Same same - but different.

Trip Start Jan 08, 2008
Trip End Mar 31, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

After ten days we have finally dragged ourselves away from Om
beach...undoubtedly the most beautiful beach i have seen in india and
the main reason for my lack of travel blogs!  The beach gets its
name from the perfect om shape (kind of like a 3) which results from
its two adjoining curves of white sand, meeting the odd rocky outcrop
at the edges.  Palm trees line the beach and - thankfully -
obscure the brand new 5 star resort which has sprung up since we
last visited the beach in early 2002.  The result of this resort
is two fold - on the one hand it has made om beach more accesable, as a
road has been built right to the steep steps which lead down to the
beach, which in turn has made it easier to get to and busier...not
necessarily a good thing when our memories were of a deserted
paradise.  But it is not too busy, it has a laid back buzz and
enough people and shack restaurants and night fires to stop you getting
bored.  and the resort which takes up the land behind one of the
curved bays has meant that no shacks or beach huts have been built
along that bay, and from that stretch of sand all you see is palm trees and
greenery  so the illusion of an under-developed, idyllic beach
remains somewhat intact.

  After leaving arambol on the 16th of january, we headed for goa's capital Panjim or
Panaji which is a crumbling city of porteguese colonial buildings and
blindingly white churches.  we stayed long enough to eat the best
fish we've had in india and visit the nearby former capital Old Goa,
which boasts many massive churches, the 'miraculously' preserved body
Goa's patron saint st francis xavier, and not a lot else.  from
there we headed south to one of goa's less busy beaches Benaulim.

It was described as a peaceful alternative to the  tourist mayhem
of anjuna and baga in the lonely planet, what they neglected to mention
was that it plays host almost exclusively to that fun loving crowd,
the middle-aged, sun burnt british couples on thomas cook
holidays.  Needless to say, despite our overpriced mosquito
infested concrete hut from which one could join all the middle aged
couples in the row of huts upon an evening by sitting outside on the
wicker chairs of their own private doorsteps and watching the sun set
between palms and dunes (ruthlessly ignoring your neighbours of course
- god forbid we socialise, and besides those young people look like
they might be smoking something), we spent only two days there
on the second day we hired a scooter and sped through the countryside,
up the coast and down, past imposing white churches and lakes of floating lilies, through the white knuckle traffic of Margao,
along the death defying road i specifically wanted to avoid, (almost)
into the back of a bus, and made our way to the old town of Chandor in
search of the portegeuse colonial mansions.  We found a closed church and a
shop that sold everything from heinze ketchup to kellogs corn
flakes.  and after some abuse from a small boy we also found the
house.  It is a huge mansion built by two porteguese brothers
whose decendents now own half of the house each - they are pretty much
seperately contained houses in each wing - who don't appear to get on
anymore.  One was falling apart and mixed colonial antiques with
touristy tat from the 60s, we were shown around by the caretaker whose
slurred speach we could only understand pieces of and who opened the
door to us at first only to tell us to ring the bell as he closed the
door in our faces.  we rang the bell and he opened the door
again and greeted us as if for the first time....this side of the house was falling apart, but did house its
own chapel complete with the toe nail of st francis xavier....the other
side was a mirror image but had been restored to perfection, housing
the largest library of english books in goa and the ninety something
year old lady of the house who showed us around herself for the first
few rooms.  The houses were trully amazing, with their ballrooms
and marble floors and a decadent history starkly at odds with the
poverty of the land.  But it was hard to be sympathetic when the
owners bemoaned the land reforms of the 60s which left them without
their vast fortunes but returned the land to the people who actually
farmed it.

The following day we headed south...into the state of Karnataka and headed for its
beauitful beaches...which, as the goans are fond of saying, are 'same
same - but different!'

It is a strange bus journey from southern Goa to northern Karnataka, on the one hand you are passing idylic
indian scenes: blindingly green paddy fields, lush palm forests, wide
meandering rivers, green rolling hills, peaceful villages shaded
the greenery where women in dazzlingly bright saris carry impossibly
heavy water jugs on their heads or gossip as they spread bright fabrics
out to dry and barefooted children run along narrow paths that curve in
and out of shadows, amidst patterns of green light,  and men
wearing lungis walk the dusty roads
with ox and carts, or work the green fields or cast their nets
into the shimmering waters from elegently curved wooden boats, observed
by birds of the purest white and passed swiftly by the occasional blur
of the kingfisher's majestic blue and orange.

On the other hand you are on a long pot holed road with signs every five
meters predicting your immenent demise in pictures of headlong
collisions and the words 'Danger: accident prone zone' in foreboding
lettering.  This did not appear to deter our bus driver, however,
who seemed to have a particular passion for overtaking at high speed on
sharp corners.  dismissing the long straight stretches of road
with a disdainful sneer and spit of blood red pan, he saved all his overtaking of
oversived trucks for those particularaly nasty corners on a not much
wider than single track road, preferably with a drop of several hundred
feet to one side.

After four knuckle whitening hours we arrived at the dusty, derserted bus stop of Gokarna village.  Managed to get both of us, our four bags and two random italians and their four bags into the back of a rusty rickshaw built for two...flew over the heavily pot holed 'new' road, gapped as the struggling vehicle reached the hills peak and a panorama of palm woods, white endless beaches and inviting blue waters unvieled itself, and alighted at the top of a steep set of steps which tumbled haphazardly into the frothing ocean below.  down the steps which turned into rocks and then sand and we had arrived on the top tip of Om beach's 'om'.  got ourselves a  grass shack with sand for a floor, squat toilets, no running water, a starry sky under which to brush your teeth, the most adorable flee-ridden puppy that ever was, a motley crew of amazing people and a dead black bird hanging from a pole in the middle of the hut 'village'  for 100rupees a night (roughly 1 pound 40), sat down in the plastic garden furniture of our very own restaurant (situated on the point that joined the two curves of the bays) and pretty much didn't move for 10 days. 
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