The Postcode Man and Hippie Top Trumps

After over 60 hours of drinking water and lime soda I took the decision that I’d better start eating again! The pharmacist gave me lots of things to take which google has only just told me what they are. I think I got rid of the evil little beast inside my stomach anyway. So just before that we had spent 5 nights (I think) in Goa (Benaulim beach) and basically we walked up and down the beach, sat in various restaurants and read lots of books (oh and I saw some dolphins swimming about 20m from the beach which was cool) – lots of Russians and Italians but not too many Brits, and the place we were at seemed to have a wide range of ages too.

One interesting little character was a man who came around every night selling postcards. However his trick was that he seemed to know the postcode of everywhere in the Uk. The conversation went like this “Hi where you from”. “Sheffield”. “Ah…. Crookemoor”. “No… Crookes”. ‘Ah S10..!” Then for John he also guessed Hunters Bar S11 and the same for our Georgie friend. The next night he remembered all of our names, postcodes and how many cards we’d bought. Well I was impressed anyway!

So we took a 2 hour train journey south of Sunday afternoon. 60p for the ticket but we were in the unreserved carriage. This was packed to the rafters with worshippers who started changing and screaming every time the train went into a tunnel. We found some space in the next carriage by the door. It was a great view as both doors were wide open for the whole journey and various people came and sat around and looked out. I didn’t climb on the roof (like Jess wants us to) as I’m not 100% sure that goes on anymore anyway.

So we leave Goa having not really explored but definitely a place to go for a little break from the UK winter as it’s so cheap but not quite the craziness we expected (Thats in the North)…

Gokarna was our stop. It’s in the next state, Karnataka and is a very important town for the Hindu religion. I dont know the full story but basically its a pilgrimage site and people have to bathe in the sea before heading to the temples. There are definitely more indian ‘tourists’ than Western ones anyway. The town is pretty small and as you get nearer to the centre, the lanes get smaller and the smells of incense gets stronger. The cows compete with bikes for road position. It definitely has a certain undescribable feel to it anyway. It has been here for over 2000 years and you can feel something of that. The main beach is nothing to write home about (I mean its long and sandy etc.) but the nicest beaches are a mile walk (no road) across the headland.

We did the walk over on Monday morning (after our first hotel – who had promised us a new room to be cleaned in 15 minutes, suddenly decided to tell us there WAS no such room and they had never said such a thing. One thing I’ve learnt is not to trust anyone and generally if anyone talks to you they want something….).. and found a pretty unspoilt 1km stretch of sand which was pretty beautiful. A dozen or so little cafes set back from the beach. We lay on the beach and hit the waves til our bodies needed cooling down and then had a great pizza from a wood fired oven.. It was great. Something to settle the stomach hopefully… Then we continued another 20 minutes to a further beach “Om Beach” – sonamed after the auspicious “om” sign. This was really nice too, very laid back with a few fisherman sorting out their nets and cows trying to get the best shade…. (however theres a little track which taxis can get back to town on – so this isnt as secret really…)

One thing all these beaches had is hippies. They are everywhere. Some with guitars and mouth organs; some doing yoga; some growing their dreads; some growing their beards. Some just practising to be hippies. So we are about to create “Hippy Top Trumps” featuring such things as “Number of Tattoos” and “Length of Hair” etc. I’m sure it’ll be a big seller.

The Neverending Train Story

The alarm beeped at 5.45am but this didn’t seem that early. I had already been awakened by the hotel security guard at 4am; hurrying down the tiled entrance hall to answer the telephone with it’s British ring-ring tone echoing around the old colonial guesthouse corridors. Probably some Westerner ringing at 9pm in London wanting to book a room I thought as I tried to catch another hour’s rest.

We begrudgingly got up, packed and took a taxi through the quiet dark streets of Mumbai. The station, of course, had been awake for hours. Porters buzzing around frantically in their red uniforms carrying seemingly unmovable containers and luggage to trains whose destinations I could not read never mind pronounce. Uniformed officials directed the lost and confused to the correct platform. And chai-wallahs and other hawkers sold their Indian treats to those craving for some early breakfast.

Our train, the 0700 Madgaon ‘Super-fast’ Express, which was going to shuttle us down the west coast to Goa, did not even appear to be at the platform as we negotiated our way past families sprawled across the vast area stretching into the distance. And to be honest, you’d notice if it was there. These trains are huge. 22 carriages long. A small travelling community travelling at ‘super-fast’ speed.

As time passed, our inherent ability to spot a delayed train, coming from a lifetime of travelling on the modern yet unreliable British railways told us that we were not going to be leaving at 7am. When the train finally pulled into the Victoria Terminus at 7.45, I imagined a relatively quick turnaround and us soon on our way out of this dirty metropolis to a quiet seaside paradise. The taste of a cold Kingfisher, while watching a perfect sunset from some chilled out bar was already on my mind…. Mmm..

My illusions were soon SMASHED like an unfortunate pedestrian stepping out onto a Bombay street at rushhour. The helpful train manager informed us we would be leaving “shortly after 10am”… Well there’s nothing better than spending 2 hours on a stationery train I thought as I started one of many books I would digest on this journey.

We finally started our slow departure north out of this vast city, which generates more movies than Hollywood and 40% of India’s wealth, at 10.05. On time! (Well the second time)… The railway children ran alongside the train, vast communities of slums (which I later read where about to be destroyed by the municipal council – the residents give 30 minutes to collect their belongs) seemed to sprawl as far as the eye could see. We were in our little air-conditioned cocoon. Nobody else had turned up in our 6 berth but we had regular visits from the hordes of people selling food and drinks. “Tomato Soup, Tomato Soup”, “Hot Chai, Tea, Chai”, “Dosa, dosa”, “Nes Coffee”.. This is maybe where I took a turn for the worst due to my insatiable desire for train food…

It was only several hours into the journey when I started feeling a little queasy, at first I put it down to the long journey, the interrupted sleep the previous night. After all, John and myself had pretty much eaten everything the same all holiday so it couldn’t be food. Well I’d polished off some chai, Tomato Soup, Noodles and a chilli-cheese toastie on the train.. Suffice to say I spent the next couple of hours darting to the smallest room (sorry)… and watching the railway sleepers juddering slowly by.

Our late departure, couple with stretches of the track only being single tracked meant we had to wait for passing trains at stations. But this was a good time to take in some of the scenery. It almost looked like a European landscape; lush rivers drifted past, so much greenery and pasture. Interjected with the dry okra coloured soil and small communes which seemed to be at every twenty kilometres or so.

As darkness fell, I did what most people do when ill, take as many tablets as you think are required to make you better. So it was down with the nurofen, clariytn, rehydration powder and diocalm. (Not EXACTLY at the same time..) This only appeared to slow down time. The hands on my watch drifted slowly past our scheduled arrival time of 6.30 just as the sun disappeared over a distant mountain. We consulted our guidebook at the next station – we were just over half-way…

The next few hours of sleep passed so slowly and I felt slightly weird. Like some drugged up fool who doesn’t know where he is. Minutes felt like hours but finally we were getting nearer.

We descended from our temperate air-conditioned train and the warm spring Goan air hit me suddenly. Unfortunately for me, this was not the best feeling and I struggled over the passenger bridge out to a waiting taxi. Everything can only be described as feeling “spaced” but luckily John was fantastic and carried both our bags!

Well the moral of this story is watch what you eat, don’t take too many pills, have a good friend around when you need one and take an air-conditioned coach rather than non when you predict you may be ill and require some sleep!

(Well the following few days can be condensed into lying on the beach, drinking hot lime and honey and reading plenty of books!).. But still ill… BOO… More soon!

Bombay Dreams

Well after a few days in the buzz of life that is Bombay (or Mumbai – but even now people prefer the “colonial” name) I can safely say that this is a place of extremes. The poverty is shocking. India is a third world country with no social security but a lot of people live very very very richly. Parts of Bombay are dirty slums where the people are less than likely to get a meal a day. Then there are the hundreds of high-rises scattered around where the Glitterati work and play in between fashion shoots, long lunches and business deals. The traffic is crazy. The old ambassadors weave past tuk-tuks and rickshaws (banned in central Bombay – I was told cos the taxis have bribed the officials) and people dragging seemingly enormously heavy loads. Safety is not a priority. Nobody uses seatbelts (there arent any in the taxis), lights appear to be a luxury (only used on Western style cars), no helmets worn on motorbikes (we saw one crash but he was ok). A red traffic light means “maybe stop 20 seconds after changing”. One lane of traffic becomes 3 – but nobody goes fast enough to do any damage.

On Sunday the traffic was light. There was no constant beeping of horns and ringing of bells. People were actually enjoying the day. Actually on the sunday after buying our train tickets from the fantastic Raj-era CST (Victoria Terminas) which is modelled on our very own St. Pancras, we headed north to a market. If I decide to become a “proper” vegetarian (ok… one that eats fish) this is the place that made me do it. We stumbled into one building and before we realised where we were the smell hit. Turns out this huge dirty ediface was an abbatoir. I looked and in the centre of the darkened room was hundreds of slabs of meat, entrails, bones etc and literally dozens of crows and other birds picking on them… We hastily left. Only to then walk up “chicken row” where we saw chickens being skinned, carried, plucked, bought and sold. Its just the reality of slaughter and meat eating I suppose – but we only see the end product.

Happy New Year to all. Christmas seems a long time ago when the mercury hits 30 and the days are long(er) than the UK at this time of year. A couple of India lads who seemed to know the DJ at a bar told us to head there. It was handily near the hotel so New Year was spent in the Sports Bar. The music was a strange mix of tunes coupled with some loud tinny speakers. At 11.54 the DJ said “2 minutes to new year” then literally 10 seconds later it was one minute and then almost instantly after there was the countdown…. Suffice to say we had our own “proper” countdown 5 minutes later after “Smack my bitch up” by the Prodigy had welcomed in the new year…… Not sure that has quite the same history as “auld lang syne”.

The food has been fantastic, and cheap (although Bombay is at least twice as expensive as everywhere else) – Thali meals for 40p and Nan Breads are 12p each. Dosas are a Southern India treat for breakfast and Lassis – well I cant get enough of Banana lassis; however sickly sweet they are.

Tomorrow we take the long day train down to Madagon in Goa. It leaves at 7am and arrives about 7pm. So we’ve opted for the A/C.