Friday, 27 April 2012

Beach hopping to the south

What a travel day. Last Saturday 21 April was epic - drive from Palolem beach to Goa airport 1.5 hrs, wait, fly to Bangalore 1 hr, wait, delay, wait, fly to Cochin 1 hr, drive to Varkala 4 hrs reduced to 3 hrs due to crazy driver.

I decided after leaving Goa to skip Cochin and head straight to the little cliff top town of Varkala. Cochin is a big town and supposed to be really cool but with only 6 days left in the country I needed to get south to Trivandrum for my flight to Sri Lanka on Friday 27.

The epic travel day wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Bangalore airport is new and very fancy, a great place to hang out. And there was free wifi if you registered with an Indian phone. Not having an Indian phone didn't stop me. I asked a kind professor-looking man if I could use his phone to register. He gladly helped out a poor hippy looking foreigner.

The flight to Cochin was cool - a big new plane and a spare seat next to me. I settled in, inserted by ear plugs (absolutely essential for any travel in this country) and snoozed. I just wish the flight was longer!

Grabbed my pack at Cochin airport and jumped into the car with a quite sane and normal looking guy. Little did I know he had ambitions to be a racing car driver or got his license on the dodgem cars. Thank god it was dark so I couldn't see what was coming at us when he turned a 2 lane road into 3! Kinda common in this country.

But I'd had a long day and couldn't be bothered to panic or ask him to slow down, so I put in my iPod and relaxed while being thrown around the back seat in a non-stop frenzy.

Green Palace Hotel in Varkala is like a palace, at least compared to some of the places I've stayed. It is set back slightly from the cliff top path and has a fab balcony with views of the ocean.

My double expresso with a view.

Varkala is the cutest place. There is a big car park place in the centre area of the cliffs then paths to the north and south cliffs. It's so cool to wander around the shops and down the steps to the beach without dodging cars or hearing honking horns.

My three days here were spent on the beach, drinking expresso or banana lassi and having Ayurvedic massage. Then the storm hit. It was cool sitting on my balcony watching the lightning and the wild ocean. I finally had reason to pull my hoodie out of the bottom of my pack! It wasn't at all cold but I needed a hood to make the dash out for dinner.

And because this town is on the coast there is fresh seafood. My first non-veg meals in ages.

After brekkie on Anzac Day I packed my bags and got back in the car with the racing car driver. What the hell, the trip to Kovalam is only 1.5 hrs and I was up for a bit of amusement park fun. The driver was actually really sweet and he asked if he could pick up his family so they could buy school books in the big town. Why not I thought after checking if he meant his entire extended family or just a couple of people - well you never know here, everyone is family!

So me, the crazy driver, his wife and a couple of kids headed south.

The weather in Kovalam is a little overcast and a bit windy - but the cool Lighthouse Cape Hotel is on the beach. Ocean views once again from my balcony. There are only 4 rooms and the family live here so it's more like a haveli than a hotel. And OMG it is clean and shiny.

The southern Indian coastal towns are a world away from the deserts of Rajasthan. There seem to be lots more tourists and I've even heard an Aussie accent. I'm so pleased I experienced the north before I started beach hopping. This isn't the real India but is fun for a beach lovin' Aussie.

Now it's Thursday night, my last night in this mad, crazy, amazing country that is India. Will I be back, I hope so.

- Posted from somewhere round the world...


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Palolem paradise .... it's a tough life

Sitting on my deck, feet propped on the side of a palm tree relaxing before I head out for dinner with new friends. This place is a million miles from the amazing but bustling (and dirty) places I visited in the north.

Don't get me wrong, there is still dirt in the towns and loads of rubbish around the back of some places - I'm in India, but rather than my feet black from the dust every night I have sand covering my toes.

The regular visitors to Goa say this is india for beginners. That's a good way to describe it.

And I know there are rats arounds because I've seen the staff set cages, but I'm trying to ignore that. Actually the guys at my huts say they never catch any and look very disappointed - not sure if thats the truth but I'll believe them for now.

It's coming up to monsoon season so it is hot, really hot. Earlier this week I was wondering if I would ever feel cool again. Then I worked out how to turn the hot water off in my hut and today there is a slightly cool breeze. It didn't last long but it was a welcome relief.

The days have been spent walking on the beach, swimming and reading on my sun lounge or relaxing on the swinging day beds. Oh, and being chased by 3 dogs as I was walking home along the beach when the power went out. Thought I was going to have to practice a bit of muay Thai on them. Luckily someone let off some fireworks which sent them running away scared.

Sunsets on the beach are stunning.

Mango pineapple watermelon coconut. No comma as my fruit man strings these words together continually. But his pineapple is fab.

My last view of Palolem beach before taking on a big travel day. It's nearly the end of the season so the beach is getting quite. Wish I could stay.... but I know for sure that one day I will be back.

- Posted from somewhere round the world...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Agra, The Taj & Happy Holy Festival

Links to other pics from India so far

Jaipur Agra, the Taj and Happy Holy festival Varanasi Calcutta and saying goodbye

India - Udiapur photos

India - Delhi & Jaisalmer photos

Getting to Goa

Given the thousands of km's we had travelled - by overnight sleeper train, local crowded bus, day trains,boats, camels, auto -rickshaws, taxi cars and on foot, I seriously questioned by decision to stay in Calcutta an extra night (well that was cause I gave the travel dude the wrong date) and I also seriously questioned the 3 day stop over in Mumbai.

Now don't get me wrong, every place has it's own good and bad spots. Calcutta is a town trying to be American. The main street, Park Street has a wide selection of upmarket goodies to meet your needs. It also many,many people living in harsh condition, but the people are proud, of their city and of Eden Park, a great cricket field.

As you would be aware, I checked in to 2 days of luxury as a reward. The Park Hotel was quite funky and the room was a treat.... no stains on the wall, no holes or stains in the bedding, a proper shower, OMG clean fluffy towels and a western standard bed. Woo hoo.

I had a great farewell dinner with the UK girls and thought I was feeling a bit off due to too much food. But once again Delhi belly had struck! I didn't get to lay by the or visit the spa, I was curled up in my room for 2 days. On the upside, I was curled up in a very coft and cozy bed!

I wasn't sure how I'd go flying but was taking drugs so hope all would be ok.
I landed in Mumbai and headed to the beachfront hotel i picked up as a bargain. Now Novotels, from my Glenn Waverly experiences aren't too flash. But this place was amazing. Even comfier bed, ocean view and all the trapping you could want.

I organized my IPL cricket tickets for the next night then headed to my comfy bed for a great sleep. The day was spent poolside overlooking the ocean. There was no need to get in the ocean as it was a bad colour, didn't want to know what was in that water.
Then at 5.15 it was off to the game. One of the guys from the concierge desk came with me to sort out transport and to get me through the mad crowds. But it was all quite easy. The AFL could learn a few things from the efficient Indians.

The game was a scream. The crowd were on their feet chanting and dancing well before the match started. I was disappointed that Tandulka wasn't playing but there were so many big names it didn't matter. Pollard was the star for the Mumbai Indians scoring something like 68 runs off 42 balls. Brad Hogg made this Aussie proud (even though he was playing for the royals) with some great bowling & 2 wickets. He also had a he'll of a time with the crowd when he was fielding on the boundary.
It was a close finish so the noise levels increased, as did the dancing and playing of musical instruments. The Pies army think they have it sussed but these crazy cricket fans leave them for dead.
Plans for the next day included a big tour of Coloba and the many sites of this cosmopolitan city but after arriving home at 1am and still feeling worn out from being sick, I opted for a walk around town then another pool day.

So Friday 13th was a travel day. I managed to get in another swim before heading to the airport for the one hour flight to Goa. What I didn't realize is the Goa airport is 1.5 hrs from the southern beaches. Not to worry, the little dude cranked up the music and we sang all the way.
Art Resort, Palolem Beach .... I have found home. There are 7 little huts, basic but clean and cozy. The restaurant bar is right on the beach (with sun lounges) and there are day beds swinging from trees and hammocks to relax in.
This little green number is home for the next week!

There was no option but to have a beach day. The beach is relatively quite as it's coming toward the end of the season but there are enough people around to make it interesting. I have never seen a cleaner beach in all my Asian travels and the water is pristine with a few waves to play in.
I chose my sun lounge and settled in.I think this is the first time I have really relaxed in india. I actually woke up yesterday thinking I was in a different country!
My day was filled with sun baking, swimming, strolling the beach then a massage. I thought this was the perfect end to a perfect day but I was wrong.
I'm sitting in a swinging day bed watching the sun set when a band starts up. Two guys on guitar started the session with a funked up version of Green Green Grass of Home! I settled in for some dinner, a few cold kingfishers and sang along all night.
- Posted from somewhere round the world...

Monday, 9 April 2012

The holy city of Varanasi & saying goodbye in Calcutta

Everything I had read about Varanasi mentioned how it 'wasn't the cleanest' city in India. Given where I had been and what I have seen I had my doubts about this place - but I loved it. Another mad and crazy auto rickshaw ride across town dropped me at the hotel. It is in the old part of town near the Ganges so I was expecting to start feeling holy very soon.

The dude in red is the train porter with my heavy bag on his head. he wanted 50 cents, I splashed out and gave home $1.

I went for a walk along the river and past the ghats. It is quite sombre seeing the bodies burning but the whole process and ceremony kinda makes sense.

What didn't make sense was right next to the fires were dudes in the river brushing their teeth, women washing (I kept an eye out for my laundry), piles of kids enthralled by their cricket game and cows being scrubbed down in the holy river. But India is certainly a country of contradictions.

Up at 5am the next morning for a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges. The city was coming to life and the morning rituals (and baths) were taking place.

Brekkie at Bread for Life - amazing oats with cinnamon.I'm easily pleased these days!

Sue and I had just sussed out a hotel across town with a pool when a sandstorm hit. Being the bright spark that I am, I sat on my balcony and watched the storm pass, with the door open.

A lightening storm followed the sand as I spent quite some time cleaning up. Then it was back to the Ganges for a sunset boat ride and to see the evening rituals and to light ceremony candles.

The candle ceremony was quite good for the first couple of candles - but the boat dude lit around 60 candles and there were only 8 of us on the boat.

There were hundreds of people sitting along the river and in boats watching the ceremony. It was kinda interesting but we got bored quickly so headed home for dinner. These guys perform the same ceremony every night and they weren't even synchronized!

Cruised around the streets of Varanassi the next day still waiting to become enlightened the it was off to the station for an overnight train to Calcutta. Simon loaded up with food for the journey.

Hotel Victerrace in calcutta is a bit dodgy. It quickly became very dodgy when I realized half the town could see me in the shower!

I headed out for early farewell dinner with my new friends, or that was the plan. Indian wine, kingfisher beers and the odd tequila shot then it was back to the hotel bar where someone produced a bottle of rum. To me indian rum is a cross between cough mixture and mouth wash.

Some Indian men were getting upset by the noise we were making (jealous of our fun) so as we were saying our goodbyes a fight broke out between the Indian men and the waiters with a couple of our group in the middle.

We were packed off to our rooms - congregating in my room which had the best view of the fight that now spilled into the street. It was entering until the Calcutta police arrived. Quite a memorable way to say goodbye to my family in India.

I packed up the next morning, scored 12 runs in my innings of street cricket (the little boy isn't a good photographer!) and treated myself to luxury for 2 nights. OMG I can't believe it - no stained sheets, no holes in the walls and a clean bathroom with great water pressure. Well let's face it, the 1 star places I was staying in made the Novotel Glen Waverley look like the Ritz!

The UK girls came over and we had dinner in the fancy-pants restaurant, a tasting menu with 13 dishes. Well 14 if you count the birthday cake that a lovely Indian lady shared with us.

What a way to say goodbye.

- Posted from somewhere round the world...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Majestic Taj and mad streets

I boarded the local bus in Pushka on Fri 30 March, headed for Jaipur the capital of Rajasthan state.

Checked in to the strangest hotel - kinda a cross between faulty towers and an oversized motor inn. But it's close to the happenin' part of town so that's a good thing. It's a bit weird to be in a big city after the hectic but chilled towns of the desert state.

Headed out with the UK girls in rickshaws to see what the town had to offer. Saw a mighty big fort (yep, there's one in every town), another temple (about done with them) and some other cool sites in the Pink City. Dinner the second night was in the grounds of an amazing hotel. We now know what the accomm is like if you don't choose the basics trip!

Another morning, another local bus. This time to a small town called Bharatpur. Not sure why I stopped here for the night, I'm not into bird watching - the local tourist attraction. But we have a pool so you know how my afternoon went.

Woke up excited on Monday 4 April as we were off to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Although there was a little trepidation as I'd checked out Hotel Sheelah online and it looked really dodgy.

Liked my dodgy room at Hotel Sheelah, dumped the bags and went for a wander round town, planning to go to the Taj at 4. There seems to be a festival every day in India and while I'm not sure what this one was, it looked amazing seeing people walk down the street covered in colored powder and music pumping.

Next thing Nat and I are in the middle of everything, showered in pink and purple, dancing and laughing. Walking the back streets was a hoot covered in powder with everyone calling out Happy Holy.

Home for a quick shower then off to the Taj. It is very hard to describe something so amazing. Despite the hordes of tourists I was in awe.

Dinner at a roof top restaurant was fun as a mobile nightclub set up on the corner. The locals had all the moves!

Set the alarm for 5.30am and headed back to see the Taj at sunrise. Bonus of Hotel Sheelah is that it is only 5 mims from the east gate. There were quite a few oldies on front of us but they stopped to take pics of the entrance so the UK girls and I were the first people to enter through the arch and view the Taj. It was even more amazing to be there with no one else around.

Ah the serenity!

All set for the overnight train so went for a walk to fill in some time. You wouldn't believe it, the festival party headed down the street. I got covered in powder again but loved it. Managed a quick shower and change before heading to the station.

The overnight train was great, I slept for most of the 12 hours. I am now in Varanasi, the holiest city in India. I expect to be very pure by the time I leave here!

I have so many pics, will post links to the online album when I find decent wifi.

Posted from somewhere round the world...