Time to venture out of Goa to see more of India… Beep beep: And to test our resolve all road signs are in Hindi in these parts!! Say what? With little in the way of a map, we resort to identifying towns on signposts in Hindi and based on the approximate distance we are from that town, looking for the town that has ‘…the double squiggle and dot above the line and a horseshoe shaped thing at the end’!!! That’s fine until we run across an abbreviated sign or, the name of the towns change based on the local language!!! Grrr, this gets confusing. We revert to looking for the sun to get our direction seems like the only navigation option available.
So ‘why don’t you ask someone the direction?’ you say… LOL. If you can get someone who understands your question the chances are they guess at the right answer just to not disappoint you. Should anyone inform you that you go …’straight’!. You may as well consider yourself lost. There is no such thing as ‘straight’ on the road systems of India, and you can guarantee within a very short distance you have encountered another split in the road where you again scratch your head and… look to the sun. Just as well the sun shines all the time otherwise we would be in deep doo-doo. Goa’s neighbouring states of Maharashtra and Karnataka are a different world. We are a great novelty in the countryside and small villages… getting plenty of smiles, weird looks and friendly greetings… fills the spirit with JOY!!
Undaunted by navigation challenges and road conditions, we make an 8 hour drive in a rental car to Hampi to see the expansive Hindu temple remains that are sprawled across the unique rocky terrain. Roads in India have a nasty habit of going from basic to non-existent!!….. We are not sure if the Hampi road was the worst we have ever driven but it is high on the list. It was as if only half the budget was available so they paved the road intermittently! We were changing from smooth highway to bumpy, potholed, dirt track every kilometer or so.
We had no time to lose, racing the train to reach Hampi first to have the best pick of sparse accommodation before the sensible tourists that took the train arrived and snapped them up. It’s not like there is a lot of choice and the hotel rating system stops at about 1½ Stars. We were fortunate and snagged a room that did not have cockroaches, at least that we saw, and had a fan that effectively kept the mosquitoes moving, having had no trouble bypassing the broken window screens.
With a planned 3 night stopover our plans get swiftly scuttled, yet again the dreaded effects of wonderful Indian cooking and sub-standard hygiene lay us both up. Seems like all anyone talks about is food poisoning and stomach problems with visits to the hospital for re-hydration, followed by “De-Worming” … no it isn’t just dogs that need to be de-wormed! “Humans should de-worm every 3-6 months…” said the doctor. It just gets more and more nasty doesn’t it? So both suffering the after effects, we are off to chill-out with a ‘Master Reiki Healer’.. We will see what wisdom and healing we get!! Positive vibes all round as we “tap” our thymus gland and get into full “Reiki” groove!
Worms / Puke / Diarrhea.. how delightful, does that make for the most divine dinner conversation or what???
Having not subjected ourselves to enough stress and grief we head off on another road trip to experience the real India, the smells and delights, colors that permeate every fiber of your being… India Full On!!!
Stopping for a mini roadside break we happen upon a tent village. Basically it is a bunch of corrugated metal sheets and tarpaulins that provide shelter to people that have zip to their name… except a gazillion children!
Crayons and markers in hand, thinking it would be really neat to give the kids a treat, we are swarmed… clawed… mauled, suddenly face to face with complete desperation, thinking… “Stupid Gringo Tourists we are”, feeling a greater need for the kids’ education than the fact that they probably don’t remember the last time their stomachs were full!! We helped… by heading for a supply store for a mega bag of rice and taking it to the tent village… awesome!! You can‘t imagine the joy to see those mothers faces!! They would hardly let go of your hand as they blessed us. Perhaps that sack might see them through their desperation for a few days.
Once again the roads challenge us. It is hard work getting launched from one pothole to another as we inhale dust and grime and avoid obstacles… like hey it’s a good day when you only have a “FEW’ near misses!! Side mirrors hitting as cars and bikes pass is counted as a near miss! Otherwise the stats would be off the chart.
We climb into the mountains of the interior on the scooter and find a real pleasure in the relative coolness of the air as the temperature on the coast is now daily at 37 deg. C. Monkeys and brightly colored birds and butterflies everywhere , warnings of Landslides and mega worrying drop offs of thousands of feet. Yikes! The brief relief of the mountain air is short lived as we once again bounce our way down the mountain roads getting hotter and more tired by the minute.
If we are not suckers enough for this grueling travel routine we head off on mini road trip number three… South Goa and the delights of the much raved about Palolem and neighbouring beaches. Another 2 ½ hour slog in the crippling heat that hits full force on a motorcycle, with dust and grime in every crevice imaginable and un-imaginable. If the travel isn’t bad enough the conditions of the accommodation in these off the beaten track places leaves much to be desired. What is wrong with us? Are we insane? Do we really want to sleep on a mattress built like a board?
Palolem is all about “beach hut living” but our days of communal bathrooms are soo way gone and we opt for a 2 min walk from the beach for solid concrete walls, private bathroom, rock hard mattress… for the stupid price of $12. And most critical in all of that… CLEAN!!! But you can’t have it all at those prices… supply your own toilet paper and soap. But advice to any traveler of this great country: never be without toilet paper and hand sanitizer if you want to survive!! Public washroom etiquette: there is never any toilet paper, rarely running water, soap or towel out of the question!! So when you are chowing down on your next meal, think long and hard about the questionable hygiene of … well almost anybody! Wash and scrub away… germaphobic?.. hell YES!!,
All this as we contemplate heading to northern India and Nepal to wrap up our 5 months on this continent… Really we do question our sanity!
On a perkier note it’s been 4 + months and only one cockroach sighting… northern India will surely balance out the numbers but for now that along with only one snake sighting… And not even a handful of mosquito bites… Better on that count than we would expect in Canada! Just 1 police stop on our bike… no bribe just a great tip on a really stunning secluded beach and a ‘take care and drive safe’.
Not to mislead you there is lots of corruption… it is rampant, even on the beach where the police who “pay into” the force pocket money on every bust of the Hawkers who are hard at work slogging up and down the beach working to feed their families… while providing a great service to tourists. So yup if you have $4,000 – To $10,000 handy, you can buy yourself into the police force from a recruit to an officer, and the right to pocket every bribe or back hander you can get your hands on!
While we are talking money grabs, OMG: The ‘Happy Clappers’ are men wearing makeup and dressed as women in Sari’s that visit all the local businesses and ask for payments at the threat of placing a curse on the business and its proprietor. Theoretically they are Eunuch’s but that’s questionable! They clap on the way in to identify themselves. But here is the thing: all the businesses pay them so they can be blessed!!! Sounds a lot like protection money! But superstitions are deeply entrenched and nobody wants to rock the boat.
That’s India, … just the way things work.
Peace and love… and Clap Clap Clap … Bless you!