Since I wrote the last update we’ve been very busy doing nothing but relaxing on the beach, its amazing how fast time flies by when your having fun! After the hassles and stresses of our first three weeks its been great to put the backpacks down and do little but sunbathe and read a book. I expected Goa to be very commerical and westernised but I was pleasantly surprised to find it still felt like India, at least in the bit we went to anyway. If you come to Goa and want a quite time head for South Goa 😉
We ended up staying in Benaulim all week, we were going to go further south but we felt happy where we were and didn’t fancy more bus trips. The guesthouse we stayed at was great, right on the beach which was both quiet and picturesque. It wasn’t by any means luxurious but it was functional and cheap at 450 rupees a night, about £5! It also had a fantastic restaurant with a wide menu ranging from veggie dishes to fresh fish, we eat well last week! It was great to sit with some nice food looking out on the beach and sea, another world from our other India experiences!
The sunsets were great too:
The sea was a bit rough and there were strong currents so it wasn’t to safe to swim but we paddled about in the shallow water close to the beach. Indian people were also messing around in the water and obviously enjoyed the beach as much as the tourists. The Goan people were much more laid back than other Indian people we met, we hardly got hassled to buy anything – a pleasant change!
Unfortunately the time passed very fast in this paradise and before we knew it we were catching the train to Mumbai. The train rides were one of my favourite experiences in India, much more comfortable than the buses and a nice way to speak to Indian people without them trying to sell you something! The train took about 12 hours (overnight) from Goa to Mumbai and we arrived at 6am back into the ‘real’ India.
First impressions of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay under the British) were that it was busy and crowded but a lot cleaner and more organised than Delhi. The city has a population of around 16 million people (not sure how they count this as people are everywhere and sleep anywhere) and around 50% of these people are deemed homeless – crazy! Also no Rickshaws in the city centre, only taxis which were mainly batter old triumph style cars, and no cows!!!
We only had 24 hours in Mumbai but we made the most of it and managed to take in quite a bit of the city by hiring a taxi for a few hours to take us around the main sights. First stop was India Gate, constructed to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary in India in 1911, although it wasn’t completed until 1924.
It was being repaired when we visited but still a nice piece of architecture. The sea is right behind the arch, although it was really scummy and smelt pretty nasty – no Goa!
We then headed across the city (which took a bit of time in the traffic) to the hanging gardens and towers of silence, a well maintained park which offers a respite from the busy city. The towers of silence are a bit strange in that they are a place where corpses are taken to be consumed by vulchers. Some Indians religion dictates that the human body cannot be mixed with the elements of fire, earth, and water therefore it is feed to these huge birds. We couldn’t see any of this except for the birds circling high over the site, a bit morbid!
Next stop was Gandhi’s former residence in a suburb of the city, which is now a museum about his life. Quite interesting to learn something about the man so many Indians consider as almost a saint. I’d obviously heard of Gandhi but I didn’t realise what he did for the Indian people. He lived a very simple life with only a few possessions, including lots of spinning wheels which he felt brought him closer to the people of India and the wheel would become an Indian symbol and now features on their flag. One interesting exhibit was a letter Gandhi wrote to Hitler in 1939 to ask him to not start a war in Europe. A very interesting and respectable man. Here’s a photo of his house.
We then went to the Crawford market where you could pretty much by anything from fruit and veg to a tailor made suit. It was an extremely busy place with many locals shopping there. It was good to see how the locals shop though and the keenness of the sellers to make money! The animal section was a bit sad though with puppies etc all caged up in grimy conditions and for sale, for what purpose I’m not sure.
There wasn’t to much that interested us to buy in the market so we headed down to the Colaba area which is where most of the tourists stay. Lots of British architecture here including the train station known as ‘Victoria’ which from the outside looks like a government building and the Mumbai University buildings which has a tower not too dissimilar to Big Ben.
Colaba has lots a bazaar area aimed at the tourists selling souvenirs, clothes, copied CD/DVDs, and jewellery. We spent a few hours buying some last minute souvenirs and it was enjoyable to do some negotiating with the sellers. Lisa didnt like to haggle much so usually she would indicate to me she wanted an item and then I would haggle for it, I found that pretending I would go elsewhere to one of the many other identical stalls for the item at the price I wanted usually worked. My best deal was getting a large elephant carving from 1000 rupees down to 600, saving me about £5 🙂
We were up early the next morning at 4am for the trek to the airport, about 30km north of the city. On the way we saw many people sleeping in the street and lots of shanty style houses. The most shocking shanty houses for me are the ones right next to the runway of the airport (the noise and pollution must be unbearable). In this picture you can see how close the people live to the constant taking off planes, this is as we were on the runway.
We arrived back in the UK at about 5pm on Saturday and we immediately struck by how clean and green it was, no poo on the streets and no nasty smells and cows are crazily kept in fields! We’ve had a great time in India, an amazing experience, but at times its been hard work and there’s nothing like the comforts of home! After some time to reflect and unwind I think our experience will hit home, at the moment it all seems like another world. I fancy going back and doing the north of the country in the Himalayas and into Nepal. I can see why people either love or hate India, its a crazy place but it is so rewarding and culturally exciting and brings such a roller coaster of emotions its well worth a visit. My advice is to take an open mind and leave the Western standards at home, once you learn how India ticks and can see past the grime it really is an amazing experience.
Some photos from our last week are here.
Thanks to all who have left messages, I’ve still got the travel bug and I’m sure the backpack wont be in the cupboard for too long….