Saturday, November 30, 2013

A New Tandem Paragliding Season Begins

Another season of tandem paragliding has begun at Arambol Beach in Goa.  So far I've had 30+ flights, a bit slower start to the season than last year but that is in part due to a late leaving monsoon this season.

If you or anyone you know is going to be in Arambol this year, come on out for a flight!

You can find more details at:


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pausing, Playing & Pizzas in Palolem

Sept. 12th-20th, 2013

Similar as to how we had arrived in Hampi, we had an early morning train back to Goa leaving from Hospet.  Since the little ferry boats crossing the river don’t start early enough for us to catch the train, we arranged to take a rickshaw the long way around to Hospet, about an hour’s drive.  The afternoon before we left, the river level rose a lot due to recent rains and the ferry boats had stopped.  Later we realized that we could be trapped by the water so we quickly packed up and went down to the normally dry crossing by the old aqueduct.  Just hours before we had driven this route on the bike coming back from Huligi but now a boat would be required to cross the 30-40 feet of water.  Luckily the resourceful locals arranged a coracle boat to paddle us across by flashlight for 100 rupees.  We were dropped at a modern looking hotel in Hospet, modern if the year was still 1974.  Oh well, we’d only be spending 7 hours there.

Since we arrived back in Margao, which is near the south of Goa, we decided to head to Palolem Beach for at least a week before traveling up to Arambol for the remainder of Naomi’s vacation.  We opted for the same guesthouse the “Soul Mate” that we had stayed at last year.  Almost immediately we began to run into the same Israelis that we had shared Rosh Hashanah dinner with, starting with Ron, Yael and their two sons, Bar and Shaked.  This isn’t uncommon as many backpackers, especially Israelis, follow the same general paths in their travels.

Almost every late morning we had brunch at the Cafe Inn, a busy hive for the many Israelis, and man could they make a good roast beef sandwich!  The weather still had a taste of monsoon in it so we did experience some rain mixed with sun.  Our days were mainly on the beach, walking, sitting in Fernandes Restaurant playing cards or Candy Crush (damn addictive game), or playing some Matkot.  Matkot is an Israeli beach game somewhat akin to tennis.  Naomi kindly brought a set for me from Israel with the two wooden rackets and a squash ball.  The idea is just to keep hitting it back and forth as long as possible.  It’s supposedly quite the rage on Israeli beaches and I can see why.  We played a few of our games with an interesting and energetic Israeli guy Nadav, and I was most impressed by Dror’s ability, he made everyone look like better players.

Making some new four legged friends:

I guess he's wondering if they serve beef in this restaurant:

Nice Indian man with his best friends:

Cute little Leo:

Nadav and Naomi playing Matkot:

Some rainy weather:

With our favourite waitress in the Cafe Inn:

One day we rented a scooter to cruise to the rustic Cola Beach, another location we’d visited last year but worth a second look.  The only other few souls on the quiet beautiful beach were lifeguards and a fisherman.  The weather was a bit odd though with sun shining and yet a sprinkling of rain from wispy clouds that had already passed by.

Some water buffaloes were taking advantage of a cool pond by the road on the way to Cola Beach:

And it's hard to see, but frogs were taking advantage of the buffalo's head for a dry spot to sit:

Who doesn't like to pet a cow?

Leo throwing it down with another puppy in the Cafe Inn:

Many of our dinners were at one of two Italian restaurants located a stone’s throw it was pizza pizza pizza for me.

A sunset battle - head to head:

Even nicer without the cows in the way...

Okay, after 9 days it was time to head on to Arambol.  We hired a taxi to take 6 of us across rainy Goa for 2200 rupees, hopefully the weather will be better there.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Celebrities in Huligi

Sept. 10th, 2013

Our tour guide Kumar had told us that there was a big festival in a small town 20 kilometres from Hampi and being templed out we decided to rent a bike and go check it out.  Supposedly many animals were going to be slaughtered for a big feast and that wasn’t what we (well really Naomi) wanted to see but we figured that there must be other activities going on.

It was a gorgeous ride through the countryside and the further away from Hampi we got, the warmer reception we received from the kids of small villages along the way.  So many hellos and Namastes from smiling little school children, seemingly delighted to see foreigners.  After asking for directions a couple of times, we rolled into the busy, dusty and dirty centre of Huligi.  We drove down a wide street lined with shops and dhaba with the main temple at the end of it.

As we parked our bike it was quite obvious the attention we were garnering being the only white people around.  Even a friendly policeman sitting at a checkpoint welcomed us and asked where we were from.  Our progress in and through the temple was hampered by the number of Indians wanting their photo with us.  We’ve experienced this before but usually the Indians have their own camera and snap a pic but this time they wanted us to take it with Naomi’s SLR camera and then look at it afterwards.  Some posed with big smiles while others donned a very serious look, even with some prodding they wouldn’t break out a grin.

Approaching the temple:

Ganesha standing on guard:

Almost all smiles:


Naomi with the ladies:

We removed our flip flops and wandered around the temple courtyard.  Many people were queuing up to go into some central building but we were unsure what was inside.  Then this group came around the corner with one man who would lie on the ground on his stomach with his arms outstretched in front of him, seemingly mutter a few prayers and then get up again, walk a few steps and repeat.  While this was happening, 3-4 followers carrying jugs would pour some water from the nearby river on the ground in front of the worshipper....odd.

The strange ritual:

Walking away from the temple and down to a fast running river we saw another lady doing the same religious parade.  There were hordes of people enjoying the river: picnicking, bathing, washing clothes.  Once again we were celebrities and picture after picture was taken.

Cute girls:

This girl reminded me of that famous National Geographic cover photo from 20 some years ago of an Afghan girl with piercing green eyes:

The Kool Gang:

Not sure if the shirtless guy was trying to look tough, or a little chilly:

Boys will be boys: 

I love the head rubbing:

We walked back towards the temple and took a path that seemed to skirt around the main area which we took as we hoped to have a relatively quick exit from the photo taking.  Well we paid the price for it with a lovely visual that was presented to us: a little boy was squatting down doing his business, which was bad enough but then a dog was consuming it!  Yikes!  Yuck!  Disgusting!  But talk about recycling in action...

A parting shot from Huligi:

We were only in Huligi about an hour but to be honest it was pretty draining...but a nice (apart from the poo) and truer Indian experience.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Templing Part Two & A Happy Elephant God

Sept. 8th, 2013

Naomi and I thought we’d have a relatively relaxed Sunday but we decided to cross the river and walk through Virupaksha Temple which dominates the centre of Hampi.  After some breakfast in the Mango Tree we wandered to the temple just 50 some metres away.  It began to rain so we hung out for a bit in the covering of the entrance and who would walk up but Kumar, our tour guide from the other day.  We asked if he’d give us a short walking tour of the temple and adjoining Hema Hill and the various structures on it.  He agreed but told us that the main temple was closing in 15 minutes for a couple of hours for the lunch period.  We decided to go for it, paid our 10 rupee entrance fee plus 50 for taking photos and scrambled in.  Before entering the inner area, you have to take off your shoes.  With the myriad of animals walking around inside: cows, monkeys, Laxmi the have to pay heed as to where you step and not think about it too much.

Three men and a dog watching life go by:

The entrance to Virupaksha:

Some others hiding from the rain in the entrance:

We did a quick round of the temple and I definitely learned more this time from Kumar than my last visit with no guide.  We began up the neighbouring hill, Hema Hill, which is a massive pieces of rock that is nicely rounded.  Here and there are some small temple buildings.  Kumar, with the help of a little strategic questioning from us, gave us more of a lesson on Hinduism than all of the specifics of the buildings and carvings.  I found the stories interesting but so fanciful and I help but feel a confirmation of my growing feeling of how strange and farcical the backgrounds of today’s religions are.  Sorry if I’m offending anyone, but we’re all entitled to our opinion.

A cow enjoying the temple:

And monkeys doing the same:

 Naomi receiving a blessing from Laxmi:

Worth the 50 rupees!

A structure (ancient phone booth?) on Hema Hill: 

Yay us!  Feeling a bit like the Flintstones.

Hello Ganesh

The busy boat ride back at the end of the day:

The next morning we met up with Kumar for our rickshaw tour of some outlying temples (after our mandatory Mango Tree breakfast).  We began with the furthest away temple and technically the star of today’s show, the Vittala Temple with its stone chariot which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The rickshaw was parked about a kilometre away and we hopped on a super long golf cart to be shuttled to the temple.  Along the straight gravel road were fallen down and leaning columns along with some nice horses owned by some nomads that were in the area.

Sadly I can't remember the name of this guy but he's like the third incarnation of Shiva or something...and he was my favourite statue:

Just as I had experienced at the Taj Mahal, another UNESCO site, foreigners have to fork out 500 rupees ($8-9) while Indians only pay 10 rupees to get in.  I’m totally okay with this and in fact think it’s a good idea.  It allows most Indians the ability to see the major attractions in their county and this is additionally important as very few Indians will be fortunate to have the opportunity to experience international travel.

There weren’t many people in the temple which was a large open courtyard with a stone wall perimeter and a number of small rock buildings with one in the centre and the others spaced around it.  The chariot was near the entrance but before we snapped pics with it, Kumar showed us probably the coolest aspect of the temple.  The stone columns holding up the roof of one structure have these smaller columns on the side of them and if you put your ear to one, the others could be played musically by tapping your finger on it.  Naomi and I listened in as Kumar hammered out some rhythm.

Kumar and me at the famed chariot:

An ancient tree near the centre temple:

Everyone looks better with sunglasses, flowers behind their ear and horses in the background:

Check out the centipede!

Next was the Queen’s Bath, back towards Hampi which was a massive structure some royal lady from some 500 years ago used to clean up and she could even work on her breaststroke as the bath was so big.  We visited another large ruin/temple site and then on to the Lotus Temple with its accompanying Royal Elephant Stables.  I think Naomi and I were getting “templed” out at this point and it worked out well that this lawyer couple from London, Jesse and Hannah, to whom we’d recommended Kumar to as a guide, showed up and basically we tagged out and they carried on.

The Queen's Bath:

It's a bit empty though:

Up on what seemed like a shaved off pyramid, with storm clouds looming:

We were slight celebrities:

Naomi capturing the Lotus Temple:

The Elephant Stables:

Don't ask...

Cool, another big bug!

Although tired, we decided to hike up Hemakuta Hill which we had skirted by the other day going to Achyutaraya Temple and is about a kilometre away from the big temple of Virupaksha.  It has a wonderful 360 degree view of the area and was worth the 10 minute hike up.  There were dark clouds and obvious rain falling in the distance but thankfully we were fine.

Looking down to Achyutaraya Temple:

Towards the water reservoir and the river:


Naomi contemplating life:

The main temple in town is just left of center:

We hooked up with Jesse and Hannah that evening to take a rickshaw to the previously visited Anegundi village.  Tonight was Ganesha Chaturthi, the big celebration of one of the most revered Hindu gods.  Kumar had told us the story of Ganesha and I’ll try to tell it accurately but there may be some mistakes, and who knows if what Kumar said is what supposedly happened as there are many theories.  Two of the main Hindu gods, Shiva and his wife Parvati, are involved.  Shiva left Parvati for a long time to go and pray somewhere distant.  Parvati was unknowingly pregnant and gave birth to a boy, Ganesha.  The boy grew up.  Parvati seemed to like taking long showers and she was concerned that someone might come in and see her so she had Ganesha stand out at the front gate and keep guard. Shiva returned unannounced and when he was refused entrance to see his beloved wife by this young boy, he chopped off his head, not knowing that it was his son.  Parvati told him and Shiva raced off to find another head for Ganesha from the first animal he would find, and what did he find?  An Elephant.  An hence this god with an elephant head that is one of the most popular with the Hindus as he promises prosperity for believers.

Ganesh Chaturthi is the annual celebration of Ganesh and typically households or groups make or buy a statue of Ganesh which they keep in their home for days culminating in the release him into a large body of water, be it the ocean, a river or a lake.  Various castes celebrate for a different number of days and also have their peak night at differing times.  This means lots of fireworks, lady finger firecrackers and happy people over the course of a week or more but tonight was supposed to be the peak for Anegundi.
Immediately after arriving, we walked into a welcoming house with quite a display of various coloured lights, all types of flowers, a big Ganesha statue and many happy Indians.  A roped off walkway led us in and we were offered tikkas (a smear of coloured powder on your forehead between your eyes), to throw some grains of rice at Ganesh and then a palm full of this sweet, white powdered stuff that I can’t say I could finish so I serendipitously dumped it behind me.

The entrance to our first house:

Our first Ganesha:

Trying out the sweet stuff: 

Ganesh and all his buddies, the Justice League of Hinduism:

We continued from celebrating house to celebrating house littered around town including one with some young teenage boys busting a move to some energetic music.  We couldn’t help but jump in...this is what visiting foreign places is about, soaking up the experience.  What a great evening.

Everybody's got their take on Ganesh:

Naomi posing with a happy bunch:

Gettin' down with the locals:

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!