Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Journey Continues

7 January 2009 - 24 January 2009
In our haste to get moving from Cochin we booked and paid for a bus to Mangalore on the advice from a fellow traveler that it was a six hour bus ride. Perhaps we should've known that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Upon arriving at the bus station we were informed that it was a 12 hour bus ride, arriving at 6:30 in the morning. Thankfully the 12 hours wasn't too bad, despite the road that wasn't always paved (though it is the main highway running up the west coast) and when it was paved, it still had pot holes big enough to lose a cow in. We arrived in Mangalore after a nearly sleepless night and caught the bus straight to Moodbidri, a place known for it's 1,000 pillared Jain temple. We found a room, conked out for a few hours and when we woke up, we decided to head out to find this famous temple.

Moodbidri is a sweet little village. Because of its lack of tourists, the people are kind and genuinely interested in foreigners, instead of pretending interest as a way to siphon off as many rupees as possible from the (perceived) unending well of the Western wallet. Every temple we went into (which was a considerable number) a kind soul would self-nominate to be our guide. At the 1,000 pillared Jain temple a tiny little old man with false teeth and glasses showed us the uniquely carved pillars and in basic English explained the numerous gods and goddesses depicted. At the Devi temple (the goddess to whom you may pray for anything) our self-selected guide was a pudgy man with one wandering eye. He explained Devi to us, as well as the rituals of accepting offerings from the temple (a plate of smashed rice mixed with coconut and sugar and a cup of boiled, sweetened buttermilk to be taken at the temple after the devotional work of praying, dancing and chanting and a take away package to be eaten the next day of bananas, half a coconut, puffed rice and red coloured powder to be placed on one's third eye after praying). Our Devi guide then insisted we come to his house, meet his beautiful daughter and eat some chick pea curry dinner, which we happily did.

I don't know if it was the seemingly auspicious chicken kebab (auspicious, or so I thought, because I'd been craving a kebab) or what, but our first night in Moodbidri I was wrenched from peaceful slumber by the contents of my guts staging a mass exodus. The exodus was to continue throughout the next day, but I wasn't to be deterred from heading to Kodyadka, a nearly town with a Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) temple. The bus ride there helped raise my awareness of just how many people are in India. The 40 minutes ride was spent crushed between sari clad old women telling me to 'watch my person', a throng of Indian men and a Catholic nun. At the temple, in addition to another guide, this time a shirtless man with a grey afro and Coke-bottle glasses, we were also given a free feed (which didn't help my tummy), allowed to gaze at a massive statue of Hanuman (61 feet!!!) and watched a very talented elephant. Despite my being unwell, the elephant alone made the visit well worth it.

The next day, fortified with antibiotics and a lassi, we caught the bus to Udupi, one of the Tulu seven centres of salvation and home to a very famous Krishna temple. Upon arrival and after checking into our room, we headed out and wandered around the Krishna temple, then caught the bus to Malpe Beach. At the beach, Rohan was lucky enough to go for a swim. I suppose I could have joined him, but with a cast of thousands of curious, pervy and staring Indian men, I decided Malpe Beach wasn't ready for my string bikini. The few women at the beach were wading in the water up to their knees, but not a salwar kameez or sari was hiked up, just left to get wet rather than expose the oh-so-sexy ankles or calves. When Ro finishd his swim, we had a couple of beers (the luxury of this must be understood within the context that in Kerala, drinking is a sinful thing, only to be done quickly in bars with blacked out windows, on filthy tables and closed-in private booths, leaving one feeling like she's really rubbing elbows with the dirty underbelly of society). After a couple of beers, we walked down the beach and watched the sunset, then met a Danish guy motorcycling around India for four weeks. We chatted with him, shared dinner and a bit of his Jagermeister. Before we knew it, it was 11:00 and Rohan and I gathered ourselves together to make the 9 kilometres back to Udupi and our hotel. What we'd lost sight of was that in the India we've seen thus far, everything shuts up and closes down after 10:00pm. Unfortunately this includes all forms of transport apart from privately owned and operated vehicles, of which there are few in a small beach town. While the romance of sleeping on the beach was appealing, the reality of mangey packs of dogs and the potential of getting mugged made the situation somewhat less that ideal. Fortunately as we were discussing our options, our saviours pulled up in the form of two guys riding motorcycles headed for Udupi. A moonlit, pleasantly warm, flower scented, palm tree lined motorcycle saw us safely delivered to the doorstep of our hotel.

No matter where we've gone in India (apart from where we are now and Cochin), we seem to have celebrity status. Be in a touristy place or not, we get stared at, giggled about and questioned incessantly. This has advantages in that we are well taken care of by people (even when we don't necessarily want to be) and treated kindly, but as with every wilver lining, there's a cloud: we answer the same 20 questions between 10-20 times a day, everything we do in public, be that washing our hands, drinking water, eating or even breathing, is closely scrutinised and anonymity is an impossibility. To combat this cloud, Rohan and I have come up wit a brilliant idea (currently under patent) that no foreigner in Asia should be without: the Foreigner's Collector Card. It's like a business card crossed with an auto-graphed photo. This way, those who stare have something to gaze at long after the foreigner has gone, those who have questions may get all the info they desire and those who wish to be photographed with the foreigner will be directed to a URL where they can photo-shop themselves into a photo. The biographical information will include such items as the foreigners good name, marital status, likes and dislikes. It can be altered to suit the Asian country you are traveling to, but along with passport, money, antibiotics and camera, you should leave home without them.

After Udupi we headed to Kollur, a small pilgrim village with a temple devoted to Ganesh (the patron god of scholars, writers and thieves, the one with the elephant head). We checked into our 60 rupee room and readied ourselves to go trekking the next morning. At 7:30 the alarm went off and hopped on a bus to take us to the beginning of the trek up Kondachadri mountain. The trek was beautiful, quiet and quite strenuous. 5 hours later we got to the end of the trek, to the guest house we were assured there was no need to pre-book for because they have plenty of rooms, only to find they were full. We could pay 250 rupees for a small room with a concrete floor for a bed, we could hike back down the way we'd just come up or we could hope some nice Indian family would make room for us in their already over-crowded Jeep. The latter option seemed preferable, but hindsight reveals the reality of that choice: cramming Rohan, myself and our packs in with 8 adults and 3 children. In this way, we headed down what could loosely be described as a road, made up in equal parts of boulders and pot holes, with one side bordered by mountain and the other by a sheer drop of never fewer than 100 metres. Add in hairpin turns, pilgrim jeeps approaching from the opposite direction and a maniac driver hellbent on scaring the life out of the foreigners and one may understand by both Ro and I were wishing we'd just walked down ourselves. All the meanwhile, the Indian family, seven adults and three children (the driver was the only one remaining awake) fell into a deep and restful slumber.

Decided we were ready for some beach relaxation, we took three buses, two auto-rickshaws and a 20 minute walk to reach Paradise Beach, Go Karna. It's a small beach within a cove, surrounded by rock cliffs. There are a handful of hippy tourists, beach huts to accommodate them and restaurants to feed them. As nice as it is, the huts all had shared walls (and by walls I mean woven together palm leaves) with rooms on either side, so instead of having a charming little beach hut all to yourself, you're sharing a room separated by a leaf curtain with eight or so people, all sneezing, burping and snoring away. The price was right, 80 rupees, by to really relax we felt a little more privacy was in order.

We made the move to Kudle Beach, to a place that while it costs a fair bit more, offers luxuries we haven't gotten to enjoy since Australia: four solid walls, towels, a shower and a toilet of our very own, a fan, lights and an extra luxury - a view fo the ocean from our pillow. To walk to the ocean is merely a few dozen steps and even at night with the doors and windows shut, we can hear the gentle rolling of the waves. It's the most relaxing place we've been in since Thailand and an amazing haven in such a busy country. India has everything.

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