Goa- Failing at doing nothing

I’ll get straight to the point. After spending the Best part of a month travelling the North of India with a dabble of the South, our primary aim for Goa was to achieve as little as possible. For those of you that know me well though, I’m not very good at doing nothing…

Goa is a funny place, where you can literally go from a beach paradise to a psy trance and neon fuelled rave within about a 10minute walk down the beach. Dependent on what part of Goa you stay in though, you can also have either/or if you read up on what’s going on. Either way, it’s the smallest state by a Country mile, the wealthiest, and the most relaxed on alcohol taxation, horray! After a bit of research (and somewhat governed by pre booked train tickets to Goa) we decided to rent an apartment in North Goa in an area called Vagator. 

From what we read up about Goa, the North has a little bit more life to it, and the South is pure chill. Because we were hitting Goa in the shoulder season (so half the bars and restaurants aren’t open or even built), we thought we should probably explore the north where there’s likely to be a little more going on. This was probably a very sensible recommendation from Kelly as I probably would have lost my shit in the south doing absolutely nothing for a week… Vagator is a short drive down the coast from Anjuna, a popular stop for party goers and is synonymous for its beautiful coastline. We ended up hiring an Airbnb as we’d managed to save a bit of our budget in Kerala not getting a massive houseboat. It was so nice to have our own place for the best part of a week!

So, before we could achieve nothing, we needed to scope out the surrounding area. We ended up hiring a scooter for 3 days which was AWESOME! The public transport in Goa isn’t as good as other areas we’ve been, and to be honest having the freedom to just go for a ride was rather refreshing. DON’T WORRY PARENTS, WE BOTH WORE HELMETS! 

See! Helmets!

We spent day 1 driving around Vagator, Anjuna, and Chapora, checking out the sights, beaches, bars, and hopefully party venues. We kinda lucked out to be honest, our local beach (a very casual ten minute stroll from our apartment) was beautiful, and at low tide opened up to uncover some really secluded areas of coastline that made you think you had the whole place to yourself! 



Alongside this, we discovered a quality venue called Curlies on a private beach between at the end of Anjuna. We ended up falling in love with this place a little as it literally offered everything we wanted, so went back probably 4 times over the week! 


We again lucked out; a five minute stroll in the same direction to the local beach was a bar called mango tree, that sold a decent array of cocktails and large kingfisher for 120INR (so all of a quid, dependent on how the Brexit barometer is swinging). 

All in all, a good find. As you can see, day one consisted of a distinct lack of doing nothing..

Day 2 of doing nothing consisted of riding to the local city called Panjim. This was kinda my fault as I got a little excited when filling up the bike and ended up filling it completely! Our first day of driving around used a grand total of about £1 of fuel so we still had a full tank left which I was reluctant to just donate to someone else.  

What I quickly realised is when people said Goa moves slow, they meant in every way! Yes, the whole attitude is very chilled, but it took us an hour to drive 20km; when you’re riding on roads they are riddled without holes, there are large chunks of dirt tracks, and obviously, the roads are very busy Around the city. I must say, riding into a city in India on a moped is an experience Kelly and I won’t forget anytime soon. 

We spent the day exploring the old quarter of Panjim; renowned for its Portuguese architecture and traditional vibes, alongside it’s strongly Christian heritage. I must say, it didn’t disappoint. This part of Goa really stood out as feeling different to everywhere else we’d seen. The whole area could have been in Portugal to be honest: the architecture really did make it stand out. I was determined to find the perfect vindaloo (I’ll write a separate blog about this), and the quest started at a wonderful hotel in the old quarter called Hotel Venite. I was somewhat apprehensive as this was highly recommend by lonely planet which sadly has let me down on other occasions, but this place absolutely delivered! If you’re in Panjim, just find it and go, you won’t be disappointed. Kelly and I both had traditional Goan meals and didn’t leave a drop on our plates.

The church of immaculate conception. The main church in the old quarter
The walls and flooring was completely made from seashells to Hotel Venite. Absolutely beautiful
Not an example of stunning architecture, but somewhat ironic?

 

The rest of the day was spent driving along the coastline to Aguada, another coastal area with a coastal fort. To be honest, I would have  been happy riding along the coastal roads all day; the sights were truly stunning.

Again, another failure at doing nothing.

Day 3 we decided to actually do nothing, including spending money! We went to the local beach and just read, all day, achieving nothing apart from reducing the impact of my terrible tank top tan lines. Work in progress…



 We went out for lunch and dinner again furthering our quest to find the perfect vindaloo. Unfortunately my attempt this day resulted in a perfect example of how NOT to make one. Can’t win them all I guess…

Day 4 We really achieved nothing. Sadly Kelly and I got ill again, and spent the day in bed trying to not feel sorry for ourselves. I blame the vindaloo from the day before 😭

Fortunately on day 5 we were feeling human again!

We decided to hire a bike again, and went to Curlies early. By about 11 we were both on the beach, Kindles in hand, listening to the sea. Bliss! The reason we loved this place so much is it offered everything. All day long they played chilled Hed Kandi style chillout tunes, with awesome and friendly staff, great food, a great array of drinks, and all enclosed in a very cool venue with stuff to keep everyone happy: add a private beach to that and we were laughing!


We ended up staying there till about 930pm as we thought there was a Psy Trance night on (plus I’ve wanted to see the sunset over the ocean this whole trip). Apparently we were wrong sadly; as everyone lines up for Diwali the party for the week was shifted to the following night when we’d be on a sleeper train to Bombay. Neither of us were amused, but as we still didn’t feel 100% we got over this quickly.

To finish off our Goan experience we spent the last day at our local beach just taking in the sights before heading off on our sleeper to Bombay. It was such a lovely beach it felt like a great way to end our beach bum life for a bit…


I really wish we had booked two weeks in Goa to be honest. The beauty of the beaches was astounding, and the relaxed atmosphere was a breath of fresh air for us both, but we just want a little bit more. Even though we failed at achieving nothing the whole time, we got the level about right to manage my sanity levels. Obviously being sick in the middle didn’t help, but you can’t win them all….

I’m almost certain India is out to break us!

Now, our final stop in India is in Bombay (Mumbai). We’ve booked to stay with a family in Versova beach to get a proper experience of Diwali, which starts tomorrow. If we make it out of here alive, we leave India on the 2nd and head to Vietnam. I’ll be writing about Diwali on the plane I’m sure, but also a separate blog about India overall. It’s such a magical place I kinda want to reflect on it in its entirety.

Jaipur- a city shared with family and friends 

Jaipur was a city I have been really looking forward to since we got to this wonderful country. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of friends also travelling at this time, and many have either just done or have recently done a few days here. Jaipur was destined to be a unique experience for us as well, because we were using Couchsurfing.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Couchsurfing (CS) it’s an online community for people who love to travel and meet new people. You can use it just to hang out with local people, or to stay with locals at their place. We used CS in Kolkata where we met Shekhar and had a great night, but this was the first time we stayed with a family. The idea is that surfers return the favour basically, so you offer to share a room at your place. For this trip, we were staying with Ganesh and his family. 

I’ve spoken to some people who seem to think CS is just a way to get a free room for a night. I need to stress this is so not the idea. After buying the kids stuff and buying things for my family from Ganesh’s shop I probably spent the same I would on accommodation anyway. Likewise I need to stress this isn’t a way for creeps to just get people into their house, there’s a diligent verification system and the platform is built on references and user feedback. 

Anyway….

Ganesh and his family lived in an area called Jhotwara, a suburb about 3mi from Jaipur centre. Many people would turn their noses up at this distance, but it was a very simple 20rupee (for the both of us) bus ride away that was an experience in itself! We were very fortunate and were given our own room, shower, and western toilet too, which I must say I wasn’t expecting. Ganesh’s home was shared with his sisters family, the mother and two children, alongside his wife and two sons. 

We arrived at his house around 10pm and went straight to bed, but the next day we were straight up meeting his family, and going out the door to see the sights. Ganesh drove us around Jaipur for the whole day, taking us to the Monkey Temple (AMAZING, apart from a rogue monkey getting greedy and biting Kelly on the back of her leg, resulting in a pretty nasty bruise), the Amber Fort (again, amazing scenery and some truly stunning views), followed by the floating palace, two wonderful and unique Hindu temples (old and new, great to see the contrast on the architecture) and a great local place for lunch. 
Whilst a busy day travelling around was at, my favourite thing of the day (possibly even the trip) was playing Cricket with his kids and the per local kids (who turned out to also be cousins etc). We ended up playing street cricket on two nights until the sun set which was a fantastic experience. 

For me this just galvanised my thoughts that the best experiences don’t always need to have a monetary value, or require a queue to experience! This is exactly why we signed up for Couchsurfing, and this kind of experience isn’t something you can pay for at a hotel. I know there will be people reading this who would have loved an experience like that!

The following day we headed into the city minus our host. We decided to start the day exploring the Pink City, the oldest part of Jaipur and riddled with Bazaars and synonymous with high quality jewellery and fabrics. It’s called the pink city because, well, all the buildings are pink (I’d say more salmon personally), And it’s now law that this consistent colour much be maintained throughout the old districts. Unfortunately we were exploring the area rather early in the day, and at the start of a Hindu Festival so many shops were shut, but to be honest we weren’t going to buy anything anyway, so no biggie. Following the 3 odd hours exploring the area, we went to the City Palace. As you’d expect from the name, it’s a palace, part open to the public showing historic weaponry and clothing from the Maharaja ages. The history of this area or India (Rajastan) is absolutely fascinating to be honest. I really enjoyed reading about the battles for power, both internally and externally. The palace is still inhabited by the King too, although we didn’t get to say hello or get invited in for chai (how rude). 

Sadly I think Kelly and I both managed to overcook ourselves whilst walking around the city. It’s quite hard to keep track of how much water were each drinking, and in temperatures around 35c and walking around most of the day (over 10k most days I reckon) we were clearly both dehydrated at points. Careful kids, stay hydrated! However, we persevered and continued to soak up the sights of Jaipur, which there are a number! 

We were very fortunate to meet a lovely couple in Varanasi, Matt and Charlie, who happened to be in Jaipur the same time as us. We got on great in Varanasi so agree to link up here too. That night we went to a lovely rooftop restaurant for dinner and chatted rubbish for hours whilst overlooking the city. We actually ended up doing exactly the same the following day which was great. It’s really nice to meet new people you just click with especially on the road, and resulted in literally doing nothing for the last day in the city, and bloody loving it! I’ve also now got a bunch more movies for trip to watch (thanks Matt).

Jaipur was wonderful, but not necessarily for the reasons you’d expect. Yes the sights were cool and I’m glad we did them, but the highlight was definitely everything around Couchsurfing. Everything from being out of the touristy party of the city and having to get the bus in, to eating local and traditional Rajastahni food (that I wouldn’t have found if we’d been in the city), to sharing the experience of Hindu festivals with a local family and community to playing cricket on the street in the rain. This kind of stuff is simply unforgettable. 


We’ve now had a day in Delhi with Tim and Steph, two mates from England (I went to uni with Tim) which was ace, albeit slightly more fuelled on beer and rum than I’ve been used to this past two weeks. We’re heading up to Rishikesh to see the Himalayas, Hindu temples and ashrams today, so I’ll be on radio silence for a few days I suspect. 

Kolkata; a smack in the face on all senses and emotions

Well we did it! We finally took the plunge and got on the plane to Kolkata; a place that literally couldn’t be further from anything we know or have experienced before. To be honest, the moment we arrived at our hotel (not really a hotel to be honest, more of an inn and barely able to be called that), I was utterly terrified, and had one of those “oh god, what the hell have we done?” moments. After about 15 hours of travelling, we arrived at our inn after the cabbie took us to some random area of the city, to a room with no AC, no windows, barely any light, and a very unwelcoming check in to the place we’d be staying. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect; we’d ended up booking a bed in the centre of the residential district; a very dark, grotty and overcrowded neighbourhood made up of a labarynth of alleys and passages. 

The first day, I think it’s safe to say Kelly and I were somewhat nervous to go out and explore, but the sheer heat of our room drove us out, and I’m so glad it did! Kolkata genuinely has been a smack in the face, mixing all the emotions you can fathom into a melting pot and boiling over until dry, but we knew it would be. Seeing so many people sleeping on the roadside, in particular, children, is very hard to see on arrival, as well as all the stray dogs and puppies, and knowing you can’t really help or change the situation can be hard to deal with. But that’s life here and it’s very much the norm. It didn’t stop us wanting to take all the children and dogs home with us though 

I’m writing this on a sleeper train to Varanasi which I’m sure will do exactly the same. Never has the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” rung any truer to me.
I’m going to try and summarise my thoughts in Kolkata in sections that I feel make sense, rather than just a brain fart of conscious thought, so bare with me.

The place 

Let’s be clear here,  India ain’t the tidiest place in the world, and Kolkata certainly isn’t! Everywhere you look there is so much rubbish and mess around you are literally wading through it at points, particularly around markets, but at the same time people were always sweeping up the streets even when it seemed futile.  It was great to see people taking pride even when they had nothing. I literally saw buildings made out of tyres,  bamboo, and propped up with plastic mounds. The amazing thing about the city though, is every night you see the majority get cleared away by the residents. It’s incredible to see what you’ve seen so many times on TV, people collecting all the plastic and metal off streets and selling for recycling, just to raise a few rupees. It’s actually quite amazing to see how much can be done with so little. 


The city itself is absolute carnage I’m not going to lie. As I expected from many Indian cities, it’s horribly overcrowded and noisy. When people say India is a melting pot of smells, they aren’t lying. There is a constant cocophony of smells from cooking food, tabacco (and as much hash), urine, spices, rotting food and burning out motors (a combination of types, clutch, and diesel smoke), all made more pleasant by the heat and humidity. I only really found the rotting smell offensive, and after eating some fruit I bought from a street vendor, I can tell where the smell originates from. I’d like to think I’m fairly open to foods, but eating over ripe and verging on rotten papaya won’t ever make it to the top of my list I can confirm that!


The architecture is fascinating across the city. You can really tell that British colonial rule played a huge part in the design of the area and the influence over so many areas. The fascinating thing out around the city is the mash of classic British design, with to be honest a total mess of building designs, many that  aren’t even remotely attractive. One thing I didn’t notice in Kolkata was any new buildings that looked even a little exciting. Shame really.


We were fortunate to see most of the sites in our 3 days here. We walked over 18miles in two days alone exploring the areas around Victoria park and the Eden Gardens, New Market and Park Street, eating all the street food along the way (see next section) and even managed to to get tickets to the Indios New Zealand 2nd test (for all of a quid a ticket. Bonus!). 



Whilst Kolkata isn’t known necessarily for its sights and attractions, it does have some amazing things to see and some lovely areas. The real thing though, is the food!

The food

Now for any of you who know me, you’ll know I LOVE food, experimenting with new food, and learning new techniques. For me, this was half the reason for starting out trip where we did. Kolkata is known as the Western Bengali capital of street food, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! We literally tried everything we could get our hands on. The majority of the street food was vegetarian and it was without a doubt the most flavoursome and colourful vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten, whilst actually being rather simple. I tried to get recipes along the way but it was rather challenging with the language barrier in most places. What I can say though is the food makes full use of mustard oil (and PROPER mustard oil, not like the limp crap we get in the UK), with citrus used to marinade everything (the local citrus fruit is a perfect mix between lemon and lime), and regardless of the lack of food safety, of health and hygiene regulations, the food on the streets is outstanding. We were living off street food for about £4 a day and nothing was short of excellent. My top food was an egg Kati Roll, a roti heated on a solid top with an egg scrambled on top. Chicken Tikka with fresh onion, chilli and sauce is then fried off and rolled like a burrito; delicious! Definitely something I’ll be playing around with at home in a years time. 


I have missed fruit though. Every time I tried to eat any it was either tasting vile from being close to rotten, or I’ve had to avoid because everything is covered in flies. Everything I wanted to eat fell into these categories and I’m doing my best to avoid Delhi belly so had to give fruits a miss. 

Basically, street food was amazing, and  a great start to what I expected of PROPER Indian cuisine.

The people 

There are many things that can be said here. To keep it simple though, I met some absolutely amazing people and some total arse holes. It was tough to remember some things that so many people had said to me about the culture, namely 

  1. People will stare
  2. They’ll stare a bit more 
  3. They’ll probably try and rip you off
  4. You’ll hear yes a lot when actually they don’t have a clue what you’re saying
  5. You’ll find the blatant poverty around difficult to deal with 

All of these things happened on at least one occasion..

Kelly had a particularly hard time as she currently has pink hair! I don’t think we ever got further than 100m without some kind of comment either directly or indirectly, and  EVERYONE WAS STARING AT US, ALL THE TIME or asking to take photos with us, we were at times like celebrities. In the four days we were in Kolkata, I think I only saw about 5 other white westerners, so it’s fair to say we were the minority, and seeing someone with pink hair certainly isn’t commonplace!


But when we met decent people, they were truly awesome! From the 80 year old at the station today helping reassure us about our tickets and bought us chai even though he could barely speak English, to the Chelsea fan who helped us look for alternative trains at the station, to the wonderful family we sat next to on the sleeper train who fed us. A special shout out goes to Shekhar who we met on couchsurfing, who took us out for dinner and drinks: he was overwhelmingly hospitable and later drove us around the city giving us our own private tour! This kind of genuine hospitality for no personal gain is so alien in England and no natural here, it really makes you think. To all of those I’ve met on this trip so far, thank you.

Like a duck to water

I am writing this whilst on a sleeper train to Varanasi, after a particularly hectic day trying to find an alternative train (first one was delayed by TEN HOURS). This trip has already been a huge eye opener and to be frank, a smack in the face (hence the title), but we’ve got on with it well. Kelly in particular hasn’t let anything phase her at all, and is actually trying to talk me away from taking the opulent route on anything we do (like staying in the station for 15hours to avoid paying a tenner for a hotel, f*** that). Now we have 3-4 days in the holy city over Ghandhi’s birthday, which should be quite amazing.  This part of the trip will be equally as difficult though, with the city renowned for its public cremations and poverty. We shall see how we cope!