Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finishing the Monsoon

August, 2012

Arriving back in Arambol Beach in Goa, I was surprised by the relatively decent weather.  June and July are the heaviest months of rain but I remember a stint last year of 9 days in August when the sun never showed its face.  Thankfully that didn’t seem to be the case this least for the first half of August.

I was also surprised that one of the regulars during the tourist season was already here, Juan from Chile.  I’ve written about Juan before and he’s quite the character although he does like his “Tooki Tooki” (rum) a bit too much but he’s a very talented musician.  Juan greeted me with a warm hug and expressed how this was the first monsoon season in Goa and he was glad to see a friendly face.

A few new foreigners started showing up and one day as I was sitting at a table outside of Cock’s Town restaurant when two Dutch ladies came walking along the beach with their backpacks and promptly sat down with me.  Marielle and Maya had walked for over an hour along the beach from Mandrem where their taxi had let them off so they were quite pleased to sit down and have a beer...which was followed by many more over the course of the next few weeks, some of which were over serious games of Carrom or cards.  It was nice to have some new company and I acted as their local tour guide.  One day we ventured to Old Goa in a sweet retro taxi to check out the numerous churches including the mummified body of St. Francis Xavier.  For some fun amongst all of the religious seriousness of the area I made the ladies hunt for the strange painting in one church of a saint receiving a 6 foot stream of breast milk from an angel (see this previous post for a pic of it).

Our sweet taxi ride to Old Goa:

Frances, the incense loving driver who incessantly adjusted his side view mirror:

The church that houses St. Francis Xavier:

The domed church with the strange painting, just in the bottom right:

Checking out the church in Panjim, the capital of Goa:

A well deserved drink back in Arambol:

Juan being Juan charmed the ladies and especially Marielle, so much so that they wanted to get married and asked me to be the priest! (Obviously not a real marriage but something to do for fun).  The weather happened to be decent that day so I thought it would be funny to be a “paragliding priest” so I had a short flight near sunset and landed in front of them at Cock’s Town while donning a little white collar around the neck of my Hawaiian shirt.  Needless to say everyone was speechless.  I performed a little ceremony by the water with the “Power invested in Tooki Tooki” and they were a couple until “death or she leaves Arambol does them part”.  Later that night Juan entertained us with a small acoustic guitar concert after a lovely dinner at 21 Coconuts also known as “Chez Phillippes”.

Juan with his priest:

The ceremony begins:

An excited couple:

Marielle and Maya:

Juan puts on a show:

As the Dutch ladies left I met two Swiss couples: Valentin & Sarah  and Mirco and Melody, along with a long haired, bearded fellow Sakke from Finland.  Many more games of Carrom, cards and a bit of Frisbee ensued.  Now living in a modest “apartment” (really a guesthouse room with a TV, fridge and a two stove top burner) I invited the Swiss over for a pasta dinner one night and repeated a week later with Sakke over after Sarah and Valentin left India.  Fun times.

Sakke, Valentin and Sarah in a post dinner card game of Halsta:

Sarah taking a shot in a heated Carrom game:

Sarah and Valentin's departure: 

Just after Mirco and Melody left the weather turned sour.  The monsoon wasn’t finished with us yet.  It rained pretty steadily over the next week and a half with one of the first days recording over 40 millimetres in 24 hours.

There’s one aspect I love of travelling ...the lovely people you get to meet and befriend.  Thank you all for lots of fun and camaraderie.  Travel safely everyone.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kicking It in Kasol

July 24th – 27th

For my last days in northern India before I head south again, I wanted to visit my friend Panna in Kasol.  Panna is one of the managers of the Olive Garden restaurant on Arambol Beach in Goa where I’ve spent a good chunk of time.  I was hoping to see what his other seasonal job was like.  His family has another guesthouse also called “Purnima” (Full Moon) like the one in Manali where I’ve been staying for the past 3 weeks and they also have an Internet cafe/money exchange/shipping parcels/travel arrangements type office.

Panna’s older brother, Manu who also works at the Olive Garden restaurant in Goa, offered to take me in his bright red Tata Nano car (the cheapest new car in the world that ended up being a bit of a flop...thankfully so as more cars on the Indian roads would fall nicely into the “bad things” category).  Manu hadn’t seen Panna for many months so he was happy to go on a

My driver, the man Manu:

Starting into the Parvati Valley:

Driving through the valley:

I'll admit it's a super roomy car but I wouldn't want to be inside of one in an accident:

The 3+ hour drive first took us south to the city of Kullu and then east into the Parvati Valley with its raging Parvati River lined by steep mountains on both was a gorgeous drive.  Thanks Manu!  I was warmly welcomed by Panna who even offered me a free room on the top floor of their guesthouse overlooking the powerful river 100 meters away.  I felt like a VIP!

The large building it the Purnima Guesthouse where I'll be staying:

Me with the brothers, Panna on the left and Manu on the right:

Kasol is a hotbed for Israeli tourists, usually ones in their early to mid 20s who have just finished their mandatory army duty and they come to India to let off a lot of steam...or really more “a lot of smoke”.  But what I didn’t realize before was that there is a town called Manikaran 5 kilometres away that is a holy Sikh place with hot springs so there’s a constant migration of orange turbaned Sikhs either riding motorbikes adorned with orange triangular flags or stuffed into buses or even packed in the back of big trucks like cattle with a crudely constructed second level to act as beds in order to accommodate the maximum number of worshippers possible.

Panna and I had been planning a day hike on my second day but an intense thunderstorm during the night and some continuing rain in the morning put a damper on our intentions as it was a steep trail which would now be a bit treacherous.  The sun came out in the afternoon and instead I decided to walk to Manikaran.  It was a nice walk although I was stopped a few times by excited Sikhs saying “One photo?”  Sure, why not?  But it did slow my progress a bit.

The raging Parvati:

Me and my new Sikh friends...if they take photos of me, why not have them return the favour?!?

There were some precarious footbridges spanning the angry water of the Pavarti Rivers that I couldn’t help but walk on to feel Mother Nature’s power rushing by below.  As I neared Manikaran the river slowed down a bit allowing tall buildings, some 7 storeys high to be built on the side of the river along with a large rectangular pool on the opposite side and by a temple.  I could see many Sikh men dipping into the warm waters as part of some ritual cleansing.  Can’t say I was tempted to join them as the water wasn’t...well let’s just say it wasn’t crystal clear.  Manikaran itself was pretty damn ugly...especially for being a holy place.  Why don’t they clean it up a bit?

Big hotels to accommodate the incessant flow of Sikhs:

The holy bath:

Does this sign work?

Looking back at Manikaran:

The raging river:

Bit of a shaky handrail...

I left on a bus to Delhi the next day after a brief but wonderful visit with Panna which included a late night heated chess game which ended in a stalemate (I’ve never beaten him so I was pleased with that result!).  Thanks Panna!

Panna's office:

Hard at work:

My good friend Panna:

This is Manu, Panna's right hand man at the guesthouse.  This bag was given to me by Panna to bring two tandem paragliding harnesses with me and sure enough the zipper busted just before I was to catch a bus.  Quick thinking Manu just sewed up the problem...nice work man.

I then flew down to Goa where I will be for the upcoming tourist season.  My plan is to try and do some tandem paragliding so we’ll see how that goes....