Sunday, February 25, 2007

We're enjoying our last full day in Gokarna, we'll be leaving the beach sometime tomorrow, probably after lunch, and heading to Hospet/Hampi. We'll probably take a series of buses, local transport at first, before taking an overnight bus for the bulk of the trip. So that means it is our last evening of volleyball, our last night of fresh seafood sizzlers, and our last delicious banoffee pie for dessert... nevermind falling asleep to the waves crashing on the rocks, and lazing on the beach and playing in the waves during the day!
But we shall survive, India has much more to offer than just beaches, though leaving the beach is such a tough task...
Hopefully we can return to speedier internet as well, so we can upload all the photos and videos we have shot here, but we'll just have to see about that!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Our final days by the beach are upon us, unfortunately, as we will be departing Gokarna to head to Hampi this coming Monday. Initially we were thinking today, as in Friday, but we felt that we needed a couple more days of lounging before we begin our next month or two of non-stop traveling. Gokarna has been a lot of fun, our next door neighbors are two couples from Israel, so we've been hanging out with them a lot - going to dinner, playing Uval (a card game), and playing volleyball every afternoon for the last week. The volleyball has been lively and entertaining, as there is a wide variety of non-skilled players, so some pretty crazy points and volleys happen, amongst the multitude of missed shots and net hits. Last Sunday we went to a festival for Shiva's birthday that was held in the village of Gokarna. It was really interesting to participate in, since they had two 30-40 meter tall wooden carts, decorated with flowers and flags, that everyone was throwing bananas at, trying to get them into a hole where a bunch of kids were. At the same time though, a more serious religious ceremony was occuring, with a small group of musicians, plus priests with a torch and coconut offerings, wandering around the main cart, and then occasionally climbing up the large wooden ladder, which resulted in them getting pelted by a barrage of bananas! It was considered good luck to get a banana into the center of the cart, so we bought some bananas and started chucking them in along with everyone else, and fortunately we both got one in, reasonably fast, so our luck is apparently still holding!
Gokarna is a nice beach to relax at, though almost too quiet for our tastes, since the nightly volleyball game is about as hectic as things get, but our 100 rupee/night room is nice, with an-almost ocean view, and all the people that we have met here are very nice and friendly, so all and all we have absolutely no complaints... except that we still haven't ventured further down to the other beaches yet, which we have been saying we would do all week now, but maybe today will be the day - to be decided after breakfast...!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Just a quick post due to pricey internet, but since we are right next to the beach, can't really complain too much about 40 rupees/hour...
We left Mysore last night, and made it to Gokarna with relative ease. Saying goodbye to all of our Indian friends was tough, and more than a bit sad, but we had a fun last night dinner, cooked by Somu, on Tuesday evening - and Somu even got real crazy and gave Luke a surprise phone call back in the States! We ate a delicious spicey veg rice, a taboo-at-Dhvanyaloka chicken dish, and drank enough Kingfisher's to get the Indians all riled up (it really doesn't take much :-). Saying goodbye to Somu was probably the hardest, since he has been so kind to us, bringing us breakfast in bed (and not just when we were sick), and always coming to see us even though he was supposed to be working... plus he rocks the most killer Geraldo hair that you've ever seen! Our friend Kumar gave us a ride to the train station, which was completely unexpected, since we weren't in the dire straits that Luke was, and he cruised up in his Ambassador car a mere 10 minutes before we were to depart.
For transit we rode an overnight, sleeper-car train from Mysore to Hubli, and then from Hubli we took 2 buses, first to Ankola, and then a short second one to Gokarna. The biggest problem was that part of the road to Ankola was under heavy construction, so for a while we were at a standstill, completely surrounded by large trucks, but since we caught an amazing amount of sleep on the train, it was really no nevermind.
Gokarna itself has one beach, and then four more to the south. Currently we are on the second beach, Kudle, which was about a 2 km walk over a headland from the main beach. Tomorrow we plan on exploring the other three beaches, Om, Half-Moon, and Paradise, and if any (or all) live up to their names, we may migrate further south, with Om sounding the most tempting since it is actually shaped like the Om symbol...
More news when it happens, thanks to ever-increasing global internet access...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The official bandh (strike) day for Karnataka state is tomorrow, so we are finishing up our marathon internet session today, but after several days of 4-5 hours uploading photos and videos, the multimedia components of our digital travelogues are mostly up-to-date. So next time you have a few hours to spare, we know a great way to spend them :-)
We are still in Mysore, we decided it was easier to remain here, with friends, than try to travel elsewhere in Karnataka to finish our uploading, plus the internet would only be slower and more expensive outside of a (relatively) major city like Mysore. We are probably completely grounded by the strike tomorrow, as in Monday, but assuming that everything is back on track for Tuesday, we will, ideally, swing by the post office quickly to unload a few kgs of America-bound boxes, before taking either a train or bus to the northwestern beach side town of Gokarna.
We have heard from a fellow American traveler that it is possible to extend your stay in India beyond the restricted maximum of 180 days consecutive (regardless of actual visa length) bu registering at a SSP (some sort of Police Superintendent), so we plan on looking into that, since it would free up our schedule somewhat considerably, if we didn't have the mandatory May 11 departure date (6 months after we arrived, back on November 11), but instead could stay as late as August 28, when our 1-year visa officially expires. We don't know how easy this actually is to accomplish, but we're going to look into it on Tuesday, though either way is fine by us, it's just nicer not to have a deadline when possible!
Tomorrow will most likely be spent reading, since even auto-rickshaw drivers and taxis will be involved in the strike, and every business we have been in/talked to is planning on being closed, so we just hope that finding food isn't too difficult, but we may stock up at dinner tonight just in case, especially since once we leave Dhvanyaloka it may be quite a while until we can take advantage of the luxury of a refrigerator and microwave! Once we mail these packages we will be down to only 2 bags, one large internal-frame pack, and one backpack, so every book we read is just that much less weight we have to lug around, so there is definitely a dual incentive to tear through our books; Anderson's parents sent us several (requested) books via Luke, so Anderson has been cruising through the Wheel Of Time series, and now that Liz is done with one of our once-many Ruskin Bond books, she is diving back into David Eddings' Belgariad series, which makes us both "high fantasy" nerds, but swords-and-sorcery worlds do make India seem just a little bit more "normal!"
Peace from Mysore - A&E

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's going to take a fair bit of typing to get you all fully caught up, but fortunately we will have ample internet time during the next 2 days, as we attempt to get our photo and Youtube sites all caught up, since hanging out with Luke strongly de-prioritized uploading during the past 5 weeks. Consequently, we have well over 1 GB of photos alone, never mind a whole slew of videos that we desperately need to get off our memory cards, since they are currently at full capacity. The good news for you is that in about 48 hours there will be a ton of fresh photos, many from our time in Mysore, as well as our trip to the wonderful beach at Arambol in Goa, plus a few from our return to Mysore, to say "goodbye" to both Luke and all of his (and now our) wonderful friends. While it was certainly not an easy goodbye, we are super happy and thankful that one of our friends was able to meet up with us for a little traveling, it was definitely fun to have a third travel partner, and we learned a lot about real life in India that we would not have been able to otherwise, from our interactions with Somu, Ravi, Sivu, Pradeep, Shaum, and all the other wonderful Mysorians who have been so kind and gracious to us over these past few weeks. We've been treated to countless amazing home-cooked meals, went on several truly fun site-seeing trips, ranging from Abbi Falls to KRS dam, and enjoyed some hilarious and zany Indian antics. Everyone here is super laid back and flexible, which is a cultural byproduct of the sheer insanity and uncertainty of day-to-day happenings in India, so often times we just have to accept the fact that not only do we have no clue what is going on, but even if we did there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it. A prime example, and also a fine segue into what we have been doing, is explaining the circumstances under which Luke left yesterday evening:
Luke had a 1 am flight, on 06.02.07, out of Bangalore, which is about 160 km from Mysore, and is reachable easily via either train or bus, with both methods of transport leaving hourly. Thus, there was no need to purchase tickets in advance, which one often has to do in order to guarantee a seat. However, what we hadn't counted on was a huge state-wide transportation strike! A big (20-years-in-the-making) ruling on water rights, concerning that KRS dam, was just handed down, and due to national politics Karnataka state ended up with only 1/3 of the total water, with 2/3 going to Tamil Nadu, even though the dam itself is obviously not in Tamil Nadu, so consequently people here are very angry, and are striking in response. Tomorrow, Thursday, everything will also be closed down, as a more scheduled strike, but on Monday when the verdict was read all transportation was halted immediately. So we were up a certain type of creek, paddle-less, but fortunately our friends Ravi and Shivu were able to bail us out, as Ravi's cousin Kumar, who we also know, is a professional driver, and was able to borrow a vehicle last minute in order to haul us worried whiteys to Bangalore, even though he had already made a similar distance trek to Hassan for work earlier in the day. So instead of having to spend $70 on an overpriced taxi, we got to ride in style with our friends, which meant we had plenty of time, instead of being rushed if we had of taken train or bus as initially planned, and thankfully we didn't, as halfway to Bangalore we drove by the train we would've been on, sitting idly on the tracks, not moving at all! We're not sure if Luke or his mother, who picked him up in Chicago, would've been more concerned if he'd missed his flight, but fortunately that worst case scenario was never realized. We then actually had time to relax at the airport, drink some Appy Fizz (the champagne of apple juice, as the name implies, or "a cool drink to hang out with" as their TV adverts say), before Luke caught the first of his 3 legs of plane travel, over 24 hours, in order to return to the States. We are so thankful to have had a fellow friendly traveler, as we had tons of fun hanging out both in Mysore and in Goa, so if anyone else out there in "the real world" needs a break, please feel free to join us!
We last left you on the eve of the Prem Joshua concert in Vagatore, Goa, which we did indeed make it to, even by scooter as initially planned, though we almost had to rent a taxi, since literally every scooter was rented in all of Arambol (we spent hours meandering about), until the very last place we checked, which we actually had gone to in order to just get a taxi, but they driver there actually had one nice, new bike, and one that was his personally, that we were able to borrow, so we got to cruise casually along the nice Goan roads, and barring Anderson nearly crashing on the first real turn, nothing too scary happened, since the scooters were easy-to-drive automatics, and we never went much past 45k/h, except on one straight-away where we were able to briefly hit 70k/h. The thing about Indian roads is that although they may seem dangerous, since there is so much going on (as in speed bumps, potholes, people, scooters, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, dogs, and of course holy cows), you can never really drive in a straight line for very long, so speeds are always kept quite low. The scariest part is the unmentioned speed bumps, which literally come out of nowhere, but fortunately for us there are not as frequent in Goa as they seem to be everywhere else in India, but then again, Goa is not really India, at all.
The Prem Joshua show itself was fun, we nearly didn't get dinner because the restaurant there was so packed, but it all worked out though we had to hear, and not see, the first song or so as we were scarfing out food, but since the concert ended up being much calmer and more classical than we thought, it wasn't too big a deal, and we were still able to slide up front quite easily. Prem Joshua is a white guy from Germany who plays Indian instruments, primarily sitar and flute, and he plays with an amazing multinational band: a Indian/German on tabla and percussion, who was simply amazing, a Japanese bass player, and a German laptop/synths/keyboards/beats guy rounds out the band. The song highlight was Shiva Moon, which is his most well-known song, at least in Goa, but it, like all his music, is a hybrid of Eastern melodies with Western rhythms, and occasional forays into techno and trance. The crowd was generally older than we thought, and definitely virtually devoid of Indians, but it was still fun to see live music, and the venue, The Hill Top, was very nice, with a large stage and audience area, plus all sorts of palm trees painted psychedelically for ambiance. The ride home in the dark back to Arambol was a little crazy, since at first Luke couldn't get his scooter's lights to work, but fortunately that worked itself out so we were to ride safely back, and at night the roads here are pretty deserted, so it was a very smooth ride home, such that we were back all to fast really, with our scooter's still rather full of petrol, which was somewhat of a shame, but we had promised to return them by a certain time, so we weren't in much of a position to go joy-riding, despite our desires to do so.
Our last few days in Goa then were spent balancing shopping and beaching, but fortunately the moon, or the SHIVA MOON as we had taken to calling it, cooperated, as the tides were huge with the moon being full, which meant the waves were giant for our last few days, so the body surfing was definitely top-notch. We also met a vacationing Indian named Prashaun from Bangalore, so we took him body surfing for the first time on our last day, which was pretty fun. Most Indians cannot swim, or are afraid of the water, so they generally just lay in the sand in about one foot of water, which is rather hilarious, but a shame since they are missing the best part: the waves. It should be mentioned that they are also usually fully dressed, men and women both, or the men are stripped down to their underwear. One extreme or the other: how Indian!
Our return to Mysore was quite triumphant, primarily because we had perfect timing on out transit, as we caught a taxi to Panaji, the state capital, since we had too much luggage to make local transit at all enjoyable (and its usually cramped and hot, even without overloaded packs and hands full of extra bags), and a good thing we did, since we arrived at the bus station 5 minutes before a direct-to-Mysore overnight bus left, that was even A/C and, the best part, not full. Buses are usually packed, at least the seats, but on this trip we had our choice of seats, got free water, and even had blankets provided. Best bus ride yet, without a doubt, as we actually got a reasonable amount of sleep, and were in more-than-tolerable comfort the entire time. If we had of missed that bus, we would've had to wait for several hours for a bus to Bangalore, and then deal with catching a train to Mysore from there, which would have been much more of a headache, and the cost would've been about the same, plus it would've taken several hours longer. So all and all it was better than expected, and though we were still tired when we returned to Mysore, since bus sleep is far from adequate even with air conditioning, we were in much better shape than we thought we'd be.
Our room at Dhvanyaloka was taken, so we had to store our bags for a bit of the afternoon before another one cleared out, but our new room was actually an improvement, being on the 2nd floor, so we have a nice balcony overlooking part of the student center common area (gardens, in a loose sense of the word), though the plumbing in our bathroom means we have more than a few floaters! We had a bigger surprise though, in that the neighborhood dog that had befriended us, during our first stay, is pregnant with a belly full of puppies! The past few days then we have been giving her food and water, she looks like she is about to burst, so we don't know if we will get to see a bunch of Indian puppies before we leave, but either way it is nice to at least temporarily have a very happy tail waiting and wagging for us when we return home. Our friend Pradeep's family also got a dog while we were in Goa, a cute German Shepherd puppy, named Rambo (hilarious, since they haven't seen the movies), who is very happy except for the fact that he has way too much hair for this climate!
Luke's last couple days in Mysore flew by, as we took care of our much delayed shopping trip to Cauvery, the set-price government emporium which sells all sorts of nice jewelry and sandalwood items (from carvings to incense to soap to whatever else could be sandalwood scented) - Mysore is arguably the sandalwood capital of the world, and certainly India, so shopping here is unique in that department at least, and by buying from the government the risk of being sold fake sandalwood (other wood scented at inflated prices) is non-existent, which is quite nice. We also loaded up on some essential oils, most notably green jasmine, which if you know Luke is now "his scent" - so keep your nose on the lookout for that!
We also experienced probably the craziest thing that has happened to us yet: Pradeep's family lives right next door to Dhvanyaloka, and on Saturday they were having a pujah (or puja), which is a religious ceremony/dedication to a Hindu god (in this case it was a facet of Shiva), and they nicely invited us over for it, which we were excited for since they had set up a circus-like tent for the occasion, and it was even going to be a two-day event, with feasting on Sunday. What they neglected to tell us was what was actually happening Saturday night, so as we hurried over when a family member came calling, we walked right into a live animal sacrifice. Straight up, two sheep got ritualistically slaughtered, heads and one leg bone removed for Shiva, blood spilt all over the ground, with the remainder to be cooked and then eaten on Sunday. Conveniently Pradeep wasn't even there (he doesn't like sacrifices), so we were totally bewildered with no available English-speaker to explain what was going on, and at first there were just 2 sheep with flowers on their heads, but soon enough a knife was brought out, their heads were splashed with holy water, and then the sheep, one at a time, were down on the ground being killed. Not that it was repulsive, obviously this is a 5,000 year-old traditional religious ceremony, it was more the sheer surprise of the whole thing, the fact that we had no idea we were being invited over for a slaughter! Fortunately (or not, depending on your viewpoint) Anderson caught a good portion of the ceremony on tape, at least the sheep sacrifice part, so if you are so inclined there will be two videos up on Youtube within the near future, so you can experience all the fun for yourself, as well.
Compared to that the rest of our last few days in Mysore have seemed tame, but we did go out to a very fun last night dinner with Ravi, Somu, Shivu, Raju, as well as our Japanese friend Shin, who is staying at Dhvanyaloka right now, at the local bar/restaurant Grampa's, and our celebration was certainly the talk of the bar, as were definitely "that" table, making a raucous, consuming quite a bit of food and alcohol, and having a great last supper with Luke and all of our Indian friends. The walk home was a bit crazy, though, as some random (presumably drunken) Indians tried to start a fight, of sorts, but being Indians it was all just hilarious talking, yelling, and arguing, with no blows, but still not what we really were expecting or wanting on our walk home, but in India you never know what is going to happen next, for better or worse... Fortunately that was unable to dampen the evening, and we all returned to Dhvanyaloka in high spirits; our next day was spent packing up, as we were planning on accompanying Luke to Bangalore, before catching a train ourselves to Chennai, to explore western Tamil Nadu. But of course our plans our always changing, and by the end of the day, primarily because we were unable to mail off some huge 20kg packages to ourselves, in order to lighten our load, we had decided merely to accompany Luke to Bangalore and then return to Mysore for a few more days to get ourselves better situated. The complicated thing about mailing packages here is that it is a far from simple process, as any international package must be wrapped in white cloth, stitched up, and then sealed with wax before the post office will accept it. Even though we ran around town with our two giant packages, no tailor was willing to stitch them up for us, and as our goose-chase got wilder, we decided that we had no desire to waste any more time trying to find a tailor, and would rather just relax with Luke on his last day, and deal with the joys and idiosyncrasies of India on our time, later. So our packages are still currently unsent, but we are in the process of gathering the necessary components to wrap them ourselves, but without the artificial time pressure of Luke's departure we are no longer quite as worried about it as we once were.
Our second day of solid internetting is now just about done, writing this took parts of both days, but we will hopefully be back tomorrow, unless the strike also closes all internet cafes, in which case we will stay longer in Mysore, in order to upload more photos - and now, just now, we've been told the strike has been postponed until Monday, so maybe we will be back on tomorrow, but who really knows, but hopefully that is true, so we don't come downtown tomorrow for absolutely nothing!
Anyways, that's about that from Mysore, fingers are sore and bellies are now empty, but fortunately rest and food are merely an auto-rickshaw ride away!