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.    

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Clever Title

The next town we visited was Jodhpur, home of the Mehrangarh Fort. The fort is perched on top of a craggy montain in the centre of town, making it look even more imposing. I still haven't managed to get any pictures off my camera, but here's one I stole from Wikipedia.

The fort was built to be confusing for invaders to navigate, something which it still succeeds at - in the palace areas inside it's easy to forget you're way up in the sky and to come out onto a balcony looking over the city and across the desert beyond was a bit of a shock. While in Jodhpur we also did a village safari in a jeep, visiting some of the Bishnoi people who live in the desert, watching them weave, cook, make pots, and drink opium tea.    

Next we went to Pushkar, a small lakeside town famous for having anywhere from 300 to 2000 temples, depending on who you ask. The lake is beautiful, but I really didn't like the town. There were so many people trying to scam, beg, or otherwise take money from us. This is a problem most places in India, but nowhere we've been is it anything like this bad. 

Luckily we were only there one night before going to Udaipur, also on a lake and also very beautiful, but without the hassle of Pushkar. We took a boat trip around the lake and got some great views of the amazing Lake Palace, a former royal residence turned hotel which seems to float in the middle of the lake. Also in Udaipur, though only glanced from afar on our boat trip, is the Monsoon Palace. This was the setting for Octopussy, a fact which is difficult to forget as every restaurant and guest house seems to be showing the film nightly.

According to my notebook Jaipur, our last stop in Rajasthan is "fucking disgusting, full of dogs and rats and horrible people running around in the rubbish." I think I was in a bit of a mood as we stumbled off a train in the wee hours and had to find somewhere to sleep, bu Jaipur should probably take some of the blame too. It's grotty and overcrowded and generally unpleasant. Fortunately on the outskirts are two very redeeming sights. One is Amber Palace and Fort, two very impressive old buildings which I can't show you the photos of. The other is the Monkey Temple - not its real name, but should be. This is a temple inhabited by thousands of monkeys. We went just before sunset: feeding time. Huge swarms of monkeys ran down the hill to the temple where they're fed. And we saw a monkey ride a pig.  

In my next post, we head South to Goa, where the blog will only be a month behind us!  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More From India

After Haridwar we went to Agra for our mandatory Taj visit. I'm sure enough's been said and written about the Taj to make any further comment by me a bit redundant, but I'll just say that they weren't lying. It really is as stunning as everyone says it is. We also visited Agra Fort, which is remarkable in its own way and probably suffers a bit from being the second most popular tourist attraction in the city. This was one time when we hired a guide to take us around a monument and it was really worthwhile. I learned all sorts of stuff about the fort that I would've missed completely otherwise. The fact that I've forgotten almost all of it doesn't dull my enthusiasm.

After Agra we took a very long, very late train across the country to Bikaner in Rajasthan. The town is very pretty and made up of clusters of tumbledown brick and concrete buildings, most three or four stories high but only big enough for two small rooms on each floor. We stayed in one of these at a homestay. We later found out the owner had tricked us into buying some souvenirs at a store where he received a big chunk of their highly inflated prices as commission. Had to happen I guess, but it's a nasty feeling being scammed by someone who seemed very genuine.

After two nights in Bikaner we caught a train across the desert to Jaisalmer. We were dreading this train because we knew we would have to travel second class, which I've heard involves packing people in worse than the Seoul subway's green line (no NZ analogy exists for that much human density, sorry). I've heard people even climb in the windows at stations in a desperate attempt to get seats. Like most things relating to Indian train travel, the names of the different classes is something of a mystery: second class - and its dodgy mate second sleeper - are the lowest of at least six classes. Luckily the train wasn't crowded and we had an interesting time trying to learn some bizzare card game that some locals insisted on teaching us, trying to explain our ipods to them, and watching the desert roll by.

After a pleasant if sandy trip (the windows don't have glass, presumably to speed up boarding) we pulled into Jaisalmer with its stunning golden sandstone fort. The fort is perched on a hill in the centre of the city and is still home to a lot of people and businesses. The idea that historical monuments have people living in them is very strange to me, and Jaisalmer fort actually feels more authentic because of it. I've also seen this in Korean hannok villages, where the houses are both museums and homes. SD card readers are almost non-existent in internet cafes here so I can't upload any pictures, but here's one I put on facebook earlier.

  Next stop, Jodhpur. . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

India, Finally.

Sorry it's been so long between posts, not carrying a computer has made some things difficult, but it's also meant not carrying a computer. Here's a very brief account of our first few days in India. Right now we're in Mysore and heading to Kochi tonight on an overnight bus.

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. We started our India trip in Delhi, where absolutely nothing happened, no-one tried to scam us every thirty seconds, and there definitely isn't shit all over the streets.

Next stop was Amritsar for the Golden Temple, an amazing building covered in 150 Kgs of gold surrounded by water. Even better than the temple itself is the food they serve free to anyone who shows up. Hundreds of people eat at a time in long rows on the floor of a huge dining hall. Temple attendants walk down the rows piling black dhal, chapattis, and rice pudding onto stainless steel plates that look suspiciously like those used for school lunches in Korea. While in Amritsar we made the trip out to Wagah for the border closing ceremony. Over the years this has developed into a huge ceremony with India and Pakistan trying to outdo each other by prancing around, stomping and doing crazy high-kicks.

After Amritsar we went to Rishikesh and Haridwar, two small pilgrimage cities on the Ganges. At Haridwar we saw the Ganga aarti ceremony, where pilgrims make offerings to the river at sunset. The place was packed and as the sun went down the riverside lit up with hundreds of burning offerings floating down the river. The Ganges is quite clean and peaceful up here, as much as either of those are possible in India, and the ceremony was beautiful.

That's all for now, I'll do my best to post soon about Agra, Rajasthan, and all the other places we've been.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This is where we are and where we've been, and where we are going:

(it's a google map!) Right now we're in Gokarna (L) and we're going to Hampi (M) overnight on a bus. India has been difficult, amazing, delicious, disgusting, beautiful... and a few more adjectives. 

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