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What We Won’t Miss About India…

9 Feb

So, the post from yesterday is the highly romanticized version of the most memorable experiences of our trip. Just to be totally unbiased, here are the things that we won’t miss.

Let’s start with mosquitoes, not your average mosquitoes, but ginormous ones that carry blood-born pathogens like Dengue Fever, Chikunyunga, Malaria…We personally find mosquitoes to be the most pointless insect in the world. Tell us some reason why they must exist!

We definitely will not miss the pollution, smoke, lack of sanitation, lack of infrastructure, pot-holed roads, garbage all over the place and standing ponds of sewage and urine.

We won’t miss the Indian man’s fascination with the vehicle horn. From strange French-style horns on autorickshaws with a squeeze bulb at one end that sound like a rabid band of clowns rolling down the street to high-powered, high-decibel, ear-shattering air horns that seem to be on every vehicle- including motorbikes. I understand using a horn to warn traffic that you are coming around a blind corner, or that you are overtaking another car, and even as a thank you for letting you pass, but often, there is no discernible reason people use horns in India, it seems as though it is merely to prove they exist. We both swear that we have lost at least a little of our hearing here in India.

We won’t miss the starving, abused and generally neglected street dogs that roam around almost every city and village in India. Will someone please feed and home them or put them out of their misery? If you are looking for a good NGO to give your money to, let it be one of the animal welfare organizations here in India.

We can’t wait to leave behind rickshaw and taxi drivers who are desperate enough for work that you will get asked 17 times in the space of ten minutes whether you want a taxi or not. They don’t take no for an answer, as they rattle off all of the destinations, observation points, temples, etc. that they can take you as if it is some deranged compulsion for them to finish their sentences.

We won’t miss hawkers, especially those on the beaches with their god-forsaken drums, maps, stickers and magnets that hassle you every day even though you have told them, “No!” 493 times…that day. Who buys maps and stickers while they are on the beach anyway? We also will not miss the ever popular hawker patter, “Yes, have a look my shop?”

Last but not least, we won’t miss the hippie tourists that invade India- with their skanky dreadlocks, dirty clothes, smelly body odor, and their vacant stares into space. India is a spiritual country only if you engage in something- not just sit around and bang on your newly purchased drum from the beach hawker.

Cheers!

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Varkala, life on the edge

24 Jan
Well we arrived here in Varkala almost a week ago and I find it a very nice change from the normal beach scene in India. The imposing cliffs (see photo at left of sunset from the cliffs) stop the buildings from pouring onto the beaches like most resort towns and that makes the air and environment a little cleaner and more relaxed. The state of Kerala understands that the beaches here are an important resource and they take care of them and their tourists accordingly. There are teams of women in olive-drab sari uniforms that come and clean the beach daily, lifeguards that actually make sure people are not drowning and police that chase off the ever popular gawking Indian males and drum salesmen.

They fail on one area however and that is what to do with the massive amounts of garbage that accumulate on the cliffs. There does not seem to be a dump anywhere around so garbage ends up being swept off the cliff onto the cliff sides on the approach to the beaches. The cleaners only clean the beach itself and will not clean the cliff sides. The result is very sad; potato chip bags, plastic water bottles, leaflets, and lots of other garbage end up on the cliff sides everyday- and nobody does anything about it. The prevailing theory is that as long as it is not on the cliff top, it doesn’t exist.

But aside from that Varkala is a beautiful place. Watching from the cliffs as the waves and swells on the Arabian Sea roll in while fishermen in small boats along with their helpers bobbing up and down in the blue-green waters, pulling in the days catch is something that can take up hours. The sightings of dolphins in the area are frequent and amazing- the sight of them gliding and jumping through the water stop people on the cliffs dead in their tracks.

We are staying in an interesting place- I don’t know if I would recommend it or not, but the name in itself is something to write about. You see we are staying at Santa Claus’ All Seasons Village and Ayurvedic Resort. Yes, you read that correctly because as we all know when he is not making tiny elves slave over toys in the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus spend all their free time in Varkala, India having Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments and eating continental food. The room is cheap at Rs. 500 per night and there is a “swimming pool” of which I use the term loosely as it is more a place to wash off the sand from the beaches nearby. The lock broke on our door the other day, and in typical Indian fashion a man came to oil the lock with lavender-scented Odonil, a room freshener. That lasted for a half day and then the lock went out again. Luckily there is another door that leads out to the pool which we can use. The coconut palms around the property are painted with all kinds of interesting scenes including traditional Keralan Kathakali dancers and St. Nicholas. It kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder…

Getting past the hawkers on the cliffs is another story- every shop owner lurks outside their business which looks EXACTLY like the one next door imploring you to “Yes, have a look my shop?” Some are more aggressive than others and I simply try to ignore them. The restraunts on the cliff are very similar- as the dinner hour approaches the workers lay out the days catch to try to entice you. When that doesn’t work they get in front of you while you are walking and lure you with promises of “strong drinks and chilled beer.” When that doesn’t work they ask you questions like; “You walk by here every night and you never come eat here, why not?” Last night a man asked me this question and I turned to him and said with a smile, “I only eat in restaurants where people don’t attack me as I walk by.” He seemed so confused by this statement as if people enjoyed being hounded by restauranteurs as they take an evening stroll.

There are a few good restaurants where they won’t attack you- check out Kerala Coffee House, which doesn’t serve very good coffee, but has great food, Clafouti- who boasts Thai food and a Pumpernickel Bakery-which doesn’t serve pumpernickel bread, and Trattorias (notice the random plural)- which also serves Thai food and has- you guessed it– a German bakery- that only sells croissants and other French pastries.

We are trying to decide what to do with only three weeks left in our trip- do we want to continue travelling or do we want to take it easy? We’ll let you know.

Cheers!

Kerala

21 Jan

It is known as “God’s Own Country” but it is really just India.  We arrived fresh off the train the other day in Trivandrum and decided to try to go directly to Varkala, about 50 km north of the city.  I tried many different places by telephone, but either could not find anything available or felt like they were being dodgy about prices.  After about 45 minutes of calling guest houses and trying to hear anything over the roar of trains, people, PA announcements, (why do local telephones in India all have to be outside where you can never hear what is being said?) and all other loud things, we decided to stay in Trivandrum for the evening – easier said than done…

You see EVERYTHING affordable near the train station was taken by early afternoon.  I mean EVERYTHING!  We ended up spending way too much at Wild Palms Home Stay which was actually very nice and included a typical Keralan breakfast the next morning which consisted of rice noodle patties with shaved coconut and a coconut curry that was reminiscent of a Thai coconut curry- very delicious.  We tried to go to a movie in Trivandrum and that fell through as well- it just wasn’t our day.  So we had some dinner and went back to the room to go to bed.

On first glance, Trivandrum is a very clean city- full of the normal hustle and bustle of other Indian cities, but somehow different.  People are more educated here and most that I talked to speak at least some English.  Kerala’s government has been Communist since the 50s and that may account for the push for literacy- which is amazing for a developing country at 91%! A strange thing about Kerala that I have notiiced is the absence of street dogs- I mean they are gone in Trivandrum itself.  I think I saw one street dog the entire day.

Next day, we took the state bus from Trivandrum to Varkala- which does not go straight there by the way- just ask at the bus station which bus to get on- people are very helpful in Kerala.

So here we are on the cliffs of Varkala overlooking the Arabian Sea.  I’ll post more about this beautiful place later.

Cheers!

Pondicherry…

11 Dec

Only because I like the name better. They officially changed their name last October (2006) to Puducherry, but hey Pondicherry sounds so much better.

We’re staying in one of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s Guest Houses called Park Guest House. It is fantastic! Totally quiet, spotlessly clean, and RIGHT on the beach. The waves of the Bay of Bengal are breaking literally 500 meters from our balcony. There is a beautiful garden area with flowers and grass and it is very calm. There are a couple of rules, like you need to be in by 10:30 or the gate is locked, you can’t drink alcohol or do drugs, but those are easy. And if you abide by these rules, you can stay in probably the calmest place in Pondicherry and all for 600 Rs- about $15 USD.  Where are you going to get a beach front hotel for $15 anywhere?
We have been walking around for over a week now on wide, paved, clean streets, taking in the French influenced architecture and enjoying the Promenade that runs along the Sea. There are real bakeries here too, with croissants, brioche, real French bread, yummy! It’s amazing the food you miss when you’re on the road, but this has been nice.

The other day as we passed the courthouse, directly on the Promenade, a police officer came out and stopped us. He looked incredibly gruff and for a moment, I thought we had done something wrong. He reached out to shake my hand and asked where we were from. “The US.” we told him waiting for the ticket book to come out or something. He smiled from beneath his huge bushy mustache (huge mustaches are the norm inTamil Nadu) and asked if we had a camera. I didn’t bring it on that trip so he asked us to come by the next day and take a picture with him. We said we would. The next day we arrived and he told all of his friends that we came back to take a picture, so with rifles in hand, we all took a picture with him. He asked me to email him the pictures when we could. Now every time we pass the courthouse he waves to us!

We head off to Auroville, about 10km away in the next couple of days. I don’t know how much Internet access we will have but I’ll try to post as much as possible.

Cheers!

Palolem, Goa

22 Nov

Hey all, just a quick note to let you all know we haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! We moved down south to Palolem Beach on Monday and it is like a slice of heaven. Sure, there’s as many taxis, shops, and dolphin watching boat trips as you want to take…and as many touts trying to get their commission as soon as the whities step off the bus, but AHHHH…it really is paradise. I can imagine what it must have been like twenty or thirty years ago when the hippies happened upon the beach for the first time. Pristine jungle with swaying coconut palms, huge green mountains in the background, blue-green sea and blue skies that go on forever.

It is really beautiful here, the water and the beach is cleaner, there is more wildlife- like the hermit crab pictured to the left, and if you don’t want to, you never have to step foot in a polluting vehicle, everything is right there on the beach for you…as long as you want the ubiquitous “multi-cuisine” restaurants, (which we don’t) because while they may do multi-cuisine, they hardly ever do any of them well. Me, I much prefer a good curry and rice or for a real treat here in Palolem, walk off the beach and into the main part of town to go to either of the two health food restaurants there. Both Brown Bread and Blue Planet serve up tasty salads and GASP, tofu dishes like tofu with mushroom sauce, mashed potatos with grilled onions, carrot orange salad, and bread with cashew butter for $120 Rs., a totally fair price! Now I never thought I would say this, but give me a good grilled tofu with brown rice, steamed vegetables and peanut sauce any day of the week.

We are staying in a beach-front shack toward the north end of Palolem Beach called Brendon’s, it’s pretty good although a little over priced for what you get. I mean, it really is a shack, plywood walls, sloping floors, it rattles and creaks when you walk in it, but hey, look where you are, it’s freakin’ beautiful! If you stay out of the room all day as we do and close your eyes when you do come in, then everything is alright. Besides, the staff are the best bunch of guys we have met anywhere. Bobby, Kumar, and John are our favorites, but everyone is very nice. To the right is a view from our front porch watching the sunset over Green Island and the Arabian Sea.

We’ll be here until Thursday and then off to Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

Cheers!

No news is good news

18 Nov

Hey all, we’re just taking a small hiatus from our travels on some of Goa’s fine beaches soaking up some sun, trying to find a decent Indian restaurant, and exploring the north coast of Goa on our scooter.

We’ve been checking out Arambol, Vagator, and Anjuna as well as tooling around Baga, Calangute and Candolim.  We’ll be heading down south tomorrow…see you there.

We have a couple of posts brewing right now…they should be up soon.

Cheers!

I think I might love India…

12 Nov

I really noticed how used to India we had become when we landed in Mumbai on our way to Goa.

Many of the people who come to Goa are Euro-trash tourists, Liverpool blue collars and Israelis looking for fun and sun. We however, were on a mission to take a break, to spend some time near the beach and cruise on scooters having fun. We decided to come to Baga and spend a week swimming, sunning and scootering…then travel the rest of Goa before heading back to Puducherry.

We had a layover in Mumbai, before we ended up in Panjim, Goa. This is where I realized we were used to India…and well, we had won our right of passage. The people, the madness, the confusion, the late planes, the endless waiting…it just didn’t phase us. This is how it just is…this is India. But the contrast- between our acceptance and ability to look the other way, and the new comers was very tangible.

The tourists were impatient, they ACTUALLY waited in lines or at least thought there were lines (and when, of course, Indians *and two white tourists* cut in front of them…they threatened to complain!) I remember we were like that way, way, way back (sigh…) but no more. We know there are no lines, when you want something just push to the front and step on the toes of the person next to you to make it. We know that NO plane (ours was 2 hours late) or bus (a 2 hour ride really means closer to 4 1/2 hours) or train (only had 1 on time in all these months- “the inconvenience is most regretted”) will be on time in India- there is no such thing as time in India, and there will never be. We know that they will scan, search and struggle with Anthony at every airport and securtiy check in India, but let me walk through everything (I am the one carrying everything illegal ;)- less they frisk and harass (hand over mouth here) a woman. Just being in India is a struggle, but we…we have made it through initiation- and won!!

I am a Salwar wearing, chaos loving, Dosa eating, water drinking tourist and I love it. Give me a 100% pure-veg thali any day!!! Lime soda please, sweet with a little salt. Watch the back of my salwar as I ghetto scooter it out of here sister- honking to make the cow move just avoiding your pan spit. This is India.

So we are in this little beach town, (called the freak zone because it is nothing like anything else in India. If you never went anywhere else but here, you would have no idea what India is really like) settled into a great place called Alidia Beach Cottages, cruising on our ghetto scooter (it doesn’t have side mirrors like all the others, but it has brakes- that’s not bad!!) just feeling groovy. Then I gasp… there are whities everywhere!!!

They are waddling down the road, wearing next to nothing (I would rather they didn’t…I just don’t need to see that- it’s never the good looking ones you know, just the old and fat) and badly sunburned. They look confused, dazed and otherwise annoyed. Sure! Of course! It’s 38C and 98% humidity and it’s dusty, dirty and crazy- why in the world are you walking in the sun during the middle of the day? The old English Raj saying “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the middle of the day” really fits. We are out, but that is because we have a deluxe ghetto bike and we are free. Besides, we are heading either to shade or the water- it’s crazy to be in the sun in the middle of the day!

It’s fun to cruise and laugh, playing with the traffic just like everyone else, honking like mad. We understand how traffic works and we play with them. But we notice something, something that is not playing and definitely not laughing…the whities! They are signaling to turn and no one is responding the right way!! Ha, Ha!! Honking is a national past-time in India. But it really means pass me in India, not a signal to indicate rudeness. So what else is there to do, but pass? So we zip by, others zip by and the whities get mad!! So they honk (to say hey, that’s not nice)…but you know…that means pass me!! So everyone does and we all honk back which means thank you, and they become more impatient and angry. Silly! You know “Horn OK Please” or “Sound Horn OK Please” means let me know you are there, pass me and then honk when you do pass. Well India IS Horn Please in every way. So people pass, when the whities honk and then the whites want to turn! They stop in the road (honk!) turn on the turn signal (pass me) and wait. No one stops everyone passes and the whities honk. Of course! Put your arm out and just go if you want to turn. No, don’t stop in the road- just go. “But there is a car coming!!” Go faster! Flustered whities everywhere and not knowing what to do!!!! Funnier than hell. Which leads me to another topic- whities on the beach.

Now, I am no prude. I love to be naked and I do it all I can but I also respect culture and have to live here and be a white woman in India. Yes, I am wearing a “bathing costume” in India, on the beach. I know that is not totally respectable, but it is a fairly modest costume and I am going to specified beach areas for tourists, and there are other Indian families vacationing in various forms of similar dress, so I figure it’s just fine. No issues, this IS a beach resort. Sure, there are plenty of Salwars walking around, but not in the 1K or so radius of beach in our area. But that’s not the issue- here’s my issue- please don’t go topless.

Come on ladies, how freaking stupid can you be? You are in a 3rd world country, dominated by religion and social modesty, where you won’t even get frisked at an airport for fear of immodesty and you are going topless? Shit. See here’s the issue- you show up here 2 weeks a year, do your thing and then go home. You don’t care what happens to other women nor about the ramifications of your actions towards other women, especially western women. I do. I am the one (and other fellow traveling women) who want to immerse themselves in culture, who want to learn, who want to show respect. We are the ones (because we are white) the conservative Indian men see as the breast bearing whores (trust me, they have cousins all over the country who will hear and see on their phones pictures and stories about your ta ta’s and tell others etc.), which is the exact thing they expect from an MTV or Eurotrash gal. Why? Why do you do it? Here’s the thing… I just can’t cry a tear for you.

When the Indian men circle your chaise lounge, walk by you at least 20 times, laugh and point, bring other men to stare at you and make life hell- you get annoyed. Oh boo-hoo! How dare they harass your toplessness and not just leave you alone, how RUDE! You live in this isolated non-India (trust me, Baga is NOT India) for a week or two and go home, and that’s the extent of your understanding of India. You know- this isn’t the West and this isn’t home. Things are different, no matter how similar they seem (Goa tourism has worked hard at that- making you think you were in Ibiza.) I would love to take you any day to any city or village and show you what it is really like in India. What it is like to just be a white woman, and discuss the attitudes and viewpoints of conservative Indian men. Then, when you ask me “where does this come from?” I will point to you and say “girlfriend, it’s you.” Take your top off all you want- I do- but not on the beaches in India. Show some respect for the other women, both Western and Eastern- who have to tolerate the ramifications.

More to come on the list I have of idiosyncrasies of Indian life…like leaving the sticker on all mirrors and bathroom fixtures. No matter the class of hotel, inn, guest house etc. there is always a sticker. Why? We take them off…are we breaking the law?

Stay Tuned!!