Our organised tour has (I am truly sad to say) come to an end. Currently I am sat in a particularly bland domestic terminal at Goa Daoblem Airport awaiting our flights to Kochin, which has given me an excellent opportunity to catch you up on the final leg of our group travels so far.
Now about that aforementioned night train – I suspect you are expecting me to regale you with tales of unsanitary terror and a lack of comfort….? Well perhaps you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was to discover that the journey was actually rather comfortable, (clean sheets pillow and all. Believe it or not I slept pretty much the whole way, to the point where the train had pulled into Mumbai Victoria station (famed for that heart stopping finale scene in Slum dog millionaire where they meet under the clock) and had to be woken by CP as I was proper fast asleep. Now I wouldn’t say I slept super well, but at least this gave me enough energy for a full day sight seeing (we only had one scheduled night in Mumbai (Bombay) so it was important to hit the sites hard in the time we had.
However, before we continue I need to step back in time just a bit – you may remember from previous posts that I alluded to an amusing case of celebrity status? Well our overnight train departed from Ahamdebad (a 6hr bus ride from Udaipur) and thus dropped us tiredly in a city which is infamous as the most polluted city in all of India with about 4hrs to get some dinner and prepare for the sleeper train. CP suggested we head to a local shopping mall to chill out and get some grub which we readily agreed to.
However, Ahamdebad isn’t exactly a “tourist” hot spot (its mainly an industrial town) and as soon as we arrived we were pretty much swamped with local kids and adults all wanting to know us and have pictures with us. This led to my having no choice but to retreat to the safety of a coffee shop where I sat and wrote the Diwali post. Now whilst it was fascinating, it was also a little disconcerting getting mobbed whenever we left a shop to go for a wander but I am pleased to say apart from one or two creepy guys it was all pretty good natured really. Incidentally, I swear I made several local kids day prior to getting on the train when I “high-fived” them all as the hung out the window of a moving train at the station – its these little things that do make me smile so very much.
And so we arrived in Mumbai. My goodness what a contrast to the rest of India (road rules are generally followed, the car horn is used a lot less and the colonial architecture lends itself more to a Eurpean capital than to the exotic local style we have previously become accustomed to.) Sadly our 24hrs in Mumbai were a bit of a whirl wind of photo stops and “ticking things off” leaving me a little unfulfilled in truly getting under the skin of this great city. Indeed many of our group mentioned how they wished we could stay on for a couple of days, especially as wemissed some excellent galleries and museums which are supposed to be well worth a look.
On our whistle stop tour we had the chance to take in the fascinating sites of the Mahalaxi Dohbi Ghat (Open air washing area – also I believe featured in Slum dog) plus a visit to the India gate and the Taj Palace hotel (outside only as tea is about Six quid a cup I think) sadly made famous during the 2008 terror attacks when it was bombed. We also had the opportunity to enjoy an evening sunset stroll along marine drive prior to retiring to the equally famous Leopold’s Restaurant (also sadly involved in the terror attacks but now famed for re-opening just 2 days later in the face of the havoc) for a burger and a beer. Suffice to say our time in Mumbai was, although all too short, a great day out and exactly the finale to the touring part of our trip we had all been hoping for.
With just 2 days before the end of the tour we arrived in Goa. This part of india is almost like a semi-independent country as it’s a territory and not a state. This means lower tax on alcohol – Yay, and also an independent spirit amongst the locals. Many will describe themselves as Goan ahead of India for example. The territory is actually pretty small and is largely fuelled by tourism – and all that tourists (good and bad) bring. The areas is also characterised as being distinctly un-indian in that it was for many years a Portuguese colony. This is none more evident than in the architecture and also the abundance of Christian churches in the area.
Calangute – our final couple of days on the tour were based in Calangute – a bustling resort town of booze, night clubs, drugs and sexually transmitted infections. I can honestly say it was tourism hell for most of us, and whilst the beaches are lovely and some of the bars were great, I baulk at staying anywhere in India too long which offers more bacon eggs and pizza’s than curry. Thankfully I was not alone in this, and it soon transpired that most of the group who were staying on in Goa (15 of the original 16) wanted to ‘get-out-of-dodge’ to somewhere a little slower paced. We were all dreaming of images of shaded palm groves and little local beach shack accommodation, whilst watching the sunset over the sea with a cool kingfisher beer in hand.
Well based on this group desire things started to move pretty quickly. Charlie suggested a trip south to Palolem (just such a quiet and relatively undeveloped beach area about 2hrs away, which Noo and I had also been lookinginto). Well before you know it we had started a movement, and without too much conversation or cajoling all 15 of us opted to make the journey and thus keep the tour going for at least a few more days.
Without anywhere to stay the Laptops and Lonely Planets quickly came out, and it wasn’t long before I had found a little beach shack settlement which looked ideal. One quick call later and confirmation they had space meant we had accommodation in the bank. Meanwhile Charlie started organising taxis – in the end however, in a final helpful act prior to departing for home CP offered to help negotiate a bus for us all, resulting in a most pleasant self-organised tour group trip to Palolem via Old Goa to do some serious loafing on the beach.
Palolem was, and I hope will remain for some years to come absolutely devine. Sadly I don’t think my photos do it justice, but it was truly a little slice of paradise with palm shaded beaches and small scale tourism accommodation in shacks of varying quality dotted along the beach and palm groves. Thankfully there are no night clubs here and most of the bars and restaurants close pretty early. This leaves nothing but the gentle crash of waves on the shore and the rhythmic lullaby of the local wild life to gently send you to sleep each night as you retire following a hard days sun bathing and a cocktail hour which seems to start at breakfast. Gosh it’s a hard life.
I am aware at this point you could all be jealous – that’s fine but here is a quick reality check – our £10 per night accommodation is a shack. Nothing more, and in the truest sense of this you should appreciate that all is not always easy when you have to constantly fight off Mosquitoes, battle frogs, mice and thieving crows each day just to enjoy your open air toilet and cold bucket of water shower prior to bed. Not to take anything away from the experience, but the Holiday Inn this wasn’t, although characterful, fun and ideal for a few days it most certainly was.
Alas it was here though that with some sadness we really did see the breaking of the tour fellowship. As each subsequent day passed we lost one or two intrepid travellers as they packed their bags and headed home, or in many cases off on the next leg of their adventures. Finally it was our turn – and so today (Thursday) we have said our final goodbyes to the last remaining Brits (who are also off today). We have packed up our travel towels and bug spray and so look forward to our trip further south to Kochin and the promise of a softer bed (I hope) and indoor plumbing – oh the decadence.
Yours currently in delayed flight travel hell.