Monday, 8 February 2016

Travels in India, 2016 - Salaam Bombay

When we saw £17 flights from Goa to Mumbai we couldn't say no. We'd been before but no matter, we're not bucket list types. We don't visit places just to tick them off and impress our mates. If we love somewhere we'll go back again and again. Some people claim to have "done" a country after staying in an all-inclusive for a fortnight, after 16 years and some 25 visits we've barely scratched India's surface.

Mumbai doesn't so much welcome you as smack you around the face and zap you with a cattle prod. There's an amazing energy to the city, it crackles with life. Every day over five hundred people move here, many fleeing lives of crushing poverty in rural India and, far from being oppressive and intimidating, the air is charged with optimism and high spirits. Clichéd as it might sound, Mumbai is the city of dreams.

Of course when 22 million people live in a city one third of the size of London then road chaos ensues. It took two hours to travel the 24 km journey from the airport to our lodgings in down-town Colaba but, you just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride, and we did. It was a Friday afternoon and on the rooftops of the slums were thousands of barefoot children flying kites and shrieking with unbridled joy.

Property prices in Mumbai are amongst the highest in the world and our budget required a serious rethink. Moti, a gorgeous Victorian-era colonial mansion, was recommended by both the Rough Guide & Lonely Planet and £30 got us a decent sized double room with an attached bathroom, fridge & TV (so we binged on Bollywood movies and pop videos) along with 24 hour hot water (a luxury!)

Our nearest neighbour was the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The last time we'd seen the Taj was just days after the 2008 terrorist attacks, when 31 people lost their lives, and it brought tears to our eyes to see her restored to her former glory.

Built in 1903 after Indian philanthropist Jamsetji Tata was refused entrance to a "whites only" hotel and decided to create a hotel all of Mumbai could be proud of.

Directly opposite the Taj is the Gateway to India, built under British rule and completed in 1924. The first building those arriving by boat would have seen and the departure point when the British left India after Independence.

It attracts hundreds of people a day, none more so than at sunset when thousands of Mumbaikers and tourists flock for photos and a gossip.

Despite letting our bank know that we'd be in India until February the dozy b*stards blocked our card leaving us with £10 to our name but, accommodation aside, a tenner goes a long way in Mumbai. Access to the Gateway of India was free, local meals joint Kamat did a cracking veg thali for £1, the two hour taxi ride from the airport cost £5 and Moti had a fridge full of ice cold Kingfishers at £2 so we sat on the steps watching the world go by until we got through to the bank's telephone help line.

Next morning, after a puri bhaji breakfast & masala chai we walked to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, still referred to as Victoria Terminus or VT by many.

 It might sound a bit odd, hanging around a railway station when you're not planning on catching a train but not all stations are VT. A UNESCO World Heritage site, designed by architectural engineer, Frederick Stevens, in 1878 and finally completed nine years later in time for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Chhatrapati Shivaji is not only a Gothic masterpiece but also the world's busiest train station. You'll recognise it from the final scene in Slumdog Millionaire (and if you've never seen the film then you're clearly mad).

As in previous visits, her cathedral-like beauty rendered us speechless.

Next stop was Crawford market, a bustling covered market built in 1869 and, in 1882, the first building in India to be lit by electricity.

Taking photos of the exterior an elderly couple on their way to do their weekly shop came to see what we were doing. That frieze is by Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard's father, I told them. Good heavens, we've lived here all our lives and never even noticed it, they said.

Currently undergoing a facelift, the fountain is also by Lockwood Kipling.

Time for fresh lime sodas in Badshah, a cafe serving thirsty shoppers since the days of the Raj.

We walked back to Moti to feast on the fresh fruit we'd bought from the market followed by hot showers and a siesta.

Finances again accessible we could now afford to watch the sunset from a swanky roof top bar of a glamorous Art Deco hotel on Marine Drive followed by a delicious Lebanese dinner in hip & happening restaurant, Basilico.

More of Mumbai coming very soon!

(More photos HERE)

Linking to Patti and the gang for Visible Monday.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Travels in India, 2016 - Goa's Deep South

The tuk tuk dropped us off just over an hour later in Patnem on Goa's southernmost tip. As usual one of us minded the bags while the other went off in search of a place to stay. Over the last couple of years Patnem's popularity has rocketed; it took over an hour to find anything within our modest budget, eventually settling on a £12 a night room in the Sea View Resort.

Patnem beach is undeniably lovely,

The creek at neighbouring Rajbag beach is stunning.

Total tranquillity only a short walk away from the sun loungers and beach bars spread along rest of the beach.

Patnem Chai Shop serves up a spicy pav bhaji breakfast for 40p.

But Patnem seems rather soulless, a place created to meet the needs of the mostly British visitors, despite its obvious beauty it lacks authenticity and the only Indians we met were the ones serving us dinner. Its a great place to stay if you've never visited Goa before but lacks the vibe of the bigger villages. After a pleasant three day stay we packed up, jumped in a tuk tuk and headed ten kilometres up the road to Agonda.

We've been coming here since 2004 when it was little more than a fishing hamlet.

Twelve years ago, other than the locals' homes, there was a hut encampment, a guest house and a tiny general store with a payphone. We stayed in a thatched beach hut, washed from a bucket, ate whatever veg the cook had bought back from the market and went to bed at 9 pm when the electric supply went off.

Again, our accommodation was a thatched coco hut but, in 2016 style, came with an attached bathroom, a shower, free WiFi (not that we used it) and electricity 24/7. We've stayed here three times over the last few years, you can even book on-line (HERE).

These days Agonda is well and truly on the tourist map but at heart remains a fishing village.

Wander along the sandy back lanes and you feel a million miles away from the tourist scene.

Back in the days of Portuguese rule only the churches were allowed to be painted white, a tradition that continues today. Houses in Goa come in all colours.

Be prepared to share the beach with the cows and if, like us, you take a bag of fruit along with you, be prepared to share.

Many of the local fishermen offer boat trips after they've sorted out the morning catch.

We treated ourselves to an early morning punt along the backwaters. The young boatman told us he'd be spending his profits on a trip to the cinema in Goa's second city, Margao. He was going to see Star Wars for the third time in a fortnight.

It was so peaceful we had to keep prodding each other to stay awake.

Before 9am we'd already spotted kingfishers, egrets, parakeets and herons, saw monkeys swinging through the trees, heard the chirruping of squirrels & koels calling and witnessed all manner of fish leaping from the waters.

Like Benaulim, Agonda has some great no-frills meals joints (confusingly known as "hotels" even though there's no bed involved) where you can get a proper pure veg Goan or South Indian breakfast for around £1.

Clockwise from top left: Jon tucking into masala uttapam; me and my massive Masala Dosa; Pav bhaji; Our favourite breakfast spot in Agonda; Puri bhaji; Aloo paratha with curd; Tomato uttapam (click on the links if you're not sure what they are)
There's lots of good restaurants, too. We had a couple of fab nights out with fellow Judy's vintage traders, Saz & Andy, enjoying their first trip to Goa.

Dinner at My Friend's Place. We stayed in their coco huts, just behind the restaurant.

After two weeks in Goa (five days in Benaulim, three in Patnem and six in Agonda) we were relaxed, tanned and totally chilled out.

We could have easily stayed for longer but we needed to pack, we had a plane to catch. Goodbye Agonda! Adventure beckoned.

Part three to follow (if you can stand the excitement!)  More photos HERE

Its business as usual for Kinky this weekend. We'll be trading with Judy's Affordable Vintage at Bethnal Green (see HERE) on Sunday. Come and see us if you can.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Travels in India, 2016 - Benaulim, Burial Grounds & Beaches

Welcome to Goa, ladies and gentlemen. The local time is 4.30 am and the temperature is 28 degrees. Happy New Year! The pilot announced over the tannoy as the plane bumped down on to the tarmac at Dabolim Airport. We were back in the place we loved and, despite a tedious twenty-three hour journey, were already bursting with excitement at having 31 days of no plans whatsoever ahead.

Our first stop was Benaulim, a Catholic fishing village in South Goa. We rented a room at family-run Palmira's for the first few nights, basic but quiet, clean and comfortable and great value at £5 a night.

The antics of the family pig and her handsome feline companion kept us amused for hours.

As our pasty Northern European skin hadn't seen the light of day since last Summer we took it easy with the sun worshipping at first, avoiding the beach until later in the day for a sunset swim.

 Mornings were spent our favourite way, wandering around aimlessly and getting hopelessly lost, following paths and well-trodden trails to discover every inch of the area. One day we ended up in nearby Colva, stumbling across Our Lady of Merces, a Portuguese era Catholic church originally built in 1640.

Despite visiting Goa for over 16 years this is the first cemetery we'd ever come across. We weren't sure what the etiquette was but saw a local lady leaving and she indicated that it was perfectly fine to take a look around. We definitely wouldn't have entertained the idea if there was a burial taking place or any sign of grieving relatives.

The cemetery appeared to be divided into several parts, this gated area contained the family burial vaults and plots. 

The Portuguese were kicked out in 1961 but their legacy, in the form of the names taken by Goan Hindus forced to convert to Catholicism, lives on.

The niches in the compound wall housed hundreds of engraved marble tributes.

I loved this Azulejo tile. 

This area was filled with more simple graves with wooden cross markers. 

Floral displays commemorating the first year anniversary. 

 These graves were inside an Indo-Portuguese building with a vaulted ceiling and an altar. We were reluctant to enter, choosing to stand outside and take a few photos from a respectful distance.  

Again, these graves were mostly marked with simple wooden crosses. 

A moment or two of peace amid the frenzy of touristy Colva.

Paddy fields, Benaulim

After five days in Benaulim it was time to repack our bags, hail a tuk tuk and move on.

We got back yesterday morning but I'm not quite sure if our brains are still in India. This blog post has taken me most of the day to write. We took almost 1000 photos (more from our first few days HERE) so be warned there's a danger that I'll be blathering about this trip for months.

Benaulim villager taking a break
Hope your 2016 got off to an equally brilliant start. I'll catch up with my blog reading over the next few days, it will be a welcome diversion from the jet lag.

See you soon!

Linking to Patti's Visible Monday.