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...