A Travellerspoint blog

On the road again...

A hop, skip and a jump from Mumbai to Delhi, via Rajasthan and Agra. Phew!

Trying to leave our Mumbai bubble was harder than we'd ever anticipated and Findia, India's evil brother (can you guess what the 'F' stands for?!) meddled massively in our attempts to migrate. We had an overnight train booked and as we left the beautiful apartment where so many fun times had taken place, holding back the regretful tears on having to move on (when there was a Bollywood music video being filmed that we could have featured in. Don't ask!), we had accounted for the time it would take to get to the train station that we had been using daily since arriving in Mumbai. We had not, however, accounted for a rickshaw driver who didn't understand English and who mistook instructions to go to the railway station, for instructions to go to the Taj Mahal hotel (?!?!?). We didn't acount for the grinding traffic that we got snarled up in as a result of this blunder and we definitely didn't account for the fact that the train station we had assumed we were departing from was actually a 20 minute walk from the terminus that our train actually left from! Aaaargh! As we huffed and puffed our way through the teeming night crowds, intrusive horns and shouts in our exasperated faces, I cursed Findia. Plotting against us and making us miss our expensive train journey, making us despise this impossible, frustrating country and inciting vows to flee this godforsaken place at once! At the right terminus, we tried impotently to book more tickets for the next day. Again, Findia struck and I was reduced to a deflated heap of exhausted disheartened mush, whilst Sally persevered with the infuriatingly blasé ticket officers. And then, as has occurred so many times on this trip but oh so explicitly in this sweaty station, India fought back. Sally received help from an all-too-happy-to-assist Indian man; I was approached by a group of teenagers who were bearing the cutest Andrex puppies I'd ever laid eyes on and let us play with them; and then, on leaving the station a gaggle of about 15 excitable lads in football kits surrounded us, shouting and laughing, along with about 5 adults who helped us with rickshaw translation, and there Sally and I stood, in the centre of this beautiful storm of people, animated, smiling, laughing...it was infectious and we fell back into India, head over heels! Just when you think you've taken all the punches you can, just when you're ready to sack it all in and get the hell out, India, the precious, enticing, radiant power, pulls you back into her bosom with such force, charisma and allure that there is no way on Earth you can resist! And so, the India/Findia battle wages on!

When we did finally leave Mumbai, we headed to Udaipur in Rajasthan. Sally and I had decided to go separate ways for a week (she was doing some volunteering and I wanted to keep heading on up the state). I was excited and anxious in equal measure about getting alone time in India - this was new territory for both of us and after being in such close proximity with so many people in Mumbai, it was to be a shock to the system. But I have to say, I loved it. It tested so many layers of my personality and independence that I had never had to utilise before and I reveled in using them, storing the memories and feelings like precious artifacts to be restored at another time in the future.

Udaipur was beautiful. Exactly what I'd envisioned Rajasthan to be like - tall, narrow buildings protruding randomly into the atmosphere, countless temple spires peering out over the roof tops, small winding roads and dilapidated buildings, a multitude of traders calling urgently for your custom, an expansive, shimmering lake with floating palaces bobbing their heads out of the sun-lit liquid, women beating and bashing their clothes and sheets into cleanly submission on the lake ghats, and of course, an enormous, grandiose, towering Indian palace standing dignified and omniscient on the scape. During my short time there I packed as much as I could in, I met a multitude of brilliant people, and I felt the rush and vigour of being on the move and actually travelling surging through my body once more. On my one and only full day in Udaipur I hired a rickshaw driver and enjoyed my big day out with Billu! Billu was a dude of the highest order. A proud father of seven and a Udaipurian rickshaw veteran. I immediately took a shine to him. We journeyed to various places, and I greedily soaked up and papped the vibrant colours and radiant faces all around me. My favourite of all the stops was a small outdoor arts and crafts centre called Shilpgram, where many people perform and create their wares for passersby to see/buy/appreciate. I was drawn in by a group of 5 traditionally dressed Rajasthani musicians. Predominantly the draw was initiated by my new found love for turbans. They're brilliant. Especially the dazzlingly bright ones (neon green or yellow are the 'in' colours in Raj right now!) that are accompanied by outrageously bushy moustaches. I adore it! The Valley group of Shilgram were fine examples of such turban-flouting men. Like a bloodhound that has picked up a tantalising scent, I drifted towards the rich sounds they were producing. One man was playing an intriguing string instrument that belonged to the same family as the Sitar but was the size of a Viola and was played like a Cello (!?!?). The look and sound of it was fascinating and exotic. Also being played was a keyboard/accordian-type device, flat wooden percussion boards that are held in the hands and clapped together at great speed, drums and voices. Oh the voices! They were entrancing - effortlessly harmonising whilst belting out off-key, jagged notes that shouldn't have sounded good together but actually sounded like heaven. The powerful melodies flowed from their mouths, from their hearts, with such velocity and emotion that I found myself spontaneously beaming from ear to ear and holding my hand on my chest to attempt to calm my breathing. And looking into their warm, smiling eyes as they sang, an invitation piercing through me to join in, dance, dive into their magical musical world of colourful turbans, dusty rhythmic stamping, exotic fruits and delicious, confusing beats. They blew my socks off...took my breath away...and made my hairs stand on end.

DSC06286.jpgDSC06313.jpgDSC06387.jpgDSC06433.jpgDSC06516.jpgDSC06533.jpgDSC06539.jpg

Pushkar was my next destination and unfortunately brought about a flurry of bad luck for me. Firstly, the lake in Pushkar, the main event, the source of Full Power and the epi-centre of the town's activity...was dry. Due to poor monsoons and infections in the remaining water the lake was instead an expansive pit, with cows roaming through the scattered litter and small pools of green-tinged water. Secondly, I dropped my my beautiful new Tibetan pendant on a stone floor and broke it. Ouch. Thirdly, and worst of all, I lost my memory card containing all my photos from the past three months. Quite a blow to take, especially being on my lonesome, but regardless of my triple load of bad luck, Pushkar shone through to ensure that my time there was Shanti Shanti, Full Power, and packed to the brim with visual and musical delights. Pushkar, for me, was unlike any other place, in its relaxed aura, its community vibes and the peaceful and cheerful attitudes of the locals. It's a magnetic place and everyone I met had returned or intended to do so! As a result of losing my memory card I met a lovely group of people who worked or were staying at a place called U-Turn, a friendly guesthouse with a lively rooftop restaurant hosting lots of impromptu live music. Silver lining and all that! I ended up spending numerous precious moments with these people, including a trip to the family farmhouse of one of the guys who worked at U-Turn. The group of us all rode on scooters and bikes to the farmhouse, where we relaxed, swinging rhythmically underneath a magnificent white tree, looking out over the electric green fields of wheat, playing with the neighbours kids and the veritable zoo they had living there, and climbing the tree to watch the sunset through the leaves, surrounded by spindly, reaching branches. I watched the sun set that evening and then the next morning watched it rise, atop a towering hill that looked down over Pushkar. Gasping my way up the steep climb at 5.30am under the stars reminded me of Nepal trekking moments, but was a slight shock to my unprepared system! I was a little premature in my timings and so settled on a rock to witness the stars slowly disappearing to make room for the all-consuming sunshine that closed in on their shooting tails. The calm, diamond-blue sky soon enveloped the scape, so pure and peaceful and laced with long, white veils of tenuous fluff, flecked from below with golden texturising touches. As the sun crept closer and closer to the horizon, the colours developed into deep, rich, burnt reds, seducing the eye with its' temporary rouge before the sun peeked up over the mountain facing us, finally radiating its' beams over and into my chilly bones. Pushkar was no longer a twinkling expanse of night lights, but a gorgeous white city of interesting temples, buildings and the Lack (!), encased on all sides in deserted raw hinterland. Such an enchanting place to peer down on. On another day our little bike brigade trundled off to see a Baba called Alu Baba, a holy man who lives at a temple on the outskirts of Pushkar. He had come to be a surrogate parent to an orphaned baby monkey and we had heard about this and went to check it out. The monkey was so cute and so small, and had been trained to feed from a baby's milk bottle. It just sat there tipping the bottle up to drink from it and generally looking adorable! It wasn't so cute however when it peed on me! Apparently it's meant to be good luck but it just felt warm and damp...yuk!
DSC06626.jpgDSC06658.jpgDSC06730.jpgDSC06804.jpgDSC06785.jpgDSC06854.jpgDSC06860.jpgDSC06833.jpg

U-Turn hosted the best music nights in town. Musicians of all shapes, sizes, races, nationalities and religion turned up to play their drums, sitars, flutes, guitars, saxophones, percussion and voices. One of the nights I stayed there, there was a big party, with the cosy rooftop packed full of people and vibes - there was dancing on the seats, whooping and whistling, cacophonous clapping, sporadic singing, booming drum beats and mystical melodies. No one could help from moving with the music and looking around the room, all faces inside it were happy and smiling. Full Power! During the night everyone joined in the atmosphere, in whatever way they wanted to... I sang, out loud, for the first time in forever and was so liberated by the feeling it brought to me. Not caring about what anybody was thinking, everyone just getting involved and going for it, regardless of ability or skill or perception. And I think that was the really resounding message emanating from Pushkar: just follow your heart, do as you will, and others will appreciate you for just being you.
DSC06648.jpgDSC06649.jpg

A less than desirable Agra was my next stop and the marvellously majestic Taj Mahal. I awoke for the event early, intending to see the sunrise, but unfortunately the day happened to be the mistiest I'd ever known...you could barely see your hand in front of your face! I only had the morning to see it though so I plowed on, through the bone-chilling mist, waiting three hours for the Taj diva to show her hugely coveted white-marble body. Like a spoilt actress she hid even when you were stood right next to her walls, looking up expectantly but receiving no hint of a glimpse. A true performer - she had us all chomping at the bit! The shroud was unveiled at around 10 o' clock and as the eerie mist dissipated the long, cold wait became worth it. Such a magnificent building to behold amongst the now teeming crowds of people. The intricate carvings and precious stone inlays boasted years of dedication and commendable craftsmanship. The Taj houses a mausoleum containing the bodies of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the brains behind the operation, and his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, whom he built the building for after she died giving birth to their 14th child (poor woman!). The most impressive monument to love surely ever created.
DSC06935.jpgDSC06955.jpgDSC06984.jpg
Last stop for this humongous blog entry is Delhi and Daddy time! Dad had sneakily coordinated a business trip to coincide with my arrival in Delhi, and it was such a treat to see him. He put me and Sally up in a relatively luxurious hotel and we saw the sights of India's capital city from the comfort of a 4x4, chauffeur driven car (thanks to his work colleagues, Virinder and Nusrat)- just a slight difference to the standards of living we had gotten used to!! Delhi is a fume-fuelled, frantic, sprawling metropolis, lacking in character and allure. But seeing Dad was amazing. The first night we spent just the two of us before Sally arrived in Delhi the next day. It was Republic Day, a national holiday in India, and a celebration of how ruddy great the country is. Dad and I headed to India Gate where there had been a military procession, and strolled amongst the crowds of families hand in hand, soaking up the palpable patriotism in the air and gazing up at the beautifully lit India Gate monument and the presidential buildings. Such a gratifying feeling to see all those families and finally have my own there. A safety and warmth that only a Daddy can provide, seeping through our interlinked hands and surging over me. And there ends this entry!
DSC06995.jpg

Highlights since my last blog entry:
- Getting some much needed solitary time in beautiful Rajasthan. Proving to myself that I can do it!
- Singing in Pushkar...la de daaa dum de dum!
- Seeing my Dad in Delhi and being treated to a little luxury!

Posted by Anna Rowl 03:56 Comments (0)

Mumbai Magic!

Diving into the Bollywood Bubble head first!

The mass of humanity that exists in Mumbai is a frantic melange of India's extremes. It is the country's financial powerhouse, as is displayed in the sheer size of the banks buildings that loom like colossal giants in the Fort Area. It is the vogue centre of fashion, as can be seen in the cosmopolitan, modern and slick way that a large proportion of the women here dress. It is the glittering epicentre of film, with our experience of the Mumbai mainly focusing around this aspect, constituting for an entirely different and exciting viewpoint on the city, and thankfully separated from the standard tourist trappings of Colaba. Glistening sky scrapers and malls mushroom amid slums and grinding poverty, the air thick with the sounds of bumper to bumper traffic and the fumes that puff relentless from coughing exhausts. Love it or hate it, Mumbai is a smack in the face, especially compared to our beach sanctuary we had been living in. I loved it!

DSC06207.jpgDSC06215.jpgDSC06091.jpg

So, we arrived in Mumbai, dozey but excited...sand still in our hair, our clothes, our toes...our skin freshly simmered by the beach sun and our hearts ready for some city action. And here, the home of Shantaram! For those of you who haven't read Shantaram...read it! Having read the book a couple of months before arriving in Mumbai, but with the memories of the epic and encapsulating story still fresh in my mind, I daydreamed as we rode on our various modes of transport through the bustling city. Perhaps Linbaba walked this street...is that what Karla's apartment looked like...could this taxi driver be our own personal Prabu!? My love of the story transferred into the city and at once I felt more connected to it, more affection towards it, and more anticipation about walking the streets of Mumbai. The first impression of Mumbai this time (I came here extremely briefly 5 years ago) were the huge colonial buildings, similar to Kolkata, but unlike its' Bengali brother, Mumbai buildings seem well-maintained and pristine (well, as close to pristine as India can be!). There was impressive graffiti lining the walls of the city towards Colaba, the tourist area, animating the otherwise drab streets and showing Mumbai to be progressive with its' art and culture. This was also reflected when we were walking towards Gateway of India, as we stumbled across what we called "Art Street" - simply loads of independent artists displaying and selling their creations, set against the background of the University of Mumbai.

DSC06096.jpgDSC06116.jpg

More than half the population of the city's whopping 16 million people live in slums. The largest slum in Mumbai and in all of Asia, Dharavi slum, incorporates 1.7 square km of space, and is sandwiched between Mumbai's two major railway lines. One piece of information that completely changed my interpretation and thoughts on the entity that is 'a slum', apart from Linbaba's accounts in Shantaram of course (my Mumbai bible!), was from something written in the trusty Lonely Planet (my India bible!). According to said text, within the Dharavi slum, there exists a multitude of traders and tiny factories. Potters from Saurasthra live in one area, Muslim tanners in another, embroidery workers from Uttar Pradesh work alongside metal-smiths, while other workers recycle plastics as women dry pappadums in the searing sun. Some of these thriving industries export their wares and the annual turnover of business from Dharavi is thought to top US$650 million. Unbelievable.

We spent one day doing the compulsory tourist tramp and headed to Colaba and to the Gateway of India. The Gateway is undoubtedly impressive - a bold basalt arch of colonial triumph facing out onto Mumbai harbour with the grand Taj Hotel peering over its' shoulder. From there we took a boat to Elephanta Island, which took, to our dismay, a suprisingly long time! After hiking up a considerably steep hill to get to the main event, we were met with a labyrinth of cave temple carved into the basalt rock of the island. The main Shiva-dedicated temple is an intriguing latticework of courtyards, halls, pillars and shrines, with the focal point a six metre tall statue of Sadhashiva - depicting a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe. The caves are thought to have been created between AD450 and 750. It was a magical place to wander about for an hour or so, and the entertaining and sociable monkeys had us giggling our way round.

DSC06124.jpgDSC06132.jpgDSC06144.jpgDSC06150.jpg

We had been kindly offered a place to stay by the generous Americans in their apartment in Bandra West, where all the film stars live in Mumbai (that is in the Bandra area, not in their apartment!). To give some details on these lovely Americans I keep speaking of... we had met them in Arambol on New Years Eve, under the full moon and with the sand between our toes. It was a recipe for success and we all got along famously. The Americans were in India for the purpose of shooting a film about Bollywood, which is based around an actor called Omi. Omi went to school with Tyler and has recently made it big in Bollywood (hence the name of the documentary) so the guys: Tyler, Matt, Kenny and Bill, decided to hop on over to Mother India and make a film about it. And why not? During the 4 nights we stayed with the Americans, seriously exciting events were occurring. Tyler, Kenny and Omi had made a film called Wrestling Mongolia three years previous, and while we were there it was being screened for film executives, buffs and fans across the board. There was a possibility of the film being sold for half a million dollars. It was obviously extremely important and nerve-racking time for the guys. And we were there to experience it with them and simply be there in such an energising and intense atmosphere. It was inspirational just witnessing the prospect of three guys who had followed their dream to be getting a colossal deal such as this. The journey on the way to the screening was a highlight for me actually. We had to take two rickshaws and our driver especially was soaking up the exciting novelty of having two Western guys with film cameras, and three Western girls dressed up to the nines (any excuse!) riding in their rickshaws. He zoomed and whizzed around the other rickshaw holding Sally, Laura and Bill, shouting "Jai-Ho!" every time we passed them and they overtook us! It was the most exciting rickshaw ride I'd ever experienced...it felt like we were in a film ourselves! There must be some kind of filmic analysis that could be applied to that scene surely...feeling like you're in a film, whilst filming the experience, on the way to a film screening. Post-modern! The actual screening was very successful and the film went down well with the fans and the pros. Perhaps the best bit about the evening was that they had roped in the lift operator from their apartment to come along and pull ticket stubs! It must have been the craziest night of his life!

DSC06176.jpgDSC06172.jpgDSC06182.jpgDSC06184.jpgDSC06187.jpgDSC06193.jpg

The screening was the main event whilst we were staying in Bandra, but they were also filming a Bollywood music video just after we left (hilarious!) and so we got involved with dance practice and were just hanging about whilst they discussed, debated and decided how to go about filming, arranging and executing the project. Again, really inspirational to be in that environment. The music video is now finished and looks amazing. All the guys, with Omi centre stage, are shaking their groove thangs to a song that had been made for the occasion. The first line of the song sums it up I think: "Yes we're big in Bollywood, Chicken Tikka Masala!" Ridiculous!

Above all else my experience in Mumbai and those beautiful people I met has taught me the most important lesson since I've been here in India, and that I will endeavour to take home with me to England, and that is to never limit your own expectations of yourself. The only person to create restraints for you, is you, and all that needs to be done in life is to just try and follow your dreams, no matter how frightening or stressful the prospect is. The Americans all had dreams and they followed them, and they still are following them, their vitality and optimism exudes from them like energising nectar that you can gulp down greedily if you so wish. Important life lessons were learnt in those special days in Bandra, and I will remember it and refer back to it forever. If I find myself at home telling myself I can't possibly achieve what I want to achieve, I will think back to Mumbai and remember the magic.
DSC06110.jpg

Highlights since my last blog:
- Unexpectedly and gratefully learning some important life lessons in Mumbai.
- Seeing the vision of Laura B sauntering down Mumbai streets, donned in leopard print leggings, a spangly bum band and cowboy boots...her gorgeous blonde locks shimmering in the sun. Show stopper extreme!
- Bumbling about in the Bandra bubble apartment with the Americans. The act of making tea for the first time in 4 months was especially enjoyable!

Posted by Anna Rowl 19:33 Comments (0)

The Festive Season!

Luscious Laura B and the beautious beaches of India!

Well, a long overdue blog and one that documents the epic arrival of beautiful Laura B and the festive fun that ensued. Laura B, for the people who are reading and are not aware, is a veeeery good friend of mine and Sally T's from Bristol. Her highly anticipated arrival in India was, well, immense. There were moments when ashamedly Sally and I doubted that she would make it, what with money and time restraints, but she did it. She ruddy well did it. So, we greeted the lovely Laura, or LB as she is known, at Goa airport on Christmas Eve no less...sadly missing her arrival due to the slowest bus driver in the world (typical - you fear for your life on all the buses you take in India because the drivers think they're at the wheel of a Formula One car, and the one time you want them to put your life in their speedy hands, they decide they're driving a zimmerframe). Obviously, this fact did not ruin the excitement and joy of laying eyes on her beaming face, running, donned in Santa hats and looking like absolute idiots, into her arms. What a beautiful moment to treasure. We nattered our way back to the little beach hut we had made our home and then nattered and danced our way through a party-fuelled Christmas Eve! It was the first time that Sally and I had had the opportunity to dance to loud music in a club atmosphere for the entire trip. So we were all over the dancing like sand on a beach. And we were actually on the beach too. The place having the biggest and noisiest Christmas Eve party was a place called Neptunes Point. To get there you walked along the beach to a make-shift wooden bridge and onto rocks that lined the edge of Palolem beach. As we climbed the rocks the music and anticipation grew and grew and finally we reached the packed venue, finding a pagoda-esque bar leading down to a sandy dance floor which was looked down at from a raised DJ booth and huge projector screens (that you could dance behind. Oh yes.) with fire dancers and crazy lights flickering about the place. It was impressive to say the least, and a delight to be a.) with LB b.) partying and c.) on the beach! The three ingredients needed to cook up a very happy Anna stew, no, what am I thinking...curry.

us.jpg

Christmas Day was spent nursing our ever-so-slight hangovers (!!!) and soaking up the bizarre but beautiful feeling of being on the beach in India on Christmas Day! We opened presents, sunbathed, chatted to family and lovers on Skype (God love Christmas Skype!), sunbathed some more and all had some henna done by one of the extremely persistent seller women on the beach. Needless to say, the henna was an absolute rip off and we couldn't wait to rub the stuff off as soon as it was on, but...all in the name of Christ's birthday! The woman who did it did tell us a little about her life while decimating our hands though...she was engaged to be married at one month old, she was married to that man at sixteen, she has two children at the age of nineteen (her age now), and, by all accounts, her husband doesn't work and she has to hand over all the money she earns every day on the beach to him. What a life...and especially for us, as early-twenty year old women holidaying on the beaches of Goa to hear. Our Christmas dinner had been booked at 'Cheeky Chapati', an English-run place with the most delicious food and Christmas classics playing from the speakers. We were considering curry but the thought of a lovely roast bird and mince pies was just too much to resist. So we didn't! It was a beautiful end to a beautiful day and the first of a truly epic holiday.

xmas_dins.jpg

I had visited Palolem last time I came to India and it was an entirely different beach by the time I returned this time. Unfortunately not for the better. The narrow strip of perfect white-sand beach is intruded on by enormous wooden bar structures, which we witnessed in disgust being erected over the days before Christmas hit. The countless bars and restaurants are crammed next to one another, all competing for air time with their garish booming music (even if the music is good...it sounds garish and booming because of the competition), and flooding your vision at night with their flashing neon signs and lights, curling round otherwise idyllic leaning palm trees and making intrusions on your eyes. Not painting a pretty scene here am I!? There are better beaches in Goa basically. This one is now a haven for package holidays and lads on tour. But, as we were looking for a party, it was an ideal place to lay our sunhats for a few days. And so, we departed after the festivities had ended, but not before attending a Silent Noise party. These parties are all the rage, mainly because strict noise restrictions have been enforced in Goa for a few years now. Silent Nose parties are basically where you are given headphones at the door and there are 3 channels to choose from. You can choose your channel by clicking the headphone buttons and dance to your hearts' content to whatever you please. Because Trance is so popular in Goa there was a large majority of the night when all the channels were doling out the same old crap (sorry to all the trance lovers out there!) but, alas, as the night wore on...the Drum n' Bass and Funk began. The three of us danced so hard we were aching for days afterwards!
headphones.jpg

The next stop for us was Arambol, a beach in the north of Goa, and our NYE destination of choice. Arambol attracts a different kind of folk to Palolem, a more relaxed kind of crowd, slightly crustier and with a healthy sprinkling of dreadlocks and tattoos! The beach is long, wide and relatively quiet, when compared with Palolem, and in the evenings, instead of the blaring trance, character-less bars and glaring neon, we were met with a sea of candle-lit tables along the beach, stretching out before us like some picturesque vigil. You could even lie on sunbeds, on the beach, eating your dinner! The novelty never wore off! Not to say that Arambol was too quiet...oh no, far from it. On our first night, after our reclining al-fresco dinner we meandered down the beach to find a big beach hut/bar pumping out dance hall, reggae and dub! We couldn't quite believe our luck. The place was jumping, literally...the dreadlocks were flying, the walls were sweating and we got involved, sharpish! We spent our days in Arambol eating, sunbathing, shopping and taking in the sights, particularly the sunset activities that occurred on the beach, centering around a group of people who sat at a certain spot every day, with their guitars, drums and voices. Like moths to a flame people of all ages, races, religions and creeds would flock to the music and commence with whatever their chosen skill was, or simply whatever their heart lead them to do. There were jugglers juggling, dancers prancing, people doing some impressive yoga massage tricks, poi, hula hooping, contact ball...it was like the circus had come to the Arambol, and as the burning orb set every evening, the people thanked the sun in their own special way...whether through performance, writing, or simply by gazing upon the beauty of the sky.
cows.jpgbeach.jpgbeach2.jpg beach3.jpg

The most beautiful sunset, coincidentally and bizarrely, was on New Years Eve. On other days the sun had been a perfect pink sphere and had then faded away, but on the last sunset of 2009 the sun really had a show down...the rose petal clouds scattered across the sky and the sunshine filtered through them like a glorious kaleidoscope. We gaped in awe and truly gave appreciation for the wonderful year that had been 2009. Bringing me the trip of a lifetime, the reunions of a lifetime and the promise of many more breathtaking times to come. And so, the sun rested its' weary head for the last time for 2009, and the beaming full moon and our party spirits reared up simultaneously like feverish glittered beasts of beauty! And my god, did we glitter up Arambol on New Years Eve! The glitter pots that Sally had lugged around with her for 8 months were finally put to the greatest use imaginable! First we glittered the people staying at our beach huts... then we glittered the people sitting around us at dinner...then we glittered some random Americans who accosted us at our dinner table, demanding glitter (and turning out to be the people we spent the entire evening and our time in Mumbai with)...then we glittered everyone in the bar/club we found ourselves at. We were the Glitter Girls and we rose to the occasion! The night itself was truly magical. We buddied up with three of the four American guys who had sat down at our table and demanded glitter, plus some people we had met that night and before. We danced on the beach to Latino beats, under the glowing perfect full moon, howling like wolves hungry for the final year of the decade! We bumbled along the beach finding parties that pleased our palates and then bumbling on when the mood was right, chatting, laughing, drinking, doing headstands (not us, the crazy Americans with too much energy), playing frisbee (again...not us!) and eventually witnessing the first daylight of the new year lying on the sand, feeding fervently from the delicious warmth of the morning sunshine and the vibe, making new friends over a drink far too strong for that time in the morning, and, when it got hot enough, taking a dip in the Indian ocean. What a way to welcome a year in! Fantastically beautiful and so much love to those involved. I wrote a little poem to commemorate the magic:

People climbed into the night like space suits
People climbed into the night like cool worlds
Shining bottles in their hands drinking to new selves
They say it's their true selves.

People climbed up in the night like green trees
They were hanging from the night like green leaves
Buzzing like Queen Bees.

We poured into the moon like golden sands
An egg time working with eight hands
Stopping time in this beautiful land
Let's try again.

We leapt into the stars like shooting flashes
Space ships souring, ecstatic crashes
Into each others' arms, closing in like eyelashes
Encompassing, infectious, gorgeous rashes.

We danced under the skies like flickering flames
We had only just learnt one anothers' names
Bodies colliding like freight trains
The rhythm: our aim.

We looked up into the moon, our beaming guide
The full and succulent orb taking us on this ride
Energising our souls, feeding our carnal side
Pulling us into the tide
Pull us into this tide
From this I do not want to hide.

nye.jpgyoga.jpg
jump.jpg

And so, from Arambol we headed upwards for yet MORE beach time in Gokarna. Sal and I had been to Gokarna a few weeks' previous and had really loved it so we wanted to show Laura the sights. We stayed on Om Beach this time, not Kudle Beach, and met up with a few people we had got to know in Palolem and Arambol. There was a friendly little community at the beach huts we were staying at, named Sangham, and we slotted in during the days we spent there. Everyone tended to relax there in the days and eat there in the evenings. The beach is really small so Sangham seemed to be the place to be! The week was pretty uneventful, mainly due to the fact that Laura and I were really ill on two of the evenings and Gokarna seemed to suck all the energy from us! Again! We got over our illnesses in time for the sleeper bus (thank GOD!) that we had booked to get to Mumbai. It was time to get back into the excitement and chaos of the city, and, after 6 weeks on the beach, I was more ready for it than I had ever been!

DSC06052.jpgDSC06059.jpgDSC06056.jpg

Highlights since last blog:
- The epic reunion of Laura B, Sally T and I.
- Experiencing Christmas on the beach for the first time (and I hope not the last!).
- Our amazing New Years Eve celebrations in Arambol and the meeting of the Americans!

Posted by Anna Rowl 20:55 Comments (0)

Hampi Heaven

In keeping with the standard Indian style, our arrival in Hampi was preceded by a 9 hour bus journey to get to our destination. Always a delight! This bus journey was an absolute dream ride compared to the bus journey that concludes this blog entry. Always leave the best till last, I say.

Hampi is a land of mystery and magic, of immense wonder and delight as the imagination is taken on a rollercoaster ride of fantastical feelings and vivid visions. Undoubtedly, Hampi holds the rank of being one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to in my life. If not the most. Hampi is located within the ruins of Vijayanagara and is the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Predating the city of Vijayanagara, it continues to be an important religious centre, housing the Virupaksha Temple, as well as several other monuments belonging to the old city. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is not difficult to see why such efforts have been made to preserve the original beauty and structure of the place. The most prominent and obvious difference that makes Hampi so spectacular, for me personally, is the randomly placed, enormously large boulders that are stacked and piled on top of one another all around. It's as if once upon a time a gaggle of prehistoric giants used the area as their playground, shifting and shuffling their rocky play things with ultimate ease, precariously placing them as if in a game to scare the humans that would later walk the lands! A river meanders through Hampi, and a boat runs constantly throughout the day, ferrying passengers from one side of the river to the other at exorbitant prices. The river is the perfect place to watch the sunset, the benevolent boulders providing an ideal seat for the serene show and the scene inviting a dinosaur to come sauntering across the scape...just to complete the look! I found myself trying to describe the beauty of Hampi so many times in my mind, and in my journal...but I really struggled to articulate the beauty and aura of the place. I guess you guys will just have to go there yourselves! Damn it!

DSC05864.jpgDSC05974.jpg

The hot and lazy Hampi days consisted of renting out bikes of the cycle and motor variety, which we all enjoyed very much. The cycling was obviously a little more strenuous but slightly more rewarding, especially when the 3 of us all managed to get up two ENORMOUS hills (*cough cough*) without stopping! The feeling of being free to go where ever we wanted and of pumping the pedals and the blood round our slightly under-exercised bodies (!!!) was fantastic. We received many an excited "Helloooooo!" from lively children in villages that we passed, and I even got an amazing superpower pose from some local school kids. This photo makes me want to manipulate my memory and paste in that the three scamps were all shouting "Cowabunga!" So I will! DSC05884.jpg
DSC05885.jpgDSC05893.jpg

The motorcycle day was equally as fun and provided more speedy thrills than our leisurely pootle along the country roads on our push bikes! The feeling of riding through this impressive terrain, the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, the blue sky streching out before us like a tantalising promise, a little Sally T singing and laughing in my ear as we both belted out "Born to Be Wiiiiiild"!!! I really understand the attraction of the motorcycle - such an addictive feeling of exhilaration (Don't worry mum...I'm not planning to elope with the local Hells Angels group just yet!). We had a four-strong cycle convoy on our biking day out, and we zipped down the roads, which were often bumpy and slightly treacherous, guarded by the omnipresent boulders and shaded by the lush greenery that hugs the roads. The dust flew up as the tyres disturbed the ground below us and exacerbated the rawness, the roughness, and the arid nature of this distinct territory that we were venturing through. It felt at times as though we were pawns, riding through a colossal, life-size chess game, or perhaps snakes and ladders...ducking and diving from the imminent topple of the precariously placed boulders, sweeping swiftly underneath and around the palms that fringed that scene and threatened to splice our skin (imagination may be running wild a little here!). We passed countless temples and monuments, stopping at some to gaze spellbound at the intricate carvings and spectacular sculptures, completed thousands and thousands of years ago and magnificently preserved to reveal the crafty handiwork of royal artists living in ages past.
DSC05906.jpgDSC05950.jpgDSC05927.jpg

On a later day in Hampi, Sally, Noo and I ventured to the Virupaksha Temple and soaked up the scenery, slightly tainted by the teeming crowds of Indian school children out on their Saturday excursions, which unfortunately made the day slightly more intense, speculated (i.e. all eyes on us!) and noisy. Regardless of this, we did manage to catch a glimpse of the Temple Elephant, who stood looking sorrowful and bored out of his skull, with paint caked on his forehead and his thick, truncated limbs swaying from side to side in distraction. A "customer" would appraoch and he would take the money with his trunk, pass it swiftly to his handler on the back-hand, and then swing his trunk up to gently touch it onto the head of the coin-giver. He must rehearse that skit a hundred times a day, bless him. Sally and I also made a visit to the ghats, a huge tank of sparkling water in which the Temple Elephant is washed every morning, although we didn't get to see the washing itself. The textures of the rocks surrounding the green, glassy water contrasted beautifully with one another, creating an orchestra of compositions and patterns for the mind. The smooth, larger rocks were the wind section, leading upwards in tranquil motions with breathy punctuations folded into the surface; the smaller, awkwardly positioned square rocks making up the wall above were the sharp staccato string section, plucking and pulling sharply but rhythmically; and to the sky came the enormous, bellowing boulders, the deep and resounding bass holding the pieces together and enveloping all the sounds in my mind. To someone else, a pile of rocks. To me, a heavenly symphony!
DSC05979.jpg
DSC05967.jpg
DSC05972.jpgDSC05958.jpg

And so, Hampi is over...and to the beach again we go! For some Laura B Christmas and New Years fun! I have to fill you all in on the worst night of my life before I leave you for the festive season though. As I informed you in my last entry, I had caught a virus in Gokarna and had very generously passed it on to Sally and eventually Noo, thus tainting our 2 weeks together (although by NO means ruining it!). I had, by means of bad karma and punishment for passing it around in the first place, caught the bug back, in perfect timing for our 9 hour sleeper bus ride to Goa. So, after some preemptory sickness and diarrhea, we boarded our bus (a glorified tin can on wheels) and were placed at the back of the bus, but of course. Right next to the wheel and on reclining beds that did not fix down to the floor so were bumping all over the place for the entirety of the journey. I proceeded to be sick on myself, into plastic bags, and out of the window, from the sheer jarring of the bus, and undoubtedly intensified by the fact the driver thought he was at the wheel of a rally car. I took full-blown diarrhea toilet stops in bushes, trying not to be lit up by passing car and truck headlights. Our next door neighbours, after hearing me be sick, decided it would be a great idea to light up a strong joint and then kiss very noisily (intimating that something slightly more than kissing was going on behind closed curtains. Enough said). Oh, and on arrival in Goa, half-zombie, half-sick splattered girl mess, I started itching. Oooooh yes. The bed that only I had been sleeping in (Sally had amazingly emerged completely unscathed) had been infested with bed bugs. Bed bugs, if you don't know, are the meanest type of biting bug you can imagine and they obliterated me. Absolutely chewed me to pieces. My back looks like it has been in a wrestling match with poison ivy. So...the first two day of Goa have been rotten, but the itching is now subsiding, I have been looked after exceedingly well by Nurse Taylor, as always, I am on a beach, it's hot and sunny and we have a Laura B arriving in a day. So, the world 'aint all bad. But it did SUCK that night!

Until next time my lovely blog-readers. Have a beautiful Christmas and New Year. I'll have my fingers crossed for snow for you all. Love love and more love xxxx

Highlights since last blog:
- NOT spending the worst night of my life on a sleeper bus to Goa!
- Feeling the wind blow away the cobwebs on our motorcycle ride around Hampi
- Letting my imagination run wild in the prehistoric wonderland of one of the most spectaclar places on earth.

Posted by Anna Rowl 23:33 Comments (0)

Gokarna...low energy, high impact!

Continuing on with the beach life...

So, away from the hustle and bustle of our hot Keralan city spot and onto the train we went (again) to our sandy haven for the next week or so. Gokarna was the destination and a long journey ensued to get there: Ernakulam to Mangalore on an overnight train, and then Mangalore to Gokarna on another day-time train. The second train was without a doubt the most eventful...we ducked and dived the ticket inspectors and countless mardy passengers, as we had paid for a general ticket but were trying to stow away in a higher class, (Sally and I work the helpless Westerner look fantastically, let me tell you!) but alas, we ended up where we belonged: in the general carriage, standing, squeezed up against a toilet and lots and lots of Indian men. Thankfully and to our grateful surprise, the men were so polite (bar letting us have their seats! Chivalry is dead in India!) but we had a very interesting experience halfway through the train ride, when, what at first glance seemed to be a young Indian woman climbed aboard the carriage, and went straight into the toilet. As the train started moving she emerged from the loo, and it became quite obvious that she was in fact a man, dressed in the gaudiest and garish of clothes, with pink and blue make up smeared on her face and a sparkly headdress covering her otherwise stunning face. I didn't know how to react, but before another thought could enter my mind, she started clapping, abruptly and extremely loudly, right in the men's faces (Sally and I had inadvertently ended up in the men's carriage, so there were only guys around). We just stood there stunned and confused, as she went round all the men and clapped this unbelievably abrasive clap from her manly hands, in their faces. One man gave her 10 rupees, while the other just looked uncomfortable and dumbfounded. We later decided that she was actually a eunuch, or hijra, a male-to-female transgender person or effeminate homosexual. According to our faithful friend Wikipedia (!!), some hijra undergo ritual castration, but the majority do not. They usually dress in saris and wear heavy make-up. They typically live in the margins of society, face discrimination and earn their living in various ways, for example by turning up at weddings, births, new shop openings and other major family events uninvited and singing until they are paid or given gifts to go away. The ceremony is supposed to bring good luck and fertility, while the curse of an unappeased hijra is feared by many. Other sources of income for the hijra are begging and prostitution. The begging is accompanied by singing and dancing and the hijras usually get the money easily. So, I think Sally I and I witnessed an uninvited, unwelcome hijra at work.... it certainly made for an interesting train ride!

Once in Gokarna Town, we settled in a room for the night and blissfully bathed our sweaty, sticky skin before eating the most delicious thali ever, and for only 35 roops - that's about 50p. Immense! We were exhausted from the past days' events and aware we still had to get onto the beach and into a beach hut the next day so we rested early, our bellies' full and content! Gokarna Town in the daylight is a hive of activity - temples scatter around the sandy, narrow streets, echoing sounds of chanting and prayers from inside their mystical cavities; dark-skinned beauties in gorgeous sari's sell flowers for offerings to the Gods; sadhu's take their daily pilgrimage to the ghats and temples further towards the sea; throngs of giggling school children are lead by exhausted-looking teachers; scruffy dreaded Western tourists meander about the streets, palpbly cherishing the absence of the brash bolshy tourism that Goa screams of (the type that Gokarna has so far escaped from). Walking from Gokarna Town to the two most popular beaches, Kudle and Om, was rewarded by the most beautiful and secluded sandy sanctuaries imaginable. I have been to Gokarna before, 5 years ago, but it was off-season and rainy. Kudle beach this time was alive with beauty and activity, the clear blue sky reflecting its' burning orb of light onto the crystal sea, the sandy beach reaching back for many metres before the leaning palms pull at the grains. A few restaurants dot the beach, but with little intrusion on the vast arena of whiteness that lay before the sun-worshippers and the passers-by. We spent the morning wandering from Kudle to Om and deliberating over which humble beach hut to make our home for the week ahead. The walk from Gokarna Town to Kudle Beach and from Kudle Beach to Om Beach felt like we were walking on terrain designed for another, far-off planet. Black volcanic rock sprouts tiny yellow and blue flowers, it's bulbous and porous exterior protruding in unusual patterns across the sloping plains, and giving way to thick electric green bushes that you have to navigate through in order to reach the beach. Soon enough, the black and green jungle gives way to terracotta rocks and a horizon of stunning sparkling sea. Heaven! In comparison to the relatively deserted Kudle Beach, Om Beach seemed populated, not overly, but the presence of people could really be felt, perhaps due to the narrower beach and definitely due to the gaggles of Indian men who swarm about, trying to catch a snap of a some exposed bikini-clad sunbather. As a result of this, we decided Kudle Beach was the preferred option, and pootled on back to claim our hut. En route to collect our rucksacks from Gokarna Town we passed by some more temples further out from the town and beaches, jutting out like colourful kites caught on the cliffs, and with locals and worshippers lazing around on the walls and in the doorways of the buildings. I should have taken this calming sight as a sign of the energy-sapping qualities that Gokarna possesses...I later understood that nothing can be achieved here but ultimate relaxation and serenity of body and mind! Further down from the temple was a bathing tank, with water pouring in from a spout near the top of the tank, and many locals and dreaded, lunghi-ed Westerners washing themselves, chilling and smoking chillum on the ghats. Sally and I weaved past, feeling as though we were intruders in a special moment between those people dampened by the fresh water.

Gokarna really did sap the energy out of me, Sally and our lovely friend Noo who joined us for our time on Kudle beach. We all achieved some yoga classes; I did a 4 day yoga course that consisted of 2 sessions a day, plenty of meditation, breathing and stretching out my creaky limbs...oh, and a nasty tummy bug at the end of it! We had been using these little watering-can devices to wash our noses out every session, before we began the class. The little devices were called neti pots and designed to clear out your nose so that when breathing, the nostrils are completely free of mucus and all possible obstacles. The neti pots were unfortunately shared around throughout the course of the week...by the last session I was feeling revitalized, energised, spiritualised, and all the other ised's you can visualise! As I bounded down the rocky steps from the class, bounded into the sea, bounded down the beach to search for rum treats for the evening...my absolute energy slowly but surely gave way to a grumbling, churning tummy which then descended into full blown vomiting and diarrhea. It was as if the Gokarna Gods were punishing me for being too active and lively as so struck me down with a bug that had me laid out in bed for a good 24 hours. I have learnt my lesson Gokarna! I promise!

DSC05785.jpgDSC05788.jpgDSC05791.jpgDSC05794.jpgDSC05809.jpg

The rest of our time on Kudle was spent doing very very little! The atmosphere was serene as could be and we enjoyed many a day splayed on the beach, bikini-clad and dozy, watching the world go by at its' leisurely, peaceful stroll. Mums and dads watched over as their naked toddlers floundered about on the shore; puppies playfighted and dozed at various points up the beach, inducing squeals and strokes wherever they ventured; bejewelled older men with impressive grey dreads and all too revealing thongs stretched out on the sand, sunning limbs and partaking in some yoga practice. Indeed, in the morning on Kudle, a number of people engage in their solitary yoga motions, saluting the sun and performing some truly spectacular stunts with their balancing and flexibility prowess. It certainly inspired the three of us, albeit reluctantly, to rise at 7 every morning and do our bit! We had one stunningly gorgeous sunset on Kudle, after my first day of the yoga course, and the pink, blue and yellow sky actually formed the shapes of four animals: bird, stoat, snake and a tortoise. The tortoise was even riding the snake (to increase speed, of course) and to our gazing and imaginative eyes, it was as though they were four animal super heroes...flying across the sky to save some poor needing person (or animal)...bringing peace and fighting baddies wherever they passed...away, away to another sky over another beach, on another world...perhaps. Yeah...we let our imaginations run away with us somewhat that evening. But it was an unbelievable sunset...and I felt blessed by super powers from above as the vivid colours finally faded from our sight!

The seductive charm and comatose qualities that Gokarna and particularly Kudle possessed did make the place a difficult one to leave. And adding to that, my dodgy tum proved a challenging impediment, both to me and to Little T who courageously stepped up to the plate and carried my huge pack back to Gokarna Town for me. Legendary that she is. Back in Gokarna Town and me feeling somewhat recovered, we enjoyed our last night sitting on the beach watching the slowly silhouetting sea, and the sea of colourful, chattering sari-clad groups, swarming around like bees drawn to a honey pot. A gentle gigantic camel trundled repeatedly past our eye-line, begrudgingly carrying its' human load from one one end of the beach to the other, lead gruffly by the muzzle, its' long strong limbs stalking over the sand with a certain awkward grace that only camels can achieve. One last cheap thali saw our last night in Gokarna off perfectly....until next time! xxx

DSC05830.jpgDSC05819.jpgDSC05856.jpgDSC05843.jpgDSC05808.jpg

Highlights since last blog:
- Finding the best thali I've ever tried in the world ever. And for only 35 roops. Steal!
- Meeting up with the beautiful Noo again.
- Completing my yoga course and feeling like it was worth the early mornings and aching limbs!

Posted by Anna Rowl 23:36 Comments (1)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 24) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 »