Monday, 18 January 2010

Back in the Saddle - and a happy new year!

And so we are on the move again – so I have finally decided that it’s time to get off my lazy fat ass (all those layers burned off at 5000M have definitely been replaced and then some) and get back with the program! For a while I gave myself permission to slack off as there wasn’t much of anything new to report, but I no longer have that excuse. I’m afraid to say: It’s true, I have been exceedingly lazy for a few weeks now – and I will also confess – there is no completed novel ready for submission to publishers – there isn’t even a new installment of wit and charm – there’s just the next episode in our travels and a bit of an explanation to justify my lazy ways – but I’m afraid it’s all I’ve got so it will have to do.

During the first couple of weeks in Goa – as promised (to myself) I managed to take some much needed R&R time. You see, since the day that we ‘quit’ our jobs back at the end of May I don’t really feel like I’ve stopped. First there was the manic month of preparations for our wedding. And for those of you who have planned a wedding on your own, you will know – that although there really doesn’t’ seem to be that much to take care of on the surface of it – a few major ingredients and some minor details – once you get started it just seems that the list of minor details leads to another list of minor details, and another and another and on it goes, until you are still making final adjustments and arrangements only a day or 2 before the nuptial proceedings begin. It was worth all the hard work of course and the whole of our wedding week was truly spectacular – including the weather – but after finally saying goodbye to friends and family we barely had a moment to catch our breath before we were off to the Greek Isles to celebrate our newfound wedded status with a honeymoon.

Now, since Darko and I had purposefully picked a location that was unfamiliar to both of us it was virtually impossible for these two wandering souls to resist the temptation to explore, instead of just sitting back on a sun lounger to eat, drink and get a tan. We managed to cover 4 islands and Athens in 2 weeks – so surprise surprise – didn’t really get that much rest – I know I know – I can hear you all saying ‘poor Carrie and Darko’ with perhaps more than a hint of sarcasm in your tone. But really – being an intrepid tourist can be exhausting.

No sooner had we arrived back in Ambleside to enjoy the rest of the summer; relaxing with family and hiking the hills, than I decided it might be ‘fun’ to find some gainful employment on a part-time basis to ‘keep me occupied’. Within 2 days I was donning my smart black pants to serve the hungry holidaying vegetarians (and a few locals) with hearty meals at Fellinis, the sister restaurant to Zeffirellis, (where I actually held down my first weekend stint as a café server at the age of 13). It kept some pocket money rolling in and gave me a chance to sample the delicious menu for free, as well as escaping my husband a few nights a week – we were after all newly-weds – of course I was already sick of him……lol! Our idea of spending blissful summer days strolling the fells never quite came to fruition thanks to the combination of my work schedule and the hideous weather conditions in Ambleside throughout the month of August, so when I wasn’t working we busied ourselves indoors with various research projects and planning endeavors, again somehow avoiding the opportunity to relax and unwind.

And as we screeched into September faster than June, July and August had flown by there were only a few days remaining in the UK. We did our final pack for the big adventure, set off for London to visit with friends and catch our flight and we were on our way.

Before we knew it we were on the road – this much you have heard about in great detail already – and so you know – we have been quite busy – in 4 months we have covered a great deal of ground. India is a pretty big place and getting from A-B is no mean feat. We’ve been to the mountains and trekked 6000M peaks, we’ve explored the jungle and climbed trees to escape from rampant rhinos. We’ve swum with elephants and searched for tigers. We’ve heard the cries of Imams through Ramadan in Kashmir and watched the Buddhist monks silently creating mandalas in the Khumbu region. We’ve hustled and bustled with millions of maniacal commuters in Mumbai and munched on morsels of mouthwatering masala from East to West.

And so, by the time we reached Goa we were, not surprisingly, ready to relax. But besides the R&R I had so many great plans for December. A daily regimen of yoga and meditation. An opportunity to get inspired by the ocean and write all day long. A daily dip in the gentle waves of the Arabian Sea. But when it came to the crunch it was often all I could do to drag myself from the bed to the hammock, then to the beach and then back to the hammock before collapsing on the bed by 8:30pm and sleeping until the sun came up. Lets just say I think I had some catching up on sleep to do.

And Goa was HOT. The reason that most tourists head south during the winter months is that for the rest of the year it gets hotter than hell – but right now the temperatures are supposed to be a gentle warm. Well – let me tell you – there was nothing gentle about the heat that greeted us on many of our days at the beach. Just staying hydrated was usually the challenge for the day – so tackling my first great literary achievement was simply out of the question. I did manage to write a bit of a rant about my lack of direction (not surprising really – based on my complete lack of ability to do anything ‘constructive’ while I rocked in the hammock) which was posted on the blog, an interesting and mildly amusing piece of prose that may one day form the basis of an introduction to my memoirs (there’s been a thing or 2 in my life that would make an interesting read) and I did actually manage to complete the Everest Chronicles.

So – you may be wondering – where are these fabulous tales of trekking and tramping? Well – I’ll be frank – it took several days of slogging at it and although I felt a certain sense of accomplishment on it’s completion of all 16000 or so words, I was a little less than pleased with the result. Since we embarked on this journey it’s been great fun and I’ve usually felt most inspired during these hours at my keyboard, tapping away and putting in to words my thoughts and ideas about what it is we are seeing and experiencing – and it seems, based on the comments and quips that some of you have made in response that there has been at least some entertainment value to be found in the reading of them – and so I’ve kind of come to think of myself as a bit of a writer – and in turn I’ve begun to set a standard, an expectation of myself and my abilities. And the bottom line is – the result of my ‘journal’ write-up was basically just that: a journal about a hike. And let’s face it – while a hike may be an amazing experience. And a journal can be a fascinating read – when you put the 2 together – it just aint all that fun. I have thought about just posting it anyway and letting you decide – but I’m afraid most of you wouldn’t get past day 3. I’ve thought about going through it and finding the ‘highlights’ of the trek to put into one great story – but so far I just haven’t found the inspiration for the task. I guess – I’ve built a bit of a ‘writer’s ego’ over the last few months – and I just don’t think it’s my best work darlings – and so – it will probably remain in the archives, perhaps to be revisited at a much later date. But that doesn’t stop me getting back on the horse and riding on…….right?!? Or rather, writing on. I mean – I don’t have a writer’s block or anything – I think I’ve just realized that it’s much easier to write something compelling when you have something compelling to say – and the ‘bad stuff’ is easier and funnier to write about in an entertaining way. I realize now just how hard it is to write something interesting about interesting things!
But now we are back on the road and so it seems only fair that I fill you in our latest movements. We left Goa with fond memories of our little hut by the ocean but feeling very ready for a change. A month in one place was certainly a novelty for us after spending the last 5 years moving around constantly but the rest of India was calling.

On Jan 2nd we packed our bags and headed inland to the town of Panjim, the heart of northern Goa and a relatively pretty town with a strongly Portugese influence that gave you more than a hint of a sense that you had left India behind.

We sampled several fabulous seafood curries in one dish (known as Fish Thali), thanks to the local knowledge of our friend, Felix (from Goa) who directed us to one of those ‘local’ spots (Ritz Classic) that had a line-up of natives out the door waiting for a table, we soon realized with good reason. It was most certainly one of the best meals yet in India as well as the other 2 meals we enjoyed courtesy of Felix: Twice we visited him at home and enjoyed magnificent meals prepared by his mother who was nothing less than a wiz in the kitchen (the second meal being enjoyed on Christmas day – which just shows you the generosity of the Goans, who are happy to invite perfect strangers to join in on an intimate family day).

We also spent a full day just outside of Panjim in ‘Old Goa’ exploring the many magnificent catholic churches and cathedrals

that were built centuries ago and viewing the coffin of St Francis Xavier, who despite expiring several hundred years ago is apparently still perfectly preserved without any form of chemicals or embalming fluids – creepy!!! And that’s why they made him a saint – go figure! It was like finding a little piece of Rome in India – weird! And did I mention that 2 of Felix’s aunties are nuns and one of them actually resides in the Vatican, so while we were looking at the family albums we were quite amused to come across a snap-shop of pope JP himself just tucked in amongst all the other family pics – hilarious!

From Goa it was just a seven-hour train ride to the fascinating region of Hampi where hundreds of travelers flock to delight in the splendid blend of ancient ruins and mystical scenery. For those of you who have never heard of Hampi (and I hadn’t until I got here) I urge you to google it and take a look at some pictures. It truly is magical – and you’ll all be pleased to hear – one place that my husband has finally found some joy in. Within an area of a few square kilometers there are several hundred ancient ruins that are listed as world heritage sites and they are all nestled between boulder strewn hillsides that seem to have been created by giants playing in a ball pit of rocks.

And in the valleys created between the hillsides strips of fertile land filled with rice paddies and banana plantations scatter across the countryside.

We’ve spent several days here exploring and could easily spend several more, but with only 3 weeks left before we depart for Sri Lanka and the rest of South India to explore we decided we should cut ourselves off at 5. We almost didn’t bother coming to Hampi but after making the trip I can definitely say with confidence that no one would be disappointed with what they find here. Coming to India without visiting Hampi would be like going to Cairo and not visiting the Pyramids – almost criminal!

The main tourist centre, where most of the accommodation and services are to be found is Hampi Bazaar, but we decided to spend the majority of our stay on the quieter far side of the river beside the town (reached by boat), where we found a cheap room with a lovely restaurant attached that overlooks paddy fields tumbling down over the occasional boulder to the easy flowing river beneath. It truly didn’t seem real. It was like sitting in a dream sequence as we waited for our breakfast to arrive on our first morning. The blend of green paddies and rusted golden rocks was mesmerizing and we probably could have spent all day just gazing at that view – but instead we rented some hideous rusted pedal bikes and departed our perch to explore the ruins on our side of the river.

The most impressive and dominating of the temples and ruins are on the south side of the river, within and just outside the boundaries of Hampi Bazaar, but the more rural and rustic scenery to the north was equally as intriguing. On our bike ride we came across a huge ceremony in one of the village temples, where a group of pilgrims were preparing for the long journey to Kerala on foot. We were openly invited in, cameras and all and spent quite some time snapping away as the children happily posed and giggled with glee at the results.

After dragging ourselves away from the ceremony we stumbled upon a deserted temple complex by the river where the villagers were washing and drying their laundry and once again, an impromptu photo-shoot was obligingly provided by the many local children.

It is often said that south India is more easy-going and relaxed than the north and I have to say, I agree. The people here seem much more open and friendly and the demands for rupees in exchange for a photo or two were few and far between. Simply spinning the camera around and showing them the result of the ‘click’ seemed to be payment enough to put a generous and heart-felt smile on the faces of the subjects.

While our day in the ‘countryside’ was lovely I think I have to confess that the day of ‘true’ sightseeing won out. It was a long hot day to cover it all, as the 2 main areas to explore are a few km’s apart so donning the running shoes is smart if you plan to do it all without the aid of at least one rickshaw ride – but boy – what a day! This is the true history and majesty of India.

In seeing Hampi the ‘magic’ of India finally begins to become apparent. I mean – some of the colonial architecture of Calcutta and Mumbai is impressive and interesting – but let’s face it – it’s not real India – it’s a bit of England that the Brits imported and left behind. The history in Hampi is what the Indians created, long before the British Empire even knew that India existed and it’s well worth a look.

Today is our final day in Hampi and although I feel a slight reluctance to leave I can’t help but feel inspired by what might be up ahead.

Originally we had planned to return to the coast after our stay in Hampi but after escaping from the beach we have realized that perhaps lazing on a beach is not the best use of our time from here on in (especially since we’ll be on much nicer beaches in Sri Lanka a few weeks from now), so we are off to Mysore tomorrow and I might finally get around to a bit of yoga.

Oh – and one last thing I should mention – if you aren’t a fan of Goa Trance – don’t plan for a fun night out on the town in Goa for New Year’s Eve. The fireworks on the beach at midnight were lovely, but the pumping pulse of techno trance that provided the soundtrack to it all left me cold. Regardless of that – we still managed to pop a bottle of cheap Indian bubbly and wash down the new year with a smile and a snog and so I would like to take this belated opportunity to wish you all a healthy and happy 2010 and remind you all that if you still have some resolutions to make we’re only 10 days in – it’s not too late! It’s never too late! Every day is a happy new day!

1 comment:

  1. whoops, don't think my last comment went through...anyway, just wanted to say great writing and you guys are welcome back anytime for a shower and clothes wash. please keep us updated and big hugs to Darko!