india

The look

shortly after my last blurb i departed Goa for what was meant to be a short trip to Pune to visit Osho and do a course…of course i know that my time is always flexible and i ended up spending a month in the beautiful Koregon park and truly fell in love with the place, the people and everything there.

the course was the hardest and best thing of my life to date, and after a month of digging and sweating it out, meditation, dance, celebration, learning, connecting, love and being within, practicing awareness i returned to the land of Goa. what a change to come back here after the serenity of the last month!

it’s true that with distance or time you have perspective and reflection, but a month is not so long and to have such a different view on the same place after such a short trip away is amazing. while it’s so good to be back by the sea, i really did miss the sea a lot, it feels like Goa is in heat, and im not just talking about the temperature.

yet i’m here settling like dust, integrating my work and reinforcing what i’ve learnt, remembering to be present and aware. the realisations of the past few weeks are endless and continual, it’s a beautiful thing…now the future is wide open, more so than before, and that is incredible. i have no idea where i will end up in the next few months. i have one ticket and no future destination locked in. that’s the way i like it and i’m finally more than happy with that.

near the end of my trip i decided to take sannyas in a beautiful celebration with some of my new family, you can read about it here http://www.neosannyas.org if you want to know more

now it’s time to hit the beach, enjoy the song…

Palolem to Mumbai…and everything in between…this is the end

for those who didn’t know, Palolem is actually in Goa, in the south…and Goa is a tiny state (one of the smallest I’m sure) but in true Indian fashion (the inefficient way) it took us 5 buses to make the massive 90km trip down the coast…nuts…but normal…for here anyway…

so Palolem was quite nice really, the beach was beautiful (much better than any in north Goa, but didn’t really compare to Gokarna – best so far) and we got ourselves a cheap crappy little bungalow on the beach…after the long ride down all I wanted was a swim, so I was insanely happy to be at the beach and swimming, and even met a Dutch couple in the sea (you really meet travellers everywhere) whom we later discovered had seen me rescuing a puppy a couple of weeks before at Gokarna train station – how random…and we spent 2 days hanging out together, lying in the sun, swimming and eating – tough life we have here…really, don’t know how it’s done, but someone has to do it!!

now after 5 weeks of never thinking of the lack of sanitation in crappy restaurants, knowing and ignoring the reality of the situation and being not too badly off for it…i made the huge mistake of going into the kitchen…

so at first it was pretty cool…the kitchen..is on the beach…the floor is sand! but the longer I spent in there (and i took photos…they’ll be up eventually) the more red flags were going off everywhere (i study hospitality management and after months of hygiene and workplace health and safety, not to mention actually working in hospitality and having a pretty high standard of cleanliness…it was awwwwwwwwwwful) i mean, the food was good. but jesus these guys have never heard of cross contamination.
without going too much into details ill briefly mention raw fish being prepared next to a big bowl of raw chicken, some enchiladas being prepared ON THE BENCH…then another guy walks in and slaps a raw fish onto that same bench…

anyway…it was bad. real bad. (the food was actually quite good, but how do you get those images out of your head?) and when you’re getting banana lassis that taste like onion, or fruit salad that’s just not right…you know it’s not cool.

if anyone’s been to India or even anywhere in Asia you may know that almost every menu (and they’re huge) have at least one unidentifiable item on them…and what’s more fun than trying the random dessert or main that you’ve never heard of? well, probably a few things, but really it keeps me amused at least to force others to try nasty things such as avocado shakes (Chris took that one for the team)…we all tried…i was super curious as to what an avocado shake would taste like…being a huge fan of avos myself – usually in a sandwich or with eggs though…in case you’re wondering it’s a mix between avocado (no surprise there) and…vanilla. yep. delish? not quite.

Emma got let off pretty easy with a dessert named Bebice…what is this you may ask? it was described to me as a jelly-pie… speciality of Goa…well in that case! it was ok…Emma actually preferred the ‘Hello to the Queen’ (this is a firm staple on Indian menus…not quite sure why…it’s biscuits, banana, and ice cream..and in this case, cornflakes…original)

what nasty thing did i try? well another Goan speciality…Coconut Fenny. the name alone suggests some awful thoughts i know…it’s a locally brewed spirit that smells quite like pure ethanol. not sure where the coconut comes in (there’s a cashew one too) but it appears you can ferment and brew it all here…it was nasty…

needless to say we didn’t have a great food experience in Palolem, and today (5 days later) my stomach is still not quite right…i must add that I cannot wait to be through with stomach and intestine troubles…the daily diarrhea diaries are well and truly over as of tomorrow when I leave Mumbai for Kuala Lumpur on the long trip home.

so dirty food aside, Palolem was cool, and after 2 days we took our 5 buses back and made it in time to shower, change and head straight to the Prem Joshua concert at hilltop (oh, and celebrate my birthday). the gig was awesome and out of this world. these guys are nuts (i can’t really remember where they’re all from but he’s German and one guy is Japanese) but really amazing mix of music and so much fun.

i may have mentioned our American friend Chris before..we met him (and quite a few others) in Varkala and ran into him a few weeks later in Anjuna…we all went down to Palolem together and over dinner one night we discussed the differences for single guys and girls travelling alone.

now the perks and perils of women travelling alone have been talked about for hours (at our tables anyway) the one perk being that women don’t queue – hello straight to the front of a massive arse line…love it…
but little did i know that men don’t have it so easy either…or at least, that Chris has had some rather interesting, confronting and let’s not forget down right hilarious encounters over his 3 months in India alone…
it seems that Chris is getting more sexual attention off the guys than women here…and in one awesome line I absolutely must quote…he was walking down the road in Sikkim one random day when a guy comes up and say “I WANT TO FUCK YOU”.
talk about a welcome. now i won’t write about the rest of them, needless to say he’s been put in some awkward positions (no pun intended there Chris) with guys coming onto him a few times…must be sending some signals out there mate…

the night of my birthday i was to travel to Mumbai by train, however I tried booking at was wait listed – meaning it’s full…taking a chance (and not really having much choice as it’s full for another 2 weeks apparently) I bought a “space” at the station and got onto the women’s carriage (no reservation) finding myself a hard wooden bed.
as a no reservation carriage, it kind of means you have to share the tiny space you have with anyone…so with some potato cakes for dinner i attempted to sleep, sharing my tiny, super hard bed with another person.

she apparently took a liking to me and though she spoke no english, woke me up to have a chat (lovely) it appears i was quite a hit on the ladies carriage, and everyone wanted to know more about my husband and job (you do get sick of these questions pretty quickly…it’s been 6 weeks now…) but i really had such a great time chatting away with translators and with about 3 terrible hours of attempted sleep, i was woken early by the chai walla yelling…yea now there’s chai everywhere at 3.30am, but when you want it, there’s none to be found…with about 6 invitations in Mumbai (i had to tell them i was flying that same day – not quite true) i was off and navigating my way around Victoria Terminus to find a taxi to my guesthouse.

after being told it was closed, under renovation, and full, i walked up 4 flights of stairs to my guest house (it was 6.30am) woke up the guy, and left my bag there to go for a walk in search of food.

Mumbai is so fresh and cool in the morning, a lovely change from Goa, and the sunrise over the harbour in front of the Taj hotel was stunning. it was difficult to find a place open so early for breakfast (8am? seriously? people are up, don’t they eat??) but eventually ended up having milk coffee and a disgusting omelette sandwich (seriously, how do you mess that up? it was foul) with 3 new zealanders who’d just arrived here 2 days ago.

the people on the street are so friendly, greeting you as you walk past with a cheery Good Morning, hash? what a good morning indeed if you’re starting with hash..not subtle (that’s really not a strong point here as we’ve established) but still far less suss than those muttering “pashmina shawl” so dodgy you’d think it was a drug…

you really can buy everything here, and indeed they sell it all on the street with welcoming sales pitches such as “Yes, watch?”…enticing hey…

but more seriously after only a day (and a deliriously exhausted one at that) here in Mumbai i really really like it. it’s got a vibrant feel to it, the European gothic architecture is stunning, and the wide boulevards in this area make me think i could be in Europe…or Vietnam…either way it doesn’t feel so Indian…then you see the clearly defined (by the smell) urinal street and you remember that yes, you are in fact in a country where people will shit where they eat.

i managed to run the last of my errands here, and treated myself to an amazing massage for my birthday (after torturing myself last night) due to being still sick i’ve barely eaten in the city renowned for the best food – this is a crime in my books…but after one last night in yet another crappy guest house (my single room, is the size of a single bed..it’s awesome) I’m off tomorrow morning to Kuala Lumpur (where i spend a night, then another in the plane) and i’ll finally reach Melbourne 2 days later!

i can’t believe this trip is already over, i have mixed feelings about going home as it feels like it’s just flown by…at the same time i can’t wait for that bacon & avo sandwich….red meat…mmmm laaaaaaaaamb! and being back in my beloved Melbourne, in my bed, around my friends…

India I’ll definitely be back soon!

the remainder of my photos will definitely be loaded online when I’m back, it’s hard to describe the insanely slow rate these computers and “super fast adsl internet” work at, and why it takes hours to load not many photos…i can’t understand it myself…I have managed to update photos to Gokarna…so the start of the beach photos are there…you’ll just have to wait for the rest of them.

goan crazy

well i’ve managed to find a decent computer and am currently in the (extremely slow) process of loading photos again…may be updated today, we’ll see how we go…

my plans have changed again..i’ve decided to head south to Palolem with Emma and an american we met in Varkala (and ran into here again) for 2 days then back here for my birthday (because really, i’d rather be on a beach…who wouldn’t) and then meander through Maharashtra up to Mumbai for 2 days before going hooooooooome (via KL) that way i can also make up for missing new years and catch Prem Joshua play live at hilltop..should be cool.

i can’t quite wrap my head around the fact ill be home soon…it’s pretty awesome (I’m hanging for a damn good coffee…) and to see friends and be in my bed, but i feel like i’ve missed out on so much travel time being sick (damn being sick!) though what a place to be “stuck” really…i can’t complain..ill be back i know for sure…and probably in not that long, as i’m itching to travel more, and to see places i haven’t been or had to reroute (bloody Tamil Nadu..teasing me with your western ghats – Ooty)

i shall return! guess that’s all i can say for now.

im getting too comfortable driving here…my blue beast is serving me well, and i’m being tested daily (in patience, arm strength and ability) today we ran out of petrol (the little gage doesn’t work ok) so i was going round a bend and the car just stopped…nice…luckily i was able to pull over right away (there was just enough space) and just happened to be in front of a shop that sold petrol…by the litre…in plastic bottles (as they do here) thank god!

there was also a mechanic across the road (what amazing placement for a breakdown!) though he was in town for the day…so no help to us…

after purchasing a few litres of petrol, pouring them in and waiting, the car still wouldn’t start…i thought the battery had gone, but apparently the motor was so dry it just wouldn’t start…so in a moment of Indian genius, 2 guys (who appeared out of nowhere) decided to help me by pushing the car (with emma – it was hilarious, wish i could have grabbed a photo of that) up a mini hill and back down so i could start the car…it worked!

if everything i’ve dealt with on the roads here is not a testament to the fact that i deserve my license, i don’t know what is….
i’m driving a car from the 50s with NO power steering (obviously) on the crazy Indian roads (they’re crap) with crazy Indians on the road (they’re crazy – they overtake someone who’s overtaking someone else on a blind bend…all the time…they leave their high beam on….) there are cows EVERYWHERE…what else can i say? ah yes, they stay in the middle of the road, lingering to get a better look at the car…there are no words to explain what it truly is to drive here…its nuts…i’m nuts…but in one piece and tougher for it….god knows how i’ll adapt to driving in Australia…won’t exactly go down well if i’m beeping away constantly…yelling at people and swerving around the cows…oh yea..there are no cows on the road…you’d think it’d be much easier there..we’ll see…either way i should be handed my full license and a certificate of bravery upon arrival in Australia…oh and perhaps a fine for driving without a license…nah ill just pass a few hundred rupees over…that’d do it.

lets hope for good karma and pray that these photos load up…not sure how long i can sit here for but perhaps update at least to Gokarna…if not to Goa…

irony at it’s best

for the very loud person i am, i found myself at home on NYE with a throat infection…what an unexpected way to end the year…such an unexpected year it was…seems fitting really in some ways…

obviously it would have been nicer without the crazy infection and antibiotics…but at least i wasn’t glued to the toilets right…

i think that the crazy pace of the start of the trip may have had something to do with it too…21 places in 11 days…that’s alot of moving around, and alot of crowded transport (which is where you pick up the viral infections…lovely…)

so after a super quiet new years and a complete lack of partying (so sad) i slept more than i’ve slept in years (actually since last time i was in india and sick…im seeing a pattern…) and im almost well enough to get back on the road..thank god!

the insane slow-pace of this computer is preventing me from loading the photos i’d like to load…hopefully tomorrow i’ll have a chance to get that done before heading off..

i’ve reassessed my itinerary again, and it seems that Tamil Nadu will just have to wait till my next trip…don’t reckon im up for a 24 hour train ride just yet..so i’m heading north, meandering up the konkan coast in maharashtra…through Pune (where ill probably celebrate my birthday) and up to Mumbai for a day or 2 before flying home (via KL)…yea ill be home in just over a week now…that is absolutely nuts…

6 days later…I’m still in Goa…

what a place to be “stuck” hey…apart from the mad tourism it’s quite beautiful here, oh and I have this kick arse flat to live in, which totally helps…

so I’ve been driving around (first in a little white japanese car, then in that beautiful blue beast) for a few days, and it’s pretty hectic driving in India…there have been a couple of incidents…though nothing too serious, thank god.

first it was the cops…no real reason, it appears they wanted some money, as you do…so 500 Rs (about $12) I was free to go…quite a rip off for Indian standards but for anywhere else, total bargain!
for a first day (let’s keep in mind that I’m on my learner permit, haven’t driven since June, and generally don’t really drive at all) it was incident free, total surprise to me too..

in one day i managed to reverse into a car – cracked the license plate…well they weren’t there anyway, and the cops didn’t seem to care too much…clip a guy on the elbow – really he shouldn’t have been on the road, I blame the lack of pavements in this country, plus who walks with their back to traffic (everyone here), and between stalling quite a bit…(totally the car, proof you ask? well my dad AND brother also stalled the car, so there.) oh and I managed to bust a tire…at night…on a quiet road…thank god my brother was there, oh and I had a torch…and I know how to change a tire…in a wonderful family bonding moment I taught my brother how to do it, and welcomed him into manhood…hahaha

as Emma put it so well “I’m not scared in the car with you driving, but I’m worried for those on the road around you”…yup I’m a bit of a menace…actually, I drive like an Indian…one hand on the horn..it’s the only way here…it’s a right of passage, there is no giving way, no priority, nothing..it’s me first and too bad for the rest of you…so I’m doing well!

oh, and the beast? no accidents, just cruising around and loving life…

so nothing super exciting going on here, I’m pretty sick so I’m staying put till I’m better, looks like it’s going to be some kind of trance party in Goa for new years…could be worse yea…life’s a bit of a beach down here…yoga and beach..not too bad….going to head east early in the new year to get a bit more travelling done before heading home (very very soon!!)

more photos coming soon, possibly when I’m on a computer of normal speed…at this rate I’ll be here all night…

a moment of belonging.

I was standing in the cold, miserable rain of Ooty, drinking coffee, smoking, with a turban on my head…being stared and laughed at by the men standing around…I turned and spat on the floor…and it hit me…I’m like an Indian man.

I finally found my sense of belonging in India…

I realised that perhaps these guys find it strange how all these foreign women come over and act..well, like men. we’re loud, we’re alone, we’re independent and pushy…(I was wearing a scarf as a turban) to them, we may as well be men…the women here are so stuck in their traditional roles…

look at how they dress…a huge majority of women still wear the sari or salwar kameez, whereas most men wear (horribly styled) western clothes…this alone says masses about the society here and the roles each gender is encased in…as one guy in Kochi told me, it’s time for us to evolve too..so right..it’s about time…if India wants to move into this century and perhaps one day be a world leader (I can’t see it, personally…) they’re going to have to let some of the traditions slide to make room for the modern world they want to be a part of.

so Christmas is in 2 days…and I’ve spent the day sitting on a little beach in southern India…there’s no mobile signal..it’s beautiful…couldn’t feel further away from it all.
tomorrow up to Goa…should be good though I’m not really looking forward to the crowds…and egos…and all that jazz…

go go Gokarna

In the Nilgiri region, around Ooty, it seems every farmer and his goat has a tea plantation…makes me wonder what kind of quality you’re getting when you purchase Indian tea overseas (let’s not even think about here)…it could just be your run of the mill, grown by the side of a busy road with cars, buses and trucks charging up and down daily…the tea’s growing like it’s on steroids…from all the FUMES!! disgusting..we can only hope they wash it!

sadly i can’t tell you how they make tea (well..the process involved) after a night of shivering in bed (it was bloody freezing…i’m not exaggerating) we woke up to rain, and clouds so thick we could barely see 30m…there goes the tea plantation visit, or any walking at all…we left after a hot shower (my god that was incredible! first hot shower since Oz…and well needed too!!) and some food. a short walk to the bus station, i was told that the bus to Calicut (our next stopping point) wasn’t till 2.15pm…so we waited….and waited….and waited….it was drizzling non stop, it was absolutely freezing, and just really miserable…what a place!
after many MANY chais and coffees, the bus finally rocked up…around 3.30…luckily we were waiting (out in the rain) and managed to jump on quickly enough to get seats (yea there were heaps of people standing) and even fighting each other to get the spare seat next to us…we picked a woman…

thus began another long journey here to Gokarna…
the bus down to Calicut took about 7 hours (not the 5 we were told it would take…with only 1 toilet break) and we finally got there at night, starving and annoyed..if a little stiff too…we went to the train station where we got some unidentified curry with paratha and waited…till 12.05am when our train got in…of course we only had spaces again so we had to walk through the whole train of people sleeping, in the dark, with all our crap, finding some spare beds…thank god we did, and managed to get some sleep…before arriving in Mangalore at 4.40am….after another two hours or so waiting we boarded another train to Gokarna…no beds, just hard, upright, packed bench seats…great.

the ride was fine, after so many chais and coffees i couldn’t have another (that’s ALOT) we finally got to Gokarna and got shoved out of the way by all these little old ladies with heaps of bags…spiritually enlightened im sure (they were on a pilgrimage) and managed to get out…

we headed for Om beach, but realised it was full, so after lunch and a swim and some pretty hard bargaining with a boat guy we headed over to Kudlee beach where we trekked over the beach with our packs in the blaring sun like a desert movie to find a place to stay…

my first thoughts (and notes) on Gokarna…
a bunch of stoned, dreaded backpackers…Israelis dancing to crap techno on a hot little beach…little shacks dotted around a palmtree studded coast…

this place couldn’t be more of a polar opposite to Ooty if we tried…and only 24 hours later too! this country is unreal…
it is so rare to find a place still so sparsely developed, there are more people here than places to stay…

i was listening to a conversation in Israeli yesterday, my neighbours were trying to put up a hammock chair..sounded super complicated…i suddenly felt so displaced..was i still in India? this place could be in Thailand? you wouldn’t know the difference…oh wait…there’s masala…a LOT of masala…and cows (shit) on the beach…ahh India…

ahhh Snooty Ooty..perhaps just not my cuppa tea..

Two days in Varkala was more than enough, the last night was spent at the “Chillout Shack” a pretty cool place styled like many in Thailand or Laos but kind of rare for India…unfortunately it was guitar night and every Jack Johnson wannabe whipped their guitars out and had a little jam…cynical much…love that there are backpackers who travel with guitars…nah it was lovely, live music, a range of western music, some hits…some were totally butchered…

being so short on time now i’ve had to cut down my itinerary to be in Goa for christmas (which is less than a week away…) so as i wanted to see hill stations in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu, i opted for the less touristy Ooty in Tamil Nadu. it’s quite a bit further away, but then after Varkala i was happy to be away from a very touristy place, and frankly its not so out of the way when heading up north.

here’s a revised version of my map, here are the places i’ve been so far, not sure where to from here exactly so i’ll have to update as i go..

anyway we set off from Varkala in the morning on the train to Kochi then after waiting a couple hours another train up to Coimbatore…we arrived at night after spending all day on trains in the heat, without proper seats..apparently when you buy a ticket at the station just before getting on the train they cannot allocate a seat (they neglect to mention this part) so you buy a “space”…what does that mean? means you don’t get a seat…and so you sit wherever…until someone who actually reserved that specific seat comes along and kicks you off…so we moved…and again…and shared with people until we finally arrived at Coimbatore late…

I have nothing to say about that town, all we did was eat and attempt to sleep. the train on from there was just before 5am..so we got up at 3.45am..that was soooo harsh. mainly because my room, was ON the street..you could hear every single noise…from cars, to the guy yelling TSHIRT TSHIRT TSHIRT TSHIRT (he was selling tshirts..) and of course, the bloody arseholes standing ON my doorstep, YELLING in tamil, all night…im not exaggerating i had to drag myself out of bed at 2am to tell them to shut up and move on…so after what was probably the worst night’s sleep in the history of bad nights of sleep, i was rudely awoken by my alarm at 3.45am…for yet another day of riding the train…yaaaay…

after buying tickets, grabbing a quick chai, and managing to headbutt the corner of the wall while picking up my backpack (yes i have a bloody bruise now…love it..) it was off to the train for a quick ride (in the dark) to Mettupalayam and on to the “miniature railway” to Ooty.
so this trip is described by lonely planet (most traveller’s bibles) as one of the top train rides in the country…this it may be (for scenic purposes) however they fail to mention the reality of the ride…this is why i’m here to fill in the gaps..
so we’re queuing in the dark for the “miniature train”..it’s small, but not like a kids size toy train which is kind of what you imagine when you hear miniature..or at least i did…i was relieved to find that it was in fact adult size, and of course they crammed in 5 people per bench..way too many if you ask me…4 was comfortable, 5 was just too much.

it was an incredibly beautiful ride…the 48km (which took only about 5 HOURS) by steam engine (we had to stop frequently to add lots of water, oil and bang around the engine with some kind of hammer) was this amazing transition from coconut palm trees and jungle, to thick rainforest, to a drier forest type and up to the dry tea plantations where the weather is cooler, and there are gum trees…
the train was packed (there were even people standing in our compartment at some stage, though we all protested)
we went through many tunnels, not something you’d think would be particularly exciting…but the Indians were going wild…they were screaming and cheering…every time…there were HEAPS of tunnels…
for a country that has regular power outages you really wouldn’t think that being in the dark was THAT exciting…maybe that’s just me…

one thing i must mention, as awwwwwful as it is..is the rubbish..it breaks my heart and it’s just disgusting..not to mention IRREVERSIBLE.
the entire way up (my head was hanging out the window) there were beautiful streams and waterfalls, everything had plastic in it. it was EVERYWHERE. how sad is that? for those who have been to India before you might know what it’s like…its absolutely everywhere…and it’s so awful. and there is a complete lack of any education about it, or any care for that matter. they ask you if you like their beautiful country but don’t think for a second to try and keep it beautiful.

anyway long story short, beautiful trip, many stops, touristy photos (i took over 100 on the way up so i’m gonna have to go through and cull) and we’re now in Ooty.
so the attraction to Ooty (im deducting based on my experience in 1 day here) is the surroundings, the scenery, the weather and perhaps the tea..but the town..not so much..it’s just another Indian town…dirty, busy, loud, and nothing exciting happening or to do or see..in the town…but around town, it’s so serene, and stunning scenery.

so tomorrow some kind of tea plantation visit where you see them grow and pick the tea leaves and then whatever it is they do to it after that…guess i’ll find out tomorrow…

oh and lovely news…i have a nasty cough and cold…bloody hell…