Monday, January 08, 2007

From Booze City to Booze Beach

Goa, 24'800 km

Finally, after a long drive I've reached Palolem beach in Goa where the other guys have settled down. Anders had already joined up Tom & Peter a while ago, and they've spent some good time partying and drinking. What else would you expect? the beach here is picture-perfect, nice sand and palm trees, the sea is at the right temperature.. but somehow it doesn't feel like India, as everything is centered around the Western tourists, with the usual inflated prices for everyhting - except beer. Save for the plam trees (and the occasional cow sleeping on the beach..) it could be Ibiza or Daytona Beach. But somehow it's also a nice break from the intensity of the Indian life for the last few weeks. Much appreciated and about time to get busy doing pretty much nothing.

After New Year's party in Diu, where half the foreigner's population ended up on our church's rooftop, lighting Indian unpredictabl fireworks and walking on narrow ledges - but amazingly without anybody being hurt - it was time to recover and slowly prepare psychologically to leave. I could easily see myself staying a few weeks in this nice backpackers atmosphere, especially since I discovered the local ice cream shop, which I have hardly seen in India until now.

The Czech couple I met in Little Rann told me much about Sasan Gir and how much fun they had watching lions, and it's an easy 2-hours drive from Diu, so I thought I would give it a try. Sasan Gir, like Ranthambore and other Tiger parks are really a huge zoo without fences. The animals are free but they are also tamed and very much used to human presence. Which means that when a jeep comes the lions won't flee, but it's also hardly wild life. In a 1-bilion people country every square meter of land is precious and humans are competing with wildlife for possession. The local guides are also abusing it and selling illegal walk in the park for extra money - indeed I was told that's the reason behind the government closing down Ranthambore
How long can it last ?

We didn't see any lion in the safari - bad luck - but we say a leopard crossing the road right in front of us. We stopped and quiety looked around, see if it was still there, until a minivan arrived and unloaded a group of Indians loudly talking, and reversing with a funny tune playing. Too much for the leopard who understandably was definitely gone.

I could have stayed for more opportunities to see lions, but it was also rather expensive. I moved on to Palitana and wole up at dawn to walk up the hill to see the incredible and intricate build-up of Jain temples on its top. The ascent itself on 3500 stair steps is just as interesting, among the strange mix of Jain pilgrims all white dressed, Hindus more casually clothed and porters, men and women alike, carrying people of goods up the hill on bamboo chairs (for a charge of course). It is said there are more than 800 temples on the hill, but it seems most pilgrims go directly to the main 2 or 3 temples, which are the most interesting as well.

By them I had enough of sight seeing, and although I had planned to go visit Ellora on my way down, I keep it for a later trip and do some serious driving down to Goa, only stopping for sleeping along the road and a break from time to time to eat a thali and drink a cup of Chai - I mean a saucer of Chai, as they use to drink tea in Gujarat. The driving was pretty intense, with some of the worst traffic on the highway between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, some police dodging on the motorbike-prohibited expressway between Mumbai and Pune, and a very nice ride in the hills over Goa. I guess I'll have to write a full entry on driving in India, as it always reserves a surprise around the corner, at least for my first 5000 km experience. Stay tuned.

All this was pretty eventless and I'm happy with how the bike is running - cross fingers (well, an offering to Ganesh might help as well). Now Peter will join us back from Europe and we'll talk about how we proceed ahead, but not before a couple weeks at least. No hurry..