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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!!

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Puri and Konark

5 Nov

Well, its no beautiful beach town, in fact, part of the town reminds me of this beach ghost town that Astrid and I happened upon in Sicily a few years ago. But what Puri lacks in ambiance, it makes up for with a laid-back relaxed vibe that makes it really easy to be here.

We are staying in Z Hotel on Chakrathirta Rd., also known as CT Rd. Funnily, many people say that CT stands for “Cheat Tourists,” which many of the shops and restaurants are designed to do. The Z however, is a piece of sanity and relaxation away from the chaos of hawkers, touts, and rickshaw drivers. The place used to be the rural get-away house of a Maharaja and the owner keeps it in very good condition. The staff are helpful and the room tariff doesn’t break the bank, which is always good at the end of the month. The sea breezes waft through the room and fill it with salt air, a welcome change from exhaust fumes! To the left is a picture of Puri Beach at sunset just behind the Z Hotel.

Yesterday, Astrid and I rented scooters to go to Konark from Ganesh Tour & Travels, also on CT Rd. He charged me Rs. 150 for each scooter for the ENTIRE day, 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The ride to Konark, which is about 40 km from Puri, was fantastic riding through animal sanctuary lands with green fields, sand dunes, snaking rivers, and incredibly blue sky. It was hot and steamy from the morning rains, but riding on the scooters was so cooling we didn’t even notice the heat. The crowds of crazy drivers that are so ubiquitous in India were also absent, so we were basically on the road by ourselves for most of the journey, passing a bullock cart, a herd of goats, or a bicycle here and there. The cars that were around passed us without incident. This was the first time since we got to India two months ago that we actually had the freedom to do what we wanted to do on our own time schedule. IT WAS FABULOUS! No waiting for a taxi, no waiting for buses, no waiting for anything!

We arrived at Konark around 10:30 a.m. and were immediately dogged by a guide that wanted us to use his services. I had read that this would happen, so we let him show us where to park the scooters and had him show us on the sign board at the entrance to the temple complex that he was in fact a registered guide as there are only 29 registered guides. He showed us his ID and it matched so we accepted his offer. I’m so glad we did, he was very knowledgeable about the temple, the carvings, and the history that we would have been lost without him. It would have just been another ancient temple and we would have missed the intricacies of it without him, as well as the Kama Sutra/ Tantric carvings. BTW, I can’t remember his name, but he was number 20 on the board, just look him up if you are there.

Designed to look like a cosmic chariot of the sun god, Surya drawn by seven horses, which represent the days of the week, the temple sits on 24 stone “wheels” that represent the 24 hours in the day. The temple stands 35 meters high and at one point there was another temple behind it that stood 70 meters high. It is gargantuan! The whole complex was positioned to catch the first rays of morning light that would illuminate the deity inside the temple. For more info, check out the Wikipedia page about Konark and the Sun Temple.

We finished our tour in about an hour and a half and ended up paying the guide for two hours because we were so pleased. This temple is one of those “must-see sights” and you should do it with a guide. It makes if far more interesting.

After getting back to Puri around 3:00 p.m., totally sunburned and hot, we returned our scooters, had a snack and then took a long nap. A totally peaceful day!

Oh, if you ever get to Puri, try Peace Restaurant on CT Road. The food is so fresh and good and they get fresh seafood everyday. Everything we had there over four days was incredible. Try the ten grilled prawns for Rs. 150 or about $3.50 US.

We leave tomorrow for Bhubaneswar and a flight to Mumbai and then Goa to see the Portuguese colonial influence on that side of the country. See you on the beaches!

Cheers!