Got to get away from the alliterative titles but I just can’t seem to help myself! We enjoyed a good few days in Mumbai, including my birthday – thanks for all of the messages! That day (Jan 12th) was our last day in the city and we basically spent the day wandering around from cafe, to bar, to street food stall, to bar, to cafe…you get the idea. Starting off in The Pantry, we had an excellent breakfast of waffles with tea and coffee. What sticks in my memory however, is the the toilet in this cafe – it was pristine! A spacious room decorated in pastel shades, with a western style toilet, clean, florally fragranced, amusing toilet humour (literally) art on the walls and … toilet paper! What a luxury. I came out of the toilet – after indulging myself in the environment for some time – and said to Hels, ‘You have to go! You just HAVE to!’ There’s nothing like travelling to make you appreciate a good quality toilet, and this was one of the best.
Our wandering tour of eateries took us on into Colaba where I stepped into a barber’s for a birthday shave. This turned out to be quite an extended affair as I succumbed to the offer of an Ayurvedic face treatment… (Helena has photos) I’m not really sure what came over me, but it may have had something to do with the persuasive nature of the guy with the cut-throat razor in his hand. Suffice to say, it was actually a very pleasurable, if slightly bizarre, experience and one that I would highly recommend! I came out with a freshly trimmed beard, a smoothly shaven neck and the softest cheeks known to any man in India and beyond!
We then also indulged ourselves by stepping into the Taj Mahal Palace hotel for a drink in their Harbour View bar. A Cosmopolitan for Helena and a small beer for me cost significantly more than most of the full meals we’d had anywhere in India…but the table snacks were to die for. They had these crisps and cashews in a stand and we (I say ‘we’, but I really mean ‘I’) cleared them out. And then the guy brought another stand full!! WIN!
The inside of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel is absolutely stunning and although we only got to see the ground floor, we got a good impression of the grandeur of the place. There are a myriad of super high end luxury stores on the ground floor (you’ll need to ask Helena for the brand names because I don’t have the sort of brain that would remember those kinds of things) but safe to say that it’s the kind of place that makes men shudder in fear as their better halves go into some kind of glossy eyed trance, bewitched by the polished floors, the plush carpets and the pristine, spaciously laid out stores that look altogether too inviting. We made a swift exit (!)
The hotel, having been inside, does seem strange however. You step straight back out onto the street that is lined with touts, street traders and beggars. Two worlds that will not mix.
We wandered on and within two minutes were skirting the sides of the slums that make up a large part of the southern tip of Colaba. We stopped off in another bar for coffee, before hot-footing it back to Cafe Mondegar for a second helping of their Tandoori chicken. And then, all too soon, we were picking up our bags in our little hotel and going off to find our bus.
Mumbai marked the end of our train travel for a few weeks, although we didn’t know it at the time, and since then we’ve been firmly rooted (and route-d?) on the roads. We had bought bus tickets to Goa, mainly because they were significantly cheaper than train tickets. This was an overnight bus – what they call a ‘semi-sleeper’ – but what should probably be called a ‘there’s not a hope in hell of you getting a wink of sleep-er’. And here’s a tip for all of you travellers out there – DO NOT GET ON AN A/C BUS IN JANUARY – they FREEZE you!!
But, long story short, we made it to Goa the following morning and to the beach!! It was so good to feel the sand under our feet, the sun on our faces, the sea lapping waves around our ankles and to hear the rhythmic thumping of psychedelic trance music pumping out onto the beach. It was 8am.
Anjuna is indeed the party capital of Goa, although we were more in the mood for chilling than clubbing. So we spent a good couple of days wandering along the beach, lounging around on the sun beds, reading books, browsing the markets, trying various restaurants and enjoying a few Kingfishers while watching the sun go down. Goa has the cheapest beer we’ve found anywhere in India!
At this point, we were already beginning to wonder about how best to spend our remaining two weeks in India – how could we only have two weeks left?! We’d have to prioritise, and fast!
So we prioritised going to another beach. This time, Om beach, near Gokarna in Karnataka. We hadn’t planned any transport for this trip, and neither had we booked any accommodation for when we arrived …we were getting into this travelling lark, clearly. The owner of our guest house in Goa said, with confidence, that we’d be able to get a bus to Gokarna from Mapusa, a 20 min bus ride away from Anjuna. We figured we’d be there about lunch time, maybe early afternoon. So we just jumped on a bus at about 09:45, the guy said it was going to Mapusa, and about an hour later, it got there. ‘Can we get a bus from here to Gokarna?’ we asked the man at the enquiry desk? ‘Gokarna?’ he replied, ‘Not from here, you’ll have to go to Panjim.’ Panjim, (or Panaji) is another big town in Goa, about 45mins from Mapusa, but the buses go regularly so we hopped on and off we went.
When we pulled into Panjim, we scanned around for buses that said ‘Gokarna’ on the front, didn’t find any, so found the enquiry desk instead. The familiar question was asked, ‘Can we get a bus from here to Gokarna?’ ‘No, no, not from here,’ the man replied, ‘You’ll have to go to Margao.’ ‘Ok, thank you!’ I replied happily, through gritted teeth, knowing that I’d have gone back to our guest house and had words with the woman about her false bus information … if it wasn’t two bus rides away already! The feeling was compounded by the fact that the bus we had just got off was now trundling out of the station on its way to Margao. We got the next one, which turned out to be the slowest bus in the history of buses. It crept along and stopped. at. every. single. stop.
Happily, there was actually a bus from Margao to Gokarna. It left at 1pm and took four hours – so much for getting there at lunch time! To be honest though, we didn’t really mind – after all, we’d come travelling to travel, and explore, and experience. It’s part of the charm, right?
For us, that day, it was actually charming. We found equal amounts of challenge and humour in fumbling our way from one bus to the next, and the bus ride down the coast from Margao to Gokarna was beautiful. The bus clattered along noisily, shaking and rattling its way down the road, but as the road unraveled before us, so did the landscape. We caught glimpses of the sea, crossed rivers, rolled along through small villages and settlements, all the while enjoying the warmth of the wind rushing in through the mercifully wide open windows on either side of us. We listened to music together and enjoyed the moment. Yes, so the bus did break down at one point (rather predictably), and the driver got out, wrenched off an eight foot long rear section of the exhaust, carried it onto the bus with the conductor and laid it on the floor of the aisle before tying it to the legs of the seats and getting back into the driver’s seat and carrying on… but that’s India. Puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.
We made it to Gokarna shortly after five, and needed a rickshaw to get to the beach so it was pushing six by the time we hit the beach. We’d heard good things about this place, and it didn’t disappoint: way more chilled than Anjuna, beach hut style accommodation that fronted straight onto the beach itself, no gauntlet of shops and stalls and sellers to run to make it down to the beach (as there was at Anjuna) and altogether just a nice vibe. We stayed for two nights but got two more whole days of beach time as we didn’t leave until 8 on the last day. We went running, I got a couple of sea swims in and even did some yoga on the beach.
The next week involved three overnight trips taking us to Hampi, on to Mysore and then over the Western Ghats to Cochin in Kerala. We loved Hampi but hated arriving there – an armada of rickshaws chased us into the town and the hassle was extreme. We just had to walk away as best we could and figure out where we were and where we were going. A cup of tea sorted it and once we had somewhere to stay we enjoyed wandering around the ruins and the crazy boulder covered landscape, climbing hills for panoramic views and even crossing the river in a coracle!
We’d put Mysore on the list of places to visit because it is the home of Ashtanga yoga – the practice that Helena introduced me to on my move to Birmingham in 2009. She’d been going to classes with her friend Becky. I’ve kept up the practice on and off since then, thanks going to my teacher Jon Moult – highly recommended! – and I was keen to see if we could get into a class somewhere during our stay. As it happened, we met a girl on the bus who was meeting a tour guide in Mysore who looked after rooms in a house attached to a yoga school. It seems the Stars had aligned at this moment and, after chatting on the journey, we took her up on her offer of a lift to the place and the promise of a room.
Tanya was as good as her word and the guide, Saeed, did indeed pick us up in a white Ambassador no less! I was so excited! I’d experienced a bit of a dearth of Ambassador-based experiences – it was the one thing I thought I knew about India before we arrived! He drove us to the house, stopping off on the way for a Chai, and by 7:45am we were settled into our room. The yoga school was attached to the building and Saeed took us in to see some of the early morning classes going on. It looked a bit stern if I’m honest but I said I’d enquire about a class a bit later. So we went back to the room to relax and figure out our plan for the day.
When we returned, we met Christian, a Moldovian who was one of the resident students. We chatted briefly and then he said, ‘I’m just on my way to my morning Ashtanga class. Would you like to come? It’s at 8:15.’ I looked at my watch – it was 8:10. I looked at Helena expecting her to say it wasn’t a good idea, but she had an excited look on her face and just said, ‘You want to go…?’
So literally minutes later I walked into the Ashtanga class with Christian and one of the other students. The teacher, Rameshji, welcomed me and asked if I’d studied the practice before. I said I wasn’t a beginner but I was by no means expert. He was happy for me to join and so the class began.
It was the same practice as I had been taught by Jon but Rameshji’s version was like Ashtanga on speed. I could barely keep up with the pace of the sun salutations. Unlike a lot of perceptions of yoga, Ashtanga is a very dynamic practice. I knew that of course, but this was something else! Having survived the sun salutations, we went into the standing sequence and that’s when Rameshji began adjusting my postures. Everything was stretched further, squeezed tighter, twisted, pulled, pushed, squashed…this guy wasn’t pulling any punches. I thought he might go easy on me as I was a newcomer. Not so!
The class lasted about 90 mins. By the end, I was a sweaty, horrible mess – a broken man! But I loved it! And made an endorphin-fuelled promise that I’d return at 6:30 that night for the ‘adjustment class’.
I must confess that I didn’t make it to the adjustment class. But I did go back for another class again the next morning and this time… I took Helena with me (cue evil laugh ha ha ha). The class was slightly different to the previous morning but the essence was the same. We both had a great time and thanked Rameshji for making us feel so welcome.
We toured a bit of the Mysore markets, a place where they make incense and oils, and the stunning palace before making our way (on another overnight bus) to Kerala to experience the famously tranquil backwaters.
Would you look at that, almost up to date!