Goodbye India

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The days in Goa lazily passed by; almost everyday we had a typical beach day on the beautiful palolem beach- sunbathed, dived through the surprisingly vicious waves and in my case played cricket and football (I must have looked extra weird and shocking as a girl playing football in a bikini). One day we did branch out and tried to go kayaking, however this was a big mistake. We had conveniently picked an extra choppy day and were advised not to go out. But of course it we did and of course I volunteered to go by myself in a kayak. The waves tumbled with a ferocious rip-tide and me and my friend faced it head on in kayaks. Firstly, I watched her try to take on a huge wave and then capsise immediately. Then it was my turn, I took on the first wave but the second one was enormous. I’m afraid I just thought ‘fuck it’ leaped out my kayak and was absolutely submerged by the wave and then another. The wave was so strong it actually opened my rucksack and now somewhere my tailor made shorts I bought in Hoi An (sob) and a can of limca are floating around somewhere. Although we were slightly traumatised I cannot deny that it must have been some great entertainment for the rows of people eating their breakfast in the restaurants opposite. In fact, the first thing our Australian friend said later was ‘did someone go out in a kayak today…?’

Yet despite the kayak disaster we bought some beers (can we get anymore English) and took a private boat to an island, which we later found out we could have walked to at low tide…we enjoyed the the initial seclusion but were soon joined by lots of Indian families asking for photos. However, I am very proud to say that my friend and I made the perfect replica of the Taj Mahal out of sand…the inner child within me certainly returns when I’m on the beach.
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India overall has been very relaxed and we haven’t met many travellers; in Kerala it’s rare to see a white person. However, in Goa we did meet a group of young brits, who we rushed over to enthusiastically as they walked through the door of an absolutely terrible club called ‘on the rocks’ which was full of 30+ year olds. We then proceeded to have a very bizarre but fun night as when the night ended they kept the bar open for us and let us make drinks. Yet we did have a very weird crowd; a 46 English man who was extremely creepy, a very good looking Indian boy who had English banter with us, a small Indian man who I think had learning difficulties and then four English teenagers our age. It reminded me how although there is a lot of unwanted male attention and general lack of respect towards us in India, many men behave the same in England as that old man did. Interestingly, the Indian boy who was called ‘boy’ was lovely and not creepy at all; perhaps it isn’t always a cultural thing. It did escalate into a good night as it ended in us skinny dipping at 5 in the morning…there’s a wild gap yah story for you. We equally had another good night with an Australian and then a beach hut full of English people…it felt like an old house party back in England but was instead in a beach hut in Goa…definitely the most home like experience of India.

So Goa wasn’t exactly too different to a beach holiday but it had beenthe plan all along after rushing around Vietnam and Laos. After feeling very relaxed and bronzed we took our first Indian night train down to a hill station called Munnar in Kerala. I have to say the night train wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be; we had our own beds and had my fanny pack strapped to me with all my valuables- we did not experience any of the horror stories. We had bought just a sleeper ticket and not an ac sleeper ticket like most tourists do and we were surprised when a man said ‘go to ac they won’t mind’. He pretty much meant what are you doing here which did make me feel a little uneasy; why shouldn’t we be in the sleeper class? But it was all fine and we arrived in a town a few hours from Munnar safely. We then made the amazing discovery of the cheap local buses which have saved us a lot of money; we paid 1 pound for a 4 hour bus journey in the mountains. Although I have to admit I did think I was going to die a few times when the driver speedily swerved around those hairpin mountain roads; we arrived in Munnar somehow.

Munnar was certainly the complete opposite to beachy and touristy Goa. Yet as a hillsation with hills full of exquisite tea plantations and beautiful rivers and forest it was certainly a tourist destination but perhaps more for Indian tourists. It was a lovely bit of respite roaming around the tea plantations in in fact the pouring rain- a complete contrast to Goa. Yet the best day was when we hired a jeep and hit top sites of Munnar. Amongst the many dams, rivers and view points we visited my favourite moment was winding through the mountains and the driver said we could all climb on top of the jeep. We didn’t think twice about the danger of it and clambered on; shrieking through the mountains and shocking the locals completely…can we parade ourselves around anymore?
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Yet the strangest experience of Munnar was after our crazy jeep ride; we seemed to attract far to much attention in our hotel. Whilst sitting on the balcony a man tried to invite himself up to apparently speak english and we were constantly pestered by a little boy who knew the hotel owners and tried to sell us tours. I have to say it was an extremely stressful evening. Once we had got rid of the strange man we had to deal with the boy who although at first seems very endearing and intelligent (he told us he loved us and was going to cry when we left) he was extremely pushy and rude. At first we accepted his invite to his house for dinner, but then realised be wanted to sell us a tour to another national park, insisted we should buy all the food for the ‘party’ at his house and also wanted to buy my iPod (i think he wanted me to give it to him). He was the most pushy and insistent person I’ve ever met; he would pretty much be standing in our room demanding why we wouldn’t go with him on his tour. Thus, when we went to his house we didn’t feel very welcome in the small crowded house which clearly we hadn’t been properly invited to. We endured an awkward game of snakes and ladders, awkwardly sat on the bed whilst he tried to order us to put our feet on it…why was a power crazy 15 year old boy bossing us around?! We also felt extremely bad and rude for the rest of the family who were mostly women. Eventually we escaped and he gave my friend who is ill a medicine or potion that looked worryingly Brown and sloppy. Although it was very kind of him we decided to leave it. I did feel in Munnar we were constantly being hassled and pushed into buying things; it is so hard to know what a ‘good price’ is in India.

From Munnar we hopped on another amazingly cheap local bus and spent some time in Periyar national park; famous for its tiger reserve. We stayed in a lovely hotel for just 2 pounds a night which was far better than all the other accommodation we have stayed in (our beach hut had spiders, a mouse, a chipmunk, cockroaches and frogs living in it at one point). The main reason we came was to see some animals and amazingly we saw some wild elephants on our first boat ride. However, the park was pretty pricy for tourists as we had to pay extra into places and it was twenty quid for most activities. Thus, not everyone wanted to pay and we did a free walk halfway up very steep mountain. However up the top we had one of the most eerie and surreal moments ever. We arrived at the top totally in a cloud and through the swirling layers of mist stood a large white cross, bold and ominous at the edge of the cliff. Soon a man selling bananas appeared and many Indian tourists who had just nipped up in jeeps; the special, secluded movement was over. Admittedly, as enthusiastic animal lovers my friend and I did decide to do a trek and bamboo rafting and I don’t regret that at all. Not only did we see some amazing wild animals (bison, black monkeys and my favourite red mongoose but the trek was led by some tribal men. They could therefore distinguish between every type of dung and even show us a tiger scratch and paw print on a tree. This made the trek much more interesting and was definitely worth paying the money instead of aimlessly wondering around the park.

Now here I am sunbathing on the roof in boiling Alleyepe. Famous for the backwaters, alleyepe is certainly a unique town as it is surrounded by a network of rivers and lakes with wild green plants growing freely from it. The thing to do in Alleyepe is hire a house boat but we could only afford a barge like boat (still amazing for 3 pounds each) and we drifted around the beautiful backwaters for a few hours, whilst other boats took pictures and even cheered when we came by. A German girl we met made a good point, it is interesting feeling like the minority for once as a tourist in India. We feel annoyed and even threatened away from western Europe, yet truthfully we are a spectacle not just because of the colour of our skin but equally our customs and when it comes to our group because we do stupid and funny things. For example, in Munnar we didn’t know what to order for an Indian breakfast so we all ordered exactly the same dosa (a buttery thin bread which you dip in curry). For some reason, the type of dosa we had ordered were in the shapes of party hats and were really tall; the whole restaurant cracked up laughing at us. In situations like this I can see why we are a spectacle.

With a few days left I have to say India has been the most interesting country I have visited in many ways and a complete and utter culture shock. If I was going back to England now I would be eating with my hands and find it strange wearing a seatbelt. Although in a month we didn’t get to properly explore India I feel I’ve got a taste for it that encourages me to return. I cannot deny in some ways I do prefer the laidback and backpackery south-east Asia, i especially miss meeting people from all over the world everyday and having the freedom to wear and act how I want But despite all the things you have to put up with in India and lack of western comforts it has a tantalising charm of rickshaws, bustle and astoundingly different landscapes that I don’t think you can find anywhere else. Thus, it’s been a blast India but next stop is Indonesia…

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