Saturday, 28 November 2009

India Pictures

Hippies are alive and well and living in Gokarna. They kindly display their renunciation of Babylon - the fascist-capitalist west - and their individuality by wearing a nifty uniform of head-to-toe Ethnic Tat® branded gear. The muted orange-brown roughly woven baggy trousers in either stripes or excessive patterns or for the executive hippy an orange longhi, well worn OM© t-shirt and brown-orange coconut fibre shoulder bag are ethnic in that they aren’t western clothes. Yet neither are they Indian, no locals seem to sport this garb, but are bought as ProppaTraveller attire from the many tourist stalls mingling with the bakeries, grocery stalls and paan vendors. The upper echelon of this Brigade are ceremonially awarded after many years dedicated service, with full military pomp, a crown of DreadlocksTM®©2009. In full battle dress these seekers of love, peace and harmony attain a spiritual ego the size of Tel Aviv and Dusseldorf combined and become so enlightened that they lose the ability to even see western scum any more as they gaze vacantly beyond attempts at good natured communication. These holier-than-thou’s are enlightened only in their own ego-driven, judgemental minds, which unfortunately is the one place enlightenment cannot be attained… Bless ‘em.

Despite this peculiar tribes bad vibes (man) Gokarna is a wonderfully bustling Hindu pilgrimage town cluttered and jumbled with temples, holy bathing lakes, revered lingams and towering ceremonial chariots adorned with hundreds of flags poking outward to form a red and white fluttering globe. A hike south leads to one beautiful crescent bay after another, temporarily populated by hippies and travelers from around the world, each one becoming more secluded and therefore less busy than the last. Roads now connect the first two, Kudle and Om respectively yet they still retain an idyllic tropical charm even if the residents of the more remote retreats farther south tend to sneer at those of us nearer town. This strictly hierarchical ‘one love’ society becomes amusing after a while and days spent practicing yoga, swimming, dozing and reading whilst staying at a £2 a night guest-house right on the beach do wonders for raising one’s tolerance of the groovy-gang, even if they are banging out insipid trance and belching and spluttering chillum smoke from the hut net door till way past our bedtimes (admittedly that’s only about 10.30pm).

Our route to Gokarna began in the overwhelming chaos of Delhi. The red-eye flight and overpriced taxi deposited us right in the thick of it near the main bazaar. The booked hotel had un-booked itself during the flight and we were lead to their filthy ‘sister’ hotel down the road. Too tired, and laden with 85kg of laptops, camera, clothes, boards and paraphenalia we took what we were given and snatched fourty winks before stumbling like rabbits caught in the headlights into the heaving throng on our doorstep, all aspects of life being lived in high contrast, maximum volume and top speed. The streets appear like a single, living, pulsating organism whose defining principle is Chaos Theory. Buildings seem to grow from the dusty earth whilst simultaneously being consumed, crumbling back into the earth, tangled webs of electric cables swamp and threaten to engulf the flimsy poles carrying them in every direction, shrouding dark alleyways with the glimmer of private candlelit shrines deep within. Every millimeter of this enthralling tableu is teeming with life; beggars, merchants, rickshaws, children, cows, packs of wild dogs, chickens, goats, a smattering of westerners, teenage boys and elderly couples holding hands…. There were too many senses being engaged and too few active brain cells to engage in speech so Sofie and I ate our 25p Thali in silence trying to acclimatise to such a culturally different environment.

We flew to Goa the following morning from the glass & metal gleaming new domestic terminal, the antithesis of Delhi’s bazaar. This is new India, the super-power de jour, the progressive, economically booming India. A 24 hour education in India’s cultural dichotemy.

Goa was nice to unwind after the flight and the hectic preparations before leaving England but the distinct lack of waves and preponderance of elderly European sun worshippers had us packing our bags to heave our caravan of equipment aboard a rickshaw, a bus and then squeeze it aboard a heaving train, causing a kerfuffle at each juncture and befuddlement at why we’d be carrying a surf board with us in India. A befuddlement i currently share...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Better late.. pictures

Better late...

It feels somewhat fraudulent to be posting the finale to my European van adventure from a beach in Karnataka, India. The beach is beautiful but the Arabian Sea is calm so I have time now for the first time in weeks!

The final fortnight in Portugal was a blur of surf, fishing, barbeques, bonfires, good company and good € bottles of wine, and this crowned with three days of modest drives through Spain via the medieval university town of Salamanca to stormy Bilbao to await passage home aboard ‘The Pride of Bilbao’. The five meter seas were tossing the mini-cruisers around ‘The Show Bar’, violently delaying their arrival (and thus our departure) by eight hours whilst filling the ships bowels with vomit-ballast to help steady our return voyage. Had we not met and talked to some of these “Mini-Cruisers” we would never have believed that at least half of our fellow passengers had been hoodwinked by unscrupulous Welsh and Liverpudlian travel agencies into using this RORO transport ferry as a three day pleasure vessel. Having been forced to beat a hasty retreat back to our cabin by the unrelenting ShowTune entertainment on our first night, and two rounds of cold 37p a slice toast and butter to the good the following morning an early stroll revealed pockets of Scouse fun-seekers dotted around the ships duty-free shops huddled round hastily torn-open 24 packs of Strongbow and Stella desperately slurping their hangovers away compelling the fun to begin once more.

The days travelling back to England and awaiting our onward connection to India provided time for reflection on the previous eight weeks of 9ft by 5ft van life. The peaks, the troughs, the countries and the people. For a couple to live in such close-quarters is challenging, rewarding and a journey of discovery… Discovering those traits, those foibles, those personality ‘ticks’ that we tend to cover up in our normal spacious - proximity and temporal - living. But we survived… mostly. Learning to live as one organism, Sofie, Neil and I, was tough. Having to do everything either together or in complete sympathy is a necessity of close-quarter living. We have to go to sleep and awake at the same time, eat, sit, stand, move, wash and breathe together. Everything takes five times as long to do in the van as the stowafe system is constanlty re-arranged. To use the pan you move the coffee-pot to the side, the spices back in the cupboard, the water bottle to the seating area, the ash-tray to the side table, the washing-up bowl to the back step, the lighter from the front to the stove, and so on and so on… The constant search for water, toilets and camp spots meant an unrelenting round of moving this, packing that, stowing this, folding that, re-packing, removing, unwrapping. These trials obviously irked on some more sensitive days, but were no great hardships and living in such a basic, simple way was a great life-lesson in terms of the difference between needs and wants. Whatever, these complications were more than outweighed by the luxuries of mobile living. We dined on an Algarve moonlit terrace watching sliver-crested waves wash onto fine, pale sand only yards from our feet as we ate smoky, sweet paprika tinged squid, breakfasted on cliffs high above wild rocky ocean ravaged bays, romantically celebrated on the sunset drenched dunes of Galicia and socialised at the headquarters of the world pro surf tour’s Portuguese leg.

Luxury is available for all if you’re prepared to rough it and to search beyond the beaten track, in fact it only seems to be available at either ends of the scale. The ultra-rich can pay through the nose to stay in the most beautiful and exclusive locations, or if you’re curious, mobile and independant you can find amazing places yourself. It’s the majority middle ground which is caught in the mire of packaged, developed, managed mediocrity.