Monthly Archives: June 2016

21 – Karma Police

So back to the seaside, then. We loaded our bags on the roof of a beaten-up SUV and waved goodbye to Hampi. There were seven of us in the car.  Besides Fede and Laura who I knew already, there was Katherine from the USA, Roey from Israel and Miriela from Venezuela.  Then there was the driver, of course; a man in his 40s with red-raw eyes and a never-ending supply of paan, which he would spit out of the window in great red gobbets as he drove with the reckless abandon of the extremely tired or the dangerously unhinged. We made it to the coast in six hours, give or take. The bus takes twelve, but I think for hour saved the terror of the journey probably knocked a good day or so off my life expectancy. We all had a go at him to slow down after he hit a speed bump at about 80km/h, but he was heedless, continuing to overtake on every blind corner, mile after mile. Eventually I stopped worrying about it and concentrated on talking to the other passengers.  I chatted a lot to Miriela, who was sitting next to me. She cut through the small-talk with a barrage of personal questions, and since I found myself giving honest, personal answers, we were friends before we reached the coast.  She’d been in India for a few months already, and Nepal before that.  She used to work in high level corporate jobs in New York and London, but she’d been travelling the world for a couple of years, now.  She was quick to laugh and she had a wonderful Latina accent like Gloria from Modern Family.  I liked her a lot.  In fact I liked everyone in that car except for the driver.  I suppose it was the sharing of so many near-death experiences in such a short time, but the journey was a strong bonding experience for all of us.

20160218_150313

Stopped for thali in Hubli. This is the only picture I took.

We got stopped by a police roadblock on the way into Gokarna, and were ordered out of the car by two tubby cops with moustaches. They hustled us into a little hut by the road and searched us comprehensively, giving me special attention, no doubt on account of my beard and my Goan hippy clothes. I wasn’t too bothered, accept that for the last ten minutes or so I had had an insistent rumbling in my gut that spelled trouble, and now, as a man with a gun jiggled my private parts looking for contraband, it became clear that I would absolutely have to go within the next couple of minutes. This didn’t help my cause, because I started looking all sweaty and nervous. I managed to keep control through that ordeal, but then as the others climbed back into the taxi, I knew the moment of crisis had arrived. The road was lined with market stalls selling fruit and vegetables, but no bars or anywhere that looked like it might have a toilet. I turned back to the cops, but they just shrugged and shook their heads.

I scampered gingerly down a nearby alleyway and round the back of an Ayurvedic clinic where there was a little no-mans land of thorny bushes and broken bottles. It wasn’t perfect, but I was running out of time. I got myself as out of sight as possible, hunkered down and let nature take its violent course. One of my golden rules in India is never to go anywhere without toilet roll and anti-bacterial handwash, and I’ve never been so glad of it as I was then.

Feeling tremendously relieved, I returned to the taxi and we drove the last couple of miles to Kudle Beach, a crescent shaped stretch of sand about a kilometre long, closed in on either side by high rocky crags. I’d been in touch with Jess, Jack, Eve and Mike. They’d reserved me a room in their guesthouse, Shangrila, but I didn’t know if there would be room for all six of us, so we split up to reconnoitre, with the others checking the places close to the beach entrance, and me sweating my way along the sand with my bags and guitar as the sun started to sink towards the horizon. I was nearly at the far end when I heard someone calling my name, and turning, I saw my English friends bobbing around in the sea. They waded ashore and gave me damp hugs and took me off to show me my room. I was excited to be reunited with them, but I wanted to see how the others were getting on with finding a place to stay, so I soon set off back down the beach in search of my deathcab buddies.

P1010315

They too had decided to go for a swim and for the second time in half an hour I found myself being called out to from the waves. I stripped down to my undies and waded out to them.

Miri, Fede, Laura and Katherine had found a small room with mattresses on the floor for a mere 150rs each in the back of another of the beach bars, while Roey was staying at Shangrila with his friend Effie. The sun had set by now, but the sky was a dusty purple, and the sea was warm and glimmering like an infinitely faceted jewel of every colour that exists. Standing there in the water, being lifted by the gentle waves, I wondered how could I have harboured any doubts about returning to the Arabian sea. It was glorious.

P1010292

20 – Skippin’ Town

There was never a plan.  From the beginning I had been letting myself go where the wind happened to blow.  It had taken me to the Himalayas, to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to dancing on the beach in Goa, and it had lately brought me to Hampi.  But now I was without direction.   I’d heard of a yoga ashram, Sivananda, near Trivandrum in the deep south of Kerala, about a thousand kilometres away.   I’ve been practising yoga sporadically for the last few years, but it’s been more off than on, and I hadn’t done so much as a sun salutation since I got to India.  Still, I thought it might be interesting to go and take a look, and besides my friend Kruti was there for a month, working as a yoga teaching assistant and it would be nice to see her.  My English mates Eve, Mike, Jack and Jess had shipped off to Gokarna; a beachy place on the Karnatakan coast.  Sigrid was heading there too.  I was sad to see them go but there was still sand in my bag from three weeks in Goa, and I hadn’t really come to India for beach-life, nice though it was.

Staying inland, Bangalore was a mere 15 hour bus ride away.  Not so far in Indian terms, but Delhi was still fresh in my mind and I wasn’t really keen on the idea of a big city at the moment.  By the same token I ruled out going northwest to Mumbai, which was anyway in the wrong direction.   A friend from Arambol had messaged me saying she was heading to Kodaikanal in the hills of Tamil Nadu.  I had a look in the guidebook and it sounded nice; hills, trees, mist, cold air – actually it sounded a bit like home.  It would be a long journey of at least a couple of days, but it seemed like the best option.

With no clear goal though, and with the condition of my gut keeping me from straying very far from the toilet, I found myself idling; dozing in a hammock, reading books, making friends with dogs, talking to other travellers and playing Carom.  Carom is played on a square wooden board greased with boric acid powder.  You use your fingers to flick a little ceramic puck around a wooden board greased with boric acid powder, trying to knock smaller, chequers-like pieces into pockets in the four corners of the board.  There are rules about where you can shoot from and how to score points, but that’s the game in a nutshell.  It’s a bit like Pool.  I learned it from a young Chilean guy with dark hair and bright blue eyes named Federico.  Not one for bouldering, Fede could usually be found at the table, along with a blond, Danish guy called Karl, his Belgian travel-buddy Cesar, and another lad called Shiva, who came from Greenwich in London.  They were a friendly bunch, and after some beginner’s luck, their banter kept me at the table despite a run of terrible form which followed me from defeat to bruising defeat (though I did manage to lure both Shiva and Fede onto a chess board, where I took my revenge).

20160216_121348

Karl, Cesar, Shiva and Fede playing Carom

This was all very well, but I wasn’t really sure what I was accomplishing here in Hampi besides losing weight and developing slightly better hand-eye coordination.

Accomplishing.  Walking the Camino de Santiago in 2014 I had had a well-defined sense of purpose.  Besides the overall sense of a destination, the day by day routine of walking, eating and sleeping meant that I very rarely felt the need to question what it was I thought I was doing, and anyway on days when I felt my focus slipping, I could rely on other pilgrims to provide me with whatever resolve I needed.  Out here it was very different.  Not that I wasn’t enjoying myself, and maybe I didn’t have to be accomplishing anything at all, actually, but old habits die hard, and having made the decision to leave my ordinary life behind for a while, I had a growing feeling that what I was now doing was insufficiently worthy.  I wasn’t even doing much writing (you may have noticed that I’m a very long way behind on this blog).

Anyway, eventually I figured it was probably time I looked into getting out of here, so one late morning I set off in the direction of the village to visit a travel agent.  I hadn’t gone far when I bumped into Fede, Shiva and Karl on their way to meet Laura and a couple of others for lunch.  They too were planning to consult the travel agent, so I tagged along.  We took a shortcut through some plantations, ending up at the Laughing Buddha; a classic traveller hangout overlooking the river, with low tables and mattresses and brightly coloured hangings depicting Shiva and Bob Marley.  I lay down against a cushion, ordered a plate of rice with curd, and reflected on how wretched I felt.  Kodaikanal seemed a long, long way away and the thought of even a single overnight bus ride was making me feel more ill than ever.  Fede and Laura were talking about hiring a taxi to go to Gokarna the next day and it came out that they might have space for one more person if they could find a six-seater (which would be as cheap and faster than the bus).  I volunteered straightaway; a few more days on a beach wasn’t going to kill me, after all, and being able to stop a taxi at will to relieve myself on the side of the road was appealing in a slightly pessimistic way.

There was a lot I hadn’t seen of Hampi.  The ruins go on for miles, and I hadn’t even made it to the Sri Virupaksha temple right across the river in Hampi Bazaar or seen its celebrated temple elephant having a bath on the ghats of the river (which apparently happens twice a day).  But I was keen to be on the move again.  There was so much yet to see of this curious and wonderful country; infinitely more than I had time for.

P1000999

The Road Not Taken – Sri Virupaksha Temple

And it didn’t feel like that at the time, but I had accomplished a fair amount during the time I was in Hampi: I had seen sunrises and sunsets on the ruins and rocks, I had tried my hand at bouldering (much easier once I had proper shoes), I had ridden a scooter and visited the birthplace of a Hindu god, swum in the river and learned to play Carom, had my hair cut by a nervous tattoo artist, and (perhaps most of all) I had made friends with some lovely people.  It wasn’t too shabby at all.