We flew from Mumbai to Goa, where we stayed a short way from the beach in Calingute. The place was full of package tourists, mainly Russian and European. Apparently, there is now considerable Russian investment in parts of North Goa, a fair bit of it funded by the Russian mafia, who like to go there to play (and drink and fight - according to the locals).
We did find our way to an interesting night market north of Calingute. Many of the clothing and apparel stalls were owned by Europeans who have created a very stylish combination of Gen-X/Y-merged-with-post-hippie look. Sue's opinion was that the style would hit Europe and then North America in the next few years. I think we could be ahead of the fashion curve, if only we had actually bought something.
After a few days we drove South to Palolem - a beautiful Goan beach with a great laid-back atmosphere. We stayed in palm-leaf-roofed wicker-walled huts at the end of the beach, accessed by a bamboo bridge that crossed a pretty little stream estuary. When we arrived, we and our gear were transported by outrigger dug-out canoe, to save the lug along the beach.
It was very restful as we spent several days doing little but wander the beach, eat and drink in the restaurant bars, kayak, swim or just sit reading on the couches overlooking the stream. One of the things that makes Palolem so enjoyable is that all of the beachfront structures, including our huts, have to be taken down when the monsoons begin. This means there are no concrete or brick buildings visible from the beach.
We all agreed that we would have been happy to stay for many days - but after 3 nights, the time came to drive to Dharwad in the neighbouring state, Karnataka. Rohini's mother and brother live in Dharwad and we spent a very pleasant evening enjoying her family's tremendously generous hospitality for people they had never met previously.
Rohini helps support a music school, started by a French-Canadian and his French wife. The school takes in very poor rural village children who show musical talent and gives them a chance to learn and develop their skills in traditional Indian music.
We drove by taxi for about 45 minutes to the school site - a piece of pretty land in very remote countryside past a small village. The school consists of multiple mud walled and floored huts and small buildings, full of 130 children. The atmosphere was incredible.
We sat in on several lessons where the children sang, played traditional instruments or danced. The teachers were clearly talented and took their work very seriously, as did the children. 5 times as many children apply for places every year as can be accepted. Going to the school must be a tremendously life-changing event for the children who are able to develop their talent and move on to more opportunities.
There are a number of volunteers working at the school, nearly all from Quebec or France. The children, who have never seen foreigners before going to the school, naturally assume that all foreigners are volunteers who speak French. So they were incredulous that we were neither volunteers nor French speaking.
One of the people who help run the school, Deborah, was a great young French woman and was busy trying to plan a playing tour by 10 of the students in Europe or North America. She also arranged for many of the children to put on a performance program for us. It was just an incredible experience. The children were so friendly, bright and playful - and seriously committed to their music.
You could not help but be moved by the dedication and attitude of the school staff and the difference they were making to the children's lives - and the future of traditional Indian music. Given the incredible complexity of the issues that India is facing and of the changes that the nation is going through, it was somehow very reassuring to see something that just seemed undoubtedly good and right.
The long drive to Goa airport from Dharwad was a mixed experience. The scenery - along small roads through rolling teak forests and over hills was enjoyable. However, after a few hours we were on a narrow windy road used by a large number of dump trucks. At one point we were stuck in a traffic jam of over 600 dump trucks (I counted them), shuttling red earth (iron ore maybe) between quarries and processing plants.
Our driver happily overtook every dump truck in sight - driving head on into the oncoming trucks, which would swerve off the road at the last moment to avoid hitting us. We spoke to the driver several times to say that we were not in a hurry and not happy about his driving. Unfortunately, he spoke no English and mistook my gestures, intended to indicate we had plenty of time, to mean that he should go faster.
The worst part was the russian roulette game played when the driver would overtake a line of trucks on a long blind bend, on a hill with steep drop-offs. A week or so later, the driver who took us nearly 3000 kilometers - and was a good driver - told us that to drive in India you need 4 things: a horn, good brakes, patience and luck. I think they rely on luck the most - I just don't believe the patience bit.
Well, we made it to Goa airport - and none of us actually needed clean underwear - so I suppose all's well that ends well.