Edit Blog Post
Published: January 3rd 2010
With a day to kill in Mangalore before getting the train to Goa for Christmas we decided to visit a couple of local Hindu temples and what a contrast they were...
The first, Mangaladevi Temple, is very famous in Mangalore and we arrived at around midday as many people were giving pujas (offerings and prayers) in the temple. It was pretty rundown from the outside but as you went in (shoeless - and offering up a little prayer myself that no-one decided to trade in their knackered flip flops for my Birkenstocks) there were about 3 or 4 separate altars / temples - each with a different deity. Each was attended my some 'monks' (not sure what they're actually called, but you get the picture). These guys accept the offering - often flowers or food, sometimes money - and then the devotees are able to make their prayers and take some ash or paint, mix it with some holy water and apply it to themselves as a sign of their prayer. These are the little coloured dots often between the eyes or low on the forehead or sometimes on their throats (different to the bindi, which is a sign of
Embarrassing facial hair ladies?
Shiva admired her friend's fantastic handlebar moustache.
marriage and comes down from the hairline - my apologies if I've got this wrong, I'm kind of going on what I've picked up).
Anyway it was initially quite peaceful but then a guy on a saxophone started playing and bells started ringing and drums were banging and all sorts of chants started up and everyone kind of moved round between the different temples. Bit like musical temples. I was standing at the most crowded and people were trying to squeeze their way to the front to make their offering and catch a glimpse of the deity. A lovely Indian man could see I was struggling to see and even though he was obviously there to pray and I was just there to gawp he beckoned me over and pushed me to the front so that I could see. Once at the front I could see that the monks were in front of a really ornately carved silver doorway which led to another, and that to another again and then you could see the deity/statue which was again in ornate silverwork but draped in beautiful coloured silks and garlands of flowers with incense burning around it. I felt lucky
Christmas Eve by the fire
with a Kingfisher on Patnem Beach
to have seen it, though didn't feel any spiritual enlightenment sadly so didn't feel the need to part with any rupees as my own puja!
We then moved across town to see another temple - the Kudroli Temple, which although another Hindu temple, was quite different. It was big and glitzy and quite gaudy and tacky. All the temple buildings were painted gold, the 'monks' were playing or texting on their mobile phones as people prayed and offered their pujas and in the grounds was a huge musical fountain that is surrounded by big plaster figures. There were also these big plaster figures at various points in the grounds and at one side there were plaster animals in a kind of pretend zoo - including giraffes - very bizarre. It was like a mix of a 'corporate' style temple with some sort of theme park thrown in. Maybe this temple was doing better in the old collection plate and spending the money on all the glitz and glam?
On the subject of holy rituals I've noticed that often little girls (young babies and toddlers) have a black dot applied to their head and cheeks and their eyebrows are
drawn in really heavily. I haven't managed to get to the bottom of this yet but if anyone has any clues?
So having left Mangalore and headed for Goa with nowhere to stay and all the trains apparently booked up, we managed to get seats on a 'local' train which means stopping at just about every station on the way. On the way there were a range of beggars and entertainers on the train including a drag queen who just approached people, clapping his hands quite aggressively and winking and flicking his hair at blokes! I was surprised to see how many Indians actually considered this entertainment and handed over a few rupees.
When we got off the train at Canacona we shared a rickshaw with an English girl headed the same way and stopped in a cafe to grab a cold drink and find out about places to stay. There were vacancies but everything has pretty much trebled in price for Xmas/New Year. Randomly whilst we were having a drink my friend Emma - who I'd arranged to see in Patnem later pulled up on the back of a moped being driven by her friend John, who
Sneaking in a little sunbathing
before being moved on by security
was looking for his mate Rebecca who I was sitting down chatting to! 6 degrees of separation I'm telling you!! Anyway Emma's friend had done good work and managed to find us a beach hut at normal prices. Patnem is a pretty small resort with just some simple huts and bungalows and rooms, bars, restaurants etc. It's still pretty much chocca with Westerners though and is the least Indian place I've been. The beach is gorgeous though and its nice to have somewhere to chill for a few days after being on the go pretty much for the last few weeks. Oh randomly, there are cows that wander up and down the beach occasionally until they get moved on by the police - gently of course, they are considered holy after all!
On the evening we arrived we went to an open air cinema up on the cliffs to watch It's a Wonderful Life - it was lovely and I had a little tear - probably caused more by the beers! Christmas Eve night was good too, there was a big bonfire on the beach and one of the bars had an open mike session and all the little
kids were getting up and doing their Christmas carols - more tears! Then loads of fireworks which were brilliant!
Christmas Day was spent mostly laying on the beach, catching up on e-mails, a few phone calls home and then out for a delicious seafood Christmas dinner in the evening with Emma and some of her friends - it was lovely, and I think that coconut cocktails should be staple on all Christmas menus. Boxing Day we went on a boozy boat trip and saw dolphins in between snoozing on deck and swimming in the sea - much nicer than repeats of Only Fools and Horses and fighting over the last of the decent toffees in the Quality Street tin!
We decided to head down to Gokarna for a few days before New Year having heard that the beach was lovely and it was a pretty chilled out and unspoilt place.
Funny how people have different perceptions about the same place eh? We arrived and headed straight to one of the bigger beaches which involved being dropped off by the rickshaw at the top of some steep steps leading down on to the beach which was packed with
locals. Hugh sat with the backpacks in a cafe while I went into every cafe/bar on the beach - about 10 of them to see if there was any accommodation available - nada, nothing, zilch, nowt - except for a complete hole of a room with no bathroom, barely any roof, a pile of rubbish in the corner (when I say corner that kind of hints that there was a proper floor, there wasn't - it was just sand). I'd also noticed that everyone sat around in the bars was completely glassy eyed, stoned out of their minds and everywhere you turned you were in danger of being poked in the eye with a manky dreadlock - it was hippy-ville on the beach! The beach itself was filthy too - full of cows (and I don't mean the occasional one, I mean dozens of them), and therefore cowpats, stray dogs everywhere, loads of rubbish just thrown away and generally pretty nasty.
We were out of there pretty quickly and checked out the next beach but again there was no accommodation so headed back into Gokarna town. We found a grim room (with a squat instead of a western toilet
- nice!) and were ripped off because they could see we had nowhere to go and it was dark by now and there are no trains or buses out after mid afternoon. Anyway with somewhere to lay our heads at least we headed into town in search of food only to be hit by a mini monsoon - we had to take refuge in a little shop that was only protected by sheets of cardboard used as an awning! This also meant the power was out for most of the town for about 30 minutes. So the omens weren't great for Gokarna and we decided that we'd check out the local town and local beach properly the next morning before making our minds up.
Should have just trusted our instincts.... we walked into town the next morning and realised why it's such a draw for hippies. There are about 5 temples in this really small town and they're really important sites for Hindu's so the place was swarming with devotees and where there are devotees, hippies follow. I've never seen so many middle-aged, long-haired drop-outs in one place - well except maybe at Glastonbury!
Also, with it being
so full of temples there are cows everywhere (cows are considered really sacred as they apparently have something like 9000 spirits in them).
Now, I've been known to wear patchouli oil in my time and I tried really hard to find the hippy inside and like this place but it must be either very deeply buried or it's not there atall because there was nothing appealing about this place for me - and we decided to get the train out and back north to Goa.
So we headed a bit further up the coast and found ourselves a room in a little village called Benaulim. It's a really nice place and very relaxed although the weather was a bit overcast so we hired bikes and headed off around the country lanes to the next beach and then realised that actually the beach is really, really long and pretty wide and the sand very compact so we cycled up the beach itself which was really nice and just about the first bit of exercise I've done in weeks - and to be honest even that wasn't particularly strenuous.
The following day was still pretty overcast so we headed
up the road 30km to visit Anjuna market which is well known in Goa. It's a weekly market and full of just about any kind of tat you can think of. It's also a magnet for beggars because of the number of tourists there but you can pick up just about anything - your favourite football club T-shirt for about a quid, a Burberry pashmina (no, I don't know why you would....), Tibetan rugs, jewellery, tea, herbs, spices, cd's. I managed to contain myself and bought just a little purse, though Hugh came away with a pair of sheepskin gloves and a compass - planning for Nepal!
So for New Year's Eve we headed inland on a 6 hour train journey to Hampi, which is a UNESCO world heritage site - there are lots of ruins and temples here and it's all in a setting which is a little bizarre with massive boulders littering the landscape, making some of the ruins look a bit surreal. We made a bit of a faux-pas when we arrived - you can stay either in Hampi bazaar which central to all the temples or you can go across the river. We settled in
the bazaar - having heard that everywhere was booked up and seeing as we had a room which was OK. We bumped into some friends we'd met earlier in the trip so arranged to meet up for dinner and drinks. If only!!! Seems that the reason people go to the other side of the river is that they serve alcohol there - we were on the dry side on New Year's Eve!! We ended up in a rooftop restaurant with a bunch of other folk and we managed to get some black market rum and coke come midnight, but the police were constantly patrolling so we ended up sitting on cushions on the floor with the lights off - though we could see loads of fireworks going off from across the river at all the parties!
Hampi is considered very spiritual and there are lots of devotees here, the temples are really busy as is the river with people washing themselves and their clothes, and the streets are full of cow pats as there are loads of the sacred creatures wandering around. On New Year's Day lots of the houses and shops had put colourful Happy New Year messages
on the walkways (pavements would be pushing it slightly, it's mostly compacted mud covered in cow sh*t) using stone dust and coloured powder which they apply with their fingers, also everyone was wishing us Happy New Year and wanting their photographs taken- something we'd forgotten about whilst in Goa. Later we hired bicycles and after crossing the river we cycled to the monkey temple in punishing heat and when we got there we had to climb 650+ steps to the temple itself - amazing views though and of course loads of monkeys. We also walked/crawled/climbed to the top of Matanga Hill for the views which was fine for those in adequate footwear but a bit more treacherous for those idiots who decided that a pair of yellow flip-flops would be fine for clambering over rocks at a great height!
One morning I got up early and headed to the river as I'd heard that the temple elephant had a bath there most days. And sure enough when I got there, there she was - Lakshmi the elephant, laying in the shallow part of the river being scrubbed by her keeper and some enthusiastic helpers - and I soon joined
in! It was lovely, she just lay there obviously loving it, snorting water up her trunk and blowing bubbles. Unfortunately at one point she decided to blow bubbles from the other end too and we all laughed at the sound then grimaced as those of us down-wind smelt the result! Later I joined up with Gloria and Mel (we keep bumping into them!) and we went for a walk and ended up going on a trip up the river in a coracle - which looks like a huge wicker bread basket but is in fact a small circular boat made from a combination of wicker, waterproof animal hides and plastic coated in tar. It was a lovely way to travel up to the further temples and on the way the boatman showed us how fast he could make the boat spin - it was like being on the Waltzers.
So I'm a month into the trip now and I'd have to say that the most obvious effect of my curry and lager diet is not an India thin figure as I'd hoped but chronic indigestion! It's been a month since a hot shower and a soft bed but I
love it here - India is fascinating - you never know what's going to happen, but it almost always make you smile.
From Hampi I'm heading cross-country to Chennai then flying up to Calcutta - trains direct to Delhi are booked out until the end of January. This is where Hugh and I will part company - he's heading into Darjeeling and I'm heading into Varanassi - more devotees, more bathing in rivers, more cow sh*t!
I'll use this blog to wish everyone a Happy New Year, here's to 2010!
lots of love to all,
Tot: 0.08s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 13; qc: 48; dbt: 0.013s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb