Saturday, 2 February 2008

Panaji/Panjim. Goa's capital. (I think)

25/1. - Out of the station and into a toot-toot, the Goan word for the motorised rickshaws. It is getting on, so I treated myself, instead of getting the bus. I also treated myself to a posher hotel for the night, 16 quid this one Rs1220. A bit unfriendly, but easy. The checkin went something like "Passport" "Fill in", "Sign", "Go." Efficient I suppose, just like any self respecting stalag. Breakfast was included though. I gave the chips and curry a miss and just went for the tea and toast. Typical Brit. Oh, I had a banana too, so a little bit native. It is the Panji Residency, the Indian supermarket type hotel, wheel 'em in wheel 'em out, but it does the job.
26/1. - Moved onto my new residence, "The Park Lane Lodge" Rs720. I doubt it would get a dark blue card in Indian Monopoly, but it has bags of character, the right hand picture above. An old Portugese set of houses, run by an old Indian couple who lay the law down. The gate is closed at 22:00 and opened at 07:00, no washing clothes, no kettles and checkout at 08:00. It is still a good spot, although a bit noisy at night, but I brought some earplugs, a good buy. There was a baby crying, dogs howling, parties bouncing and someone snoring loud, but I think that was me, a tall, buxom, blonde knocking on my door, but then I snapped out of the dream.
The curfew suits me, I'm usually ready for bed after trekking around all day. This one is probably the most basic, but the cosiest, gezellig as the Cloggies would say.
Wandered into and around town, it is big time Portugese. I have to keep reminding myself where I am.The church at the top is the biggest in town, that I have found. I didn't try the steps, just sat in the shade on the steps and did some people watching. There are quite a few churches, dotted all over the place. The town has a few garden areas, a bit like plazas, which I will sit in later for a bit more people watching and perhaps a read. I was sat by the big church, I would give you its name, but, CORRECT, I have forgotten it and the Lonely Planet is at the hotel. Sod off, I'm not walking back to get it. It has to be 30+ degrees out there. Anyway I digress. I was sat at the church first thing and it was good to see the town get into motion. Scooters seem to be the prefered mode of transport. They must hold their elbows in high regard over here, as more helmets are on elbows than heads, but there are very few anyway. One lad had is wife and kid pillion and he had the helmet on. Everyone has different priorities I guess.
Panjim is quite hilly, but I have managed them so most people will, it is worth wandering up to the top for a look down, plus there are some good buildings up there. The town is definitely worth a day to wander around.
Treated myself to a slap up meal at the Venite for 4 quid. It was good, fish and I've had my first beer of the holiday, but better get back, curfew is soon, I don't want my rags turning into posh dress. I have put some dhobi into day, so at least some of my rags will be clean ones. Rs15 per item, a pair of socks is one. The clock is striking, I had better get a shift on, or I'll end up having to party all night.
27/1 - Had a great plan to go to the restaurant I went to last night for breakfast. I saw they did toast and a pot of tea, except they are shut on Sundays, so I defaulted to the favourite Indian place, I think it is called Yahir. The food is great, the staff very helpful about the food and it is cheap. I am begining to sound like the brother-in-law, Dave. There are 2 of them, they can work out which one.
I had something along the lines of upipadam. It was just the job, a sort of omlette without eggs and a cuppa of course, I resisted the puddings, it is breakfast. After I had ordered, I spotted the toast, which is what I really wanted, but "too late" sang the fat lady. Never mind, there is always tomorrow.
Decided to go and check out the beach at Candolim, as the plan, ok idea, is to go and practice my beach bum impression tomorrow for a few days. Jumped onto the bus, no problem, but getting off was a different matter. Sardines doesn't come into it. Eventually I was squeezed off, I am not the most agile ex-trained killer around. It will be fun tomorrow with all my gear.
The resort is not what I expected, there is one main drag that links the northern beaches and it is lined with shops, bars, restaurants, all sorts. The digs are back in the trees, between the strip and the beach.
I stepped of the bus and after about 10yds was greeted by Walter. I thought he was a Brummy, but he is from Burton on Trent. He looked spaced out to me, but was super friendly and gave me some local tips. More of Walter later. I think I will give him a page of his own.
I wandered in the direction of the beach, at least I thought it was, passed the local football pitch, passed lots of palms, past all sorts of buildings. There are lots of place to let and accomodation places, they look quite posh. Eventually I hit the beach. It's like Scottie has beamed me up and put me down in the Costa Del Sol, though how I know that, I don't know, I have never been. I am not sure I will like the beach side of Goa.
The beach is huge, full of whities, though not all from Blighty. A lot of middle aged people with bellies, so I am not sure a young ardonis like myself will fit in here. The beach is smart with lots of beds and sunshades and shacks for beer etc. Each beach is supposed to have a different character, Calangute is supposed to be mostly Indian tourists, but that is only hearsay.
Found myself a signpost to sit in the shade of and contemplate. Contemplate what I don't know, I haven't contemplated that yet. 3 lasses come up trying to flog me jewellry. I think they were only after my shade. They were really nice, no hard sell, just a bit of chat, shake hands and off they went, saying "Goodbye Dave" I don't know what she meant by that. That was a pleasant experience, no badgering, it was more like a friendly chat. One of them asked if I wanted to buy any of here old rubbish. She must have picked that up from the to;urists, I guess.
Better go and look for some accommodation. Eventually found one that looks quite posh, it is in the Lonely Planet for Rs 600, they asked for Rs800, I suggested Rs700, I don't know why, I paid Rs800. I can't do this haggle lark.
Back to Panjim. Checked out the short cut over the footbridge back to my digs. This could be a bit dodgy with all my gear on, there is no handrail. I think this could be the christening of the walking stick. Did a pre-pack, 20 minute kip (old Knacker), showered and back on the hoof. A bit of snap, blogging and emailing, then bed again before the witching hour, 22:00. The internet access is common in the bigger towns. There was nothing in Ganpatipule, but it is only a village. THe price seems to vary between Rs10 and Rs60 per hour, but it works OK. Not all have CD players, but a lot have cameras, head phones etc.
The cats, dogs, blonde etc. werent about tonight, just the disco beat, oh and the fireworks, today was a public holiday.
That is Panjim, off to the beach tomorrow, see you there with the sun cream.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Mumbai to Ratnigiri to Ganpatipule

Up at 5.00 am. I am hopless if I have to be somewhere, I cannot sleep, unlike the cabby I caught, he was sock on in the back of his cab when I walked onto the street.
It was a different Mumbai at 5.30 in the morning to 5.30 at night, the drive was easy.
So was the walk to the train, a porter took my gear, Rs100 about 1 pound 30p. It was worth it, the walk from the taxi rank to the train must have been quarter of a mile. I was saving my legs for later, just in case.
My reserved seat was with 3 English lasses, Dee (my Mam's name), Emma and Margaret. They had just been train hopping around parts of India for a few days, buying loads of things, unusual for women. They were of back to Goa, where they have a flat for 5 and a half months. Margaret has been doing it for years, getting a flat and having a long stay. This was the first real chat I'd had with any Brits. I was surprised how much I had missed it.
The food and drink kept on coming as we travelled on, it is constant, cheap and tasty, unlike British railway companies. I was told the food is not always as available as today. The seats may not be as posh, but the overall package is spot on.
The beggars come on the train, all variations. A lad giving the floor a quick look and then asking for money and a lovely well dressed lady, who the lasses told me was a bloke.
It is interesting travelling along checking out the landscape etc. It was not so pretty rolling out of Victoria Terminal in Mumbai, the locals from the shanty towns next to the station were coming down to the lines to do their morning ablutions.
The toilets on the train are not too bad either, so long as you remember this is India.
We rolled into Ratnigiri 1 hour late, but this is another feature of Indian railway from what I can gather. Loaded up my gear and got a good sweat on making my way up the stairs to the exit. The English spoken is not so good out of the cities, but still good enough for this Indian ignorant Brit. I eventually got my ticket for when I come back to head for Goa. Everyone advises to book in advance and this proves to be true down the line.
Walked out the station and the rickshaws looked tempting. The bus station in Ratnigiri is 10km from the train station, but I decided to try and use public transport to keep the cost down. I must confess it is more interesting too. I heaved myself onto the bus and a young lad gave me his seat. "Just like the old days" said the Grumpy Old Man. I gave him the last of my chocolates, which he immediately handed over to his Mam, who I was now sat next to. He seemed chuffed at the chocolates, just as I was chuffed to get a seat. The buses get packed generally and empty and fill up along the way, but I like using them. Loaded myself up at the bus station and the conductor took my small bag and lead me to the bus stand where the Ganpatipule bus leaves from. He's a good bloke. Life definitely seems nicer out of the big city.
I almost got on the wrong bus, but was redirected. I went to the back with my gear to try and stay out of the way. BIG mistake, the road from about 10km out of Ganpatipule is not the best, the tarmac is not wide enough for the bus and the craters were deep. It was like being on a fairground ride and I was like a jack-in-the-box. It was not necessary either, this was one of the quieter buses, I could have been at the front.
It took about an hour and here we are in Ganpatipule. I stepped off the bus and was approached straight away to see if I needed a hotel, in a nice way. I guess I need not have worried about accomodation. You should see where I have booked, the Shiv Sagar Palace, it is unreal. Mind you I didn't have a booking, like I thought I had, but they weren't busy, it was like a ghost hotel. I only saw 2 couples in there. The place is a bit surreal, it must been hell of a place in its hayday, but now it needs some tender care and attention, it looks like it is trying to cling onto its existence. It is definitely worth staying at least one night though. I enjoyed all 3 of mine. The staff are fussy to the extreme considering the place is nearly empty. They cannot do enough. The food was good too. I had a cracking meal the first night, I wish I could remember the name, nice and spicey, the spiciest one yet. I bet constipation isn't in the Indian dictionary.
The view from my room is great, out over the sea, so I sat and watched the sun sink into the Arabian Sea.
Next morning I headed into town. I didn't know, but breakfast is not so good, as they don't have many supplies. I was informed by an English couple I met. Mind you the electricity goes off from 8-10 a.m. I have no idea why. It goes off at night too and the generator kicks in then. There were candles in the room and matches.
The hotel seems to get more people coming just to look than stay. Others come to sit on the veranda for a meal as the sun goes down.
After walking down the hill into the village, I sat on a wall for a break and something shit on me. I hope it was a bird, but the colour didn't look bird like to me, I guess this should be my lucky day, it's supposed to be lucky.
Whilst I was sat on the wall, loads of people stopped for a chat. The young 'uns, teenagers, love to chat, lots smile and the odd one frowns, but in general everyone is curious and welcoming.
I went to see the naturally formed image of Ganesh, the Indian deity with the elephant head. I was expecting a huge image, it is a slab of rock about 3 feet by 2 and bright orange, although that is not natural. It is well worshipped and this is the off season for it. The bright orange stone is housed in a Pink temple. This is a colourful country. I went into the courtyard and got talking to a lady in a lovely pink sari. She was not keen to have her photo taken though. At least I think she did not want it taken. I don't understand what the wiggle of the head means yet.
Dropped into a little cafe/restuarant for a midday snack. Didn't know what to have so asked Panesh, the owner what Mutter is. "Peas" OK, I'll go for that. It was smashing, not just peas, as are most things in India, not what you expect. I love the food. The mutter came with 3 chipatis and a glass of lassi for 60p. So time to hit the beach. THere are quite a few Indian tourists around and as usual a lot want to talk. I was chatting with about 10 lads at one point, all smiling and chipping in. The crowd grows and wanes out of curiosity I think. I wandered along for about half a mile and there was nobody there. After a bit of an explore I sat and nodded off. I covered myself up, as there is no shade on the beach, but still got bits frazzled. Into a rickshaw and back for another meal at the hotel and bed again. The hotel provided a black jasmine shampoo, so I went to work on the bird shit on my T-shirt, it is a white one. The black shampoo has now added some grey blotches:-( One of my favourites, my "The Red and White Stripes" one.
Another day dawns, a few hours before I got up, so back down the hill and I wandered down another road through a couple of villages to a bridge over a river. Loads of people greet me along the way. Kids go by in pristine school uniform. THat is a trait of India, the kids come out of all sorts of buildings and they all have smart school uniforms on.
I was watching the fish in the river, a couple of eagles soaring and some other birds, all feathered, when 2 blokes and a young lass come along a stream running into the river and start fishing with a net across the mouth of the stream. It is not long before they hand a fish out to the young lass.
They saw me watching so called me over. I wiggled down and we try to communicate, one of the blokes then asks me for Rs200. "Sorry mate, no" 100?, 50?, 10?, 5? It was in good banter. I'm sure he tried to sell me his daughter next. 2 more kids joined us and all the kids had some fun looking through my binos.
Wandered back to the beach and was lying reading my book, another bunch of lads came over. Alwan the leader in a bright blue shirt thought I looked lonely. We had a good laugh and he had his photo take with me. When he left, he touched my feet. I have not found out what that means yet. They were all here, 350 of them, on a company outing. I bet there will be a party down here tonight, they are staying in the resort by the beach and these ones were a lively bunch.
Wandered back to Pashars for tea tonight. I had rice plate, which was a bit ordinary, but the bhajis were delicious. I tried the Kokan sarbat, a local drink made from syrup and water. I think the water may have done my stomach a bit, I had some rumblings, but they passed. The sarabat was not good or bad, just unusual.
Ended up back at the hotel talking to an English couple over a brew whilst they gave me their opinions on the beaches in Goa, my next stop.
Up and packed. I have 3 goods days in Ganpatipule and the Shiv Sagar. I am really glad I came. If you are looking for the night life, I doubt this is the place, but if you are looking to chill and relax, this is definitely a good place for that, there is not a lot to do.
I left some bits and a small rucksack in my room, as I am carrying way too much gear and also left a few rupees. One of the lads came rushing out to the rickshaw with the lot. It is a good place this hotel. I hope it survives.
Got the bus back to Ratnigiri. A young lad, 21, sat next to me and asked if he could practice his English with me. "Are you sure, you wont be offended?" He was ever so polite. I probably did his English no good though. He is in college and plans to flit to South Africa when he is done. We had a good natter, cricket, football, the lot.
Getting on the bus to the train station is chaos. Everyone lurks on a platform and when a bus turns up it is every man for himself. 2 young lads made sure I got squeezed on and then another young 'un gave up his seat for the Grumpy old man.
When I arrived from Mumbai, I struggled up the steps, on my way to the platform I found there is a ramp, it goes at about 30 degrees, but makes life easier, which is just as well, because when I got to the platform, it was changed. I wished Mr Murphy would bugger off. It may be hard to believe, but the train was late, the food was good and I got sat with a lovely Indian family. They gave me the nod to get off 2 stations early, which saved me about an hour on the bus. It was all done in 1 word sentences too.
And here I am in Panjim/Panaji, Goa, for the next leg.
Later people, time to find some delicious Indian food.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Finishing touches to Mumbai

I have left my log at my digs, so here is what I remember of the last 2 days. In any order. I'll go on with the most surprising scam, but I set myself up in a way, it did not pay off. I watched a bit more cricket at the Oval Maidan after having watched loads of games being played anywhere, two in a listed building grounds, the lads started to pose when they saw me taking a photo, one in the middle of a main road, taxis and 4x4's were dodging around the stumps which were on the white lines, an unfair advantage to the batsman I thought, mind you the fielders were helped when a 4x4 bumper saved a certain 4. Getting back to the Oval, I was watching under a tree and thought something flew onto my ear, scared tourist, but I think it was a leaf, anyway by coincidence, I was walking back to my hotel and some bloke says "You have something in your ear", from the cricket I thought, so rubbed my ear, " No " so I stuck my finger in my ear, "No, come here" He walked to my side then pulls my earlobe down, then shows me what looked like dental tool with earwax on it. He was only trying to have me let him clean my ears out. Original, but annoying. I buggered off as fast as my long legs would carry me.

I took a trip upto Victoria Terminal, VT, one of Mumbais train stations to get my bearings for the trip south tomorrow. I need to be prepared and it was a good move. I got the "Trains at a Glance" book which covers the whole of India's network and major trains, my best buy so far. The local train platforms are frightening. It was like trying to make your way into a football ground when the final whistle has gone. I found my likely platform, so plonked myself on a seat and worked out how Trains at a Glance works, 2 days I was there, well 20 minutes actually, but it was a nice spot to sit, in the station, no hassle. I wandered through the streets from VT back to the hotel. All around VT there are some smashing building down the back streets, like New Orleans, Colonial and Spanish, all sorts, I never got hassled once, until I hit Colaba Causeway, guess where I am staying, it begins with C?
VT itself is a magnificent building, as good as Amsterdam Central, perhaps better. The traffic around it is wild and when I was playing chicken, trying to cross the road, a cart towed by an ox trundles by amid all the taxis, buses and any form of 4 wheeled transport you can name. You would not see that in London. I saw my first sacred cows in the backstreets around VT too. Even they have more sense than to go to Colaba.

I stopped outside the courthouse, just in case I had to visit again. This is where the hassle starts, it is at the top of Colaba. HOWEVER, shock horror, a bloke came and sat beside me, "I'm not after anything" Not a good start, but he wasn't. He offered to give me some money, no joke, well not really. All I had to do was take some of his cash, perhaps $1,000 and change it to travellers cheques at the bank then use them to buy something ficticious at his shop. The Indians pay tax on foreign currency if it is declared. I was offered a generous 10%. What do you think my chances of getting caught were??? Me too, so I declined his generous offer. I did hesitate for a split, split second, so perhaps I should not pour scorn on the Mumbaikans for asking for money all the time, except the earwax bloke.

I had some good chats with people in my Mumbai time, most of them are old fellows, who just want a natter. No siblings, the old 'uns don't identify with me.
There were some great old lads. Waiting for the bus to VT a group of young blokes approached me. "My mates wanted me to talk to you. Is that OK?" Everyone who wants to talk are always very polite. These lads just wanted to talk to someone from far away. The kids are good too. They have always given me advice on which bus to catch. Like "Get lost old fogey". Not true, the young 'un's have put me on the right bus 100% so far.
I think after 4 days, I am getting the hang of the Mumbai mentality, but I don't want to stay. It is somewhere you should visit, but in my case, once is enough. It is like Havana, a rundown, beautiful place, but lots of hassle in a lot of areas. I am glad I came. If it had been possible with a local, it would have been even better.
The eating is great too. I dropped into a back street cafe by VT and had a couple of samosas, they don't just come as samosa, there is gravy and bits with them and of course I had the lassi. I am sold on that.

And one final recollection. I was not only offered money, I was given a sweet. I found a quiet spot in Chowpatty seaface, a small park where older people do laps and sit on benches and chew the fat. I snook passed the bouncer and sat at a bench and table doing my log and a group of elderly couples wandered passed, an old lad gave me a sweet and a greeting. It made me smile, until I found it was drugged. No, I lie, it was a sweet and a lovely gesture that made my night and brought yet another smile to my face. Thank you kind sir.

AND HERE ENDETH MUMBAI.......................... well almost.

P.S. some bits I missed.
I saw the bravest cat I have ever seen there. It was chasing the only rat I saw and the rat was almost as big as the cat.

The young 'uns in Mumbai love to talk to you and are very helpful, as are people in the local restaurant/cafes I ate in.

I met a Norwegian lad travelling with 8Kg, that is the way to travel, but he was only her for a fortnight.

The best way to get around Mumbai is by bus. An old fellow put me onto it. They run often and you get about 10 bus rides for one taxi trip and the bus conductor doesn't haggle for the price or ask for more when you get off.