I am now in a town called Madurai, which is in the centre of Tamil Nadu, south India. Since my last entry from Palolem quite a lot has happened.
Sam left Palolem to return home to start his new job and so I am now travelling on my own. I left Palolem on the same day and went to Panjim, the capital of Goa. Panjim is quite a nice city as it has lots of old Portuguese buildings lining the maze of narrow streets that you wander around and get lost in. Whilst I was there, there was a small carnival in the streets near my hotel, complete with giant puppets dancing around and salsa music playing.
There were some good restaurants there and nice cafes too. I even got to watch a film and saw the new Hugh Grant film. Going to the cinema in India is quite funny as you have to all stand up at the start when they play the National Anthem and there are usually a couple of refreshments breaks during the film. I guess this makes sense for Bollywood movies as they are about four hours long, but for a Hollywood one it is just an excuse to keep eating more popcorn and ice cream.
I also went to Old Goa, which is the old state capital and is full of Portuguese Church's, one of which has a slightly creepy open coffin with a corpse of St Frances Xavier in it.
I decided to go to Anjuna to see the whole Goa party scene. It was indeed full of people with lots of piercings, tattoos and lots of marijuana being smoked. I went to the Wednesday flea market there. This is a huge market out in a field and feels a bit like a music festival at home with lots of stalls, techno music blaring and bars dotted around.
After Panjim, I caught an overnight 'luxury' bus heading north. I say 'luxury' in its broadest sense. It did have air conditioning that was so strong that I had to wrap myself up in two tops and a sheet and I was still shivering. I had bought a recliner seat as I had been warned that if you buy a sleeper berth (bunkbed) from this particular company they expect you to share!
However, unfortunately I ended up sitting next to the largest man in the entire world who got on at the last minute and spread over my seat as well as his own. I got so annoyed at being so squashed that when he got up to go to the toilet I pretended to be asleep and glued my arm to the armrest to prevent him squashing me any further. After an hour of him obviously being uncomfortable with his arm in the air, he acknowledged defeat and went and found another seat. Therefore, I could finally sit across a couple of seats and try and curl up to keep warm and sleep.
I had to then change to another luxury bus in the early hours of the morning to get to Aurangabad. This bus had Bollywood films blasting out and was a bit much at 6am, but it did help to pass the time.
I stayed in Aurangabad for three nights as I wanted to visit the Ellora and Ajanta Caves that are a bus ride away from there. On the first day I went to the Ellora Caves and met some other backpackers there who I spent the day with. There are 34 caves at Ellora, all spread out across the hillsides. They were started in the 6th century AD and range from quite plain ones that were used to store grain to elaborately carved temples with high vaulted halls and shrines full of statues. One even had statues of life sized elephants that had been carved from the rock, so were still attached to it by their feet. On the way back, there were no buses so we had to catch one of the shared jeep taxi's here. They managed to fit eighteen people, plus all their bags of shopping in it and it was pretty cozy by the end!
The following day I took the longer journey to 2nd century BC Ajanta Caves. They were even more stunning as they had beautiful paintings all around them, as well as the sculptures. We had to take a torch to go and explore them as some parts are not permanently lit. This made it feel like you were discovering them for the first time as you came across paintings of deities, animals and huge elaborate scenes from battles. I was lucky to meet some nice french people there, who are living here and who saved me the wait for the bus and the five hour ride in the blazing heat. They kindly took me for lunch and gave me a lift back to Aurangabad.
The final day was spent sightseeing in Aurangabad itself, which is not really that interesting as its' main attraction is a palace known as the Poor Man's Taj Mahal and indeed it was a poor copy. The town has a different feel to others I have visited in India as it is mainly a Moslem town.
I then caught another luxury overnight bus (with my own sleeper bunk fortunately) in to Mumbai. I was pleased to be back there as we had not spent enough time there when we went about 6 weeks ago. I stayed in the incredibly cheap Salvation Army Hostel, which is full of backpackers. It costs less than two pounds and includes breakfast. However, I suffered for the cheap price as I have been bitten by bed bugs - yuk!
However, I was able to return to my favourite restaurants and cafe from before and enjoy the nice food and coffee there. I spent one day exploring the architectural sights around the centre including the museum, art gallery, court, church, university, library and Maidens (parks where the locals all go to play cricket). Some of the buildings were stunning and were designed by the same man who designed St Pancras station and look similar, but with an Indian twist.
On the second day, I was asked to be an extra in a Bollywood movie whilst I was coming out of a cafe with a german girl Sula from my hostel. We had already told the hostel we were interested in doing this as film agents come there often to look for people. Some of the other guys there had said it was boring as they were just part of a crowd and only had to give applause on cue.
However, we were very lucky as we were asked to be in a reasonably big budget film called The Train, which had some famous stars in it. They had filmed it mostly abroad and just wanted to do a final dance scene in a nightclub setting, so they needed foreigners to be extras to give the impression that the party was abroad.
The film set was down in a big warehouse in the docks and had been designed in black and white, with a dance floor, tables and chairs, sofas and a staircase leading up to a bar in the centre. I had to wear a black and diamante cocktail dress and the whole cast was in either black or white or a combination of the two. There were about twelve foreigners as extras and we were asked to stand behind or next to the main stars and chat, pretend to be drinking our fake cocktails or dance. There was also a particular dance routine that they got us to do that involved waving each arm up and then downwards whilst fluttering our fingers.
The stars were really funny to watch. There was an older smoothie type of man who had so much make up on he looked almost green. The younger moody type really fancied himself and was having to wear a wig as he had changed his hairstyle since they started filming. More time, energy and manpower was devoted to his wig than anything else that day (probably in the whole of India). It required two staff to service it. One man carried a bag of utensils and a mirror and the hairdresser did the finishing touches. Filming was frequently stopped for a hair emergency and both staff would sprint onto the set. Only after tender loving care had been given, all three had looked at it from every angle possible and all nodded seriously in agreement, could filming recomence.
The two female leads were a prim, pretty and innocent looking girl who was playing the young man's wife and who is apparently Miss India. The other woman was playing a hussy who had seduced the young man and wore the skimpiest dress with a split down the centre and so much make up that a drag queen would pale in comparision. Both looked quite moody when the camera stopped, but as soon as 'action' was said they would put on their best Bollywood smiles and pouts.
It was a long day from 10am to 10pm and my feet were killing me by the end of it. I earned 500 rupees, which is about four pounds fifty for my work. However, it was good fun and I got to meet some nice other people there too and so afterwards we all went out for a drink to celebrate out fifteen minutes of fame. Apparently the film will be out in about six months time, so I could become famous after that.
I then caught a plane down to Madurai, where I am now. This is a town with one of the biggest temples in India and has a maze of rows, statues and shrines inside it. They treat the deities here as if they are human and bathe them, dress them and even put them to bed every night (including with their spouses!). I am staying in a hotel next to a smaller temple and their elephant has to walk through my hotel grounds next to the outdoor restaurant twice a day. Each morning she wakes me up as I hear her jangling the bells they put around her ankles.
It is now getting increasingly hot here and I will be heading for a hill resort tommorow called Kodaikanal, which should hopefully be a bit cooler.
Anyway, I will update again soon.