Rajasthan Part Two, Goa, Hampi
22nd Mar 2010
Mon March 1st - Holi
We hit the streets kitted out in old clothes ready for the colour festival of Holi. We are joined by two Belgian guys, Michiel and Pieter and immediately we are surrounded by guys on bikes with bags of coloured powder. Shouting "Happy Holi!" they smear our heads and faces with a range of coloured powders, we retaliate by doing the same to them. Its hugs all round before they speed off to find more people to cover. We are already resembling a motley crue of chameleons by the time we jump in our rickshaw to the pink city. We are dropped at the Ajmeri Gate where more groups of men coat us in powder. Gangs of lads on motorbikes cruise by shouting "Happy Holi!", kids spray us with water pistols. Some of the kids are a bit rough with Odie, but she handles it well and sprays them back with powder. Our T-Shirts now resemble the hippy tie-dye style and we break for some respite at a small temple.
Back on the streets, a middle-aged man takes a liking to Odie, calling her sister and wanting to hug her, when I tell him that we're married his attitude changes and hugs both of us! We turn down a main street passing groups of men covered in colour, we, though, appear to be the centre of attention and people stop us to take photos on their phones. We pass through the Old City and are 'attacked' by a bunch of feral kids throwing water bombs, this soon seems to escalate to sandals and then one chucks a small rock at me. At this point a group of men have come out and chase them back down the streets. We decide to head back to the hotel for some respite from the madness and a few cold beers. On our way back more people stop us to take photos and one guys even videos us. We stop at a beer and wine shop to get some cheap beers, one of the guys is rolling around laughing drunk on the floor, he gains some form of self control enough to serve us and also try and scam us out of 500 Rupees. Unfortunately for him, both me and Odie spot this and we get back the correct change and garbled apology from his friend.
Back on the hotel rooftop, we sip cold beers caked in colour. Interestingly, when I got out later to get some more beers, nobody seems to notice I'm a Westerner, even the rickshaw drivers ignore me. The rest of the day is spent relaxing and getting clean before some dinner in the evening.
Tue March 2nd - Jaipur
After extended shower sessions trying to get the rest of colour out unsuccessfully and also off the bathroom door which also coated in dye, we head out with Michiel and Pieter to the Jantar Mantar Observatory, a guide shows us around and gives brief explanations of the workings of all the stone devices. Particularly impressive is a massive stone sundial accurate to 2 seconds. Other devices map the the suns path in relation to the earth and various other astrological measurements.
We leave Michiel and Pieter to do some shopping and head back through the back streets of the Old City, today safe from Holi. Different streets seem to contain shops focussing on one product, one such street sells mainly bangles.
In the evening we have dinner with Michiel and Pieter at the excellent Pearl Palace restaurant before checking out a music festival at the Central Park. The park seems a million miles away from the grotty streets of Jaipur, almost reminiscent of a European City Park. As we enter flowers and candles lead up a path past a series of large stone sculptures to some seating. We enjoy some excellent Hindi music, in particular the female singer keeps the audience spellbound. The last act is an Egyptian act with two dancers with bright colourful hooped dresses, they seem to spin constantly without getting dizzy, it is mesmerising. The show ends at 10.30 and we head back home.
Wed March 3rd - Jaipur
Michiel and Pieter depart after lunch to Agra and we take a cycle rickshaw to the impressive Raj Mandir Cinema for our first experience of Indian Cinema. We purchase box seats for 'My Name is Khan' and enter into a vast hall with art deco style decoration. After buying the obligatory popcorn and chocolate we sit back and enjoy the film. Before the film, we are treated to indian adverts which are shown twice in succession. The film is half in Hindi and in English but enough for us to follow the plot, the audience wolf whistle the female lead and clap at certain moments. There is a brief 15 minute intermission where slides of local ads are shown on the screen before the film resumes. We leave the cinema slightly disorientated to be back on an Indian street (most of the film was set in the US) and walk back to the guesthouse for dinner.
Thu March 4th - Mon 8th March
We fly from Jaipur to Dabolim Airport in Goa and catch a taxi for our second stay in Arambol. We end up back at the Dreamcatcher huts where we stayed in January and settle back in to the relaxing routine of dips in the sea, beach lounging and drinking cocktails. We hook up with Evelina, Mick, Billy, Barry, Catherine and a few others who are nearing the end of their 2 week holiday. After weeks and weeks of constant go, its nice to just relax and spend some time with friends.
Tues March 9th - Arambol to Hampi
We take an early taxi to Margao train station where we catch the train headed for Hospet near Hampi. We enjoy stunning view of the Dudhsugar Waterfall just as we leave the state of Goa and head into Karnataka. The further we head into Karnataka, the more the heat starts to become apparent. A small boy drags himself along the floor using a rag to clean rubbish, its apparent that this is a service that we'll get whether we want it or not. We give him a few rupees change. About an hour later the same boy comes back to clean the already clean bit of floor that he cleaned before demanding more money. In the end its his lucky day as my train veg biryani becomes his. We are also visited by other beggars all with different techniques, some just thrusting an open palm in your face, by now, we are out of small change and biryani so they go away disappointed.
As we near Hospet, large boulders begin to fill the landscape. We arrive at Hospet at 3 and fight through an angry mob of rickshaw drivers and hotel touts. We settle for one guy who is barted down to 100R for the 14km trip to Hampi. We are dropped off at Hampi Bazaar where its a short walk to the Tungabhadra River crossing. We board a small flat bottomed metal boat which scrapes its way across rocks to the other side of the river, Virupapuragadda or Viru. We are accosted almost immediately by a man from Sunny guesthouse, we decide to check his place out and it turns out to be excellent value. Its a lovely bamboo hut for 300R overlooking paddy fields and large boulder strewn cliffs.
We climb up onto the rocks for an impressive sunset overlooking the ruins of Hampi before dinner at the guesthouse.
Wed March 10th - Hampi
We attempt to cross the river but some Israeli tourists seem to want to dispute the fact that locals pay 10R and tourists pay 15R. One girl refuses to cough up the extra 5R so the driver turns the boat round midriver and heads back to the shore until the dispute is sorted out. In the end, she throws him a 500R note and asks him to change 'bloody tourist money'. Where I can see the point that its annoying to pay more than the locals, I really think there is no need to be rude about it, I guess her karma will catch up with her.
We check out the Virupaksha Temple in the middle of Hampi Bazaar, the stone floor is hot on the feet as we had remove sandals to enter. After looking around we head out vai Lakshmi the temple elephant and feed her some bananas which she wolfs down in one gulp. We read you can get blessed by her if you give her 1R, I now find out this has gone up to 10R! We decide it is far too hot to wander about the ruins and have a lovely lunch at the Mango Tree Restaurant on the banks of the river. The special coconut/honey veg curry is delightful only slightly tempered by a swarm of flies that seem intent on joining us.
On our way back two rickshaw drivers offer their services for a temple tour, I don't make any promises but get two prices and say we might see them in the morning.back over the river we relax outside the hut as a cool breeze rustles over the rice paddy. When it cools down a but we take a stroll through the rice paddies and up into a prehistoric land of large boulders where hardy cacti and a few scrawny trees cling for dear life. We find a suitable atmospheric spot and share some vodka and coke while awaiting the sunset.
That evening we head out into a blackout to find a place to eat, in the end we settle for the Laughing Buddha Cafe (the same name as our favourite food place in Arambol). It does good Mexican food and we even get a free screening of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'. As we head home, we are surrounded by an ear splitting cacophony of frogs and insects.
Thu March 11th - Hampi
We catch the boat across the river and are met by one of the rickshaw drivers, we agree to do a tour with him and we settle on 300R for a 5hr tour. After a bit of breakfast, Jeelan drives us around the temple sites, it turns out he is a well spoken guide aswell so we also get a lot of interesting info on Hampi and its monuments.
First stop is a giant Ganesh Sculpture which dwarfs both of us before we move on to the Krishna Temple which has some impressive carvings of the Kama Sutra. Across the road is a large bath where worshippers supposedly bathed before heading to the temple. Next to it is a crumbling bazaar lined with columnades reminiscent of Pompeii.
We head onto the Lotus Mahal via the Underground temple and an ancient mosque. The Lotus Mahal has strong Indo-Islamic influences and was used as a summer pavillion. Nearby we stroll through the impressive elephant stables before passing giant walls with Incan style brickwork.
The heat is really hitting now (38C) and some sugary drinks are a must to keep us going as the sweat pours off. Next month it will be 10 degrees hotter and presumably devoid of people! We stop at the place where the King's audience hall was, here we visit a beautiful stepped bathing pool. Onwards and the Queen's Bath is less well preserved and is covered in bird shit and paan.
Our final destination is the Vitthala Temple which contains a stone sculpture of a chariot and is also famous for its' musical pillars that well struck resonate a note. Unfortunately due to years of use and vandalism the main hall is closed but we get to try out similar type pillars in another hall. Just before we head back into Hampi we pass by the Kings Balance where apparently the Kings used to weight themselves to a bag of jewels and gold and give the equal weight to the poor.
We getted dropped off by the river and take the boat back over the river complete with motorbike. The rest of the day is spent cooling down by the paddy fields before another venture onto the rock cliffs for sunset and finished off with dinner at the Laughing Buddha.
Fri 12th March - Hampi to Hospet
A lazy day ensues before we catch the 5.45 boat to get our rickshaw to Hospet. As we leave Hampi, the temples are bathed in a wonderful pink/red glow from the setting sun. We have dinner at a mosquito ridden predominantly male restaurant in Hampi sharing a few drinks with an english couple before we head to the train station for our 10pm train.
As we wait it turns out our carraige (S14) does not exist, it takes about fifteen minutes to ascertain that it is names SE1 (Special Carriage). Unfortunately, our carriage is anything but special, our top bunks are right next to the door and the toilets meaning there is a constant whiff of urine and faeces. To make matters worse a bright light is shining right in my face, its going to be a long night.
Sat 13th March - Renaguta Junction - Chennai - Mamallappuram
Somehow I manage to get some sleep amidst loud tannoys, noisy indians and a bizarre dream about a large bee trapped in the window shutters. We arrive at Renaguta Junction at 9am where we disembark to catch our connecting train to Chennai. Its a 1.5 hour wait as chai wallers, veg cutlet/samosa vendors, ice cream sellers service the train windows.
We have second class seats on the train and spend the next few hours being entertained by an assortment of beggars with different techniques. A coconut seller hacks off the tops of coconuts inches from my foot, a bare chested boy drags himself along the floor with a rag cleaning for ruppees. One man sings a devotional song while a rough looking transvestite claps at us before holding out his/her hand. As cries of "Chai Chai, Veg Cutlet, coffee!" pass us, a salesman starts to demonstrate his lemon juicer to all of us. Its a convincing show and I almost feel like buying one before I remember we already have one. Cockroaches skuttle in and out of cracks in the wall and at one point up one poor womans' sari.
We leave the sticky heat of the train to catch a prepaid rickshaw to the bust station, the driver seems to have no idea where we want to go so ends up asking about 10 people on the street. We finally make it to the bus station where we catch an express bus to Mamallapuram entertained by a talkative conducter and a loud Bollywood film. I zone out with my iPod as the dirty, polluted roads of Chennai are replaced by views of the Bay of Bengal and posh seaside resorts.
We arrive late afternoon and check out a few average places before settling on Greenwoods Resort which is set amongst a pretty garden. We check out the beach which is strewn with fishing boats, sewage outlets, rubbish and groups of indian men loitering. We elect to watch the light fade from a riverfront cafe before heading to Le Yogi for some delicious grilled fish.
Next: Mamallapuram, Pondicherry, Madurai and Kodaikainal
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