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Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

Going with the Flow

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

It became apparent early on in our trip, that moving around a country as big as India requires patience and flexibility.  It was in our first couple of days in India that we had to change our travel plans to the ashram, and within the first week at the ashram that we made the decision to cut out China and Tibet all together.  Yet, not once have we fret over major itinerary changes or the smaller inconveniences of daily travel plans, knowing each time there is a change, everything is unfolding exactly as it is supposed to be.  We recently had a couple of experiences, proving this point again.

We had planned to leave Kundapura, the closest train station to Nammabhoomi, on Saturday.  When we attempted to book our train ticket to Goa, we learned that this was not going to be possible, so we decided to wing-it and take the bus.  On Friday, four CWC volunteers showed up from Bangalore for the weekend.  We were invited to join them that night at the beach house owned by one of the founders of CWC.  Dore declined, as she was fully enjoying her time with the children and wanted to finish up with them, but for me, I was ready to go, and a night on a secluded beach sounded awesome.  So, I went with the 4 volunteers (1 Brit, 2 Canadians, 1 American; all law students) to Bijadi, a beautiful, clean, secluded, tropical jungle laden beach just outside Kundapura.   The ocean was clean; the waves perfect size for swimming, and the weather perfect, with a break from the monsoon.  Dore joined me the following morning, after she finished up at Nammabhoomi.   Without a train to catch, we were able to fully enjoy the day at the beach, have a delicious lunch, and then hit the road.

We decided to head for the beach town of Gokarna, midway between Kundapura and Panjim.  We’d never heard a fellow traveler speak of it, but there was a small blurb in The Lonely Planet, aka “the bible”, so we decided it would be the perfect place to stop for the night.   This was a pleasant surprise for us, such a cool little temple-beach town, and again, someplace we would not have gone if we’d booked the train.  Gokarna infused a combination of local color and tourism, beautiful views and coastal walks, and 4 temples in an ancient city of only 25,000 people.  The accommodations were clean and affordable, the food we found was excellent, and for a small town, it had everything a traveler might need.  Click for pictures of Gokarna.

The next day, we finished the trip to Panjim, the capital of the state of Goa.  Goa was a Portuguese colony until the Indian army finally forced them out in the 1960’s, so there is a lot of European influence in the architecture and Catholicism is prevalent; and it is apparent that this small coastal state relies on tourism.  It is the peak of the monsoon in Goa, raining more so than anywhere else in India, so tourism is low and deals are good.  We spent one night in Panjim, mostly because we had to take care of business (we both had to buy new cameras; mine fell victim to a strong wind while taking a self-timer photo in Hampi, Dore’s was victim to an incoming tide in Bijadi, thus not the best pics of Nammabhoomi or Gokarna).  Business taken care of, we jumped on the bus to Vagator, a beach town that boasts being less tourist influenced than the surrounding Anjuna, Mandrem, and Arambol.

Not that we needed to worry about tourists.  Everywhere was very much deserted, with only a couple of guest houses and restaurants open.  Dore and I happen to love this aspect of being in India during the monsoon. Quiet, no lines, no hassle with travel plans.   A place like Goa is crazy in season, beaches and cafes packed with International tourists.  In addition, Goa is known for its party scene,  so it was a relief that this was not an influence to detract from our time there.  As many of you know, we can enjoy a good party, but that’s not why we are here.  Even so, we did discover and enjoy a local spirit, Honey Bee Brandy.  All in all though, I can’t say that I felt this incredible love for Goa, which I’ve heard so many others speak of.  The beaches, water, and towns were dirty, littered with all sorts of trash.   And, of course not all, but many of the locals were sleazy and sordid.  I don’t want to seem all negative though; it is tropical and green, too.  We stayed just off the beach, hired a motorbike, and cruised the coast for 2 days.  The highlight for me was the Chapora Fort with it’s beautiful coastal and river views.  As far as Indian beaches go, I’d return to Gokarna or Varkala, while possibly passing on a future visit to Goa.   I was reminded by Dore though,  that I am spoiled, having resided in one of the most beautiful ocean paradises for the last 15 years.  Click for pictures of Goa.

After two months in the south of India, it was time to head north.  We booked our train ticket from Old Goa, Goa’s former capital, to Mumbai.  One night in Old Goa;  a beautiful town, easy to navigate, with a cathedral up on the hill offering breath-taking sunset views over the river and old city.  Definitely worth the night.  Click for pictures of Old Goa.

Our plan was to arrive in Mumbai at 10:00pm, and jump on the midnight train to Varanasi.  Well, when we were unable to book sleeper beds, our plans changed again.  Unable to avoid a night in Mumbai, we were given the opportunity to rethink our next destination.  We had initially wanted to travel to Udaipur, the capital of the Mughal Empire, and one of the most beautiful cities in the state of Rajasthan, if not all of India.  For a brief moment in time it seemed that train schedules were not going to allow it to happen, but thankfully, now we had our chance.  Link here for Dore’s blog “Beach Life.”

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Just some observations

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

  • The state of Kerala, where I spent the first month of my travels in India, is a democratically elected Communist state.  Because of this, the literacy rate is in the 90 percentile, there is virtually no homelessness and unemployment, and it is very clean in comparison to the rest of India. Most people of the younger generations know some English, and all want to practice it with you.  The conversation usually consists of, “Your name is?” “Where coming from?” “Time in India?” “Do you like?” and always accompanied by huge smiles.  One tradition here, which took us a couple hours to realize was not some kind of scam, is that Indians want to take pictures with tourists.  When first being asked, I thought Dore looked like some Bollywood star, but we later found out, it is just part of their culture.  Now, we gladly appease by smiling in pictures with complete strangers.  It would be fun to try on the streets of a US city sometime, walking up to obvious tourists and asking to take a picture with them.  May try it sometime just to see how it goes over.
  • Taking a bus in India is a great way to get a full body workout.  If you are lucky enough to get a seat, your arms and core will still be worked out as you hold on and engage to stay in your seat as the driver makes quick sharp turns.  If you have to stand, the legs are added into the workout, in what often proves to be a harrowing ride.  There are hardly any rules to the road here.  Passing with oncoming traffic is standard, and horns are used all the time.  Some sound like boat horns, some like trains, some have their own jingles.  They are used to say “Hi!” “I’m passing!” “Let me back in!” “Get out of my way!” and probably some other things I haven’t realized yet.
  • India is known for it’s mangoes, as some might remember GW traded India nuclear weapons in exchange for some yummy mangoes.  Well, I have officially embarked on a mango tour of India, as Dore says she is just along for the ride, as I purchase a different kind of mango almost every day.  Some are sweet like candy, some are sweet yet finish on a sour note (like a lemon), some are floral, and the only one we haven’t liked tasted like saltwater.  In southern Kerala, mango trees are everywhere, all different varieties and sizes, you can hardly go a mile without seeing one.  I have to admit, I am having a slight addiction problem with them, but as we all know, there are worse things to be addicted to.
  • On another fruit note, the variety of bananas here should leave us feeling shamed to the two varieties we have in the states (our common Chaquitas and the Cuban finger bananas).  Here there are similar ones to our common variety, several different fingerlings, in addition to green bananas (yes, they are ripe) and red bananas (delish).
  • It’s funny how cultural differences and reality can clash.  On a guided walk in Thattekad, we heard wild elephants.  Our guide told us lions not dangerous, king cobras not dangerous, but wild elephants very dangerous, run for your life dangerous.  Back in the states, most people would probably relate the other way around lions and king cobras very dangerous, elephants not so much.  The danger from the elephants comes from the fact that they are very smart animals with very good memories.  Here, when they come too close to human territory, they are greeted with stones and fire crackers.  This, they remember, and in return, they will charge humans when they see them in the wild.

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From the Backwaters to the Bay of Bengal

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

A couple weeks can pass here very easily.  So much has happened since my last post.  I will try to update simply, yet thoroughly.

From Varkala, we headed north to Amritapuri, the home of Amma’s ashram.  What an amazing woman and philanthropist Amma is.  She discovered that she had a spiritual connection with others at a very young age, and started seeing people to give them hugs, thus her nickname, “The Hugging Mama.”  She will literally sit for 20 hours a day for days at a time to see people, giving them hugs, consoling them.  Then, in addition to this, she gives of her time, energy, and money (all raised through donation) to help those in need.  She has rebuilt whole towns destroyed by tsunamis and earthquakes, and she gave to the Clinton/Bush fund after Hurricane Katrina.  She has built homes for orphans, has given school scholarships to thousands of children, built fully modern equipped hospitals, and has opened food kitchens around the world.  Unfortunately, she was not at the ashram when we visited, ironically, she is touring the US (see her if you can), but now that I know more about her, I hope to meet her one day.  Here we met Sammy from North London who traveled on with us for a couple of days.

From there, we continued north to Alleppey (3 buses) where we toured the backwaters by canoe (kind of a mix between a canoe and a gondola, pole pushed, but wide enough that you can lounge out).  This whole town is built on the natural canals which cover the area.  Peoples lives depend on the canals for fishing and Kerala rice (which had just been harvested before we arrived), for transport by canoe or barge, for bathing and washing clothes, and for tourism.  As part of our day with our guide, we went to his home for both a traditional Indian breakfast of a rice-coconut cake and a rice-nut-fruit type of dry cereal, so yummy, and a traditional Indian vegetarian thali lunch, which definitely included the best pickled mango I have had thus far.  His two daughters entertained us with some Indian song and dance.  And we tried a locally brewed coconut beer, good but had a very strong fermentation flavor. The canoe tour took us through the backwaters, lined with coconut palms, mango trees, banana trees, and floating water plants.  It was very beautiful.

One of the great things about this type of travel is that a plan can be changed in just one thought.  We were on our way from Alleppey to Munnar, when we realized that we were on route towards Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, and the homestay of Ms Sudah.  With a quick call from the bus, we found out she had a room available, and within 30 minutes we were at our stop.  This is remotely beautiful spot in the Western Ghats of India, still very tropical, but also thick with hardwood forest and rubber plantations.  We saw dozens of species of water and forest birds, as well as monkeys and giant squirrels, the largest in the world.  We did not see, but did hear wild elephants one morning.  As part of the homestay, we were fed 2 amazing home cooked meals a day, and did learn how to make pickled lime/mango/and garlic.  I look forward to the day I can experiment with making these at home.  We also tried “Toddy,” the locally brewed palm beer, although while I say brewed, it literally comes straight from the tree and is ready to drink.  Much more palatable than the heavily fermented coconut brew.  Click here for Dore’s blog on Thattekad.  Click here for pictures from Thattekad.

From Thattekad to Kallar, about a two hour trip (3 buses), we are now 20km south of Munnar, in the thick of the cardamom hills, rich with cardamom and coffee plantations, and surrounded by tea plantations.  Wow, who knew how tea grew, I sure didn’t.  Tea bushes grow on an incline, short thick green bushes, and they are sculpted in a labyrinthine way.  Incredibly beautiful and much cooler here as we are up to about 8000 ft.  We did a 5 mile walk one day, through the winding roads, to a waterfall.  We saw women harvesting the tea, trimming them just like we would trim bushes back at home.  The beauty here, and in Munnar, where we spent the next night, is breathtaking.  Dore said it right, as it is something out of a fairytale, where you are literally standing in the thick of the clouds.  The city of Munnar is a tourist destination, and it is busy and lively, and is the place to buy homemade chocolate, so we did.  Click here for pictures of Kallar and Munnar.  Click here for Dore’s blog on Kallar and Munnar.

Next, we head east into the state of Tamilnadu, to the city of Madurai for one night.  This city was a bit of a culture shock after the beautiful country we had just spent a week in.  A dirty concrete jungle, yet midway on our trip to the east coat, and famous for the Meenakshi Temple, which is incredibly impressive.  It beautifully depicts Hindu culture and religion in colorful friezes and murals.  There are 7 temples on the property, several which only Hindus can enter.  One day in Madurai was plenty, and we anxiously made our way out of town to Pondicherry, the Indian-French enclave on the Bay of Bengal.  Link here for Dore’s blog on Madurai.

 

Pondi is a smaller city, we have rented bicycles and I don’t feel like I may be risking my life by riding here.  Oddly, several businesses are closed here now.  We were looking for an internet cafe yesterday, and when all the ones we’d read about were closed, we stumbled upon a really nice boutique hotel with a bar, and since nothing else had worked out for us yet that day, we ended up enjoying several fresh mint daiquiris, allowing for the heat of the day to cool down.  Pondi is just south of the international city of Auroville, so there seems to be a strong Western influence here, especially in the French/Italian/and Asian cuisine around town.  There is a “French Quarter” here, not like NOLA, but you can certainly feel the European influence with all the balconies and colorfully painted homes.

 

The current plan is to spend a few days here before we head slightly north and then west again.  I hope to be online with you all again soon.  With warm regards.

 

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Travels South

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Road tripping from Key West to New Jersey, and back, is often an eye-opening experience.  I always seem to be at some crossroad in my life, a place of growth, change, manifestation.  Spending so much time in the car allows me the opportunity for contemplation, insight, self-realization.  Sometimes I laugh at myself, and sometimes I cry, but I always end up feeling better, energized, excited for my destination.

 

One wonderful destination this trip back to the Keys was Savannah, GA.  What a beautiful town.  I love the European influence in the architecture and the city design.  The city boasts 24 squares, beautifully lawned and oak shaded parks, within its limits.  One of the many wonderful things about yoga is that you can practice anywhere, so the one morning we were there, my friend, Dore Ann, and I laid out our mats in one of those squares. We followed that up with one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had, at Clary’s.

Just a side note, if you are ever driving past the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville, NC, it is worth the stop.

Back in the Keys, we took advantage again, laying out our mats on the old Bahia Honda Bridge, practicing bridge, wheel, headstand, and more, at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t heard me say recently, “I Love the Florida Keys,” well, I do, and it sure feels good to be home.

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