Monday, 12 January 2009
Saturday, 3 January 2009
We were picked up by Geraud at Canacona train station - confusingly called Chaudi by the locals - and taken to his Om Sai lodge. Hot showers in our deluxe, executive twin room awaited us but of course our 'twin' was a double. 'No problem sir, this bed big enough for two'. We were momentarily bemused why he was prepared to give us a room each but we soon understood the next day. His rates were about three times higher than comparable lodges! We moved hostel but this wasn't the last we were to see of Geraud in Goa.
Palolem may once have been a peaceful, hippyish fishing village but it's not now. It has a nice beach but is also full of English package tourists and Israelis who have just finished their National Service. Not two groups of people you necessarily want to spend Christmas and New Year with. So we hired scooters and decided to explore a bit and find somewhere else to stay. We visited Agonda and Varca beaches, both beautiful and in Varca's case totally empty.
We moved to Agonda, much more our scene. Little did we know that Geraud from Om Sai in palolem owned the lodge next door to the beach huts we rented. Not only that but he took great pleasure in popping in every day and telling our new hosts - his best friends - how much he had charged us! Clown.
Let me introduce our hosts: Nilesh and Sameer.
Two very hospitable jokers. Believe it or not, Goa is very cold at night at this time of year and after our first night we asked for a blanket, to which Nilesh responded 'How many nights staying', which was a thinly veiled attempt to work out if it was worth his while investing in blankets . When we told him we weren't sure how long we might stay, he told us 'blanket, maybe tomorrow. No problem'! Actually, that response was peddled out 6 days on the trot!
He was very friendly though throughout our stay, he even stroked my stomach when I told him I was feeling a little unwell. Tha was probably a bit too friendly as his sexualtiy was definitely in question.
Our huts were very rustic but perfect: light, fan, double bed, mozzie net and three quid a night. Taht said, they were were next to a dumping ground which attracted every farmyard animal. Waking up to chickens, cows, dogs and pigs eating scraps next to our huts was a daily experience!
Now we're both friendly guys and thought we'd chat to the lonely looking Japanese girl over lunch on our second day. Well, she was sort of Japanese. Her parents were from Kyoto but she was brought up in Canada and presently living in London. Interesting story and background. Dan, lucky man, got to hear this story twice but it's not quite what you're thinking.
He woke up later that night to hear his Israeli neighbour playing serenading someone with his guitar. A bit annoyed about being woken, he was wondering when he could ask them to be quiet when he heard, ' I'm Canadian Japanese but living in London"...Sleeping now wasn't an option as there was ammunition to be collected. However, the Israeli's chat was poor and his kind offer of a bed for the night was refused!
As you can imagine cricket dominated our stay in Goa. Our days usually started at Bobby's place - Ashanti - to watch the SA V Aus Test atch. His brilliant staff eventually realised that we were a bunch of jokers. . 'I'm understanding joking sir' was my favourite response!
However, the real highlight was playing beach cricket with with Bhaji, Lucky (real name), Tom and a slection of his 6 brothers and the rest. This happened everyday from 4.30pm until sunset when the chilled Kingfisher beers would be rolled out by Nilesh.
Late afternoon cricket with the boys
Nobody likes to carry cash on the beach and Bobby, Nilesh and the banana lady (Dan had to step in again to help me understand how much her bananas were!) were fine with us running tabs but when we realised we didn't have nearly enough money to settle our debts we headed to the bank in Chaudi.
We decided to use this trip as a chance to indulge in a bit of health tourism and visit the dentist. My teeth were fine apart from the ever expanding Chai stains but the lovely dentist - who subsequently let us use her clinic as a waiting room before our bus to Hampi - informed Dan know that he needed a filling. Today wasn't really going very well for Dan who had earlier visited a seemingly blind barber for his second shave in India. The cavity filled, it was time for the bill - ten pounds for the check-up, white filling and clean and polish!
One of the thing Goa is renowned for is beach parties and we were looking forward to dancing the night away on New year's Eve. We started the night drinking champagne and red bull chargers and went in search of the action. We jumped in to a rickshaw and trawled the places we'd been told would be lively but it seemed the police had other ideas... A bit disappointing but still managed to enjoy the evening.
Goan food was delicious and as you'd imagine involded a lot of fresh seafood: squid, prawns, kingfish, barracuda, coconut fish - what? really?- and tuna. Actually let's not discuss the tuna sandwich I ordered!
Next stop: Hampi.
Thursday, 1 January 2009
The purpose of this leg of the trip was to cruise the backwaters on one of the beautiful houseboats but as a boat for the two was beyond our means we were 'joining' with a Saffa family we'd met the day before ....It was a lovely boat and a very relaxing trip but not one of the 'ten things you must do before you die' as described by the book.
The Keralan backwaters
The food however was probably the best we'd eaten in India; a range of delicious vegetable coconut curries and sauces eaten off a banana leaf with your fingers and washed down with a cold 'Super Premium' beer although it wasn't beer but more likely home brew gin.
The Keralan boat cuisine - tastier than it looks!
Refreshed and recharged it was time for the epic 24 hour journey to Goa but first dinner in Fort Cochin with the Saffas..
We arrived at 6pm, having gone with the Super Xpress bus from Allepey and a driver who didn't mess around. This time we sat up front and had a full view of what was approaching us. There was more than one occasion of hard braking and whiplash but we got there in the end. A quick ferry journey across the river and we were in Cochin and ready to spend a few relaxing hours checking out old cathedrals and churches - the Portuguese influence was certainly apparent and we walked past the church where Vasco da Gama was first buried.
We met the South African family near the Chinese fishing nets. These massive contraptions are manned by about 4 men and are a huge nets to scoop up fish. We strolled along and admired the various fish stalls...fresh fish, amazing tiger prawns, lobster, crab, red snapper, kingfish, squid...you name it. The fishermen are all over you, offering deals for platters by the kg - a bit like Borough Market without the pretentiousness. You buy your fresh selection and someone takes you over to a nearby stall where they cook it for you....brilliant. We take king prawns and squid, lightly dusted with Masala spice and some garlic and butter.
We pulled up some seats and waited in the queue for our seafood to be prepared. This was a popular joint and Dan suggested a couple of beers for the wait... A few minutes later Dan was back with a wrapped up parcel and some water...the Kingfisher waiting to be cracked open and escape the newspaper wrapping. It nearly ended in tears...the quest for the Kingfisher lager had us answering to the police. In Cochin you are not allowed to drink in public and the vendor should've told us. Hugo took a slug out of the beer just as a car approached, it was the police and in trying to be subtle by lowering the paper parcel, he only confirmed the driver's suspicions. They halted and quizzed him about it, whilst Dan was checking on the food. Another officer stood alongside side me cursing the vendor and soon afterwards a kid started cleaning as if he was closing up. Now, police or no police we had been waiting 40 mins for our seafood and there was no way Dan was going to let them shut it down before our feast. After a few minutes of pleading and arguing our case I convinced him to keep it open so he could finish our food....it was a close call , we still finished the Kingfisher off and stumbled off to the train station for the double header...Magalore and then Goa....
Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Ooty is an old hill station and home to several beautiful tea plantations, but it was also to be one of the disappointments of the trip thus far. Perhaps there was too much expectation. The bus journey through the winding mountains was stunning, a tad hair-raising and bumpy but after 5 epic hours with no air con or adjustable seats we were ready to see what it had to offer.
Our arrival at the bus station was yet another experience with the locals checking out the Viru...or maybe they were just staring at the two nutter travellers who had arrived in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops with the temperature settling in at a chilly 5 degrees... a bit of a school boy error and in hindsight perhaps we should of factor in the potential for wintery conditions at that altitude.
We consulted the LP yet again for a cosy place to stay, the YWCA was the top pick and sounded appealing - two sopen fires and constant hot water. The staff were friendly enough and we opted for the premium cottage with a "working" shower . The twin bed request was brushed aside and they showed us the cottage with a double...no problem, they would split the beds and replace the double sheets with singles...later...later please!
We unwound after the long journey by chatting to some other lodgers. French, German, English and South African travellers came together to share stories over dinner. The service was comical (think Fawlty Towers) - ask for an item and the answer was bound to be...not today sir ...2 banana lassis...no sir....no lassi.....only one banana. It was a good thing the compnay and conversation were good or it could've been painful.The eveing was to get better....
With our appetite's satisfied and heavy eyes, we headed to our room to chill - no pun intended although how true it was to be - and plan the trip to the tea plantations but first a hot shower to warm up....... A long story short, ...the beds were still the same and we ended up running to another building in our towels to have a shower. Well it was a shower until the shower head fell off as Hugo showered and we were left with a hose. The manager was up in arms about it all and couldn't understanding why we were complaining.
With the temperatures dropping and the room approaching freezing, we requested a 4th blanket each but despite having a stack of them the Manager was reluctant to give us another one. That was positvely Dan's worst evening on this trip, he was semi dilirious,sweat pouring off him and dreaming of Sachin Tendulkar and swords. Dan spent 45 minutes sitting in the ensuite shower room....elsewhere at 3am (more info than necessary I know, but I'm painting the picture)....not fun...why now when we were due some hiking and outdoor adventures?
The following morning we called a guide and quickly realised that the price didn't include transportation - you get a local who walks around with you for 4 hours on the main road and charges 10 quid each. We looked at each other, decided we could probably manage that by ourselves and jumped on the bus up to Conoor.
The tea plantation itself was brilliant. We had a tour of the tea processing factory and wandering around the plantation before finishing with a few with a few cups of tea.
A snap decision was made to head back to Coimbuture junction for a good night's rest and then an early train to Kerala. Farewell Tamil Nadu!
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
For those of you that are not familiar with Udaipur, it is steeped in history, but also known because of its romantic lakes , rooftop restaurants and rolling hills ...that and the fact that Octopussy was filmed here a long time ago, and still central to the tourism of Udaipur.(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopussy#Filming)
Hugo reminds me of George's email and recommendation of the Mahendra Prakash. I'm on the phone in a flash trying to book a twin room. As always, after a bit of broken dialogue, we work out that there is a room and that we can get an auto from the bus station for about 20P....what no complimentary pick-up??...not a good start...
Upon arrival, we are greeted by the general (old boy in a uniform...security) and escorted to reception, with about 3 guys around us clambering at our backpacks when we have already carried them through to the foyer...a little late boys.
We get a quick tour and take in the plush surroundings. This is by far the most picturesque hotel we have stayed in, with a lush swimming pool and great lawn area. It's a pity that we only have one night here, but at least that will be spent in comfort and the luxury of a little Star cricket, once again.
We enjoy breakfast in the garden and grab a quick dip...the sun is warm at 9am , but it hasn't warmed the water yet, so it's a fresh dip....fresh....!!! We venture up along the road, first cut left, second cut right are the directions to get to the City Palace given by reception, no problems. Udaipur is pleasantly quiter than the other cities and we feel heaps more relaxed and start considering our itinerary for the day...Palace , Lake Palce , Boat trip (potentially??) , Monsoon Palace for sunset....ahh, let's see what happens....oh what about a shave.
Having walked around the Palace grounds and admiring it's grandeur, we get the necessary tourist pics and decide to call it a day on the culture front. All the palaces and forts are now morphing into one...we need to appreciate these.
The Monsoon Palace taken from the City Palace
Time to move on, take our pics and thank the guys...next stop the spice and veg markets.
Sunset at the Monsoon Palace...how romantic....
With the day drawing to a close , it's time to bid Udaipur and Rajasthan farewell. It's been an epic journey and a great introduction to the Indian culture. Rajasthan has not disappointed and is in the memory banks. Next we head into Tamil Nadu........
We get hustled off the train again , ready to meet up with Lokesh (the son who runs our guesthouse). We've decided to use the Lonely Planet as a guide and provide us with some useful mid-range accommodation and from the description it looks like we'll be getting some luxury, coupled with value....we are yet to see the place though.
As is the case now , nearly a week into the journey , the Viru is getting us noticed and we've barely hit the rickshaw stand, when we're surrounded by about 10 drivers offering us a lift. Then they notice the Viru....within the space of 2 minutes we have a 10 strong game happening. So what if we're tired from the journey, they're not interested. Who cares if there's barely any light at 10pm , they can come steaming in...numerous bouncers are pelted in and the ball is flying off in all directions...the Jodhpur lot seem to be watching too much T20 cricket , the rule book is out the window and defensive shots are non-existent. Lokesh finally comes over and asks if we are the guys he is due to collect, having stood there watching for 10 mins, and we're bidding out farewells to the boys and off for a night's rest.
Now, we're not the fussy travellers and both of us have stayed in some dives on our travels but this place was a huge disappointment and made us realise that the Lonely Planet perhaps isn't doing it's job correctly and reviewing these houses correctly....Mid range, gets you a hard double, no air-con, non-flushing toilet, but some beautiful murals painted on the walls...what are they talking about...rant over, the place was disappointing, but it was for one night only, so we check in and ask about where we can grab a quick "chat"...bite to eat.
We cruise the road down to Nirvana, which is the recommendation, although the guesthouse owner , doesn't seem to know much about it and pop in...they are just in the process of closing, when the foreigners pull in...reluctant to show any disappointment, the calls are "welcome..welcoming..." and we're taking to a splendid rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the fort. The food is delicious and we explain to the waiter that we'd love to understand more about the local cuisine, no problem, you can come and cook tomorrow....brilliant...what a result, we're going to have our first experience in an Indian kitchen....one problem though...time....we have an afternoon bus to Udaipur and can't miss it...we have a gap from 11.30-1pm...we'll squeeze it in.
The following morning is an early start for a cultural experience up to the wonderful Mehrangarh Fort....we spent a few hours with our audio tour and take it all in admiring the splendid views , and whilst it's all breathtaking , we're both keen just to wrap it up and get to Nirvana to ensure that we can cook. So , we're off.....
Our rickshaw driver is still waiting for us outside , having threatened that if we didn't agree the right price that we'd be left alone and would have to pay more to get taxi's down....what a joker, we've been here for a while now and are getting use to their stunts...when in doubt , look to half what they quote is our philosophy, with some banter along the way.
We pop down to the Clock Tower for a quick Chai and a photograph of the Chai Man...a big Indian bloke who resembles a friendly giant, he has a warm smile and keeps wobbling his head , with chirps of photo...photo...he seems to want the photo instantly and doesn't understand that we'd need to download the pic to print it....tomorrow, we politely offer him...."no problem!!"
Nirvana man welcomes us, and assures us the kitchen is waiting , we just need to decide on our food. We go with Hyderabadi biryani and a pakoda....brilliant. As we're about to head off the owner pops over for chat. He spent 15 years in the UK and played club cricket in Durham before deciding to return home and open this restaurant. We have a bit of cricket banter and he is on his way but not before we assure him that his restaurant should be in the Lonely Planet and that we'll recommend them.
To our surprise, the kitchen is in a good state...no rodents running around, they are using chopping boards and prepping for the day.
The action shot....