Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pictures Goa the second time/Istanbul

Goa the second time/ the final adventure

the much anticipated return to goa began early at 5:30 am. we rolled to the train station in our last rickshaw ride. after 8 hours or so we were back in Goa where we headed back to our bungalow in Varca. The next couple days we enjoyed a few more scooter rides along with delicious meals, drinks, and conversation. our venture southwards towards Palolem began early with a short ferry ride and then a drive along the coastal road stopping at the beaches on the way. One stop was Agonda beach, quiet, empty and nice waves. Then we reached Palolem with its dense palms along the beach, pubs, restaurants, and bus-loads of Israelis. We walked the length of the beach and then enjoyed some delicious iced cappuccinos on fake leather sofas overlooking the sea. Our next stop was just a few minutes south to quiet Patnem beach. A world away from Palolem although they are adjacent coves. After a dip we hopped back on the scooter and took the bumpy highway all the way back to Varca. The next couple days were spent relaxing and in good conversation with Archie and Jane along with several delicious meals in between.

We left Goa on a (late) internal flight to Mumbai, at which point we had to get to the train station downtown where we had left our luggage. Unfortunately there was rioting in the streets, so we took a free shuttle to the nearest train station and took a train downtown. A quick retrieval later we got into a cab which sped back to the airport in record time (in order to avoid rocks being thrown at cabs)...there we had a wait until 4 am to board our flight to Istanbul. A sleep later we arrived in Turkey, and with a long layover, we headed out into the city. A lunch, Sultanahmet, Aya Sofia, baklava, turkish coffee and subway ride later, we were back in the airport for our flight home!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pictures Hampi

Hampi

With one more destination we wanted to see, we reluctantly left Goa to go eastward to Hampi...as luck would have it, we would pull one last 3am-er. We left Varca by walking 2 kilometers, hitching a ride with a hotel bus and finally getting a quick local bus to Margao. Let's start by clarifying that local= overcrowded with seats too small for the western behind. From there it was a local bus to Hubli. We bumped through the countryside and 8 hours later ( at 6pm) we made it to Hubli, tired but motivated to get to our destination. It took quite a while for us to get a straight answer, but eventually we were directed to the train station where we waited for a local train leaving at 11pm...within 4 hours we were in Hospet and a rickshaw ride later we made it to Hampi. Phew!
Hampi is situated on a river about 15 meters wide, which all but about 2 meters of it can be crossed by foot i.e. you gotta take a boat. the boat operator is maybe 12 years old and orders you to pay him the 10 rupees(plus an extra 5 for a bag). once on the other side "Hampi Island" you are welcomed with 15 guesthouses/restaurants as well as the impressive boulders surrounding the area. So the next morning we cross over to hampi island, only to be stranded there for quite a while after checking into a guest house because the kid was on lunch break...When we finally made it back we explored Hampi's religious center and the Virupaksha temple. Hampi was capital of the Vijayanagar Hindu civiization in the 13th to 16th centuries and the town is full of ruins roughly divided into a religious area and the royal center. The town today occupies the main bazaar area. We returned to Hampi Island for the night and the next day set out exploing the royal center.
The ruins are incredibly spread out and with the scorching heat we decided to rent a scooter in order to see them, only to get a bike with no petrol. So after an 11 km detour to Hospet to get petrol we finally got to see the sites. Hampi is also known for its incredible boulders and that night on the Island we met a friend that had come to town to go bouldering.
Our last day we decided to go for a walk. Hampi's ruins and boulders are set amongst banana fields and palm trees making for quite a beautiful, if hot, walk. We set off to Anegundi to see more ruins supposedly and realized it was all a farse...a little temple here and there and we were ready to bolt back to Varca...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pictures Goa the first time

Pictures Udaipur/Mumbai

Pictures Jaipur/Pushkar

Read the post HERE
at Jantar Mantar observatory, Jaipur





at the Palace, Jaipur



view from Hawa Mahal, Jaipur



Jaipur traffic

Pushkar monkey

Muesli breakfast at Little Italy

Pushkar camel


Pushkar from above


with the no-show train in Ajmer

Monday, October 20, 2008

Goa the first time

Our beach vacation had begun the evening we arrived in Margao, Goa's main train station, and were taken to our guest house on Colva beach. Next morning we awoke to find that the beach was full of fisherman, fishing nets, and fish, so we began walking down the beach looking for a more suitable place to get settled and hoping for destiny to intervene. As the midday sun was scorching we turned off towards the main road looking for a rickshaw to take us back to Colva. There at the edge of Benaulim, Michael saw a western couple next to a jeep heading in our same direction. Archie and Jane manage some vacation homes and just a few hours later (following Michael's first steak on the trip) we would find ourselves in a poolside bungalow on Varca beach living luxuriously. The following day our scooter arrived and we promptly began exploring our immediate surroundings, driving south to Cavelossim and Mobor. There we had a delicious seafood lunch and saw some of Goa's more refined resorts. That evening we had some poolside appetizers and a veritable feast delivered to our AC'd home from Toncia, the restaurant 100 meters down the road: shrimp, calamari, steak, salad, and fries galore (only to be followed by a chocolate bomb a la Briel). Not ones to miss churches when they are around, the next day we took the scooter on the "highway" to Panjim, Goa's capital where Portuguese sailors would land. Then we continued to Old Goa to see Goa's important cathedrals and in particular St. Francis Xavier, who brought Christianity to the region and whose body has been miraculously kept intact. We had a real relaxing day at the beach so that the following day we could go on yet another day-trip to the Tropical Spice Farm. The ride east took us through lush jungle. There we got a tour of the various spice plants and their medicinal uses. This was a great adult field trip and the tour culminated with a delicious local buffet.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mumbai

the trek from Udaipur to Mumbai was one of our longest. 18 hours on the train could have been a lot worse but we both slept a good deal and arrived in Bombay in fairly good shape. After arriving we took the local train to southern Mumbai- Colaba, where most hotels are and a good place to begin exploring the massive city. First goal was to eat. We are still not sure what exactly it was but we believe the restarant attempted to drug us because after trying a few spoonfuls of our tasty thali we started feeling really "spacy". we bolted out of there and instead grabbed a 6 inch from the Subway next door. It's good the record franchises around the world paid off for us. By the time we checked the few decent budget hotels in the area we had to settle in to our mot overpriced accomodation to date. we only had 2 nights so whatever. we started the morning as we strolled north from Colaba, passed by the Jewish Synagogue and continued walking along the Oval Maiden where swarms of people were playing crcket, besides the University of Mumbai and the british colonial inspired buildings that comprise it. We arrived at the High Court, and were allowed to wander among the courtrooms and offices. It was a weekend but there were still some patrons here and there. We shared a table with some local Mumbayans at a nice restaurant across the street from the Railway Station which is a grandiose building and is itself a main attraction. We were tipped to go to Crawford Market which is pure mayhem. A crowded, loud, not really a market, area of commerce chased us away. Back in Colaba we visited India Gate along the water where the boardwalk was once agin swarming with people and then had a small dinner. We then packed our bags once more, as we were headed for the beach!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jaipur/Pushkar/Udaipur

The next week of our trip was marked by a desert landscape, festivals, and several superlatives. Unable to book a Shatabdi (the king of all trains) we settled for a regular train that brought us to Jaipur in Rajasthan. The hotel we had called sent us a commission seeking rickshaw to wait for us at the station and bring us to the hotel. Immediately we could tell that we had entered an era of old with ornate decorations hinting at the desert beauty to come.
Jantar Mantar observatory
Next morning we went to explore the "pink city". First we visited the Jantar Mantar, an obervatory built to calculate various astronomical and astrological measures. The structures were baffling to us but quite beautiful nonetheless. From there we crossed the street and entered the Palace. The audio guide took us on a nice tour of mostly textiles and arms. By this time of the afternoon we were famished and following a lunch at a gritty hole in the wall we were walking down the street when we saw a large crowd of people. An indication that something good was around we walked over and had the best lassi in all of India. We had several thereafter, consecutively. Then we walked into the Hawa Mahal, a tower-like structure where the ladies of the court could look down at the commoners in the city below. A great view later we headed back towards the hotel. The next day all-forted-out we decided to forego another day trip for some bazaar exploration. It was great to walk around in a city with so much character and interesting vendors. We topped off the day with some shopping and some more lassi's.
M with badam lassi
The next morning we took a bus southwest to Ajmer and from there a local bus to Pushkar, a Hindu holy city. The next couple of days we spent walking around the small town and preparing for Rosh Hashannah buying new clothes, getting haircuts, etc. For most of our meals we could be found at a place called Little Italy which served the best muesli in India, a decent pizza, and generous deserts. The eve of Rosh Hashannah we spent at Chabad House with 400 other Israelis. It was an interesting and somewhat strange experience.

the walk up to Savriti Temple, Pushkar
Early the next morning we climbed up to Savriti Temple (Brahma's first wife) to see a great view of Pushkar from above and the surrounding desert. We descended to see the temple dedicated to Brahma himself, one of the only Brahma temples in the world. Then we heard the shofar at Chabad and caught our bus heading back to Ajmer. In the train station at Ajmer we discovered after a delay that our train was being canceled. They gave us our money back and said good luck. After dinner we jumped on a night bus to Udaipur which stopped at every bus station on the way until dumping us at our destination at 3am. Somehow a kind rickshaw driver found us and dropped us at our hotel for a fair price.

Jagdish Temple, Udaipur
The next day we visited the Jagdish Temple in the center of the Udaipur old city. The temple was white and intricately carved and our favorite on this trip. Just down the road from the temple is the massive City Palace and museum. We walked around the complex for several hours learning about the history and appreciating the art and artifacts displayed in the rooms. Udaipur sits on the beautiful man made lake Piccola. We crossed the bridge onto the other side to visit a rooftop cafe for lunch and get nice views of the palace on the lake.  We went back to our side in time to see people dancing in the courtyards in celebration of the 9 day Navriti festival. 

Udaipur alley
The following day we wandered out of the tourist area and into the back roads and alleyways of Udaipur. We enjoyed the relatively peaceful nature of the city and the intricate wall paintings adorning many houses. Apparently it was Ghandi's birthday and many had the day off. For lunch we had a Rajasthani all you can eat Thali. Dirty men come around and refill your tin cups with potato, lentils, spinach, etc until you are stuffed. That evening we went to see a cultural show at the Bagre Ki Haveli, a traditional style mansion. The show included singing, dancing, puppet show, and the impressive 10-pot head balancing act. We rushed to our train en route to Mumbai (Bombay)...as the Muslims were coming out to celebrate the ending of Ramadan.