A Travellerspoint blog

Bye bye beaches..

Arambol, North Goa

31 °C
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As we've checked out of our hotel room and are spending the day readily awaiting our overnight train to Mumbai, I thought I had better blog about our time here in Arambol.

Arambol is one of Goa's northernmost beaches. We decided to spend our second week in Goa here after being warned off the lively area of Anjuna. We'd read of Arambol being one of Goa's best beaches and a popular place for yoga.

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Craving some routine and also some exercise, we decided to enroll in a 5 day course at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre. We had never experienced Iyengar yoga, but it was the most recommended in our guidebook so we thought we'd give it a go.

The centre was in fact a small bamboo village comprising of a few large huts where practise took place and a series of smaller huts for accommodation. We enrolled with the friendly Indian man at the office hut, where we had to fill out a lengthy form detailing our background and any medical problems.  The rules for course attendees seemed rather strict, stating we were not to sit in the sun for long periods, nor eat before practise, or have late nights, or drink alcohol. We were a bit dubious as to what the course would be like, but we were ready for some openminded commitment. 

Arambol's beach is the longest we've visited in India, although slightly less busy than Palolem.  There's a lot of Russians and the travellers are those free hippy types, who never wear sandals and dress in dirty frills. The main road stretching from the beach is lined with stalls selling clothes and crafts, and is named "Glastonbury street" after the Birtish festival. The food places are less impressive than we've seen previously in India, with many of them serving the same average, but very cheap, meals.

Our days were spent partaking in the yoga course from 8-11.30, and then filling our hungry bellies, lounging in the shade, people watching or reading our books. (Dan finally managed to find the second Game of Thrones book after finishing the first a few weeks ago. He dragged me to every book shop, stall and resturant used book area searching for the damn thing!) One afternoon we also walked the north cliff edge to a smaller, quieter beach where there was a huge freshwater lake leading into the jungle. It was so picturesque!

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The yoga was not like any other yoga we'd done before. Whilst the Ashtanga and Haha yoga we've tried out have many similarities, Iyengar yoga is all about finding balance in the body. The focus is on the feet, learning the perfect way to stand and using these as an anchor which align the rest of the body. There were no sun salutations, deep stretches or challenging strength postures. Instead, we were taught how to stretch our toes, to use the centres of our heels, and to reflect on the way this changed the rest of the body's positioning. Iyengar yoga doesn't rely on just a mat. These yogis believe in using a huge range of cushions, belts, and blankets until you are completely comfortable and can stay in a given position for as long as 20 minutes.

And that was that. Each lesson was spent practising our standing postures, and then our relaxing postures, along with a series of spine twists, back bends, and inverted shoulder stands. We're were supposed to relax in each pose, but our slouched, tense and inflexible areas meant it was impossible to remain comfortable for more than 5 minutes and no amount of "concentrating on the breath" could stop us focusing on the pain and longing for the teacher to declare we could move. Dan was often using tens of blankets and cushions piled high into the sky, a funny sight for those of us who are a bit more flexible and could manage with just a couple. Yet he still complained about how uncomfortable he had been once the class was over. Haha!

It's safe to say we have left the course feeling sceptical and confused. The yogi told us that all other yoga types are bad for us and we should only practise Iyengar. Much the same as all other yoga teachers we've met. Who the hell are we supposed to believe? Iyengar was in the most part boring and uncomfortable, but we both feel the benefits it's had on our body.

Every sunset Arambol beach was, like Gokarna, filled with travellers practising all sorts of magic tricks. We would call it "wizard o'clock", when we would sit on the beach and watch the dancing, juggling, martial arts, and acrobatics unfold around us. This was also the time when the travellers stalls were set up on the beach, where people from all over the world would sell their crafts - the most amazing handmade jewellery!

The last things to mention are our current emotions. We've witnessed horrible sights throughout our journey so far, as you would expect in India, but some things have occurred over the last few days which have stuck in our mind and we have discussed at length on our strolls along the beach..

One early morning on our walk through the backstreets to the yoga village, we heard a loud crash and turned just in time to see an Indian man being knocked from his moped by a taxi. He flew through the air and landed with an almighty thud onto his bike. The taxi had a huge dent in its side. We panicked. We were a distance of around 20 metres away, and a handful of passers by had already rushed to help. We were helpless anyway. So pressed on to our yoga class. But it was the first road accident we've witnessed so far, and we couldn't stop wondering if that man was okay.

We have also seen injuries obtained from road accidents here during Amiee's follow up appointment at the hospital. We were sat waiting for the blood results when an Indian man with a bandage on his eye came to talk to us. He was asking lots of questions and offered us a drink which he paid for from the hospital canteen. Not wanting to seem rude, we accepted and chatted with him for a while, although we were very dubious as to whether he was after something from us. He and his wife had been in a very bad car accident where the car had rolled numerous times. His wife was upstairs in their room at the hospital and he kept asking if we wanted to go and wait for our results there. We had our big backpacks with us and we're still quite dubious, so Amiee offered to go and say hello to his wife while Dan stayed with the bags. He said she was getting lonely as she couldn't leave the room and she was upset from the accident, plus the hospital had lots of security guards everywhere. Upon entering their room, the injuries to the ladies face grabbed my attention straight away. Her mouth was cut to pieces, with long incisions on either side of her mouth. She was unable to smile, although I don't even think she was happy to see me anyway. She looked completely depressed. She talked about the accident and how she was just grateful to have such a wonderful husband who looked after her.. although I immediately sensed some sarcasm there. I felt pretty uncomfortable perched on the bed next to hers. They spoke amongst themselves in Hindi for a a few moments and seemed to be bickering. Then the lady suddenly started to punch her husband and her eyes filled with tears. She repeatedly hit at him with every bit of energy she had on her injured body whilst he just laughed and made out like she was crazy. She was crying, telling me that this man beats her. Even since her injuries he was beating her in hospital. I had no idea what to do. It just wasn't my business. And the man was now pushing me out of their room and then he locked the door behind me. I thought about telling a security guard. But was it really my business?

Domestic violence is illegal at home, and we're are often made aware that it is more common than we think. We will never really know what happens behind closed doors. But in India, a wife is treated more as a husband's possession, and many locals will not intervene in domestic violence.

One more incident which happened last night.. A man was publicly beaten on the beach by a group of older Indian men with bamboo sticks. They took his bag and then persisted to hit him so hard with the sticks that his head began to bleed and he screamed out in pain. Lost of tourists, including us, ran over and tried to help. The locals were shouting that he had hit a young boy and that he should be punished. Eventually, a Russian family who had seen the incident managed to talk the locals out of beating the man and he ran as fast as he could down the beach, escaping the beating.

Our morals are constantly being questioned here. We were instantly asking ourselves that if the man had really hurt a child, did he still deserve that beating? Nevertheless it was a horrible thing to witness.

I guess whilst we are looking forward to venturing up north, we are also aware that this things will be much more common. We are going to see a lot of pain and suffering and even death. And we don't know how to prepare ourselves. It isn't our country. It isn't our culture. And we are helpless.

I guess we're a little nervous to arrive in Mumbai..

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Posted by amiee1992 03:24 Archived in India Comments (5)

A short city stopover

Panjim - Goa's quiet capital

sunny 33 °C
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So we decided to spend one night away from the beaches, to break up our time between the north and south of Goa in the capital city of Panjim.

We paid less than 1 pound between us to get to the city by bus and it was around 70 kilometres. It seems buses are definitely the cheapest way to travel here. They're often packed full, with separate seats for ladies only, and nowhere to store our backpacks apart from throwing them to the front where the driver sits.

What surprises us about the buses here is there are 2, sometimes even 3 members of staff on every bus - and they are tiny! The driver doesn't move from his seat, then there is a man who tells the driver when to stop and opens the door to let passengers on. There may also be another extra man who collects everyone's fayre! Surely this is a bit excessive.

The stations are very confusing, as many of the buses don't have a sign with their destination. The staff stand outside shouting for people to get on the bus as they desperately want to fill it. Our general protocol for getting buses at stations is to say the name of where we want to go to a local.. who knows only how to point in the general direction of where we need to stand, and then to continue with this process until we are sure we're in the right place.

Anyway.. enough of buses. Let's talk Panjim.

We arrived at around 11am as the sun was starting to get very hot, and it was just our luck that all the places recommended in our guidebook had no rooms available. But one of the owners recommended a friends guesthouse called Park Lane Inn. It was a large white building with lots of potted plants everywhere. The friendly husband and wife came outside and showed us the rooms available. We chose a large room situated at the top back of the house which is only accessible by taking the outside steps around the side to the back of the building. There were mahogany floorboards and again more plotted plants outside the room on the small balcony and the toilet and bathroom was separate, situated opposite. We loved our little private outside area to sit and chat.

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The area we stayed was called Fontainhas. This area still had a strong Portuguese influence with many different coloured chateaus lining the narrow streets. We had a bite to eat and went out exploring. We walked along the riverside and admired the huge diversity across the city. There were colonial style buildings, magnificent churches and temples, and lots of proper department stores from well known brands.

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After wondering the city, stopping every now and again in restaurants and cafes to escape the heat or to chat to the odd local, we climbed a steep set of steps near our guesthouse which overlooked the whole of Fontainhas. The sun was setting, and it really enhanced the colours of all the buildings. Small children played and giggled together on the steps beneath us.

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Overall Panjim was a nice contrast from the golden beaches, but we still have one more week on the coast of Goa, and surprisingly the beaches we've visited have all had their differences.

We've decided it's time for some dedication to a new type of yoga. We have enrolled in a 5 day Himalayan Iyengar yoga course in Arambol, North Goa... here goes!

Posted by amiee1992 00:38 Archived in India Tagged goa panjim Comments (1)

Fun with friends

Palolem - South Goa

sunny 32 °C
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It's time to describe our week-long stay in Palolem, South Goa. Sorry, we're struggling to keep up with the blogging!

We arrived here by taxi from nearby Gorkarna and saw many white tourists zipping around on mopeds and loads of pop up stalls selling the same stuff, on the main road to Palolem beach. 

We walked down past all the taxi men, rickshaw men and new to the scene, 'moped men', who actually don't even talk to you. They point and make hand jesters of a motorbike, while jabbering on the phone to someone else.

Any who.. the beach stretched out in a beautiful crescent about 3km in length with restaurants, bars and a wide range of beach huts to choose from.

We did our usual approach.. well almost. I basically asked the first one we went in and got something to eat, while Amiee went hut shopping looking for a bargain. We eventually found Havana Cuba - Cocktails and Cottages. 

The place seemed to be family run and was really friendly - especially the one waiter who helped us with ideas for Dan's birthday.

Our beach hut was bright green with a spacious bedroom and attached shower toilet. We also had a small balcony with a hammock which was cool. It was very basic - not exactly clean and very flimsy but for 8 quid a night, we were sold.

We arrived the day before Dan's birthday and within 20 minutes of being in the hammock, started speaking to a friendly Liverpudlian who had just become a our new neighbour. He ended up introducing us to his friend, Jack, and we chatted away for a while on the beach. We discovered they were both actors and that Jack plays a part in TV drama 'Call the Midwife'. The lads were hilarious and, not surprisingly (sorry lads), they often got mistaken for a gay couple. Sam was the definiate wife role.

Later on in the day we were just relaxing out side the room and started talking to the couple in the hut next door, who also resided, or did, in London not too far from where Jack and Sam lived. Karina and Mark - another couple who aren't a couple. Karina is a crazy women from northern Ireland and Mark was one of those sneaky funny types.  The type that you think is a bit quiet, but comes out with some hilarious one liners as If it's nothing!

Again I'm rambling.. however we ended all going for dinner at a place called The Nest for my birthday night out. The place was like a stopping point before the 'all out' silent disco. The Nest had a funk and soul night on which was hilarious. Smashed and possibly drugged up middle aged people went crazy on the makeshift dance space. It wasn't long before we had moustaches drawn on our faces and the two actors, in true performing arts style, were dancing like it's the last time they would ever get to dance again. So much so that Sam had to rush home to have a shower and a change of clothes due to all the sweat. I for one was not surprised as at one point his feet were moving so fast, I swear I saw the sand catch on fire. But I guess that's neither here nor there..

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Off to the silent disco... We walked for what seemed like forever and turned up at Cleos, which is a home stay type thing, but with area where lots of drugged up people were bellowing the anthems blasting in their ears.

Before we knew it our bodies were throwing shapes we have never seen before and Dan was halfway up a tree. It all ended pretty quick with Dan feeling worse for wear and spewing all over the golden sands on the way home.

Eeew.

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The following hazy day still had loads to offer with an ever eventful kayaking trip. First of all we went out in pairs, me and Amiee in one and Jack and Sam in the other. We new from the first 30 seconds that Amiee and I were a level ahead. With our perfect synchronised motions and their make shift strokes. We made our way to monkey island.

On our approach we saw a school of flying fish floating out of the water as one. It was sooo crazy. Then we went past a few makeshift buoys which, in hindsight, told us to keep away from the rocks.. but we ignored them and instantly regretted it. We were stuck in some whirlpool for a few seconds of panic. We escaped unfazed and wondered around the other side to see if we could find away of getting on to the island.

Amiee and I kept our distance from the rocks, learning from our previous mistakes.
Jack and Sam, however, thought otherwise and before you knew it a strong wave had smashed the boat against the rocks and the strong current made it impossible to swim away. Their faces were a multi of amusement and panic which made Amiee and I laugh hysterically.  The next big wave lifted the boat on top of a large rock and when it passed the boys were balancing on top, completely out of the water and you knew they were thinking "now what!?". After a scramble and a broken ore they were back in the sea but no better off, as the next wave toppled the kayak and Jack went taken by the current into the rocks, scratching his legs. With Sam laughing out of pure nervousness they eventually sought sanctuary on a rock and attempted to flip the boat. Once flipped jack dived on the boat like a fish out of water in a panic and Sam shouted out "stop having sex with the boat!" ..which I found hilarious. Jack for some reason started to paddle off and left Sam on the rock which he said was to make it easier to get on the boat but Sam saw it as if he was being abandoned which created a good bicker all the way to the safe sands.

After all of that, the lads lost 1 pair of sunglasses worth £200, one pair of sandals and their room key. Sound.

The same night we all (apart from a poorly Jack) went to an Italian restaurant for some pizza and nattered about our travels so far.

The next day we got up at sunset for a boat trip which was a amazing. We saw about 2 or 3 dolphins and they came up quite close to the boat. We also got to walk around some small islands and their empty beaches which was beautiful.That same day we had to say our farewells to Karina and Mark.

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This time it was Sam's turn to be ill and Jack accompanied us for a lovely dinner at Dropadi, which had great service and a beautiful mushroom paneer. The following morning we said goodbye to our "brother man's" Jack and Sam and spent the whole day chilling by the beach.

The same night we went back to the room to get ready for dinner and Amiee started getting some serious pain in her back. To the point where she kept crying and couldn't move. We quickly got a taxi to the hospital and Amiee had to spend two nights to recover from an imbalance of electrolytes in her blood (whatever that means..). The hospital was clean and the staff friendly, and thankfully we have insurance!

When we arrived back in Palolem the Havana club was welcoming and sympathetic which was a lovely thing to come back to. The next few days mainly consisted of taking it easy, not staying too long in the sun, and a spot of shopping.

That really ends our time in Palolem and we really did love it! The beautiful beaches, friendly people, friends, good food, big waves and hospital visits.. makes us recommend it to anyone! A definite place to return to in the future.

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Posted by amiee1992 05:39 Archived in India Comments (2)

Gokarna

A tranquil circus!


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First things first. We have to talk about our sleeper train to Gorkana.
We arrived at Ernakulam junction station after our 1 hour long crazy taxi drive at around 10pm.  As you can imagine it was dark, hot with on overwhelming fragrance of what can only be described as a mix between garlic, cumin and urine. Nice.
The station was so busy and we had no idea what was going on or what we had to do. We did the British thing and stood in a queue. For those who haven't queued in India, you don't understand our frustration as the Indians think we are standing there for no good reason and that they can push in by any means necessary.  Obviously Dan let in the first 2000 in but after that he came out with the answer "you need to go to platform one" (we was already on platform one).

"Great", we thought, "we know something". We then saw a board with a break up of what coach is where. We worked out that we had to go to coach 7. "Easy" - I hear you say. No actually it wasn't, because we didn't know which way the train was coming and the boards above our heads showed two numbers, for example, 7/15.After all that we found our place perfectly and the experience on the train was actually okay.  It wasn't too noisy but the odd lost passenger would open our curtain and wake us up.
All in all not too bad. We even got a blanket and pillow and breakfast (but the latter was not fit for consumption).

On arrival into our next Indian state, Karataka, we were greeted by lots of cows! The taxi driver constantly swerved around them and overtook huge trucks on blind corners. We were sweating in fear and holding on for dear life, but the surrounding scenery of green hills and lakes was beautiful.
On arrival into Gokarna town, we had to take a rickshaw up a steep dirty track and then carry our backpacks down the cliff to reach the beach.
We chose to stay in Kudle beach, as it is Gokarnas busiest.. yet it was empty, other than a few yoga enthusiasts and cows.

We already can't really remember what on earth we got upto in Gokarna. Especially as we didn't spend much time lying in the heat. The time just seemed to pass as we sat in the few restaurant shacks and admired the beautiful sunsets each evening.
The few people on the beach each day we're mainly Russian hippy travellers, sat in their groups, singing along to a guitar or bongo drum. One thing we were amazed by during our stay, whilst spending sunsets sat on the beach, was that we felt as though we were at a circus. As we looked around, there were various musicians, yoga enthusiast's, jugglers and magicians. Maybe we passed most of the time in Gokarna people-watching!

This has also been the place we began to see the real side of the stray dogs and cats which are everywhere in India. Flea ridden dogs would roll around on our towels, 'cute' kittens would devour mice next to us as we were about to tuck into our dinner, and huge vicious dog fights would break out on the beach. Dan's love for cats is diminishing slowly and Amiee's adamant they're not getting a pet kitten anymore!

One day we did the 20 minute trek to nearby Om beach (which was even quieter than Kudle!). It was so picturesque, but we spent our whole time watching an poor elderly woman, who was begging sunbathers for moneey, fend off groups of dogs trying to attack her! It's like she was a witch and only the dogs could see it. She was spinning around with a long stick hitting them all away!
Evenings here were short. We often lay on the dark beach watching the stars before retreating to our hotel for bed as early as 9pm!

So that was our time in Gokarna.. A blur of both picturesque and slightly odd sights, and early nights.. which came to an end with another terrifying taxi ride to Goa!

Posted by amiee1992 00:01 Archived in India Comments (1)

History, Seafood and Drama

Fort Kochi

32 °C
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We are now at the end of our third destination. Fort Kochi, a fishing town popular with western tourists due to its interesting history, plays an important role in the layers of human culture in India.

The architecture is so varied, Syrian Christian basilicas stand amongst Jewish synagogues, Portuguese spice warehouses and the ruins of British and Dutch companies.

After looking around a few hotels, guest houses and homestays, we decided to opt for a very large clean room slightly nicer than those we have previously stayed in. The hotel we are staying in is called Toms Old Mansion, right in the heart of the town.

Our stay in Fort Kochi has mainly consisted of sightseeing, browsing the shops, and enjoying some of the tastiest meals we've had so far in India.

There is a large Christian community in South India and some of the oldest churches and basilicas are here in cochin.
Our particular favourite was "Santa Cruz basilica" which lies beside an all girls convent. When we visited the almighty church we where greeted with two things. The beauty of the architecture and the echoing sound of hundreds of young girls singing their morning prayer. A walk around the building  showed lots of interesting religious monuments.

We have also visited a few museums which exhibit lots of historical memorabilia from the Portuguese and Dutch influences in Cochin.  The Dutch palace was filled with interesting murals and items passed down from the Dutch royal family.

One of the rickshaw drivers stopped off at a ginger factory and old spice warehouse. The smell of ginger drying in the sun was overwhelming and we were force fed a serious of spiced teas, ginger and pineapple sweets and dried mango, many of which Amiee wasn't keen on but tried her hardest not to wince.

Then we visited Jew town. There are now only around 50 Jews left in Cochin, but they have definitely left their mark in this part of India. The windows are patterned with the star of David and our visit to the synagogue was so interesting. Beautifully patterned blue and white tiles lined the floors and glass chandeliers covered the ceilings. The whole layout was completely different to a church, with benches laid around a central focus point.

Fort Kochi is also the best place in Kerala to see traditional Kathakali drama performances l. Or so we are told. We went through a small back ally to a two story wooden building. We paid 300 rubies for tickets and climbed upstairs to and surprisingly large circular theatre. The room was half filled with nearly everyone taking pictures of the four actors applying the make up for the nights performance. The make up is used with natural colours from types of rock, flowers and rice which takes around an hour to complete on top of purring seeds behind their eyelids to make their eyes blood shot red. The final product was amazing their faces unrecognisable with bright greens and reds.
For those who don't know Kathakali is a play to which the actors portray only using their facial expression, body movements and 25 hand movements in a type of sign language. We watched the actors take the roles of characters in a traditional Hindu story. It was such a bizzare 2 hours, watching the erratic movement to the loud drums and chanting.

Our next 2 days in Fort Kochi were spent in a nice collection of cafes reading and trying  to eat in as many recommended restaurants as we could. Most of these were not fancy in any shape or form,). Their white walls often covered in dirty stains. Yet they were crammed full with people because the food was amazing. We tucked into the crab masalas, tuna steaks, giant king prawns and seafood spaghetti - some of the best food we have eaten so far in India.

On our last night we sat on a bench on the beachfront and watched the sunset whilst the fishermen bought their canoes in. The one thing that let this place down for us - was not being able to enjoy the beach like us westeners like to. It was mainly occupied by locals and not for sunbathing.

..Which is why we are happy to now be lazing on a remote beach in Gokarna, Karnataka, after our first overnight train. (This bit will come later)

Here's to 4 days of doing nothing..

Posted by amiee1992 02:22 Archived in India Comments (2)

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