|TAKE GOOD CARE OF THOSE COWS!|
Catholic Portugese Goa with its beaches; Hindu Madurai; French-Influenced Pondicherry on the Sea of Bengal; Mysore with its Palace; Hampi and the temples dating back to the 10th century. This is but one stretch of India, from the southwest coast through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, ending in Mammalapuram on the southeast coast, and it's the stretch we took. This was our fourth trip to incredible India and we wanted to be sure to visit areas, sites and places we'd never seen before. Barbara did a great job planning and booking the trip with a little transportation help from an old friend (she is not old) who leads tours through India.
Daughter Sasha came along for the first week even though she had just spent two weeks in Thailand with us, and we met a friend from Bali in Mumbai who planned to stay with us for entire three weeks in India.
We were a little tired when we landed in Mumbai at midnight, after spending the past 5 weeks traipsing through Myanmar and Thailand, but we got about 4 hours sleep before arising to a 10 hour train ride to Goa.
Goa is where the LSD-fueled, full-moon parties (including huge sound systems) originated in the late 60's on the beaches, with traveling hippies from the world over dancing the night into oblivion. Goa was occupied by the Portugese for hundreds of years and hence is a Catholic state with many Christian Indians and a number of beautiful old churches. We had a great little guest house outside of Anjuna, which is a Yoga center; and our hotel had classes in two rooms going all day. Anjuna has become overrun with dread-locked backpackers on motorbikes, stalls selling cheap clothes and trinkets and some very good seafood on the beach. We were charmed, what with the toned-down madness of India, the ubiquitous cows, the beach hawkers and of course, the food. There are still full-moon parties and music blares out from eateries all along the beach, but now what we hear is techno, house or some such thing--awful! I'm sure the music in the 60's & 70's was more to our liking! But it was so good the be back in India eating those wonderful Indian breads--naan, puri, parathi, chapati, and fresh seafood.
Next, a short car ride to Benaulim, also in Goa, but much quieter, catering to an older, more sedate crowd, which was revealed to us pretty quickly as we walked along the beach and heard the music--no techno, just some crooner singing My Way. But the beach here was lovely, wide and had big waves. So after six days in Goa we hopped on a day train to Hampi. This is a fairly recently discovered city which is known for the ruins of a 10th-12th century Hindu civilization which abandoned the area at the heels of invading armies.
The cool thing about staying in Hampi was where we stayed and the location of our guest house. We arrived via a taxi from the train station and were let out by the side of a river--it seems we had booked a hotel in the backpacker area and had to take a small, outboard motorboat across to reach it, and all the other hotels and restaurants. We had to traverse this river in order to spend the day touring the ruins and have lunch, then back again in the evening--fun! Our hotel, the Mowgli Guesthouse was right on a curve of the river nestled among huge boulders and beautiful trees. It served excellent breakfasts and we had AC rooms all for $16/night! A super spot to chill out and meet people.
Typical of these backpacker areas in India is the predominance of young Israelis (and, of course, falafels), and now Russians.
After three fun days here, Sasha left us (hope it was nothing I said!) and we boarded a first-class car on an overnight train to Mysore.
|MAKING A BIG DECISION|
The overnight trains are comfortable in the AC 2nd class and even better in 1st class--wide beds and a locking door with four to a cabin. The food on the trains is pretty tasty, especially the constant Chai sellers.
So, we are now in the chaos of Madurai, preparing to see the famous Sri Meenakshi Temple, considered by many to be the height of South Indian temple architecture, as vital to this region as the Taj Mahal is to North India. It is more of a complex than just a temple, enclosed by 12 towers all carved with gods, goddesses, heroes and demons. There is a marvelous and erotic legend behind this temple which is much too long to go into here; suffice it to say it involves a goddess born with 3 breasts. By coincidence the 3 days we were there was the annual temple festival during which the gods are taken out, paraded around town, then brought to the big lake in town and floated out to where some erotic stuff goes on amongst them. We couldn't get a good look.
Madurai wasn't all "city", for we took a day trip into the hill country and that was pleasant except for the ride down the mountain--a small bus, narrow roads, and a driver in a rush to get home--a white knuckle experience. We had some friendly Indians on the bus with us, so we talked a lot with them, which made for really good day. A plus here was the rooftop restaurant at our hotel which served good dinners, and the city being what it was ended up being our dining spot.
Getting tired yet? We were holding up okay, but all the traveling and sleeping in different hotels can be wearing. Okay, so to move on--Puducherry, on the east coast, with a rocky, non-swimmable beach, a 1.5 mile promenade and French cafes and restaurants (hey--croissants!). Puducherry was a French colony at one time, so there remains a little je ne sai quoi about the town, although it is only a small strip of streets that the locals are attempting to keep stylish. There were a number of good cafes, and breakfasts do include decent croissants and baguettes. (Now this is still India and the rest of the city is like any other Indian city.) I especially loved walking along the promenade in the evenings.
On the left you see me with my new-found buddies
and on the right, Barbara is standing in front of the golden dome at Auroville, a new-age
community which hopes to
change the world by example. We visited Auroville for an afternoon and had a super lunch at their restaurant, before touring the grounds. We were impressed with their idealistic goals, but, although they still going strong after 30 years, they have only 2,20 souls from all over the globe, a little shy of the projected 40,000.
|SAND SCULPTURE ON THE BEACH|
|OUR HOTEL IN PUDUCHERRY|
Also in Puducherry is the Aurobindo Ashram which gives Yoga classes every day. One night we saw a classic car show with some American cars and a concert of inspiring Indian music.
Our last stop was a 2 hour car ride up the coast to Mammalapuram. Another beach city, but this time with real sandy, wide beaches--even surfing for those younger than us. The
big attraction here, besides fresh fish grilled on the beach, are the stone sculpted temples dating back to the 7th Century, and they really are worth a visit. Many are whole rooms carved into the face of boulders, and they are beautiful. This is another example of a civilization that thrived until invading armies chased them out of town.
|THE BLIND FEELING THE ELEPHANT|
|CARVED INTO THE ROCK|
|CARVING IN THE ROCK|
After a few days in this laid back city we drove to the Chennai airport and caught a plane to Kuala Lumpur (KL) in Malaysia to spend a few days before heading back to Bali and home. It was refreshing to be in a city where streets have lanes and cars follow laws; where the is no garbage in the streets and where there is a public transportation system (and a good one). The Chinatown in KL is exceptional and the food fabulous and cheap. We spent a day in the old Dutch city of Malacca, a 2 hour bus ride south of KL, and well worth the time. The colorful bicycle rickshaws are all covered in artificial flowers and we cruised around in one stopping at mosques, churches, an old house set up as a museum (loved it!) a restored sailing ship and just enjoyed to old town feel.
Back in KL a most memorable afternoon was spent at the Islamic Art Museum which was world class in both it's contents and presentations. The main mosque in town was spectacular, and once again, we loved the seafood meals.
We enjoyed the city but were anxious to be back in Bali among such warm and wonderful people and the relaxing and nurturing environment. I'm writing this from our home in Ubud after having a great fish and chicken dinner with friends, looking forward to our movie club meeting tomorrow night (we're hosting and we'll prepare a fresh salad and pasta primavera).
Hope you are all well and happy and I'll write again soon.