Saturday, January 27, 2007

The past few days have been more of the delightful same: reading and relaxing by the beach, getting a decent amount of sun, eating plenty of tasty food, and making sure that the coconut fenny industry doesn't falter. We treated ourselves to two amazing seafood extravaganzas - one night we indulged on a plate full of succulent tiger prawns, and then the next night we battled (and technically lost to) an entire baby shark! The shark was grilled with a lemon-garlic butter sauce, and was delicious, not at all chewy and rubbery, just a whole kg of tender and boneless meat. We've spent the last two nights listening to all sorts of music at a local music shop, this guy Vasu has all sorts of meditational, trance, Goa trance, chillout, lounge music and more, so we are putting together our Goa music collection, which includes several CDs by this guy Prem Joshua, who plays a hybrid of classical Indian music and modern Western techno. His band is playing a show tonight in Vagatore, a beach a bit down the coast, so we are going to try and go see them, and if everything works out, we'll be travelling there via scooter!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Not much exciting to report, we've just been spending the last few days lounging on the beautiful Arambol beach in Goa. Food is amazing here, the past two days we've started our days in style with a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash-brown potatoes, toast, and an avocado salad, with fresh juice or a lassi (yogurt-like beverage) to drink. All that costs 90 rupees, or $2. Their are a multitude of Western-style restaurant/bars right along the beach, with umbrellas and chairs to use during the day and outside tables with a view for the immaculate sunsets we are watching nightly. We've switched hotels once so far, saving 50 rupees and escaping some semi-rude neighbors in the process, though last night's cockroach attack was almost enough to make us re-think our decision! Our current place is surprisingly cool during the day though, which was a welcome change, and is a mere 100 meters from the beach, though we have to weave through a animal-filled alley, which so far has been filled with dogs, a cat, an entire family of wild pigs, and a bull or two. Animals roam wherever they please throughout India, but along the beach they seem to have the run of things, looking well-fed, and at sunset the bulls will often playfully clash, until dogs start barking at them and chasing them around.
There is an abundance of things to buy here, with the beach literally infested with sales people, mostly selling necklaces, tapestries, and our personal favorite ear cleanings. Fortunately things are so calm and peaceful, that the sales pitches' are not too obnoxious. The waves are perfect for body-surfing in the afternoon, similar to Varkala in height (1-2 meters), though there is no sandbar here, instead the land is pretty flat, with little change in depth (around 1 meter) even as far out as 100 meters. Anderson has been playing some football in the afternoon, as impromptu matches have sprung up on most days, though reading has been our main beach-side entertainment. The nightlife here is actually surprisingly limited, Goa's days of partying hedonism are more memory than reality these days, as government restrictions force the bars to stop playing loud music rather promptly at 10 pm. Not to say that people aren't still out well past midnight, there just aren't the crazy super raves of the mid-90s anymore. Nonetheless we are enjoying Goa very much, the local drink of fenni (distilled from the coconut tree) is quickly becoming our favorite beverage. The seafood here has also been up to our expectations, though the traditional Goan dish of prawn-stuffed calamari is without a doubt our favorite thus far. However, in all fairness, we have yet to try the massive tiger prawns that are indubitably going to appear in one of our next few dinners!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Apologies on our recent bout of infrequent posting, internet access has been scarce for a variety of reasons, but that shouldn't be a problem now, since we have arrived in Goa!
It is as sunny as one would expect here, and the beaches are quite georgeous, expansive, and rather full, though not oppressively so. A lot has happened, obviously, in the last week or so, but since this is going to be short, most of the details will need to filled in later.
Our time at Dhavanyaloka student center was fun, we had some crazy adventures with Luke's friends Somu, Ravi, & Sivu; we enjoyed meals at their houses/villages which were all amazingly delicious, we journeyed south back into the Western Ghats to see the Buddhist "Golden Temple," and conveniently the Dhali Lama was visiting on the same day that we were, so although we did not see His Holiness, we did drive past his motorcade! On that same daytrip we also visited a large waterfall, and swam in the not-that-frigid, but thankfully quite clean, water for a while, with a rather large audience watching "the whities." However, the highlight of that trip was definitely the mid-trip in-van dance party that the Indians decided to have, which was absolutely ridiculous and quite hilarious. Another trip took us to Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace, a massive structure that is painted on all sides, though was definitely in need of some restoration. We also visited Chamundi Hill, finally, after postponing it several times, but we actually then went twice in the same day: once at sunrise to climb up the 1000 steps and receive a blessing in the temple, the second time at night to see the city lights of Mysore.
We spent a lot of time just hanging out at the Dhavanyaloka, reading, sunning, etc. Luke got to show us all of his old haunts, though his favorite the Juice Junction had closed, but we ate delicious egg puffs at Thripty Bakery, ate and drank at Lobo's, Grampa's and a few other local bar/restaurants, and enjoyed one meal at the all organic Green Palace. Gomuntry (?) Post Office Cafe definitely had the best somosa, as well as tasty aloo parota, though the water there is a contender for what made us violently ill mid-stay. Somu also made us many meals, which were all simply amazing - his coffee and lemon rice are without a doubt the best we have had. Luke's friend Pradeep's mother also constantly invited us over for food, which was quite nice, though the frequency with which we were assaulted by invitations was a bit much, since she speaks no English, but doesn't really do much besides make food and go to temple, and since they live right next to the entrance, we passed by their front door everytime we departed. We also spent a fun afternoon with Luke's friend Shaum and his family; Shaum is a photographer, so he was helping us out with developing photos, but his luncheon invitation turned into an impromptu fashion show as Liz made her saree debut!
We will be going back to Mysore before Luke leaves, sometime in early February, so all of our goodbyes were merely temporary, which made them much easier, since everyone has been so very nice to us, but our departure from Mysore still took a few days to actually occur, as we were trying to cram many things in frantically at the end, so our shopping plans were what got skimped on, which is really just fine since Goa is a shopper's paradise, amongst other types of paradises!
We left then on Tuesday, January 16, travelling only a short distance to Melkote, the village where Luke worked at an organic farm for a week when he was here last time for his research project. We spent an afternoon checking things out and chatting with his friend Santosh, who is working hard to change the lives of Dalits leaving in a small village. Modernization has negatively impacted rural life throughout India, as farms have been flooded with pesticides and fertilizers, which made short-term improvements on crop-production but are now having unforseen long-term consequences, such as soil erosion and chemical imbalances. Santosh then, uses and encourages others to use as well, the so-called Madagascar technique, where plants are given much more room to grow, while also being grown organically, completely opposite to the so-called "Green Revolution." Interestingly, people were so quick to trust Western science that they pretty much gave up 5,000 years of tradition and heritage, which has proven to be quite disasterous, but small-scale efforts such as this seem the best way for change to actually occur, as tangible improvements are noticeable in the people's lives right away.
Afterwards we spent 2 days siteseeing in Karnataka, going to the largest monolith in the world at Shri-sema-gola - that's what we call it since we can never remember the name, but it definitely starts with an 'S' and ends with a 'gola!' We then spent one night based in Hassan, in order to see a few more temples at Belur and Halebid, both of which were rather immense complexes primarily built out of soapstone, and were also quite photogenic.
We had been debating quite a bit on where to go next, but Goa won out over Rishakesh, primarily due to the distances involved, and thus the time wasted on trains to journey that far north, so we spent less than 24 hours getting to Goa instead of at least 36 hours for Rishakesh, with beaches and sun as our reward instead of the Himalayan mountains. We will still go there eventually, but Luke will have live vicariously through us!
As for Goa, it is awesome. Expansive beaches, lined with restaurants and shops, it is Westernized and un-Indian, but does serve as a very nice mini-vacation within our vacation. The seafood here is delicious, and they actually have real cheese, which is an unheard of commodity elsewhere in India. It is a little weird being on a beach in India where the only Indians are selling things (blankets/tapestries, necklaces, fruit, etc.) but at least the tourist crowd is quite international, with very few Americans, mostly Israelis, British, and other Europeans. We really haven't met many Americans while travelling at all, which is great in one sense, that we are meeting almost exclusively people from different cultures than our own, but it is also very depressing that so few people from own country, one that is so ridiculously wealthy by comparison to India, are willing to take advantage of the luxury of travel that they have at their disposal. Most Indian people will never travel more than 1000 kms or so from their home, and places like America are solely distant fantasy lands for them. If you are reading this, you owe it to yourself, and to your country, to get a passport and start exploring the rest of the world. There are so many beautiful places to see, and amazing things to experience, that you could spend your whole life traveling and only see a fraction of things, so you might as well get started right away! We are so priveledged, coming from "The West," that the least we can do is experience the rest of the world, highs and lows both of course, and then encourage others to do the same. Every day here we see and feel things that we never could in America, whether it is seeing an amazing 1,000 year old temple (with as many steps as it is years old), to cruising through the crazy traffic on an auto-rickshaw, to eating drastically different foods (rice and a vegetable gravy is typical) with our right hand, to being racially discriminated against because we are white - which happens constantly, and although it is frustrating, it is also very eye-opening. Mostly prices are just raised exorbitantly, but we are frequently cut in front of (lines are a concept Indians just cannot seem to handle), ignored, and are most definitely stared at blatantly just about all the time.
Goa is a little different, being so Westernized, but this is just a break for us, since once Luke leaves we have a lot of India to cover, and many things to see, before our visas expire in May. We will be here in Arambol for at least another day or two, and then we will be heading south within Goa, to destinations unknown, though we do want to go to Anjuna for the legendary Wednesday market that happens there every week.
Hopefully we'll be able to post some photos soon, we have a bunch, we just haven't had internet access to post them...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Due to being on the world's most sluggish internet connection, coupled with the supersonic speeds that embody Windows 98, this will be a fairly short post, but wanted to let everyone know we are doing well, we picked Luke up in Bangalore just fine, and have been chilling/relaxing at the Dhavanyaloka Student Center, in Mysore, where he studied for the fall semester of 2005, pretty much ever since. We've explored a bit of Mysore and its surrounds, visiting the large Maharaja's Palace downtown one day, and on Saturday Luke's friend Ravi drove us to Tipu's Summer Palace as well as a nice nearby temple. Most nights are spent hanging out with Ravi, Somu, & Sivu, or some combination of the three - Somu works at the student center as cook and is the director's personal assistant; Ravi used to drive for the director (Dr. Rao), but now works for the Bank of Mysore; Sivu is their friend (and ours). We also played pool one night with Luke's friend Pradeep, which was a rather Western experience, complete with satellite radio, though for Liz's birthday (on Jan. 6th) we indulged and went to Planet X. Highlights included the impossible mini-golf (complete with silent caddie/time-keeper since we were only allowed to play for 30 minutes), go-kart racing, and a drink called "winey beer." So things were, as they are consistently, quite Indian. We also got a birthday cake, and sang Happy Birthday, and enjoyed (yet another) dinner out.
We have also endured our worst sickness yet, by far, with all three of us being reduced to bedrest by vomiting and endless diarrhea - fortunately the worst effects were over within 24 hours, though it wasn't until the third day afterwards that we were entirely recovered. While the most likely culprit is some water we drank, it either could've been from visiting Ravi's family in their village, or at a restaurant the next day, but then again, it could have also been any of the wide variety of foods we had all consumed, so the end result is that all we know for sure is that we have no clue what the cause could have been. While we are being more cautious about the water then, at the same time, we are often in situations when we are dying of thirst and local water is all that is available, so we just have to chance it.
We have a busy weekend in store for us, since on Saturday we are going on a daytrip of site-seeing with Sivu, and then Sunday we are getting up early to climb Chamundi Hill, whose temple overlooks Mysore, before then going with Somu to visit his family in his village. And then Monday is supposed to be a big festival, which although of course we haven't been able to find much about, but sounds like it should be a pretty fun time...
That's all for now, hopefully better technology will be in our semi-immediate future!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hopefully everyone had a "Happy New Year" celebration, since now the challenge of actually having a "Happy New Year" will be a key focus for the next 364 days. So far we're succeeding, we've made our way to Mysore, in Karnataka state, and have spent the 17 hours of 2007 watching late-night English Premiere League football, sleeping, followed by a hotel relocation and then some eating. Basically it's just another day for us in India, agenda-less but focused on fun!
We left Ooty, and therefore Tamil Nadu as well, on December 30th, and though we had planned on Bangalore we decided, after a little more research (re-reading our Lonely Planet & Rough Guide travel books) that heading to Mysore would be more fun since there is much more to do and though it is a large bustling city, it is not quite so large and difficult to navigate as Bangalore. However, our time estimate on transit was quite incorrect, so although we thought the trip from Ooty to Mysore was merely 2.5 hours, it ended up being over twice that, which wasn't exactly the most fun, since the bus we were riding on had the worst suspension yet, such that whenever we hit bumps (which was frequent) we were physically launched into the air, sometimes as much as a foot off of our seats! A definite highlight of the trip occured when we drove through a national park on the Karnataka/Tamil Nadu border: we lucked out and got to see a wide variety of animals, all within five minutes. First two types of monkeys, the common grey ones, and then a few black monkeys, followed by several herds of spotted deer... but all that was then surpassed when we drove by an entire herd of elephants! Apparently trekking is the difficult way to go about seeing them, one just needs to be onboard the correct bus, as we saw at least 10-15, of all sizes, standing right next to the road - quite spectacular.
Unfortunately we out-thought ourselves, and heading to a larger city for New Year's Eve was an incorrect move, as we quickly discovered upon arriving in Mysore that most hotels were not only full, but those that had rooms were literally tripling the price - not exactly what we had in mind by leaving the mountains, but we managed to roll with the punches and only got really price-hosed on New Year's Eve itself. To do so, we spent our first night in Mysore actually 9 km outside of the town, but since we had arrived so late on the bus anyway, we really just needed a place to sleep, so saving a few hundred rupees was well worth it, though we had to spend a bit for a driver to take us around to various hotels, but all in all it was definitely cheaper, and the place we ended up in was definitely still reasonable. The next morning, Dec. 31, we returned to Mysore itself, and once our previous night's driver's promises of a cheap hotel had fallen through, as we had suspected, we settled on a mid-ranged hotel, figuring we'd rather pay for a nice place that is ordinarily more expensive, than for a shoddy (as in our usual lodging) place that was inflating its pricing due to the holiday. So that meant for NYE we were in our cleanest hotel yet, with an equally clean bathroom, as well as a TV. We spent the early part of our evening wandering around town - partaking in some tasty street food, admiring the Maharajah's Palace that was completely lit up (as it is every Sunday night, it wasn't for NYE at all), getting compressed by crowds in the street - and the second half of the evening relaxing in our room watching some exciting TV - first a Discovery Channel special on if dragons really existed, then a top-notch football match between Manchester United and Reading. Obviously our NYE celebration was the coolest in the entire world, and was the real reason we came to India :-)
Today, then, we migrated to cheaper lodging as pricing returned to normal, so instead of 750 rupees for last night (virtually twice our previous most-expensive hotel), we are now staying in a 120 rupee/night lodge, which is actually the cheapest we have been able to find thus far. So that's a nice change of (financial) events, and for the next two days we're basically going to be killing time, waiting for Luke's arrival; since he lived in Mysore for 5 months in 2005, we don't want to spoil to many of the town's sites without our free, knowledgeable, and fluent-English-speaking guide! But we cannot spend all of our time eating, which is truly a shame, so we may check out the zoo or an art gallery tomorrow, and save the exciting stuff for when Luke is here (the Maharajah's Palace, Churmundi Hill - which overlooks the whole town, etc.).
So we'll be keeping it real here in Mysore for probably the next two weeks, so when boredom first strikes you in 2007, fight back by checking out our photo galleries - which are just about fully updated, and our Youtube site - which is slowly but surely expanding.