who cares
to eat (they must prepare food for at least 100 people regardless of how big the village is). Although we did see some candle lighting and chanting, Really it seemed like a good ‘aul excuse for the lads to get loaded and the woman to get together and have a laugh and prepare food - not that different from some Irish holy days I suppose. One of Tal’s friends invited us to join in on one of the nights so Tal and I tagged along with the merry making. It was great fun although I bailed out after a couple of hours before the food came. The next day Tal told me that he had sat through a 3 course dinner in one house and was just about to wobble home when another family insisted that he also eat with them. This happened in 3 different houses - he swore he wouldn’t eat again for a week!
When our friend Michael told us that he was heading to Mumbai in time for the actual Holi day and would also head out to the Ellora and Ajanta caves, we decided to join him. We had debated what we would
do with our last couple of weeks and as we didn’t have time to go back to Rajasthan, we thought the caves would be a nice alternative. So, we booked our overnight train to Mumbai and embarked on a very dusty, bumpy 12 hour trip. We hadn’t managed to get an AC berth….it’s definitely worth going 2AC on the long trips but we were quite late in booking. Matt’s friend and colleague from work Andrew, is now living and working in Mumbai. We had hoped to meet up with him and his wife while we were there but they were actually on holidays. We were disappointed not to see him but then Andrew offered us his place to stay in while we were there and the use of his car and his driver which was incredibly generous and really made our stay in Mumbai something very special. After our dusty, dirty train trip, it was an absolute treat to be picked up in an air conditioned car by the lovely Ramesh. After refreshing ourselves, we set out to see what Mumbai was all about. We really were blessed to have a nice place to stay - we were in what
is probably the most exclusive area of Mumbai and as a result, our experience was very different to what it might have been had we been in backpacker mode. I had been reading Shantaram and so was very excited to see the charismatic, tragic, glamorous star of that book which is the city of Mumbai. It’s a place of contradictions and extreme contrasts. Incredibly expensive hotels and restaurants and uber-modern shops and bars thrive just moments away from sprawling slums, bustling street markets and ancient temples. Shiny SUVs weave in-between the tiny black and yellow “bumble bee” cabs and of course the odd street cow…we’re still in India after all. We popped in to the Taj hotel on our first night and then ended up having a couple of drinks in Leapold’s - one of the main haunts of the author in Shantaram …I really hoped he’d be there! The next day was Holi proper. We’re not entirely sure why but the main way of celebrating is to throw brightly coloured powder over anything that moves. I managed to get away lightly but Matt came away with a lovely purple face! We got a couple of great pics of some
of the locals completely covered in paint as well as a couple of game Aussies who got caught in the cross fire.
I had been researching dental clinics in Mumbai as I had heard there was some excellent dentists - I had some things that I wanted to do that I knew would be a lot cheaper than in Oz. After a number of consultations, I decided on one clinic. Because my dental work was going to take a few days, I decided to only go out to the caves on a day trip and left the boys to stay out there longer. It was a lot of travelling for a day trip (6 hours each way - the return was a night train) and I only got to see the Ellora caves but it was well worth it. The caves are amazing - monolithic cathedrals and temples cut out of the rock face. Some of them were so intricate that they looked like wooden structures. The oldest ones were Buddhist and then Jain and Hindu - some were as old as 800 BC (I think..need to check this). Whilst the boys carried on to Ajanta, I started
with my dental treatments - spread over five days and including replacing all my amalgam fillings and two wisdom teeth removals….ouch! They were very professional though and a fraction of the price - it’s definitely worth considering getting medical and dental work done here.
Matt and I spent our last couple of days in Mumbai touring with Ramesh. He took us all over the city to see: where the Bollywood films are shot (very disappointed that I didn’t get to be an extra….will have to come back!); where the whole city’s laundry is done - thousands of people washing and scrubbing and hanging up everyone’s blue jeans and sheets; the biggest Ganesh temple in Mumbai (the Darshans/blessings were even more manic than at Amma’s Ashram), the Haj Ali Mosque - a pearl white temple floating mirage like in the bay and joined to the mainland by a causeway strewn with beggars and flea merchants during low tide (it becomes an island at high tide) and finally the national park where we had hoped to see tigers but settled for more wonderful cave temples (the tiger encounter is closed on Mondays). We also took did a day trip ourselves
Bumble Bee Cab in Mumbai
with a very happy Holi'd passenger
out to Elephant island. We got a ferry from the very atmospheric India Gate, in front of the Taj Hotel and spent the day looking at yet more caves and some very entertaining monkeys and perusing the crafts in the big long market that lines the long, steep staircase from the ferry up to the entrance of the caves. We topped the day off by going to meet Matt’s brother for dinner - by happy coincidence he was in town for a few days. We had such a lovely night and one of our best India meals to date at the Peshwar restaurant in the Marriott ….mmmm lamb!
We both had mixed emotions about leaving India. We were definitely ready to go but we both knew that we would miss a lot of things about India and that our experience here would stay with us for a very long time. It was funny though - on the day that we left I was really reminded of some of the startling contrasts here: whilst waiting for our flight, I bought a coffee which cost me almost $5 (we could have bought two lunches for this in most places) and
The Clegg Bro's reunite
and we celebrate some wonderful news - congratulations Al and Gemma
then while sitting in the plane waiting to take off, I looked out the window for a final goodbye and spotted the slum running alongside the runway, at the edge of which were a row of 5 bare bottoms, all mid their morning rituals ….Ooh India!
So, in my typically late fashion, I am finishing up this blog from Australia. Matt and I are sitting here with a nice cold drink by the beach and with a bit of distance behind us we came up with a list of what we miss and don’t miss about India so far: Things that we will miss about India:
*The hospitality, warmth and friendliness of almost everyone we met. Yes, a lot of people want to sell you something and it’s easy to get jaded thinking that you’re being ripped off. However, a lot of people that we met were just genuinely lovely and so curious about us - who we were, where we were from, what we thought of India and of course how long had we been married and how many children we had so far…eerrrr!!
*The diversity of the travel experience. We had almost
3 months here and we really only saw a fraction of the country. From the little we saw though, we were constantly surprised by the difference in landscapes, customs, languages and food. You just couldn’t get bored travelling around India
*Curry! Matt had one pretty much every single day in India. He also chose to ignore the no meat rule and test the boundaries everywhere we went…he did ok too
*Colour. A dazzling array of colour at every turn from the constantly changing landscape to the bustling markets and ladies saris.
*Head wobbling! It took us a while to figure this out but so far we know that it might at any given time mean: Yes, Maybe, Thankyou, Welcome, Hello, How are you, Is that OK? An all encompassing gesture. It’s trickier to master than it looks though!
*Ladies’ fashion: The women always managed to look so graceful and colour coordinated. Their Saris were so beautifully coloured and elegant - it really struck us that even the poorest ladies and those working in fields and on construction sites were so wonderfully turned out. Although western dress is becoming more popular with younger people in the big
Crazy Silver Carriages in Mumbai
They were so ostentatious...I love them!
cities, a lot of women still choose to wear the Sari. We did see a lot of men in traditional dress but there are an alarming number who are still embracing the 70’s with a vengeance…think cream, wide flared trousers with an orange/brown tight-fitting, wing collared shirt. The women win I’m afraid
*Temples…everywhere you look. Such a rich, old culture. We didn’t get to Rajisthan unfortunately
*Value for money. Your dollar really goes a long way in India. Although it’s possible to do things in style and luxury (I’d like to do this some day!!), we were on a pretty tight budget and managed to live very comfortable on about $15 a day each
Our friends that we made - both local and fellow travelers, we were blessed to meet some wonderful people along our journey and hope to meet again some day
*The train journeys Things that we will not miss about India:
*Dirty streets and not much cleaner hotel rooms…ok we were staying in pretty budget places but really the standard of hygiene is a lot different to home. You kind of learn to cast a blind eye but
Evening Stroll by the water front in Mumbai
as the sun goes down, every Mumbaiker and their dog (literally!) is out on the waterfront - walking, chatting, flirting and hanging out
there were times when I just wanted to grab a mop and bucket and give a place a good scrub!
*The lack of personal space. We got used to it to a certain degree and Matt developed a quite effective backpack swinging maneuver
*Bad smells! Ok, I probably don’t need to elaborate on this
*Dodgy Tums - I had a couple of pretty bad bouts but you kind of learn to live with a constant low level dodgyness of the stomach. I guess you eventually become immune to the bugs but we didn’t stay around long enough
*Treading in crap - both of the dog and cow variety …especially on the beach …eeeuuuww
*Bartering. It was really hard to know what the real price was a lot of the time. I have to say though that Matt has a very special talent. His time in finance really came in handy as he ruthlessly screwed down every tuk tuk driver to as close to the local rate as touristically possible
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