Palolem, Hampi and on to Varkala02/02/2011
We had a lovely few days in Palolem, Goa enjoying a bit of sea, lots of sun and even more beautifully cooked fresh fish. We also did an early morning boat trip to see dophins play around in the water just off the coast while the sun rose behind us. It was a beautiful and peaceful way to start a day. As anticipated though, Palolem wasn't exactly a place to experience life in India but it was a lovely stop and no matter how you look at it, spending a few days staying in a little beach hut right on the beach (for just £10 a night) is really hard to leave willingly. Leave we had to though so we went in land for the first time and headed for Hampi.
The journey to Hampi was a lot easier then the one to Goa and we felt like experienced travellers (almost). We also met a few English on this train as we were sharing a compartment with them for the journey. They turned out to be a mix of people who spend the winter in Goa every year and their friends who were visiting. All of us were going to Hampi and it was nice to have some people to chat to for the long journey.
Hampi is basically an old city that was built in the 1300s onwards until it was destroyed in 1565. There is now a new town in amoungst the old ruins - as you can imagine there is (apparently) quite a conflict between people who want to remove the new town so the old ruins can be seen in their best state, and the locals who have made their home and livelyhood in the town. From what we saw we felt the locals have only taken over a relatively small area and it seemed to us quite nice to see some of the old buildings being used in almost exactly the same way they would have been when they were first built. So we spent one day walking around some of the ruins and then the next morning we hired bicycles (very brave when you see how the locals drive - one hand always on the horn) and looked at a few more ruins further out of the town including a massive bath that used to be used by the queen. I really don't know if they could make a bath drink/book/candle holder big enough for this bath! The only annoyance was being asked by EVERY Indian boy if they could take a photo of us, or asking what our name was and where we came from. To start with it was quite nice and we said yes to photos and answered questions but our humour disappeared LONG before they got bored of asking.
Wondering around the ruins and looking at the amazing countryside surrounding them was fantastic and, for better and worse, we also happened to coincide our visit with a big festival. We didn't always truely understand what we were looking at or what was going on but there were thousands of people there and all the mayhem that goes with that. There was a parade of costums and elephants (although the elephants were ahead of us so we didn't really get to see them) and other brightly coloured people dancing and singing. There was also a massive tent apparently handing out free food but we chatted to an English couple who had just tried to join in that and we decided it wasn't worth the risk. It seems that it might have been ok for me as the women were separated from the men and the queue was relatively civilised but the men's queue was more of a free-for-all and it all sounded quite dangerous really with police deciding to keep the order by hitting people with sticks to get them to move down the queue. As I say, we decided to watch from a safe distance. Wondering on a little further and randomly following some other tourists through a fence we ended up backstage of the main event which involved a politician talking (a lot!) and then a German Bollywood star floating over the top of the stage all covered in lights and attached to a balloon. It was all very strange but good fun and so much more so for being totally unexpected. Everything we had heard about Hampi prior to arriving was how quiet and traquil the place was. This was certainly not what we saw. In addition to this the costs of everything were at least twice the normal Hampi costs so we decided to head out a day sooner then expected and continue down south.
Our orginal plan was to go to Mysore next to try some yoga but on more reading it didn't seem the type of yoga we wanted to do - ie it seemed to be for people going for a full month or even longer while we were thinking more a day, may be two if we liked it. So instead we headed for Kerala, Varkala to be exact which is a long way south. The journey involved an overnight bus (in actual beds which was quite exciting for a bus but on the dirt roads of India which are VERY bumpy so no sleep was had), then a day waiting in Mangalore for another overnight travel, this time on a train following the coast and waking at 4:30am in Kochi. We were lucky then to be able to get our last train just 45 minutes later for 4hrs 30mins to bring us to Valkara
Finally here and it is beautiful. Kerala is known for its beautiful coast line and (more so) for its "backwaters" which are a massive network of lakes and canals. Today we have been on a little boat tour of the canals which really were beautiful and so peaceful (despite another festival taking place and blasting out holy music on loud speakers for miles around). Where we are staying is on the top of the cliffs looking down to the sea. There is a beach at either end of our little cliff top walk - one is very busy and the other has totally black sand a lot less people. But you only really go to the beach to get into the sea which has the most amazing waves. When we first arrived and saw them we thought there was no way we would be able to swim in that but after a while we worked out the system. Basically you don't bother to swim you just walk into the water and get thrown around by waves. It is all quite dramatic (I've ended up on my head once already and had my bikini turned inside out) but also quite safe as you get all the fun of the waves in relatively shallow water and there is enough of a gap between each wave that you can get yourself upright again and ready yourself for the next one. We are loving it but I admit that if you are not a confident swimmer then it might be best to head to Goa instead.