This is to be a ‘free’ day, as we leave by overnight train late tonight.
We had a latish breakfast at ‘Bimbi’s’, along the road, with Bill, Joanna & Richard. We ate Indian ‘pancakes’ and enjoyed deep and lively discussions about the present ways of the world. Having such pleasant people to chat to has been a real bonus on this trip. We returned at 10.30 to sort out our things.
We booked out at midday and took our bags to the communal room then went to have a Chinese meal at a nearby restaurant with Sara before taking a tuk tuk to the MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road. This was supposed to be a good road for shops, but we weren’t very impressed. We did buy another holdall to put our increasing number of purchases in, as Adrian’s new bag wasn’t quite as big as the last one.
We had heard that there was a hotel here where we could use the pool, so went in to enquire. When we finally reached the floor of the ‘Health Club’, they charged us more than we had been told, and took ages getting change. They weren’t very helpful, but we were able to have a pleasant swim on the roof top pool, being the only people there.
We got a tuk tuk back to the hotel – our driver had a race with his friend, and passed him his lighted cigarette as he dashed along!
We had a cup of tea and cake with Sara at the ‘Oven’, then went with her and Vipul and Joanne & Richard to watch a Bollywood movie at the nearby cinema.
This was an experience – the cinema was quite smart, but the film was very long, and all was conducted in Hindi, with no subtitles! The main actor looked like a young George Best, and the plot was almost immaterial! People had brought their very young children, others had mobile phone conversations, and we ate hot popcorn in the interval.
Back at the hotel, we had soup and chapattis and shared a beer in the roof restaurant, chatting to Vipul and Sara.
Then it was time to get ready for our overnight train journey to Mangalore.
We weren’t the only ones to be feeling rather apprehensive about this, as we got into a van to take us the short distance to the railway station.
Waiting for the overnight train
Our 11.30 train arrived just a bit late, and we all swarmed on and tried to sort out our ‘beds’. The bunks were in tiers of 3, with 2 tiers by the windows. There was no privacy, we just put on the sheets, and got into bed. Amazingly we all had a pretty good night’s sleep. I was lucky enough to be given a bottom bunk, which made it easier to get out in the night, when all was really silent, with just sleeping bodies everywhere.
Thursday 16th March Off the overnight train, and a long drive up into the Coorg Mountains.
We all came to, and gradually the beds were stowed away.
We had been travelling northwards up the coast, but saw very little of it as we continued out of Kerala State and into Karnataka State, arriving at Mangalore at around 10 o’clock. Indian porters rushed on to the train to help carry our luggage up the stairs and over the bridge. Once again we marvelled as they piled 2 or 3 bags on their heads, with more in each hand.
Rosie and her porter
Our same bus had been driven up from Trivandrum, but by a different driver. It had taken him 16 hours.
We soon stopped for ‘breakfast/lunch’ in a local restaurant, where we ate ‘pancakes’, going under different names! The toilet facilities were pretty primitive – not the place to entice you to spruce up after a night on the train!
A quiet street in Mangalore
We started off on the long journey up into the hills, passing through several dusty towns and villages, and stopping at one to use the loo. We had many stares from the locals, and chatted to 2 friendly men from Sri Lanka.
We wound on up into the Coorg mountains – a forested area where the people are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great. The capital is Madikeri, and we stopped here to buy a few goodies. A demonstration was taking place against a controversial artist named Hussein who had been doing drawings satirising the Hindus.
We had stopped earlier by a delightfully cooling stream, and dangled our feet in the water.
We arrived at the Coffee Plantation at Capitol Village where we are staying, at 4.15, and soon were enjoying a cup of tea and a cake bought in the town, and refreshing ourselves with a shower, after our long journey.
In the evening we all had a beautifully prepared buffet meal in the shady courtyard, sitting out and chatting until late. It was much cooler up here.
Friday 17th March Enjoying the Coorg Mountains
We were both woken at about 5 o’clock by dogs barking.
Early morning on the balcony
It was a lovely morning, and we walked out around the small artificial lake before breakfast. This was served in the courtyard again and we had papaya, toast, omelette and idlis (rice ‘moulds’). The coffee was awful – it didn’t taste like coffee at all, which is ironic on a coffee plantation.
After breakfast 6 of us set off with Raj, our guide, for a walk through the plantation and along a road, finally coming to a strange Hindu Temple. This temple was completely natural, and was formed under a huge sloping rock. There were flowers and offerings, and a priest was chanting. We had had to take off our shoes a good way from the temple, and walk along the rough forest floor! It felt good to put our shoes back on again!
Raj pointed out many of the trees and plants as we walked along. The strange palm we had been admiring is apparently called Bihar. There were lovely views over the forested hillside, and we met a few locals coming from the market in Madikeri, which we plan to visit later.
We walked back down to the road, stopping by a busy little roadside stall where we all bought drinks. We walked past a school, where all the children, in their blue shirts and navy trousers/skirts called out to us and laughed.
Other girls, in peasant clothes, came out from the tent village opposite and posed for a photo.
We walked on to a pig farm, where the smell of the pigs was counteracted by the beautiful smell of the coffee flowers nearby.
It was nearly 2 o’clock when we arrived back at our accommodation, where we enjoyed a pleasant lunch of rice, chapattis and vegetables in the shady courtyard.
We set off again just after 4 o’clock, stopping first in the busy town of Madikeri, where it was market day today. We spent half an hour wandering through the crowded, colourful market, where there were piles of fruit and rice and fish cramped into the tiny lanes. The vendors were very happy to have their photos taken, and liked to chat.
From here we were driven out several kilometres to the local beauty spot – Abbey Falls. There were lovely views as we drove along. We descended lots of steps to view the pretty falls, where groups of young Indians were also enjoying themselves.
Now we were driven back to Madikeri to watch the sunset from a spot called the Raja’s Seat. The views from here were lovely, and there were crowds of Indians who had come to enjoy this beauty spot too.
We returned to the plantation to prepare for supper and found the water off again.
We enjoyed a lovely evening meal in the courtyard, including a pork dish – we hoped that it wasn’t from one of the pigs we had seen earlier! Vipul afterwards held forth with a long oratory on the state of India today.
We saw that a campfire had been lit, and we sat around for some time chatting until late.
Saturday 18th March A Tibetan temple en route to Mysore
We were up early to see the sun rise over the plantation. After breakfast, eaten under cover this morning, we left at 9 o’clock, heading for Mysore.
After an hour or so we diverted to visit Harangi Dam, travelling along a badly surfaced road for several kilometres. The dam was an enormous structure, and the surroundings looked as if they had seen better days. No photographs were allowed, so we had nothing to show for our long trek in the heat, and then up hundreds o steps to view the low level reservoir. We saw a couple of large fish far below, but it seemed ‘a long way to go to see a fish’!
Our next stop was to view the Golden Tibetan temple in the Namdroling monastery.
The Indian Government gave this area of land to the Tibetans after they fled from their country when the Chinese invaded there. The people have refugee status still, and run their village mostly under their own laws. It was interesting to see the dozens of young Tibetan monks, as we walked into the area of the large, ornate temple, where every bit of the wall was covered in elaborate drawings and patterns. Like similar temples in Bangkok, it was a bit ‘over the top’, but you couldn’t help but feel overawed.
Doorway of the temple
Afterwards we ate some typical Tibetan food in the canteen – Adrian had a spaghetti soup, and I had little dumplings filled with potato. Their ‘bread’ was like a bit of uncooked pastry! We bought some brightly coloured Tibetan prayer flags.
Then it was a long tedious journey to Mysore. The road had been dug up for almost the entire length, so it was continual potholes, unsurfaced road and diversions. This, along with the frequent animals (mostly cattle), and pedestrians and continual traffic of all sorts, made for a hair-raising journey as our driver ‘KK’, wound in and out at speed. We did see one truck which had toppled upside down, at the bottom of an embankment.
Finally we arrived at the huge and busy town of Mysore, famous for its grand palace, and pulled up outside our hotel, The Viceroy, right opposite the palace just before 4 o’clock.
At 5.30 we set off on foot with Vipul to visit the flower and vegetable market, said to be the most colourful in South India. We had to ward off the persistent flute sellers as we dashed along the crowded streets.
The market was certainly colourful, and the fruit, vegetables and flowers were beautifully displayed. There were also perfume sellers, as this town is well known for that too, particularly sandalwood. We bought several things, including limes, oranges, bananas, perfume, brightly coloured powder paints (which didn’t seem to wash off!), and an orange press, which we tried out when we got back to our room.
Colourful Mysore market
We had got lost as we neared the hotel, so spent some time exploring the back streets.
We ate tonight at an upmarket restaurant called Parklane, sitting on a ‘balcony’, and surrounded by plants. I ate barbecued fish and Adrian had a rice dish, and we both enjoyed naanbread. My meal came on a wooden platter with a candle made from a carved tomato. We had been told that classical music would be played, and ignorantly imagined this to be Bach or Beethoven, but it was Indian music, played on drums and a stringed instrument. Adrian got chatting to an Indian family next to us who had travelled in by motorbike.
Sunday 19th March Grand palaces and temples in Mysore
After a very hot night, we breakfasted downstairs before leaving at 9 o’clock to visit some of the sights of Mysore. We travelled in the bus, and had a guide with us. First we drove up Chamundi Hill to visit the temple of the Goddess Chamundi, the Royal family’s chosen deity. Again it was a shoes off job, with no photographing of the goddess statue allowed. People were forming a long queue to file into the temple, but we were able to make a short cut by paying 10 rupees. There was great solemnity as people made their offerings of flowers and coconuts. They passed their hand through a flame, to signify the inner light of being honest and true.
There were great views down over Mysore from the hill, and we could see the large amounts of greenery amongst the buildings of the town. There are several palaces, one now used as a high class hotel. Also on the hill is the carving of Nandi the bull, carved from a huge monolithic granite boulder in 1659.
Group photo at Mysore
There were some stalls set up here making sugar cane syrup and fresh pineapple juice, which we tried.
Back in the town, we visited the huge and elaborate Maharaja’s Palace, built in 1897 and taking 15 years to build, after the previous one had accidentally been destroyed by fire It was a haven of opulence – beautifully carved rosewood doors, lovely mosaic floors and walls, gorgeous stained glass window roofs, carved pillars and intricate paintings. Once more we had had to deposit both shoes and cameras, but we were able to photograph the ornate outside of the palace from its lovely well kept gardens.
Maharaja’s Palace at Mysore
We even stopped by some elephants on our way back, descendants of those belonging to the previous Maharaja. There has been no ruling Maharaja since 1972, but the present one lives in part of the palace, in name only.
We stopped off at RRR’s for lunch, on our way back to the hotel, and enjoyed a local ‘set meal’ – rice and chapatti with a variety of sauces.
In the afternoon we left with Sara and Joanna for a tour of the local craft shops. We travelled by car, and had this morning’s guide to take us. The factories weren’t open on a Sunday, and we didn’t enjoy the pressure put on us in the rather high class shops we visited. We saw the fine Mysore silk, carved sandalwood things and essential oils, all of whichMysore is famous for. Our only purchases were 4 little coasters/dishes. We were also able to visit the grand and incongruous looking St Philomena’s church - a Catholic church built in gothic style with enormously tall towers and a high ceiling.
Typical bullock cart
By now it was nearly 5 o’clock, so we dashed along to use the internet, and enjoyed reading a few emails from home, and sending a short one back.
We had heard that on Sundays, the palace is lit up from 7 o’clock at night for an hour. As we stood at the doorway of our hotel, we looked up and screamed with delight, as the fairytale image of thousands of lights highlighted the outline of the palace buildings. We walked along the crowded streets and fought our way across the busy road to the palace gate. Such a carnival atmosphere was everywhere, with swarms of people, balloon sellers, and vendors of all sorts. Dozens of bikes and motorbikes were parked beside the road. The palace grounds were swarming with people, but surprisingly we met up at various times with all of our group. We feasted on all this fun, listening to the band playing, and taking loads of photos.
The palace at night
At 8 o’clock all the lights on the buildings went out, and the masses of people swarmed towards the gate.
We managed to push our way back to our hotel, where we met up with the others, and enjoyed a meal at the rooftop restaurant next to the hotel.
Monday 20th March Hundreds of birds and an evening in Bangalore
We left at 8.30 for the drive to Bangalore, stopping an hour later to visit Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. We had breakfast first, of a plain dosa, enjoying the lovely surroundings of this beautifully laid out garden, surrounded by rice fields.
We then all piled into a small boat to be taken for a ride on the Cauvery River. This trip was a real highlight, as the birds were prolific, and at this time of the morning were very active. Many were building nests, and some were feeding their young.
Most of the birds were varieties that we had seen before, but the glorious painted storks – white tinged with red – were new to us. We also saw open billed storks, cormorants, darters, ibis, spoonbills, herons (night, pond and grey), kingfishers (blue and pied), plovers and terns. In addition, myriads of swallows were darting out from their mud nests in the bank, hundreds of fruit bats hung from the trees, and a few crocs plied up and down the river. All told it was pretty nice!
We ended our trip with a choc ice, before driving a short way to the Sultan’s Summer Palace. This again was set in pleasant grounds, beside the Cauvery River. The palace was covered by unattractive green shading, looking a bit like plastic, but inside (no photos allowed) the walls were covered in intricate murals. Again the arches were scalloped, so the whole effect was very pretty. The Sultan Tipu, the ruler of Mysore, was born in 1750, and the palace had been started in 1784, after victory against the British.
There were notices telling of this part of India’s history, and many paintings of the time. The Duke of Wellington (Wellesley) had stayed here in 1799 after the British had finally defeated Tipu.
I walked down to the once grand river steps, where one could imagine the boats pulling up for the sultan to be driven along the impressive tree-lined drives to his palace.
We now continued to the huge, busy city of Bangalore, stopping for lunch at Café Coffee Day, an Indian chain of ‘fast food’ restaurants selling coffee, cakes and snacks. We had been driving through an area of paddy fields, with strangely shaped rocky hills in the distance. The road was often newly surfaced, but there were frequent stretches of rebuilding, where the 2 lanes of traffic were on one carriageway, with no warning. All told, it led to a hair-raising drive! We drove through several dusty towns – at one, men were cycling along with a huge rolled bundle behind them, and another balanced precariously on their heads!
We arrived in the centre of Bangalore at 4.30, and left the bus, as tonight we are catching the overnight train to Hospet. The next few hours were spent wandering along the busy streets and looking into some of the stores – all we bought was 2 cushion covers. We had agreed to all meet up at 7.30 in the ‘Purple Haze’ bar. This proved to be rather problematic, as it was now getting dark and we had to negotiate the dreadfully uneven pavements, while trying with difficulty to find the way.
We were with most of the others, and miraculously we did all arrive at the bar, having been guided the last bit of the way by a man who ran trips to China, and who walked along in front of us.
The bar was upstairs, in what was a somewhat dubious establishment, but the music was good, and we enjoyed a well deserved beer. Then we took our life in our hands, as we were taken by tuk tuk to meet up for supper. Once more we had trouble in all getting together, but once sorted, we fought across the frenetic streets to a simple Iranian café where we had a ‘local’ supper.
Now it was time to fight our way across the suicidal streets to the van, where KK, our driver, drove us through this seethingly busy city to the railway station. Here we said goodbye to KK, who was driving back the 750 km to Trivandrum, to his wife and 2 baby sons (4 months and 18 months).
We all boarded the train with just enough time before its 10 o’clock departure. We chatted a bit before getting our bunks ready for the night.
‘The lads’ on the train
Tuesday 21st March We discover Hampi, after another overnight train journey.
This time I didn’t sleep very well, but we were up early to enjoy the early morning as we sped through the attractive hilly and dry countryside, reminding us of South Africa.
Suddenly we were told that we had arrived at the station at Hospet, and in the rush to get off with all our stuff, we left behind several things – our 2 small pillows, my biros, and our small water bottle.
We alighted onto the platform, which was seething with flies, and were driven a short distance to Priyadarshini Hotel. Luckily we were able to go to our rooms almost straight away – it was only 8 o’clock – and after sorting ourselves we enjoyed breakfast sitting in the shady outside restaurant.
Later we had sweetcorn soup and chapattis there for lunch, before setting off on an afternoon of exploration. Vipul had told us of the various sites to see at nearby Hampi, most of which we are going to visit tomorrow. There was a temple known as the Hanuman (Monkey) Temple which is further away, across the river. We decided to try to visit it, but as we had been still recovering from the train journey when he was explaining, we were a bit confused as to how to get there. We managed o get a tuk tuk to drive us the 14 kilometres to Hampi, but the driver told us that if we crossed the river there, we wouldn’t be able to get to the temple. It is often hard to know whether to believe these drivers, as they are always on the con, and this one wanted to take us himself for a longer tour. We declined, and after some trepidation, we found the place where the small ferry left from, and were taken across the river (10 rupees each, not 5 rupees as it says on the notice!)
Across the other side, we could see the hippy/backpackers village which Vipul had spoken of, and luckily found a tuk tuk to drive us the 5 kilometres to the temple. The countryside was beautiful, with vivid green ricefields, coconut and banana palms, and red boulder rocks looking a bit like the Devils Marbles. Again the man was on the con, but said that the lad with him would come to collect us from the temple at 4.45.
Now began the long assent of 600 steps, to the temple on the rocks high above. At first we were in the hot sun, but luckily there was some shade higher up. At one point there was a group of monkeys, so we held tight to our belongings, and we saw little ground squirrels too. Adrian couldn’t believe that a pipe was being fitted from the top to the bottom of the mountain, and went right across the steps in several places, meaning that we had to climb up over it!
The views were lovely as we ascended, but it was hot, thirsty work! When we finally reached the temple, we were about to remove our shoes, when an old woman nearby shouted out to us to do so. In front of the simple building was a photogenic frangipani tree and a tall monument. Inside, an old man looking just like the Maharishi was lying on the floor, and several people, including some young tourists, were sitting. A young lad called Cobra took us in hand and showed us the monkey statue, and another one of a woman goddess. He asked for an offering, and Adrian gave him some money, which he put in a drawer (to be removed later, we thought afterwards!)
Outside the temple, we were admiring the view, when we got into conversation with a youngish chap from London who had been in India for 5 months, and was returning home next week. He said how much India had changed in recent years, particularly with respect to plastic litter, which didn’t exist here before.
He told us that we could walk over the rocks to a viewpoint of this fantastic scenery. Again the old woman shouted at us, as we began ascending on an Ayers Rock type surface, and then across some rough steps which had been laid to make the way easier.
View from the monkey temple
It certainly was beautiful, but we were aware of the time, as we had to descend to pick up our tuk tuk, as we knew that we must catch the ferry back before 6 o’clock.
We made the long descent, and soon our tuk tuk came along, driven by an arrogant young lad, who with his mate beside him, turned on the music really loud! We had nearly got back to the ferry point, when a large, colourful truck, with tyres as bald as a coot, was stuck in the roadway. Behind it was a tractor. Oblivious of their problem, our young lad just beeped and beeped the horn. Finally he did get out to help the half a dozen men who amazingly managed to push the heavy truck and get it going again!
We dashed now to the ferry, and who should we see waiting to board it, but Vipul! He had come across to sound out the hippy village, and said that it was really quiet, compared with a few months ago, and that nearly everyone had left for the end of the season.
The small boat was loaded to overflowing, and the grumpy boatman ferried us back across the river. We got a tuk tuk back to our hotel in Hospet with Vipul, enjoying the varied countryside we were going through, in the fading sunlight.
We had supper altogether sitting outside in the restaurant.
Wednesday 22nd March Templed out in Hampi
I hadn’t slept well, despite a sleepless night on the train the night before. We were up at 5.45 to prepare for our morning visit to the archaeological sites at Hampi. We got off to a bad start, as the café downstairs didn’t produce the tea/ coffee that had been organised, so we stopped at a nearby café where the tea and coffee took an eternity to arrive, and was then undrinkable!
After that things went better! It was lovely seeing the early morning activity as the sun rose in the sky. The reason for our early start was that it gets really hot, and we had a lot of walking to do. We had a mini bus, and a guide, to show us around the major sites of the area, which was enormous, and could be likened to Pompeii, or huge sites in Mexico.
The ruins go under the name of Vijayanajar, once the capital of an enormous Hindu Empire. The town dated from 1336, but the buildings we saw were mostly built in 1500s. Most of the buildings had been damaged when the town was sacked by Moslems in 1565.
We were led around one site after another, until they began to merge into each other, but you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the amount of buildings and the intricate carvings on the pillars and walls.
We tried to imagine what the place would have been like when it was a busy spice and cotton trading centre. We saw where the market places were, the world heritage Vittala temple with a huge stone chariot.
Robert in front of the chariot
Later we saw the Royal areas - the Queen’s Palace and ‘bath’ and the elephant stables. There were buildings in Hindu, Jain and Moslem styles, and we were all taken by the ‘musical pillars, which resounded to different pitched notes when tapped.
View from the elephant stables
Wherever we went, we were followed by children, particularly as we came across a wedding ceremony, and had to walk through it! It was nice to see bright green parrots flitting from the trees, and monkeys up to their old tricks!
We stopped to have breakfast, and I enjoyed a pancake with honey, and Adrian had scrambled egg. Our tea and coffee were better this time!
We passed a place where they were actually excavating. Surprisingly most of the workers were women, and they earned 88 rupees a day – just over £1! (We found out that tea pickers receive just 8 rupees a day!)
A highlight of the day was a trip down the river by coracle. This was glorious, after all the walking around. The scenery was so scenic, with the huge granite boulders and green palm trees. We could see up to the Monkey temple we had visited yesterday. The boatman’s little 4 year old daughter sat in our ‘boat’, trying to charm us! Just before we reached our destination, the boatman twirled the boat round and round – it felt like being on a roundabout in the playground!
For our lunch stop, we walked through banana palms to ‘The Mango tree’, a delightful café set under an enormous mango tree, with beautiful views down to the river. We sat on rush mats, and the food was good. I had a papaya pancake and fresh lemon juice, both excellent, and Adrian had soup. The only thing to spoil it was the tiny flidgies, which flew into our faces.
It was while we were here that Vipul received a phone call to tell him that instead of leading a second ‘Southern India’ trip in a week’s time, he was leading the next trip to Northern India which is the trip we are making, leaving from Bombay on Sunday! Surprises all around!
We were driven back to our hotel, and immediately left to walk to a nearby hotel which had a swimming pool we could use – at only 25 rupees each this time! It was a dusty walk and longer than we had been told, but the swim was very welcome, and all the others arrived soon afterwards for a refreshing swim.
We got a tuk tuk back to the hotel, where we went across to use the internet, with varying success. We lost electricity at the hotel, but fortunately they have a generator.
Again we had a meal altogether in the outside restaurant, but my ‘Maryland chicken’ was very dried up.
Thursday 23rd March A long journey to Goa
A long and tedious day! We were up before 4 o’clock to leave at 4.30 am to catch the 5.15 train from Hospet Junction to Londa. It was already warm, and the moon looked like a slice of lemon in the sky.
The station entrance was full of bodies sleeping on the bare ground, and as we walked onto the platform, a group of young men began singing and playing ‘Hare Krishna’. Their music became louder and louder, and they danced around in a circle, with rhythmic drum and percussion instruments. They were still playing when our train drew in half an hour later!
Now the fun began, as our carriage stopped far along the platform, so we had to dash past the Hare Krishnas and their followers. Worse was to await us as we boarded the train! As we had feared, Indian people had occupied the compartment that had been booked for us, and we had great trouble in removing them!
We had been assigned bunks again, but this time it was in a grubby non air conditioned carriage, with no sheets or pillows.
Surprisingly, we did manage to get some more sleep, but the journey became tedious as we continued through rural countryside where there were terraced, empty rice fields. Occasionally we saw women tilling the parched soil with picks.
It was 11 o’clock when we pulled into Londa Station. We hadn’t been able to have any breakfast, and nowhere could I get a black coffee. The seats on the platform were being painted, so we had to stand around for 10 minutes while some others got snacks from the stall.
The worst was still to come! Two vehicles were waiting to transport us to Goa – a journey of 100 kilometres, which we were told would take 5 hours!
The cars looked bright and shiny, and were air conditioned. On a previous trip this hadn’t been the case, and the travellers had arrived with red spiky hair from the opened windows. The area we were driving through was most unattractive. It was an iron ore mining area, and the road was made up of red dust, and all the trees were a red/brown colour. Dozens of trucks constantly plied back and forth, and consequently the road surface was the worst we have ever encountered. We started off sitting in the ‘boot’ area of one of the cars, but after the second huge bump, I realised that I couldn’t cope with that, so we moved around. The road continued to be absolutely atrocious for many miles.
The bright spot of the day was our lunchtime stop at a pleasant restaurant, where we enjoyed chicken / sweetcorn soup and chapattis, surrounded by lush vegetation, and at last I got my coffee!
We had now entered Goa, and the road surface improved. We both dozed quite a lot, until we arrived at Candolim Beach just before 4 o’clock.
We had noticed the different style of buildings in Goa, and the touristy feel as we neared the sea. In fact it was nothing like the India we had seen over the past 2½ weeks. Our accommodation, Melodious Waves, was pleasant, with a grassy courtyard between the buildings. Our room opened on to this, and after our briefing from Vipul, we were able to clean off and try to recover from the long journey.
Slightly refreshed, we walked the short way to the beach. We were rather disappointed to see that the golden, sandy beach sloped too steeply to sit on, and the sea was too rough to swim in. We were hassled by people trying to rent us chairs, or sell their wares, which irritated us more than in the towns.
After a short walk along the beach in the extreme heat, we came back and cooled off with a lime soda.
This was the last night with Vipul, as tomorrow he will be getting organised for leading the next trip (ours) before travelling to Bombay by train (9 hours – we will be flying there).
We took taxis to the next resort, Calagute, all of us dismayed at the touristy feel of this part of Goa.
We all sat at a table right on the beach, where there was a breeze, for a pleasant but more expensive meal. We both ordered fish, but there was too much for us. I even had a glass of white wine. We were joined by Felix, the Imaginative Traveller tour guide from Goa, who we had met on the first day at Kovalam. It was interesting talking to him. He, like many Goans, is Roman Catholic – a result of the Portuguese influence. We had noticed the religious pictures in our hotel room. Felix had been leading the ‘Connoisseur’ trips, and found the clients very different (and not so pleasant!) He is leading the next South India trip starting next week – the one that Vipul had thought he was leading, until he had his plans changed.
We took taxi back to our hotel, and didn’t get to bed until 11.45 – it had been a long day!
Friday 24th March Recharging our batteries in Goa
We left at 7.30 for an early morning walk on the beach, before it became too hot.
We returned to have breakfast in our hotel garden.
There was a smart hotel next door where we could use the pool, so we had a cooling dip, and a short laze on sunbeds (in the shade).
We ate lunch at a beachside restaurant, but both of us were feeling a bit jaded. We returned to our room, where we looked through all our photos on the computer, joined by Sara, who then came back to the pool with us.
Saturday 25th March A frustrating day
Like yesterday, I was still feeling unwell, but had slept quite well. We had breakfast at Palms n Sands Café, by the beach, and were the only people there. I had a pancake and Adrian enjoyed Heinz Baked beans on toast!
We had been working on the website, and set off to find an internet café. We walked a long way in one direction, having been told that there was one, but having no luck, we got a tuktuk to take us to one. We found that tuk tuk prices are much dearer here (as is the food), but the internet café we stopped at had no power, so we took a second tuk tuk. At this internet café we were able to receive our messages, including some lovely photos of Manolo, but Adrian couldn’t update the website. We got yet another tuk tuk, to a third internet café. The chap here, nicknamed Sunny, was just that, and tried to be very helpful, but frustratingly we still couldn’t update the website. We had to give up on it, which was upsetting after all the work we had done on it.
We also needed to phone India Airline to reconfirm our flight to Bombay tomorrow. Having tried unsuccessfully to use a street phone, Adrian used Sunny’s phone. The woman on the other end said that there was no booking for us, but after a long, frustrating time, Adrian phoned again and this time a gentleman answered, and was able to comfirm our flight.
We now needed to get some money from the ATM, and the queue was long, but finally we succeeded.
We took a taxi back to our hotel, where we soon met up with some of the others, who had been out visiting. We were shown a different route to the beach, but it wasn’t a very good way. We ate lunch of soup at a beachside café with Sara, Jane and Danielle.
Later we phoned home, and spoke to both Paul and Tom, who were able to wish me Happy Mother’s Day for tomorrow.
We walked right along the beach to the fort and back, returning just as it was getting dark.
In the evening, the ‘girls’ all went off to the night market. I joined the 3 ‘boys’ for a meal at the beachside ‘Palms n Sands’, but returned before eating anything as I still felt very unwell.
Sunday 26th March We fly to Mumbai (Bombay)
It is Mother’s day, and I was delighted to have a card from Emma, which Adrian had kept safe for me. We telephoned Simon, who had just bought a new pushchair for Manolo.
Luckily I felt much better today, especially after some breakfast of fresh pineapple juice, tea and cornflakes.
We said our goodbyes to everyone – they had been a great group – and left at 10.30. We took a taxi to Goa airport, but asked our taxi driver to show us a bit of Panjim (the capital of Goa) and Old Goa. We had passed through both places on the way to Candolim, but hadn’t seen much of them. Panjim is situated at the mouth of a large river, and had some pleasant Portuguese looking houses. Old Goa is renowned for its collection of large old churches. The huge church of Bom Jesus holds the remains of the body of St Francis Xavier, and is a world heritage site.
Bom Jesus Church
Opposite it is the enormous Se Cathedral, and beside that the simple church of St Francis of Assisi. Behind them was delightful little St Catherine’s Chapel. We were pleased to be able to walk around and see something of Goa, as we felt that we hadn’t done justice to our time here.
We were driven through rural country to Goa airport, arriving at 12.50. We ate a very bland cheese sandwich, but it filled a gap. We phoned Emma, and were pleased to be able to talk to her and to Felix and Ruby at last.
We then had a terrible time! In going through security, Adrian’s wallet was taken from him by the security man and put on the belt. Women had to go through a different scanner, which took a bit longer, so Adrian picked up my small rucsac too, out of a pile of bags just dumped at the end of the scanner. We had been sitting in the lounge for some minutes when Adrian remembered his wallet. It contained our passports and all the money we had just got out. He returned to security, and they said that they had no wallet. We asked again, and they became very angry and abusive, saying that we were accusing them of stealing. They took Adrian’s rucsac and put it through the scanner again, and on retrieving it, produced the wallet from the top pocket, which we never use. Either the man had put it there after the original check, or something funny was going on, and they ‘planted’ it. They were angry with us, and tried to take our boarding passes from us, and make us go with them. It was quite horrific, but luckily we extricated ourselves and went back to the lounge.
Crowds of people were sitting around here waiting for various flights all in the same departure lounge, but we couldn’t see when or where our flight was embarking – no signs, and only distorted announcements which we couldn’t hear. The time passed for our flight to leave, as we asked one person after another where we would be boarding. It seemed like chaos.
Our plane finally left one hour late, but we didn’t trust that we had got onto the right plane even then. As we all walked down the ramp to board the bus to the plane, everyone was suddenly told ‘go back’. We all tried to make our way back up the ramp. It seemed that a plane was taxiing close to the ramp, but no explanation was given! We were just blown about by the exhaust from the engines.
Luckily the flight itself was very good. It was only 45 minutes long, but we were served a full meal – salad, curry, roll and butter, desert, water and juice!
We flew up over the coast, passing over Candolim and continuing past sandy beaches and green countryside. It was surprisingly hilly and rural as we neared Mumbai (Bombay).
After landing, we located our driver, who had been waiting a long time for us, and wasn’t standing near our exit (there were two!), so gave us a few moments anxiety.
We were driven through the busy, bustling city, with its slums and its grand buildings and lots of beeping traffic. It always amazes us how serene the ladies look in their saris, in such grubby conditions.
We arrived at the Comfort Inn Heritage Hotel and were led to our smart ‘attic’ room. For the first time we had tea/coffee facilities, so had a quick cup of tea.
We had received a message from Vipul, so telephoned him. He said that he was in the Colaba area, which was good for eating places, with friends.
The new group didn’t seem to be meeting up tonight. We had missed the initial briefing meeting, which was this afternoon.
We decided to take a taxi to Colaba, but had trouble in finding a taxi driver who would give us a sensible price. It was quite a long way, so it gave us a chance to see a bit more of Mumbai, as we are leaving first thing in the morning. Our first impression of Mumbai driving is that it is a considerable improvement on Southern India. Drivers actually stop at traffic lights and don’t pull straight out in front of you. However it is still nothing like European standards!
We enjoyed walking past all the street stalls. There is apparently a good market here, but it isn’t open on Sunday. We ate in a busy restaurant, where Adrian had a Chinese prawn dish with naan bread, and I had a Hawaiian pizza.
We walked around a bit more, then tried to find a cab to take us back to the hotel. We knew the name, but not the address. Vipul had always given us a hotel card, but of course we hadn’t seen him today. We tried several different cab drivers, who didn’t seem to understand where we were going. We were just writing the name down for a driver, when who should appear, as if by magic, but Vipul! We all got into the cab together and were driven back to our hotel, ready for our early departure by train tomorrow.