Day 12: The Manmad Madman

May 27th, 2001

Day 12. I was sat in an empty railway carriage on a wooden slatted seat that had seen far better days.  I was quite glad of the peace, however, it was at this moment just as the train slowly pulled away that I met the madman from Manmad.  Sitting down and facing me was a shabbily dressed man with no shoes, a dirty ripped shirt and shorts all accompanied with the slight aroma of poo which I suppose does come from wiping your bum with your hand!  He spoke remarkably good English which was surprising as many people do not wander much further than their home town so never need to learn it.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that he’d learnt his English from Monty Python videos.  The conversation started off quite normally, “Where are you from?” etc. but it soon degenerated to “What do you think of Indian women, wwhoaaaarr”, he said with an almost toothless smile.  The only teeth that were left were stained red from chewing Beetle nut.  He went on to talk about western women saying, “They are easy, I’ve had more than fifty of them.”  I asked him what he had them do as it was clearly not cleaning his clothes never mind anything more intimate!  He then proceeded to randomly say “phwarrr” for the next hour while making bizarre but very suggestive hand gestures.  Luckily for the remaining four hours of the journey he fell asleep although as I was about to find out, this wasn’t so lucky.  As he slept his legs parted slightly to reveal an ill sited, but remarkably conveniently placed hole in his shorts which allowed his ‘old fella’ to slip out!  From this I guessed he wasn’t Hindu!

After passing some amazingly barren landscapes with arid dry hills, one quite remarkable in having what looked like a huge thumb shaped monolith sticking out of the top of it, we finally pulled into a very busy and dirty Manmad station.  The platforms were piled high with large sacks, some were being carried by porters half their size who were barely strong enough to carry them.  I went straight to the ticket office and bought a ticket to Madgaon in Goa for tomorrow.  I was given a ticket but didn’t understand what the man behind the counter was trying to tell me, all I knew was the train was at 6am and I had to be there.  Although this town is completely outside of the realms of my guidebook I managed to find a hotel directly opposite the station which is possibly a bit of a mistake.  It has the usual broken bed, bed linen with ground in dirt and toilet that is simply a hole in the floor with psychedelic plastic bucket.  I headed into town for a little walk and discovered by the large number of people staring and actually following me that Manmad is definitely not on the tourist trail.  It is however more like an Indian town I expected to see with a small compact town centre consisting of wooden houses with overhanging terraces, it was a very appealing place, but the food was not.  I ate at the hotel restaurant and had a paneer masala which was probably the worst Indian food I’ve ever tasted but I had to eat it as I was starving.  It was a strange place particularly with four ladies sat in the corner drinking tea, not out of their cups but pouring it into their saucers and simultaneously sipping from them.  It was like a bad sketch out of Last of the Summer Wine.

Day 13: A City on a Train

May 28th, 2001

Day 13. Never get a hotel room outside a train station in India!  I hardly managed a minute of sleep as trains constantly blew their horns and the bright lights of the station shone through the window.  But I guess this ensured I didn’t miss my train.....  At 6am I was frantically running up and down the platform trying to understand why my train ticket didn’t have a coach or a seat number on it.  Eventually I grabbed a guard, he told me to wait while he went on the train, as it started to move off he shouted at me telling me to get on and pointed to my seat.  I was on a second class reserved carriage which although better than the train yesterday as it had padded light blue PVC seats, words could never fully describe this journey.  Maybe it was caused by the amount of people crammed into such a small place but it was noisy, dirty, dusty, windy, smelly, cramped, crowded, bumpy, sweaty, irritating, fascinating, painful but most of all amazing.  An Indian train seems to be a microcosm of Indian society from rich to poor and fat to small.  The bench I was sat on was made for just three people but somehow seven had managed to squeeze on it.  I had the joy of sitting with two families with over ten children between them who would not stop shouting, jumping up and down and poking me, but hey, only sixteen hours to go.  Amongst this melee stewards would constantly walk up and down the aisle shouting “Chai, chai, chai” and “Coffee, coffee, coffee”, with the vowels at the end of each word reaching an ear piercing crescendo.  Drinks would be served in beautifully made red clay cups designed for single use as the liquid would quickly soak in.  Snacks, fresh fruit and soft drinks followed in a constant stream of noise.  Men selling children’s toys walked up and down with items which would not look out of place in the 1970’s.  Each made a special effort to try and sell me their wares as they thought they could get a bit more cash.

Eunuchs walked past looking like what they were, men dressed as women.  I didn’t understand what they were doing but they would give people money and then walk off; minutes later they would return and the people would return the money.  Next children with horrific disabilities from polio to leprosy would drag themselves through the carriages, cleaning the rubbish of discarded cups, sesame seed husks and sweet packets that passengers would just throw on the floor.  They would then beg for money from me even though it was not my rubbish they’d cleaned.  These would come in what seemed to be an endless line of humanity, the attention was constant, oppressive, filling my senses and emotions.  How many times can you say no to a beggar with such horrific disabilities knowing that they will never be able to work for themselves or ever get support in a country without a social welfare system.  I had to completely ignore the begging, pretend they didn’t exist, looking straight through them as I could not give them anything.  I’ve learned that if I were to give something then they would follow me for as long as they could and others would follow.  Doing this induced levels of emotion, guilt and shame I’ve not really felt before.  But to survive in India as a solo traveller I realise that I have to do this to retain a certain level of sanity in what is a bewildering country.  I fear travelling here could turn me into a really hard person.

After what felt like hours the train pulled into its first station but even the experiences so far did not prepare me for what occurs on a train’s arrival at a station.  Hundreds of hawkers clamber onto the train selling even more food with others trying to sell things through the metal barred windows.  They sell fresh mango and pineapple juice with ice in flimsy clear plastic bags with a straw placed inside, dangerously close to puncturing the bag.  As soon as a hawker noticed me a huge crowd would gather around trying to sell me anything and everything I didn’t want at prices I was not prepared to pay.  I got off for a breath of fresh air and a bit of peace but within seconds I was surrounded again.  Most were just standing staring at me barely one foot away from my face.  Fifteen hours still to go!

After six hours there was only one thing stopping me from throwing a child out of the window, it was the iron bars placed across them!  There was mess everywhere so I figured it would be a while before they would notice a missing kid!  Parents seem to be strict with the girls not allowing them to do anything or go anywhere while the young boys used me as a climbing frame, shouted and rushed up and down the train; boys rule here.  The parents were not much better with their attitude to rubbish which was starting to get to me in a big way, they just throw food on the floor so the beggars can eat it and litter out of the window.  At around this time I took a swig out of my water bottle which to my surprise resulted in disapproving looks from people sat around me.  A guy next to me noticed that I was puzzled and told me that it was not polite to put your mouth around the bottle top just in case someone else wants some.  I thought, well I don’t want to give you any so what’s the problem!  I did notice that when people drank from a bottle they would tilt their head back and poor the water in, I guess this is to prevent the transmission of germs, it’s just a pity everything else is covered in crap.

I learned another Indian custom on the train, the “What’s yours is mine” principle.  My book, newspaper and pens were all taken and used without asking, not even a “May I.”  On at least a couple of occasions the person taking my book could clearly not even read English.  I thought all this was quite rude, but here it seems quite the norm.  As the kids were driving me mad I took it upon myself to amuse them as I knew peace was now out of the question until someone had tired them out!  So it was out with the cards and a few tricks to keep them amused.  From this I could again see that boys have serious priority over the girls; in this family the girls came across as being far more responsible and clever but were given less respect by their parents.  The girls figured out the ‘find the lady’ trick straight away but the boys thought it was “real magic!”  But through doing this the journey had started to become enjoyable, I was even dragged into a game of top trumps which I haven’t played since I was a kid so duly lost.  But Power Rangers’ power ratings were never my strong point.  Then I became some sort of hero!  A large brown bug had started to fly around the compartment with the women screaming when it came near and the men doing nothing but trying to dodge it, so I just reached across, caught it and threw it out of the window.  I was now constantly thanked and praised but the amount of gratitude I got made me think that the bug was probably quite dangerous and I’d done something really quite stupid!

By the time I was about to leave the train a man who had not said anything previously started conversation.  I thought him quite normal at first when he talked about being a school teacher but when he asked whether I’d met Indian people before and eaten Indian food I wasn’t too sure.  I told him that of course I had, there were lots of Indian people in the UK and curry is Britain’s favourite dish.  He seemed surprised and said he thought that you only get Indian people and Indian food in India!  School teacher?  He followed this with the statement “I believe we have become really good friends on this trip, and I believe this friendship will last forever.”  He asked for my address so he could write to but I made various excuses but he was adamant so I gave him my address, ‘10 Downing Street, Westminster, London, UK’.  OK, this was cruel but I figured that I don’t want begging letters for the rest of my life.

Eventually we pulled into the station at Madgoan in Goa where all of the children and adults I’d sat with got off the train to say goodbye, hugging me and wishing me on my way.  This was very moving, very genuine and really unexpected but again probably more reflects the true nature of people here rather than the money grabbing rickshaw driver and hotelier.  This train journey will probably live with me forever, not only for the people I met, but what the train represents.  A microcosm of India, every class and caste is on the train, you will learn more about India on long standard class train journey than visiting any tourist site.  It is very much a moving city with both meanings of the word moving, it’s the best and worst of everything to enjoy and loath.

The adults from the train found me a motorbike taxi so I could get to Panaji and made sure I got the locals’ price.  The journey was fantastic but quite scary with my huge rucksack perched on the handlebars while I sat astride the bike behind the driver periodically burning my right shin on the hot exhaust.  He rode for half an hour like a maniac nearly losing my bag and me over the handlebars on a number of occasions, the closest being when he had to stop quickly for a mad dog which jumped out in front of us.  He was a little spaced out and went on about girls, telling me of his many sexual conquests in the amount of detail only a man of very limited experience could give.  Eventually after passing a number of police road blocks where they were more than happy to let a European perched precariously on the back of a bike through we finally reached Panaji.  As it was now after midnight, all of the best hotels had shut but after driving around for quite a while I managed to find a room.  The hotel itself looks fine from the outside however the bed is made from a wooden board placed over what looks like a stone bath and the toilet in the communal area is overflowing with faeces.  All of the good feelings I’ve had about India over the past few hours have suddenly gone again.  The hotel manager wouldn’t do anything about it so it will be just one night here!  But I have to forget about the hotel manager remembering that I’ve had the best day of my journey so far but the most tiring.  It’s time to sleep, well it will be after I kill all the mosquitoes.

Days 14 to 17: Panaji Patisserie

June 1st, 2001

Day 14. Before I left the hotel I mentioned to the manager how bad the room and toilet were, he said, “Well no one else has complained”, so I figured that they’d probably not lived long enough to tell him!  But Panaji is in complete contrast to Bombay and Aurangabad as walking around here is hassle free and the atmosphere sublime.  Not only is this place relative calm but there is also a relatively small amount of litter.  Added to this is the almost soothing architecture of the Portuguese period buildings which with their red tiled roofs are in stark contrast to the flat roofed concrete square box hovels which seem to cover much of India.  Goa seems to be the calm after the storm, or more aptly, the lassi after the curry.  But today had in fact been a truly momentous day, while wandering the streets I discovered a place which I thought only existed in my wildest dreams, a sight that filled my eyes with tears and my heart with pure emotion.  Through my welled eyes a red and blue haze surrounded a vision of a white die punctuating the words ‘Domino’s Pizza’.  At last food without spices!  A little further on, a cake shop selling a whole range of cream cakes, chocolate éclairs and ice cream, I could not believe my eyes.  I can indulge in fatty bland European food for a few days, yes it may be sad but I’m bored with curry for breakfast!

Chapel of St. Catherine.

Day 15. I jumped on a local bus to Old Goa, the original capital of the Portuguese colony of Goa.  It’s a beautiful old town with very little else other than old churches, monasteries, ruins and lots of tourists.  Though once a major trading post it’s now practically deserted and hard to believe that it was once a city which competed with Lisbon in importance and beauty.  Much of the decay occurred during Portuguese rule but more still has happened since India invaded Goa and the Portuguese surrendered in 1961.  Sadly unless something is done soon a great deal more will go as much of the fairytale beauty of the place is on the verge of falling down but understandably the preservation of old buildings, particularly Christian ones, is not one of India’s most vital needs.  The interiors of the churches, basilica and cathedral are beautiful with ornate carvings and bright colours, real relics from the height of the Portuguese empire.  Central to this are the Relics of the body of Saint Francis Xavier kept in the beautiful Basilica of Bom Jesus.  The saint is famed in the Catholic Church for his missionary endeavours throughout South-East Asia and more importantly for his completely preserved body which is considered a miracle as it’s said no embalming had been used.  For me one of the best things about this place was that the old heavy stone built buildings were really cool inside, a great refuge from the heat.

Day 16. My first lazy day of the trip and I’m proud to say that I did absolutely nothing other than eat, walk around Panaji, exchange some money and eat some more.  I visited every cake shop I could find before heading off for what I hoped would be a bland non spicy Pizza from Dominos.  I closed my eyes and took a large mouthful.  Arrggggg, they’d covered it in spices.  Will I ever have anything to eat in India which will not burn my mouth!

Day 17. It turns out that I have a very low boredom threshold so I packed my bag and headed to the beach.  I got the bus to a dusty little town called Mapusa where holy cows wander the streets and motorists run over pedestrians to avoid them!  Here I changed for another bus to the seaside village of Anjuna.  There were no seats so I had to sit on the metal engine cover at the front of the old rickety TATA bus.  As I stood up to get off I heard one of those sounds which makes you immediately want to swear.  A sharp piece of metal had caught on my shorts and ripped a whole right at butt cheek level, great!  I now had to get off the bus without all of the Indian women having a good look at my arse.  Anjuna was meant to be full of spaced out westerners left over from the 70’s who have not yet found their way home.  I was looking forward to the Hippy beach and Market but unfortunately due to ill planning (well actually no planning) there’s no one here.  With the monsoon approaching all but a small number of old antisocial hippy ex-pats have buggered off but at least this meant I had no problem in getting a nice room that opens straight onto the beach.  With a beautiful view of the sea what more could I want.  Ahhh, sea, sand and ….sleep!

Days 18 to 22: Ram Raid

June 6th, 2001

Day 18. On the radio this morning I heard the shocking news that yesterday the entire Royal family of Nepal had been assassinated by the crown prince who then took his own life.  All holiday makers are advised not to visit.  Great, I’m meant to be visiting Nepal in a month.  Trying to forget this news, I sat reading on the sea front when the old wrinkly man who owned the beach hut came over and somehow managed to talk me into hiring one of his scooters for the day.  I’d never actually ridden one before but I thought it would be OK when I saw the scooter.   Sadly, this nice shiny one wouldn’t start, so he got one which looked like the last rider parted company with it at high speed.  To say the scooter was completely knackered would be a huge understatement as both headlight and front console were held on with a piece of string and the tires completely bald.  Later, while I was driving down a really steep hill, I also discovered the front brake didn’t work either.  This was not a great time to find this out as I had to drive onto the grass to avoid careering uncontrollably down the hill.  The lever was broken but I managed to temporarily fix it with a bit of loose wire from another part of the scooter!  So at full speed and like a rebel without a cause I sped up and down the coast through long winding palm tree lined roads passing little villages with houses made of mud walls and palm leaf roofs.  Children waved shouting “Namaste” as I rode past.  It was a bit like a scene out of a particularly bad holiday film starring Cliff Richard.  I drove up to the fort at Aguada where I bought a couple of beautifully painted leaves allegedly produced by some children from the local orphanage.  But then just as I was starting to enjoy myself the scooter started to make strange noises and eventually came to a halt.

I had been so engaged by my surroundings that I’d completely neglected to fill the scooter with fuel.  It was at least 10km to the nearest petrol station and the midday sun made the temperature over 40°c, not great for pushing a scooter.  I asked a couple of men where the nearest petrol station was but both gave different directions and both were wrong, I get the feeling that blokes here will give you directions even if they don’t know where things are.  Within five minutes of pushing the scooter a car pulled up and a man asked what the trouble was, when I told him he offered to take me ‘one way’ to the petrol station.  I am not in the habit of taking lifts from strangers especially those who look like a character out of a Mad Max film but apart from looking like a murderer he came across OK, maybe just a little spaced out.  As he drove he asked the usual tourist questions and then went on to talk about his “woman” who was a “good lay as she was English”, a general trend in conversation here it appears.  He paused for a bit clearly waiting for me to acknowledge his unusual pro-English stance but I just smiled.  He slowly changed the conversation from his sexual conquests to beach parties, good discos and where to get good “shit” in Goa.  I said that would be good to know as I’d found that most of India had been covered in “bad shit which was mostly on my shoes” so “good shit” would make a pleasant change.  As he was clearly on some sort of “shit”, either good or other, this comment completely confused him and he took this as desperate plea for drugs.  He opened the purple fur lined glove box (which sounds like a horrific euphemism) to show a complete alphabet of drugs neatly ordered into lines, all that was missing was a price list and till.  He went on to say that I had become “a friend he could trust” and that my first “piece of shit” would be free!  Even with his kind offer I declined, firstly because hard drugs scare me and secondly and more importantly, driving a knackered scooter was hard enough without being stoned.  Eventually we arrived at what he said was a petrol station but to me looked like a rundown house.  He assured me it was and then drove off while turning Bob Marley’s “No woman no cry” up to full blast on his car stereo.

I was now stuck in the middle of nowhere not knowing where I was and only having a vague idea of the direction back to the scooter.  Where was the petrol station?  I walked up the driveway and around the back of the house where I saw an old lady and asked whether she had any petrol.  When she eventually understood what I was saying she wandered over to an old white wooden cupboard unlocked it and showed me a number of soft drink bottles containing an orange liquid.  The orange liquid actually looked like Fanta orange, not helped by the fact that some bottles had Fanta orange labels on them although it was most definitely petrol.  I got my litre of petrol which was strangely cheaper than a litre of water and a litre of Fanta, and headed off.  After about twenty minutes I was happy to see the scooter still at the side of the road although the lone scooter had become an item of interest for the local children who were stood in a group looking at it.  As I started to fill it up with petrol a young boy walked over to see what I was doing, he looked very confused.  I just turned and said to him, “I use Fanta orange as it makes the bike go faster.”  He looked very puzzled and walked off.  A bit of me hopes that he went home and filled his dad’s bike up with Fanta orange!

Heading on to Baga beach I hoped to see the famed golden sands of Goa which did not disappoint however, and there always appears to be a however in India, sitting between the golden sands and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean was a huge beached oil tanker.  I couldn’t believe it, only in India could you have paradise only for someone to put a huge oil tanker slap bang in the middle of it!  As I was taking a picture someone told me that the boat needed repairs and the easiest and more importantly the cheapest way the owner could do it was to beach it.  Why he chose the middle of a holiday resort I will never know.

While scootering about I passed a Domino’s pizza and suddenly I got the overwhelming desire for a ham and pineapple pizza.  I pulled to the side of the road and prepared to turn around.  As I slowly turned the handlebars to the right the bike suddenly lurched forward as the automatic clutch was a little jumpy or to use a technical term, knackered.  Unfortunately, the combination of a sandy road, bald tires, jumping clutch and the right turn led to one simple outcome.  As my body prepared to turn, the scooter decided to continue straight on.  This led to the partnership I had developed with the scooter over the last few hours suddenly coming to an abrupt end however, it wasn’t as simple as that.  As I slid off the back of the scooter onto the dirty road gashing my leg in the process, the bike conveniently continued towards a roadside shop with two stands of water bottles on the pavement in front of it.  In what almost seemed like slow motion the bike ran into one of the stands sending it and the bottles crashing to the ground, my only saving grace was that the bottles were plastic.  The shopkeeper rushed out with a look of horror and amazement on his face, some idiot had just ram raided his shop!  Embarrassed I picked up two water bottles which had rolled near me and asked “how much for these?”  After a moments silence he said, “24 rupees”, so I gave him the money, casually got back onto the bike  and rode off not looking back.  Time to head back!

Day 19. I tried walking today but had a bad limp from the cut on my leg in addition to bad sunburn in the form of two little red semicircular marks on each knee caused as a result of wearing shorts on a scooter!  I could hardly bend my knees due to the pain.  To hide my embarrassment I just sat in front of the beach hut and watched the sea.  The old guy asked me if I wanted to hire the scooter again, I just looked at him, then to my legs, back to him and raised my eyebrows.  He got the message.

Day 20. As I have now got at least some movement back in my legs I thought I’d head back into Panaji for the day to see if I could book a ticket to Hospet.  The day would have been uneventful were it not for an impatient bus driver.  In Mapusa a cow lay blocking the road outside of the bus station and was not willing to move no matter the amount of goading.  Eventually the bus driver who I guess was Christian, mainly due to the images of Mary all over his cab, had enough and tried to ease pass the cow.  Sadly the cow took exception to having a bus run over its hoof and so head butted the bus causing one of its horns to break and hang off.  This antagonised the local Hindu guys who then chased after the bus cursing while the worried driver sped off as fast as he could!  This place is definitely weird.

Day 21. Spent a final day in Anjuna relaxing and recovering before the noise and hassle starts again.  Walking up and down the beaches I visited old forts and the pretty little whitewashed Portuguese church of St Anthony’s which inside was cool on a hot summer day.  The highlight of the day has to be seeing an Indian guy masturbating in the bushes while looking at two blond Scandinavian ladies sunbathing on the beach!  Classy!

St Anthony's Church, Anjuna, Goa, India.

Day 22. Leaving Anjuna a little after 9am I arrived in Panaji a little after 11am, not bad, two hours for a fifteen mile journey!  Just after I found a place to stay I had my first experience of the monsoon season.  I’ve never seen raindrops so large falling with such force and speed before but I really needed this.  Within seconds of it starting the temperature dropped dramatically and the humidity decreased, standing in it felt fantastic.  But it was time to go so to celebrate my last night in Goa I found a nice Portuguese/Indian restaurant which had very good food and an extremely nice atmosphere.  I was quite enjoying this but almost as if to tell me the peace and quiet of Goa was now over, four drunken teenagers walked in, sat down and started to play loud music.  As they ordered more beer I thanked the waiter and headed off.

Day 23: The Indian Job

June 7th, 2001

Day 23. I walked to the bus station with sweat pouring off me, it was nearly 40°c again.  I had paid for a semi-luxury bus which seemed to mean absolutely nothing other than it was painted blue rather than brown.  I was told by the porter that I had to climb on top of the bus with my luggage to securely fasten it to the roof rack as it was too heavy for him.  After doing this he then tried to charge me for his help even though I’d done it all myself, cheeky bugger!  Ignoring him I went inside the bus and found my bench which was allegedly made for three people but obviously three very skinny people.  Sat next to me was a very smelly boy, with that slight hint of poo so many people on busses and trains seem to have these days.  He was clearly shocked by a big white bloke sitting next to him, his mother tried her very best to pretend that I wasn’t even there.

This was the start of a ten hour journey to Hopset and my first experience of long distance bus travel in India.  The first two hours of the journey were spectacular as the road wound its way up the mountainous region bordering Goa and Karnataka.  The roads were in a terrible condition made from a combination of dirt and very old tarmac.  A trail of broken down lorries littered the road, a testament to the harshness of the climb.  A number of lorries had left the road and careered over the edge of the steep ravines which ran along the roadside.  Many of the crashed lorries had garlands of flowers thrown across the old cabins, the only sign of the occupant whose life had ended so abruptly and so wastefully.  One of these accidents was clearly quite recent as the lorry was still smoking and a linen sheet was spread over the cabin hiding its contents.  I suppose I should’ve realised how dangerous the journey was going to be when before we set off, the driver had gone through an intricate ritual.  This involved an image of Ganesha the God of Obstacles, some yellow garlands and the act of throwing of yellow petals on the front of the bus.  I suddenly realised that as he was Hindu and so believed in karma he would think that if he died he would come back as someone else and so would his passengers.  So he was driving like a complete maniac without any care, however this worried me slightly as I don’t believe in karma but do believe that if I die the process would probably hurt, and quite a lot!  The regularly placed ‘warning tigers’ signs also did not help my confidence as I thought that if I did survive a crash then a tiger would come and eat me, now that would be bad karma!

The bus continued up and down hills with the driver working furiously to keep the bus on track, rounding each bend at high speed as he was determined not to slow down and lose forward momentum.  This made the corners more dangerous and I wasn’t entirely convinced that we were not going to join the many lorries.  We went downhill taking corners at even faster speeds, it was almost like the scene from the end of the Italian Job but instead of gold bullion there were two chickens a goat and a broken bicycle in the back.  At the halfway point the bus stopped for a break at a roadside restaurant, if you could call it that.  Here I met an Irishman, Aussie and a French bloke who were apart from being here to provide an excellent first line of a joke were also on the same bus.  All of us were walking slightly weirdly as we were all suffering from aching arses from the hard benches on the bus.  But coincidentally we were all heading to the same destination which I was a relief as it was safer to travel in a group.

After seven hours I finally figured out how a semi-luxury bus differs from the standard class of bus.  A semi-luxury bus actually has windows that you can close when it rains and when driving on bumpy roads the bus rattles to a level a little below deafening unlike a standard bus!  The final experience to be had on an Indian bus journey is the game of chicken that drivers love to play.  Most roads on this journey were generally only wide enough for one vehicle and even if the roads were wider the drivers still prefer to drive straight down the middle.  When heading towards each other the bus driver and the lorry driver in his brightly coloured wood and chrome covered cabin would drive head on until at the last minute each would swerve violently barely missing each other.  Large clouds of dust are raised as the nearside wheels of lorry and bus hurtle along the dirt tracks at the edge of the road.  This would engulf both pedestrians and cyclists which the vehicles had narrowly missed.  In the end I just gave up looking at what was happening, it felt better not knowing than having constant heart palpitations every time we veered sharply!  Actually, after ten hours I no longer had white knuckles clutched around the nearest hand rail but thought it all quite normal.

To be fair, the most perturbing part of the journey was the man standing at the door, constantly staring at me and every now and again laughing.  When he laughed he would smile with an almost toothless grin, the remaining broken teeth covered in what looked like blood but in fact was the remnants of the chewing tobacco Betel nut.  He would spit this out on the floor which made it look like there had been a massacre on the bus.  He also dribbled Betel nut down his top made it look like he was dying from the Black Death!  Arriving one hour late into Hospet we all jumped on a local bus which was definitely held together with nothing more than wishful thinking rather than nuts and bolts.  In this green lump of metal and diesel we made our way on the 15km one hour journey to Hampi.  Even more people stared at us on this bus, some stopping and staring at us as soon as they got on preventing others from getting on behind.  Eventually arriving at 10pm I found a nice hotel room, mine even comes with its very own bucket, in fact two, one for bathing and the other for my shitty toilet hand.  How posh is that, most places I’ve been to just have the one!

Day 24: Big Orange Monkey

June 8th, 2001

Day 24. As day broke on yet another predictably bright sunny hot day, I arose expecting to see the usual large amounts of rubbish, the usual smells, the usual concrete block houses and the usual poverty.  I had no idea what Hampi would be like as when we arrived last night it was dark and there was no lighting other than from our torches.  To my surprise there was very little rubbish and very little concrete, in fact the sight of the Hampi was spectacular.  The guesthouse I’m staying in is situated within the cobbled streets of the old bazaar.  In the middle of the main ‘street’ or Hampi bazaar is the 52 meter high Virupaksha temple, a focal point for the old city, although on closer inspection I do think that it’s little more than a phallic symbol displaying erotic images and extremely detailed ones at that!  In the temple complex behind Virupaksha a wedding ceremony had just started so I turned back to leave them in peace.  However, just as I was walking out I got a tap on the shoulder and turned to see the ‘groom’ who asked me in very broken English to take part in the ceremony.  This was really quite sweet but I felt that I may become the focus of the wedding rather than them however but they insisted.  So some people I’ve never met before and will never meet again have wedding pictures of me throwing red and yellow powder at them which hopefully made their day and to be fair it made mine too, and it had only just started!

12.  Temple, Virupaksha Hampi, India.

On the breakfast menu I noticed that there were pancakes from chocolate though to mango and one called special.  As I was really hungry I thought I’d go for special as I assumed it meant it contained everything.  As soon as I finished I started to feel a little unwell but just put this down to the richness of the food particularly considering I’d not eaten that much in the last 24 hours.  Ignoring the dodgy stomach I headed out with the others and soon discovered that the journey here had been well worth it.  The scenery is amazing, the barren hilltops are littered with huge boulders rounded and smoothed by millennia of wind and rain.  The contrasts of sand and scrub breaking into banana plantations in the river valley makes for a strange almost fairytale landscape, the picture postcard scene finished by ruined temples haphazardly scattered all over the hillsides and hilltops.  The views are breathtaking from practically anywhere you stand.

On a small hill we could hear chanting coming from a small temple, as we got closer I could see a small man in a grotty red top devoutly praying while throwing petals at a large carving on the back wall.  This is why I like Hinduism, not because I empathise with the ethics of the religion or even understand much about it, but to my eyes the complete difference in symbolism and beliefs to my own has an alluring and almost surreal fascination.  On the back wall of the temple was a six foot tall carved bright orange coloured monkey.  He was worshipping a big bright orange monkey!  All I could think of at this point was Cuddles the orange monkey off a TV program from my childhood, he was worshipping Cuddles the monkey!

13.  Achyutaraya Temple, Hampi, India.

Of the two disused almost complete temple complexes we visited the setting of Achyutaraya was the most impressive.  The contrast between the sandy coloured temples set against the green palms is far superior to the barren setting of the more famous Vittala Temple.  There were also very few people here as Vittala attracts most of the visitors due to the temples musical pillars and famous stone carved chariot.  Possibly making Achyutaraya even more important for me was the fact that there wasn’t a $10US entry price tag attached.  The Indian government’s policy of non Indians paying more was starting to really irritate, if I want to see all of the temple sites in Hampi it will cost me up to $100US whereas Indian’s would pay 100 rupees, the equivalent of $2US.  I’m starting to see this as a little bit of a racist policy particularly when we met a Canadian Indian who told us that she had paid 10 rupees to enter Vittala.  Hopefully the government will see the error of its ways and will at the very least reduce the charges to a more realistic level.  By charging more they are reducing the number of tourists visiting and in the long term will put tourists off.  The policy has a short term gain for a long term loss, but having said that, this does not detract from the atmosphere of Hampi, it’s on such a large scale that the government hasn’t been able to fence the entire site….Yet!  We finished the day sat at the side of the river watching women wash their family’s clothes on the water’s edge.  They would beat each item one by one on the rocks, bowing up and down as if in some form of devout prayer.  The sun slowly set over Virupaksha temple which rose above the surrounding palms with the image reflected in the slowly flowing river.  This was the end of a perfect day.

Day 25: The Reluctant Snake Charmer

June 9th, 2001

Day 25. As I woke I tried to scratch my nose to appease a tickling sensation but as I raised my hand I touched something large and very much alive.  I sat up as quickly as possible and threw the thing to the floor.  Opening the shutters I could see that the offending article was a big shiny brown cockroach.  It almost gave me a heart attack.  I never knew these things were that big, still, it woke me up in time to meet the others for breakfast but this time decided to eat something different after yesterday’s events.  I went for a fruit salad and a special lassi, but again, soon after I felt a little strange.  Stephan the French guy decided to wander off on his own as he was fed up of speaking English as it “bored him.”  I did say that I had no problem with him speaking French if he wished but he’d just have to accept that no one else would understand him.  In his place we picked up an American guy who unfortunately is really into finance and bored us with many stories of hostile takeovers.  We walked to the royal enclosure which although little was left, the scale was still impressive.  Predictably many of the sites were closed with guards incessantly blowing their whistles to tell us to go back.  Even though we couldn’t get in for free we could see the Elephant Stables and Lotus Mahal from outside, however the amazingly large and elaborately designed Queens bath was free and a must see for its almost contemporary design.  Walking back through the ruins over boulders, fallen walls and alongside a banana plantation there was a sudden movement in front of us followed by a familiar hissing noise which sent a chill down my back.  An Indian Cobra reared up in front of us, one of those snakes which could kill you within an hour of being bitten which made me remember that it had taken one hour to get here from Hospet so things weren’t looking good.  We all froze for a few seconds thinking what to do but the silence was broken by the Irish guy saying, “Quick, throw the American at it, he’ll bore it to death.”  This broke the tension and eventually the snake backed off and slithered away.  The really bizarre thing about this situation was snake itself, it had a really unusual series of markings around is fanned neck.  It basically had two black eyes and a big smiley mouth stamped on it.  Maybe it’s so people have a little bit of a laugh before they die, how sweet.

We wandered, but stamping heavily, towards a temple on top of Matanga hill which lies between the royal enclosure and the old bazaar.  I use the word wander generally as we spent ages lost in a banana plantation but at least if we were to get stuck we had an unlimited supply of free food.  The climb to the top was quite hard going in the heat but it was well worth it.  You could see the plan of city clearly in its full ruinous beauty.  Looking down from the whitewashed temple the ruined stone pillars of the old bizarre looked like a series of dominos just waiting to be pushed over.  The views all around were unbroken for miles, relaxing here was so peaceful, so calm, no hassles.  How such a city of its size and stature could have become completely deserted is quite unbelievable but it appears that after a catastrophic battle with Muslim invaders from the north the city was ransacked and the Hampi Empire destroyed.

Hampi from Matanga hill, India.

This evening in the restaurant we asked the owner if there had been a problem with the food explaining that we’d all felt a bit funny after eating breakfast.  He asked if we had eaten anything on the menu with the word special in it, we answered yes at which point a huge smile appeared on his face.  He replied, “Special means it’s made with hashish, it’s good.”  We all just looked to each other and simultaneously said “cool!”  First time I’ve had cannabis but at least I now know it doesn’t entirely agree with me.  But it’s interesting to note that while cannabis is illegal in India, many traditional dishes use bhang, a derivative of cannabis which is legal.  Maybe if it said Bhang lassi on the menu I might have guessed what it was!  As the sun set I had one more special pancake just to check whether it was that which caused the weird feeling!