wk 25 – taj, kingfisher & culture shock

Mumbai…one week late…2011 not 2008, security outside and inside the Taj, bullet holes in the window at Leopold’s, police check and chains around the Bombay gate, all adding to the general feeling that a justified nervousness remained in full force. The pleasure ride silver-plated evening horse drawn carriages, lit up with fairy lights, were an odd contrast to the cordoned-off front of the renewed Taj palace with it’s metal detector entrance.

I generally enjoy walking aimlessly around cities, it was comfortable to do almost everywhere we’ve been to date, and it felt fine in Dehli ten years ago; in Mumbai I felt uneasy even slightly off the beaten tourist track, although everyone was friendly enough. The part of the city we stayed in was much calmer than I’d expected, I only saw one rat, two cows, 3 cats, 4 horses and suprisingly no mosquitoes.

Aside from the Taj, newish airports, and a few completely modern buildings, almost everything was gently decaying, with only glimpses of previous grandeur showing through roots, dirt, cracks, betel juice and brightly coloured laundry.

The original back of a bus ticket plan was to head east towards tigers, in reality the length of trains and our lack of booking was not going to get us there fast or easily, so we decided to head straight south to Goa, save wildlife reserves for Kerala, and were pleasantly suprised by the ease of booking a seat on Air India for the next day online.

I’m sitting airside in the Air India and Kingfisher domestic terminal and it’s a little surreal, blink and you really could be in Heathrow T5, in retrospect pleased we chose Air India, Kingfisher appears to be in some financial strife and only half their flights are flying and 130 of their pilots quit according to the local paper, parellels to AUS perhaps:

now sitting on cliff above Arambol far north of Goa…

It’s odd when you come back to places, when the memories you have of them have merged with others, the town we stopped at on the way , Panjim, was not in fact the Keralan spot (clearly as we were in Goa!) that I’d imagined it to be (was confusing it with the lovely Cochin), it did however redeem itself, with a superb Goan crab XecXec…

Aranbol is similar to before, except for the cliff now winding round to a beach I’m convinced was not here before…!

We’ve arrived right at the start of the season so it’s like the Greek islands in reverse, and more impressive. We walked the cliff yesterday and there was a view, today in the exact spot there are 5 pristine bamboo huts, with private view, water piped in, and tourists settled. It’s still really quiet, the taxi driver said it’s still not really picked up to the busy, since all the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

Goa does firmly remain in the unbelievable budget bracket…

  • Room with bathroom & ocean view = $8 per night
  • Beer or breezer = $1.50
  • fish curry rice = $2
  • 2 hour cooking class including eating more than enough for breakfast and lunch = $4

I’ve spent more than that on a couple of fancy lattes and a pastry in Melbourne…makes you think…

We bumped into an Australian couple within the first few minutes of arriving in Arambol, who randomly had also been here about 7 years ago when we first visited, they had settled in to chill after months of travelling, I know it sounds ridiculous but sometimes you need a holiday from the full on travelling mode (!).

Together we became the first ever launching students of a brand new cooking class venture set up by a lovely guy originally from Northern India. After averting eyes along the rubbish strewn back path, and stepping to the side of the usual dogs, we reached a bright orange building, with a clean courtyard, and tiny kitchen out the back; a gas top stove with two hobs, a few dishes, and a fan that wasn’t working as there has been no power for a few days.

He settled us on bright red plastic stools with a small tray of tea, then showed us how to make dough for chapatis on a big flat metal tray, and how you could make the finished rolled article expand directly on the flame.

We filled and rolled parathas with the right amount of stuffing of potato (mashed by hand), spices and a distinctly dumpling technique for closing the dough around the filling before rolling it all flat and placing it on a flat pan to cook, with yoghurt and mango pickle, then made bahji, not the deep fried onion variety, more a spicy potato dish, with aromas floating around the room of cumin, onion, green chilli delicious…we’re going back tomorrow for lesson two…but first sunset…

Jumping ahead a few days to merely a couple of hours ago, we were sitting looking at the palms and fishing boats on Palolem beach, I finished reading the epic Shantaram, at 1 past 11 on 11 of 11 of 11…photos of wombat to follow…going back a couple of years at 9 on 9 of 9 of 9 I became Australian, and I’ve always liked the auspiciousness of numbers…so like to remember…we are also officially half way through the trail…so many memories and experiences already, can’t believe we have another amazing 6 months ahead…

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