Star Date: February 2009
Family & Friends!
(I recognize the divine in you - formal Hindi)
(~ Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)
India just is. Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. A lesson in observing and allowing; accepting differences. Being open and supple, rejoicing in the contrasts of simple beauty and the often bizarre or chaotic sights awaiting one around every corner. Mother India has cast her spell on us and changed us in ways even we don't realize. She has woven threads into our tapestry called life, both coarse and golden, that will last an eternity.
Slum dog, turned 'chai walla' (tea server) from the shanty towns of Mumbai, becomes a millionaire. What a story. We were excited to hear that this fascinating tale from India had captured the hearts of America and won 8 Academy Awards. Watching this unbelievable tale unravel, we relived many of the sights, sounds and smells we experienced while traveling the length and breadth of India. Slums exist outside all the major cities of this large country and in fact over most of the globe. People looking for a better life leave the security of their tiny village, complete with humble dwellings, and meager but sufficient food and end up squatting in an expansive slum, after the bubble of the 'dream of grandeur' bursts. When offspring grow up in these towns, often next to the municipal dump for foraging, it becomes a nightmare as they try to escape the cycle. Unfortunately the dark side of Indian culture, perpetuated by the existence of lower caste people to be used and abused, was accurately portrayed with the organized, maimed beggars and neighborhood gangsters aided by corrupt policemen, being a fact of life. The chance of a street urchin becoming rich is as far fetched as it gets, but with the advancements India is making, the likelihood increases. Currently Bill Gates is only the 6th wealthiest man on earth, the richest man living in New Delhi, home to one of the largest slums on this planet.
"Make every effort to walk in the
presence of God. To see God in
Once again missing the ocean we decided to break free from the throngs of the city and head to the supposedly less traveled Konkan Coast. The 8 hour bus ride turned into 12 and we decided to call it quits for the night in Ratnagiri. "Wanting a place near the beach", we were met with blank stares. We intended to just spend the night and move on the next day. We ended up in one of the last rooms in town and to our amusement discovered that one window in the corner was missing. At 5 am the next morning we awakened to the strong odor of frying garlic, pungent curry and the clanging of stainless steel pots and pans. Our windows literally opened up into the adjacent kitchen below. Turning lemons to lemonade we yelled down to the bustling cooks and ordered a masala dosa. The kitchen was in an uproar of laughter. We spent the day on the coastline (not a swimming beach) talking with locals who were promenading down the pier in bright saris, drinking coconuts, riding camels or catching the cool ocean breeze. After realizing that this was the beginning of a school holiday and the beachside town of Ganpatipule, 50 km north, would be electric with Indian tourists out for some fun in the sun, we just headed straight south for the state of Goa.
Goa is as close as it gets to palm lined beaches and thatched hut restaurants in India. The center of the area is Panjim, with 20 beaches radiating out from north to south. Goa is a fascinating combination of old Portuguese colonialism and modern techno beach scene. It is possible to see well preserved colonial architecture, Catholic cathedrals, green rice fields, elephants lumbering along bamboo huts, large expanses of sand, glistening seas, Hindu temples, Christian crucifixes and gaudy posters of Ganesh all in the same area. This is far from Costa Brava, but the eclectic combination of India and 'wanna be' Hawaii makes for a far more interesting place. There is a beach in Goa for every taste and budget. Some beaches are remote, quiet and more exclusive, thus more expensive. Some attract mainly Indian tourists in a chaotic buzz of activity. Some beaches cater to Russian and British tour packages and their accompanying restaurants sell a hardy English breakfast, fish & chips and even a big bowl of borsht to remind people of home. Other beaches cater to the young party animals recovering in hammocks outside of tumbledown beach shacks. Wherever you end up there are people of all shapes, ages and backgrounds having fun at the beach.
It was a tough place to show up right before Christmas, the ultra high season, but Joseph found us a great place and we settled in to Anjuna Beach right away. Tired from traveling we went to sleep with the sound of the crashing surf below. About 10 pm we awoke to a nightmare of techno music so loud the walls were shaking. Joseph dragged over to the restaurant next door only to find it completely empty, but hoping to attract any of the next to non existent tourists on the beach with their noise. The following morning we happened on to a little apartment one minute back from the beach, with cooking facilities and a rooftop view of the ocean. The buffer of buildings between us and the boom boom music plus our own little courtyard helped us settle in for 3 weeks of relaxation. After cooking a creative, delicious dinner every night (finally my own kitchen), we would eat up on the roof then take a long walk down the beach, enjoying the sunset as we went, sometimes having a fresh lime and soda in a beach hut restaurant along the ocean. The year 2009 arrived with a bang. Lots of fireworks but the big New Year's bash with thousands of revelers was cancelled because of the government's fear Goa could be a target for terrorists, only 2 weeks after the attacks in Mumbai. This was the prime time of the year to gouge tourists with exorbitant prices, but we would walk down the beach and there were only 2-6 people maximum in each restaurant. The place was deserted and even cranking up the famous Goa techno music didn't work. The truth was the beach was almost empty, just the way we liked it.
Old hippies, dreadlocked groupies, new 'wanna be' hippy backpackers, European ravers, red plump Russian tourists, Tibetan jewelry traders, Kashmiri silk, shawl and hash salesmen, colorful Maharashtra and Lamani tribeswomen, selling authentic village jewelry as rough as they were, all added spice to the goulash called Goa. The highlight of the week was a remarkable and infamous expanse of stalls called the Wednesday Flea Market. Attracting new tourists and old hippies, and everyone in between, it was an overload to the senses. After a couple of hours of looking around the stalls and talking with people, we would walk back down the beach and catch the sunset while enjoying dinner at one of the thatched restaurants.
Retracing our steps through Mapusa and Panjim we rode the bus along the river to the former Portugese capitol of Old Goa. Back in the 1500's this feisty, booming city had a population exceeding London and it's benefactor, Lisbon. They basically thumbed their noses at the Portuguese motherland but their naughty ways soon caught up with them. The big finger of the famous inquisition of Europe crossed the sea and that along with a major plague wiped out these 'rebellious sinners' once and for all. The half dozen or so massive cathedrals remaining have impressive alters and ooze with history. An interesting exhibit of the remains of Goa's patron saint, St. Francis Xavier lies in the Basilica of Bom Jesus (1594). This hardy Jesuit missionary was traveling for over 10 years throughout Asia. When he died in 1552 on Sancian Island off the coast of China, his servant dumped 4 bags of quick lime on his remains so the flesh would be consumed and his bones could be transported back to Europe. The "miracle" happened when his body remained in perfect condition and years later was still "looking good"! On display for centuries in a silver and glass coffin you can only peek through the window at what's left. Relic hunters divided up some of the body parts and distributed them throughout the Catholic world, much like the countless Buddhist stupas worldwide containing a "hair of Buddha", even though he was bald. I guess that's where the faith element comes to play. After a day in Old Goa and exploring the narrow colonial streets in nearby Panjim we had a better idea of what life in Old Goa would have been. The only things missing were the tall masts of the sailing ships in the harbor.
Hampi is one of those magical places in India that makes the confusion of the journey worth it. Much like the Devil's Marbles in Australia, large boulders are balanced in precarious positions, as if a flick of your finger could send them rolling into the river below. The nearby 15th century temple ruins of the city of Vijayanagar and the neighboring Royal Centre complex, complete with colossal royal elephant stables, are set amidst banana plantations, rice paddies and massive granite boulders, making for a mystical panorama, especially when bathed in the golden hues of the setting sun. We could have easily become stuck here for a week or more but the clock was ticking and we soon found ourselves exploring the "I.T. Capitol" of India, Bangalore. Descriptions go on and on about this computer and communications center of India along with the supporting "grand shopping and world renowned restaurants." They simply don't exist. With businesses like I.B.M. and Infosys, boasting their ultra modern 32 hectare campus and 60,000 employees, India is definitely joining the ranks of virtual reality. Not surprisingly, the rest of Bangalore was far behind these modern corporate giants.
As we watched the end of our 1 year visa approach, we were filled with gratitude for the many gifts of the heart from India. We will be carrying them with us as we continue wandering this amazing planet we all share.
And so it goes.........................................Next month Thailand, Kuala Lumpur and Hawaii. Until then lets try to first change ourselves so that we may better help the world around us. Keep Smiling! Glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch! Take care!
Love, Light &
$1.00US = 50 Rupees
Our hotel room
- the last we could find late at night, was directly above the
kitchen and in fact was missing a window so we could yell down to
the staff and make then smile. Not one to recommend but
memorable. It was so busy here that we gave up trying to go to
the nicer beach area north - jammed with holiday Indian tourists.
Probably not worth the long bus ride out to this
Modern Art Shop - on the way down to the beach through the maze of shops. Great, helpful owner with some wild, black light modern art. He can also help you contact the private owner of our apartment building for you.
Blue Tao Organic Restaurant one mile from the beach in Anjuna and Bean Me Up Vegetarian Restaurant about 2 km from the beach in Vagator are both worth the walk.