Saturday, October 29, 2011

Goa and Karnataka

From Jaipur we flew to Goa, then caught four buses to cover the 65Km from the airport to Palolem Beach. One of our guidebooks describes Goa as "culturally unchallenging" and we wallowed in this and the water for a few days, swimming, lying on the beach and eating almost exclusively at a British-run cafe called The Cheeky Chapati. The highlight was a whole kingfish roasted in the tandoor. And the postcard-perfect beach I guess.

Next stop (100 Km, five hours, and four buses away) was Gokarna, a temple town on the Karnataka coast. Most activity in the town is centred around two large temples which are closed to non-Hindus following some unpleasantness that the Rough Guide wouldn't elaborate on. We opted instead to walk the path along the coast and over a jungle-covered hill to Kudle Beach, then over another hill to Om Beach. Om is the more beautiful of the two beaches - it really does look like the Om symbol for which it's named - but it was crowded and sadly strewn with more litter than a Delhi side street. We decided to stay at Kudle instead, in a very basic concrete shack thing. The room was simple and full of mosquitoes, but it was also nestled into the base of the cliff at the north end of the beach, looking back over the sand and sea.

On our last night there was a huge storm, as powerful as the summer floods in Korea, that seemed to appear from nowhere. All the guests and staff huddled in the restaurant as the rain bucketed down and flashes of lightning lit up the whole kilometre-long beach. Next day everything was fine again and we wandered back along the path to Gokarna town where we caught a thoroughly unpleasant overnight bus to Hampi.

Hampi is a small village squatting in the crumbling remains of a great city. Vijayanagara was a city of over 500,000 people and the capital of a vast empire in southern India. "Modern" Hampi's main street occupies only part of one of Vijayanagar's several bazaars, souvenier shops and dosa joints shoved haphazardly into oppurtune gaps in half-collapsed stone walls.The ruins of temples, bazaars, and other buildings spread way out into what is now goat grazing land miles from town.   The whole thing is strewn with boulders that look as though they've been carefully balanced by some bored deity wanting to mess with people. We spent two days here exploring the ruins on foot and on hired bicycles before heading south to Bangalore.    

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