Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30,2011 Final Final Thoughts on India

Well, I am home and have worked my way through two loads of laundry, cleaned the house and ran to the market for some groceries.

The best part of getting home was sitting with my family, both in Atlanta and Davenport, and reliving the travel and going through all the gifts and souveniers I brought home. I did a lot of shopping and it seemed everyone was pleased with what I picked. I will send Aaron's off to him tomorrow when I go to the post office to pick up 5 weeks of mail.

Final thoughts on India.....Devika Sharma is a dream travel companion. India is well worth seeing and I know I want to go back and see the rest of the country. I feel privileged to have met so many people and seen so much of the country.

I still wonder about the whole cow thing. If cows are so revered, why do they let them eat garbage on the streets? Having said that, there is a reverence for all animals, including pigeons. They are everywhere. Dogs here are well fed and cats have their paws full keeping the rats under control!

The Taj Hotel is beautiful. I would strongly recommend anyone traveling to Mumbai, spend a couple of hours and an couple of thousand rupees and have tea. It is relaxing, delicious and such a treat to get 5 star service. And, a view of the harbor and the Gate honoring one of the King Georges.

The people of India were so gracious to me whereever I traveled; except of course, whenever we had to stand in lines. Indians are line jumpers and totally rude whenever they are concentrating on getting ahead of the line. Fortunately, the daily contact I had with Indians in all the places we visited, far outwieghs any rudeness I encountered in lines. People were generally repsectful and glad I was there.

Devika shared her friends with me and I feel like I have new friends now. I hope I get the chance to host them in this country.

The historical places we visited were awe inspiring. Some were 1500 years old. The blend of cultures from the orginal inhabitants, the moguls, the British and the Portuguese is fascinating to see in the buildings, dress, food and even in the language, especially in Goa.

So ends my travelogue on India. Go see it for yourself. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mumbai, India January 26, 2011

Well, my trip is nearing its end. We spent yesterday seeing the Elephant Caves, having tea and getting some last minute shopping done at FabIndia.

The Elephant Caves are located about 10 kilometers out in the bay. Somewhere around 450 A.D to 750 A.D, the local tribe literally carved out caves and chiseled statues of Hindu gods into the rock. The largest is around 70 feet deep, with many carved pillars and has the story of the Hindu trinity carved into base relief statutes along the back wall. There is also a huge statue of the god Shiva (which is just a man part). The other caves are lesser in size and have had most of the carvings removed by the Portuguese when they arrived. It was amazing to see the level of detail and work that went into building these cave temples.

As usual, we shopped. FabIndia was started in the 60’s by a very forward thinking person. They now have about 25 shops all over India. It has the most beautiful selection of Indian fabrics, clothes, furniture, jewelry and other accessories. Both modern Indian and traditional Indian items can be found as well as some of the best tea I have had here, Tulsi Ginger tea. I did buy some napkins, dish towels and an item of clothing for each of my grandchildren, modern clothes, not traditional. The shop is not large like an American department store, but it is larger than the usual store here. The one in downtown Mumbai has a coffee shop in it as well.

We did tea at a restaurant around the corner from FabIndia and ate some traditional street food. One item was a delicious little thing filled with yogurt and three different curries that you pop into your moth all at once. The other was a dish of yogurt with small bites of potatoes, peas and spices. It was slightly sweeter and it came with toasted bread much like pita to scoop of the mixture.

We also got together with one of Devika’s friends last night and sat around a lounge, relaxed, had gobs of girl talk and ended up having a very late dinner of Iranian food before coming back to the flat. It was a good evening and Priti owns her own business and specializes in leather fashions for the Amsterdam market. I saw her shop today, met her work crew and saw some of her samples. Her products have extraordinary workmanship. If they were affordable to me I would have bought one of the beautiful thin leather coats or stylish jackets in very rich tones of brown and blues.

Today I went spice shopping for myself and daughter-in-law and joined Devika and her friends from a book club for a movie and girl chat. I also made mac and cheese for Devika’s neighbor, Indian style, which simply means heated up with some green chilies!

India has been a great experience, but I will be glad to be back in the USA. India is a country under construction in more ways than one and sometimes it was difficult to tell if they were building something, tearing something down or just left something unfinished. With so many poor people (estimated around 421 million living below a subsistence level) and so many people under the age of 30, change must come and will come. What change and how it comes, is the mystery to be unraveled with time.

Tomorrow is high tea at the Taj Hotel and then off to Manju's for for a nice viist and dinner before heading to the airport.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Last Impressions of Goa, January 23, 2011

Well, here we are getting ready to shower and pack to leave paradise. As we made our morning walk I started cataloging good and bad things about Goa. First on the list of good is the beach life. It has been wonderful to sit on beach beds and be catered to by people who are there to make sure you get plenty of shade or sun by adjusting your umbrella, massages and even food and drinks. Many of the tourists here are wintering at Goa. They come for several months to escape the cold of the UK. While I have loved my beach time, I cannot picture myself devoted to only swimming, sunbathing, dining out and shopping. Great for a few days, but I would need to find meaningful work here. I also do not know how the long term tourists stay away from their families for months at a time with no greater purpose than to stay out in the sun.

Food here will make the top of anyone’s list. One restaurant not very far from our room makes any dish you ask, even if it is not on the menu. Devika and I have not had anything we can complain about and much that we can brag about. Almost all dining is outside on patios or covered concrete slabs. Music varies from place to place, but the quality of the food is pretty consistent. Indian ice cream is divine and I am bringing home the recipe!

On the list of annoyances is the constant calling to me by the term mama. I know they are trying to be respectful, but after awhile, I just want to scream I am not your mama. Also on the annoying list is how old women and young children are utilized to beg from tourists. Primary school here is free and I have a tough time putting myself in the place of parents who choose instead to have their small children working on the streets begging or selling things. It is hard not judge but I am working on it.

On the top of the list is also the shopping. Everyone thing Indian can be bought here and many things from outside of India as well. The quality ranges from one time wear dresses to fine clothes and jewelry. Handicrafts can be handmade by artisans or assembly line stuff from China. Whatever your price range, there is something here for you. One of the funny things is the use of brand names like Jimmy Choo or Polo on things you know cannot possibly be real. A shopper here has to remember that Indians are the kings of knock offs.

Our accommodations are terrific. I highly recommend Rosa’s place. It is clean, well maintained and lacks only for an air conditioner in the very hot season. Fortunately, we are in the cool season and sleeping at night has been nice. We have checked out another place here and they have nice rooms as well, a swimming pool, AC and TVs. It is 1,000 more rupees a night, which is about 22 USD.

That brings me to the other nice thing about Goa. It is totally affordable. Compared to the Caribbean islands, you get more for your money here. Food is fairly inexpensive. We averaged less than 10 USD for meals and that often included a drink before dinner or dessert afterward.

Goa is one of the cleanest areas of India we have been in and yet it still needs lot of improvement. Tourists will throw trash in receptacles if given the opportunity and certainly Goans can take more pride in their general community. People do keep their own personal spaces clean, but throw their trash in the streets or empty lots. The other threat to Goa is the noise level that has invaded the small streets of these beach towns. Between scooters, motorcycles, taxis and tourist buses, the streets are clogged with noise and vehicles for most of the day. Sidewalks are sporadic and add to the pandemonium of navigating around the area.

The ocean is warm and beautiful with waves that will knock you on your butt from time to time. The undertow varies but is manageable. The pace of Goa kind of matches the movement of the water. There is an occasional rush (like the night market) but mostly it is slow and easy and very relaxing. It is a tourist spot that if you go see the spice farm or churches, okay and if not, that is okay, too.

All in all, it is a wonderful day to spend a few days. Mumbai, you are now beckoning us to return to your frantic activity and life of a very large metro area.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Saturday Night Market, Goa, India, January 23, 2011

Last night we went to see what all the fuss was about. Everyone talks about the Saturday Night Market; and, with good reason. Our taxi driver told us that over 15,000 people show up every Saturday night during the high tourist season. Many of them travel 2 hours or more from South Goa. It is a veritable flood of people coming and going out the many gates available for entry or exit.

We had no idea what to expect. We donned some festive clothing since tourists in this area are fond of dressing up a bit for evening meals and activities. What we encountered was so not the India we had been seeing for three weeks!

About 15 years ago an English tourist who stayed here for the winter months decided to start the market. In the American world, we might call it a gigantic flea market, but it was so much more. It was well organized, had plenty of bathrooms scattered around, bars, food from every country imaginable and stalls after stalls of everything and anything. About the only thing missing were kitchen items.

Many of the vendors were westerners who come to Goa just to work the market. They were selling jewelry, western clothes, Indian collectibles and some very unusual stuff! One Aussie had a stall that sold the big music pipes used by Aborigines. The local craftsman also had stalls and some vendors selling cottage industry crafts. The Indian products represented every area and tribe of India. It truly was amazing.

We arrived early in the evening, around 6:15 M. By 8:30 PM the place was so packed you could barely move around the aisle ways and the food lines were 20 people deep. As we were leaving, Devika commented that she was so amazed anything like this could be done in India. It was much too organized, very clean and well done for Indians to have put it together. That is when we found out it is actually owned and run by the Englishman! It beat the Dilli Haart market for sheer size and cleanliness and the entertainment.

They have live music playing all night and the beer flows freely. So, the longer you stay, the drunker you become and the more you end up buying. The music featured is predominately western rock, pop and jazz (which was what was playing while we were there). There were vendors selling all different genre of music, much of it Indian. Many Indian tourists were more interested in the stalls selling western items and the western tourists gravitating towards the Indian craftsmen.
It was a very pleasant experience and something that should not be missed by any tourist to the area.

Our evening ended on a slightly scary note for two puny women afraid of cockroaches. We discovered one in our small kitchenette when we arrived home. Anyone observing us would have been laughing their fannies off. Just locating it after it scampered off from our first encounter and then deciding who was going to be brave enough to kill it caused quite a bit of frantic energy to be produced. I found it, Devika killed it and neither one of us wanted to scoop it into the trash. So we covered it nicely with a piece of paper and left it on the kitchen floor to be dealt with by the house help. Before going to bed, we secured the door to the kitchenette telling ourselves it would keep other cockroaches from invading our sleeping area. I never got used to cockroaches in Kenya and apparently I am holding true to my pattern!

Today is a lazy beach day and then tomorrow we head back to Mumbai. We have promised ourselves pedicures . All the hiking around has taken a toll on our feet.

Postscript, January 22, 2011

Well, our walk to the fort was long and mostly uphill for much of the last 4 kilometers. It started as a nice slow climb and then went straight uphill! It truly was worth the walk, though. It was built by the Portuguese in 1542 and is very different in layout and design from the ones built by the Moghuls and other kings of India. It had two levels; one close to the sea and one rising far above it. The fort sits at the cusp of where the river meets the sea and any intruders can be seen for miles.

I have had a geography lesson as well. It seems that the Arbrian Sea comes down to meet the Indian Ocean and this part of Goa and even Mumbai is technicaly considered part of the Arabian Sea. I am disappointed, not because I got my geography mixed up, but somehow felt nostalgic to think I was on the other side of the Indian Ocean from Kenya; which it turns out is much farther south. Oh, well.

Our walk today was quite lengthy, maybe 10 kilometers all together but we were fortified with a huge carb loaded breakfast at a cafe called Chocolate. It is the same one we got the carrot cake at and they make a great homemade whole wheat bread. I had mine with eggs and Devika had hers made into french toast. Yummy!

We have showered, read some novels and will now prepare to go to the Saturday market festival.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Candolim, Goa, January 22, 2011

We had the most relaxing day yesterday. We slept well and got up an had breakfast on the beach at one of the “shacks” and then promptly rented two beach beads and an umbrella and lazed away most of the day on the beach.

The beaches here are brown sand beaches but quite clean with little or no seaweeds. Shells are not as plentiful as on the Florida coast. The really nice big ones have some kind of sea life still living in them. Almost every shell I picked up had some kind of life in it. Even so, I did manage to find some treasures and they have been soaking in dish soap and water to clean them up.

The beaches here start to get crowded around 11AM and each of the three beaches in our area have a slightly different crowd. Our beach is made up almost entirely of Europeans primarily from the UK, Australia and Germany. The different English speaking accents were like a little chorus. Once family was definitely from Ireland and the momma kind of adopted two of the little kids who were selling jewelry and fruit on the beach. She must have given them quite a bit of cash for them to sit and play with her little girl, swim and waste valuable selling time.

A huge difference from other international beaches I have been privileged to sunbath on is the overwhelming amount of people selling things on the beach. Almost every 3 or 4 minutes someone is trying to sell you everything from massages, clothes, fruit, beads, henna, ice cream etc. Particularly depressing is th enumber of small children who should be in school now working to help support their families. That is very depressing.

Devika and I did partake of the massages. The young man, Sanjay, is in business for himself and gives a foot and upper body massage right on the beach. The cost was less than 10 dollars for about 40 minutes. He did a great job and after our long walk the day before, it was a great way to kick off the day and move into a very relaxed mode.

We ended up ordering our lunch and eating right on our beach beds. We had biryani, which I have not had since I left Kenya. Biryani is basmati rice, a wonderful blend of masala and at the very last, three colored powders are added to the rice so some of the rice is red, orange or yellow. It is a very pretty dish and was very delicious. Devika ordered hers with hard boiled eggs buried inside.

Late afternoon we showered and headed off for tea at a place Devika and her friend Sharmistha had carrot cake in the past. I was a skeptic about carrot cake in Goa, but sure enough, it was almost as good as my own homemade. We started to walk the 3 kilometers to the Goa Fort but got distracted by a lovely little department store hidden back off the street. We must have spent almost an hour looking over all their treasures. I may go back today and buy some nice little cloth baskets and a table runner.

Today’s agenda is to actually walk to the Fort, enjoy another lazy afternoon and then go to the Friday night market in a neighboring town. It is suppose to be more like a festival. We shall see. I may have to “dress up” and wear a skirt or local sundress from one of the vendors.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Candolim, Goa, India, January 20, 2011

We arrived in the Miami Beach of India yesterday afternoon. It is a series of beaches in the state of Goa that have small tourist areas attached, much like the drive from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, only much more rustic. We are staying in a lovely rooming house very near the beach. It is quiet and peaceful here. Our view is of a lovely garden with a huge jackfruit tree. It is much different than the bustle of Delhi and Mumbai. And, it has relatively clean streets. It reminds me very much of the south coast towns and the north beach town of Malindi in Kenya.

Goa has two big rivers complete with barges, casinos and boating; much like my own area on the Mississippi. It is famous for growing cashews, mining iron and magnesium, salt fields and some spices. The tourist trade is huge here with a lot of diversity in the travelers.

This morning we toured old Goa. It was the center of the Portuguese reign in this part of India. Interestingly, Goa did not join India until the Portuguese gave up control in 1961. India became independent from the UK in 1947. The area is predominately Catholic (and Hindu, of course) and boasts many cathedrals that were built with much vigor and flourish to entice the locals to become Christians. It was amazing to see the golden altars and ornate work in the ones we visited today.

My Catholic upbringing springs to life at times like these. I had an overwhelming urge to genuflect and be more somber than the hoard of Indian and international tourists would allow. One of the strangest things to see was a life size statue of the crucified Christ replete with smeared blood and the Indian tourists posing for pictures in front of it, next to it and basically all over it. I stood back mesmerized by the activity and all the time a song of the church playing in my head. I am not sure I know the name of it, but the chorus is “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus it is now.” It was impossible to see such a life-like statue, even with the photo fever around it, and not to be humbled by His death for me.

One of the churches had a small art gallery of that pictured the life of St. Francis Xavier in huge paintings and one archway that was painted with the most beautiful representation of the trinity I have seen. St. Francis Xavier was kind of foreshadowing of Mother Theresa. He ministered to the poor and the lepers of Goa. Of all the original structures built by the Portuguese from the time Vasco De Gama landed here in 1492, only the churches and one other large house are still standing.

Our agenda for the next few days is to spend some good beach time, relax and eat well. I must also comb the beaches in the early morning before the tourists descend to grab up some shells from the Indian Ocean for granddaughter, Guthrie, and a family friend, Nana Loree. I suppose sooner or later I will also be enticed into buying T-shirts. We will see. I hope to arrive back in Mumbai for my trip home, rested and tan.