Chilling in the late afternoon sun on a roof-top in Chiang Mai, waiting for the sleeper bus out of here tonight to Laos. Grabbed Lacey's notebook and thought it was about time I concluded the India leg of my blog…
Spent 2 days in Delhi, my last stop in the dry and dusty North. Felt a lot more comfortable there second time around with a bit of time in India under my belt - was all a bit crazy on my first, and brief, overnight stop there back on my first day out of the UK. Was striding around, swatting off touts and taxi-men, hell I was bossing the place on my return there!
Crammed quite a bit in again, saw Gandhi Smriti, the place where Gandhi spent his last days before this assassination saw the last footsteps he took and the spot where he was taken down by a gunman's bullets. Learnt quite a bit about his life there too, together with some more about the history of India and their quest for independence. Checked out Connaught Place - big impressive area of town, built by the British and this being the case, had a distinct London feel to it. Especially so since this area is quite Westernised in terms of shops and business. Saw my first McDonalds of the trip, and frankly it would have been rude not to - my Maharaja Mac went down nicely.
My highlight in Delhi was probably checking out the Spice Market during a rickshaw tour of the Old City. A whole block is dedicated to it - on the outside facing the road are the retailers selling to joe public, then wandering round I found my way into the bowels of the operation, where the wholesale work took place, massive sacks of all different kinds of spices stacked up, and some in transit on carts and people's shoulders. The smell was pretty incredible, and was quite a sight too. Whilst in Delhi also went to a manic underground bazaar (picked myself up a completely faulty USB stick, nice one), got chucked out of a mosque, wore a sarong (just cos I had to cover my legs, honest) and had a nice little stroll round Lodi Gardens with a chocolate corneto. Which I'm getting addicted too. Actually, the big, crumbling, rustic temples in Lodi Gardens I probably preferred to the Taj Mahal. Seemed a bit realer somehow, more authentic…less touristy…
Flew to Goa via Mumbai.12 Nov. With a visit to Hampi taking out 3 days halfway through, only managed to spend 8 days and 6 nights there. Checked out a few of the Northern beaches but unfortunately didn't make it down to the South - Palolem etc. Next time.
Based myself in Anjuna. For my first stint there was hanging around with two German lads quite a bit - Alex and Eric. Good guys and made me realise how close the Brits and Germans are culturally/socially, kind of ironic given the history. On the first night when they'd turned in, I took a wander down along the beach - great being by the sea again after so long by the sea in Bournemouth - and heard some beats in the distance. Followed a craggy coastline path for a kilometre or two and arrived at a crazy beachside club called Curlies…banging out some hectic psy-trance, neon and UV lights illuminating the place, the usual backpacking crowd supplemented by a load of funky characters, including some guy who looked like Garth out of Wayne's World when he hits middle age, plus an old guy in his 70s/80s, raving away, looking exactly like Gandalf out of Lord of the Rings.
Also went to another party one evening, held in an outside club in Vagator just North of Anjuna. Not long after arriving there the wind picked up in the surrounding palm trees and this preceeded a massive tropical storm, drenching us and sending us back to Curlies. The music of choice in Goa is psy-trance which is a bit too hardcore for me these days, prefer my house music a bit slower and deeper. The clubbing scene in Goa is a lot quieter these days since officials clamped down on licences, but there's still always a party to be had somewhere. Personally, I probably enjoyed the chilled out, hippy vibe of theplace more than anything. Catching sun in the day, dinners and beers in beach side shacks, chilled out music, wicked cover bands etc etc…
In my second stint in Goa after Hampi, hooked up with Joel, Joost and Mike who I'd been travelling with at various points in the North. We'd all separately made our own way down to Goa and found ourselves in the same area again at the same time, worked out nicely. Hired some scooters, together with a bunch of other travelers we met in Goa, and had a blast. Always turned my nose up at scooters after dipping my toe in the water of the motorcycle world - but man those things are fun! Definitely faster than I thought. Buzzed between Anjuna and Arambol quite a bit, about a 45 min ride, taking in some pretty sweet scenery on nice, varied roads.
Spent a couple of days in Arambol, towards the very North of Goa. This was probably my favourite spot in Goa, really chilled out, some cool beachside shacks, really good vibe about the place. People doing mediation and yoga on the beach, with games of beach cricket further along. On the Northern tip of Arambol there's a secluded beach, out of reach of many of the tourists where I had an awesome lunch of locally caught red snapper one day.
Popped to Baga for a few drinks for a couple of evenings also, this is where most of the package tourists end up with all the comforts and familiarities of home. Seemed to be a bit of a India's answer to Benidorm from what I saw, not really my scene.
Left Goa on Fri 20th Nov, Joel taking me on the back of his scooter (my 20kg bag on my back made for a pretty hairy, uncomfortable ride - but hey I saved about a quid on a taxi!) to Mapusa, from where I got a bus to Thivim to catch the sleeper train to Mumbai.
Took some time out from Goa for a few days to check out Hampi. Had, without doubt, the worst journey of my life on the sleeper bus to get there, but it was still worth it. Tip for any future traveler in India - never buy the last available ticket on a sleeper bus to Hampi. No one's bought it for a reason!
Hampi was awesome. The combination of the natural, unbelievable geography of the place, coupled with the vast ruins of a grand past civilisation make it the most unique place I've ever been. Arrived there early one morning and headed off on a tuk tuk ride of the main sites in the afternoon. The landscape appears like something out of a computer game, massive sand coloured rocks piled in all sorts of weird and wonderful positions as far as the eye can see. Interspersed in the rocks are palm and banana trees, the vibrant greens creating a great contrast against the yellowy/brown rocks.
In terms of the man made side of the place, there are a vast array of ruins of temples and palace complexes. They are in various states of disrepair since Muslim invaders ransacked the whole city hundreds of years ago, but you easily get the impression how grand the City once was.
Just before dinner on my sole night in the place, saw a massive cow fight in the street. Quite an event - for as many people desperately trying to stop the cows trashing their motorbikes and shop fronts while they were charging horns-first into each other, there were just as many locals waging money on the outcome of the fight. On my second afternoon there managed to grab myself a slot on the back of an English guy's Royal Enfield to see some of Hampi I hadn't seen the previous day. Then after an awesome thali in Hospet I boarded the sleeper bus back to Hospet - a valium making the return journey a far more pleasant experience!
Arrived in Mumbai CST (big, grand, British-built Victoria Terminus) early on the morn of 22nd Nov. I guess the city was a touch quieter than normal being Sunday, but after another sleeper ride there on the back of a whirlwind 5 week trip round India, this suited me.
Dumped my bag and walked North to check out Crawford market and the other markets round that area. During my time in Nepal and India saw these big, mechanical contraptions by the road, mincing up big lengths of sugar cane juice to form a drink - always thought it would be really sweet and sickly. Since it was my last day on the subcontinent, and it was a scene I'd seen throughout my stay there, I gave some sugar cane juice a go and it was bloody lovely, not too sweet and really refreshing.
Wandered down to Oval Maidens, one of the few areas of grass in Mumbai. Cricket wise, was the craziest scene I've seen in my whole life. Never seen more people in one place playing cricket - thousands of them. And the pitches were so close together - a wicket would be 10 metres wide, if that, then there would be another, then another, all with semi-organised matches going on. Fielding for each match would take place across loads of other wickets too - fielders would just have to try and keep focused onthe action on their wicket, despite all the other wickets between them too. They absolutely bloody love it…
Later that afternoon went and checked out the Taj Hotel and the Gateway to India by the sea/dock front. The repairs from the 26/11 terror attack are still ongoing and visible, whilst some entrepreneurial Indians sell wind-up, crawling toy commando men on the pavement outside. These boys don't miss a trick… Checked out the Gateway to India, then had a another meander around before walking into Leopolds for dinner.
Featured in the epic novel 'Shantaram' - popular with most recent/current travelers through India - Leopolds has been both made and killed by the book. The ambience and array of characters portrayed in the book is gone, replaced by as many tables they can pack in as possible, souvenir t-shirts and endless stream of Western tourists. Of which I, of course, was another. Great beer and a burger though (not a place for the local cuisine) and poignant to see the bullet marks in the restaurant from the recent terror attacks. It was chosen as a target due to the concentration of Westerners there, but unfortunately it was two local staff who lost their lives in the attack.
Following dinner at Leopolds, went back to the Gateway to India for one last time, illuminated against the night sky. By chance, a masala chai seller came, he obviously knew that I wouldn't be able to resist. It wasn't planned to end my trip at the Gateway, but in the end it was very fitting, since that was where the British exited India for the last time when our rule in India came to an end. And there couldn't really be a better way to end the trip than with a chai in my hand, one of the constants of my trip through India.
And that was it. My time in India and the Subcontinent came to an end with a train up to Mumbai airport and a flight out of there to Bangkok. It's a place I'm planning on going back to….someday…