Photo: Hanuman Temple, Panaji
What’s on top
I’ve really enjoyed going on the internet this week, especially when I haven’t had access to it for a few days. In Panaji I left the coffee-shop-with-internet buzzing not only with caffeine but with the fun of going on the internet for an hour. Reading WordPress comments, picking up birthday messages and putting a load of brown rabbit photos on Instagram.
Then yesterday, in my first solid no rush, just do what you want internet session in days, I referred to my notebook where I keep a list of things to look up: (what do Indian chipmunks eat; more Malayalam words, which I practiced later at the shop; how to spell fuchsia; download a yoga class, which I then did on the veranda (on my new bright pink yoga mat!) after we got back; menstrual leave; Indian dress and the names of different garments; which states in India allow the eating of beef; British rule; the political parties in India and who’s who; the caste system). Along with the smoothie with soya milk, the peppermint tea, the rest and shade after a walk around town, I felt so, endorphined afterwards.
Something else I found out this week, when finding out what to give cows to eat (they often have to eat garbage and sometimes look very thin, I gave the one in Panaji some bananas). If you are in India, the advice is to put food waste on the ground not in a plastic bag, or if you do put it in a plastic bag, leave the bag open, don’t tie it. Otherwise cows will eat the plastic bag as well, potentially causing illness and death.
In the taxi from Arambol to Panaji (both in Goa), I’m trying to write down the colours of the houses we pass but before I can think of the word for the colours of one house we’re onto another and another. My notebook looks like a list of paint chart colours. Feeling totally blissed out from the sweet visual sensory overload and my thoughts… Realisations re writing, use the senses, use the emotions, document scenes, capture in notebook, scribble, take photos, look at my husband and step-son’s films and photos, draw on every book I’ve read, every writing class I’ve ever been to… Not only that, my spiritual journey before I left, all that meditation, chanting, different religions and philosophies, reading, thinking, discussing, all that, got me here. Here, in India!
The guesthouse in Panaji was painted baby pink with a maroon trim, exactly the same colour scheme of the first house I had noted down on the journey there. Our room was big and white and spacious with a large wet room and another little room with a sink and a mirror in, plenty big enough to get dressed in and even to do a bit of yoga in, great as the three of us were in one room. And the shower! The shower in Arambol looked like it was dangerous, with bare flex and a plug in the wall right near the water. It was only a trickle anyway and the water had ran out altogether that morning as it often did and we had arrived in Panaji hot, sweaty and dirty. It was a power shower, with hot water if we wanted; it was such a pleasure, the best shower by far we had had since arriving!
And it had ac! We hadn’t booked this, it just did. The manager laughed about how excited I was about this. In Arambol we had felt fine in temperatures of 35-38°C but we were at the beach with a strong sea breeze. In Panaji we were not on the beach and it felt considerably hotter. The ac was heaven. Not only that, the local taxi driver had ac, and the restaurant where we went to eat in town had ac; it was almost cold.
Panaji is the capital and administrative centre of the state of Goa. It does have a beach but it’s not such a destination beach as Arambol or Agonda, and even though we were only an hour or so away, it was a world away. We noticed the kitchen staff staring at us from inside the kitchen hatch and we only saw one other Westerner in the town. The restaurant where we went (we chose it as it had good Wi-Fi and we needed to get my step-son checked in for his flights home) was a solid building, very smart, (and cold), a world away from the beach front temporary structures we’d been used to.
We felt we were visitors to an actual town that existed by itself as opposed to Arambol and Agonda, where everything is easy, people have come from all over India just to serve the tourists. It’s easy, it’s false, it’s set up just for the tourists, everything is sanitised and safe.
In Agonda we saw policeman with sticks threatening a woman who had been asking tourists for money, and early in the morning women would sweep and clear the beach of rubbish and cow dung, as if the tourists couldn’t possibly see anything that might spoil their paradise holiday. Even the dogs looked okay, whereas in Panaji some of them didn’t look so good. And we’re still in Goa, when we go to different places, it will be different and more challenging.
Although it felt ever so slightly edgy, it felt really good to be in a real place with real local facilities. We ate breakfast at a cheap local cafe and my husband got his haircut at a local hairdressers. And we finally got to a Khadi shop, I bought a kurta (tunic shirt to wear over trousers).
As in Hampi, as in Delhi, it’s on the balcony that I really feel it, where I am, how I feel. Here it wasn’t even that moment, it was afterwards, looking at a brown rabbit photograph I took for Instagram and noticing how unreal the explosion of green and trees looked in the middle. On one side was a mosque, on the other some run down residential buildings, on the balcony the red and pink sunlit colours, on the ground below an emaciated white cow… and in the centre this explosion of lush green forest. As if there’s too much packed into the scene, one thing would be enough; the mosque or the forest or the building or the cow or even the sunlit pink painted balcony. That is how it feels a lot in India, as if there’s just too much to take in. As if everything’s been compressed, my step-son said.
It came to the end of my step-son’s time with us. He’d travelled out with us and been with us for almost five weeks. We were quiet on the way to the airport. It was dark. I saw a house lit up, every alcove painted a different colour. I want to say I love you. But like at the beginning of a relationship, where all you see is the good, I’ve barely been outside of Goa, I’ve had it easy. So it’s too early to say those words just yet.
In Panaji: Huge plate of bel puri, biryani rice and dal at the ac WiFi restaurant in town; paratha bhaji (Indian bread and curry) and black tea with lime at the local cafe for breakfast; good strong coffee and beans on toast at WiFi coffee house in town; vegetable masala at a beach restaurant; it’s hotter so we’re back on eating crisps in the afternoon, although for the moment I’ve managed to kick the Mazza (bottled mango drink) habit; iced tea and banana and walnut cake at the beach; big chunky vegetable samosas at the airport.
We left the state of Goa for the state of Kerala. In Goa the houses are European looking, villa like with balconies. Arriving in Kerala the buildings looked very different, more rectangular looking, some with pillars, generally wealthier looking, and still painted lovely colours.
Lots of churches, big, white, clean, lit up, with statues in glass boxes and modern stained glass windows. We passed a Christian service, lots of people, lots of music, beautiful clothes, lots of white, children in almost party dresses. Then we saw a mosque, a group of men, on the other side of the road a group of women in white with white head scarves, again, lots of people, lots of music. A little bit further, more sound, more music, a Hindu temple. All in the space of a mile or two.
In Kerala it’s nice to see that the men are much more in traditional dress, in Goa the men were wearing Western clothes, here they wear lungis; short and knee-length pieces material, kind of like thick sarongs, some tied at the base, some not.
We booked on-line and are staying in by far the swankiest looking area so far, full of semi deserted ayevedic resorts, totally a tourist area, even though our accommodation is humble and the cheapest place we’ve stayed so far. We are near the North Cliff area of Varkala, a tourist strip. Luckily we have one nice local family run restaurant next door. We are a rickshaw ride away from the town, which is a little way from the beach with little accommodation available. Tomorrow we move to the temple area of Varkala beach, which is much more lively, full of Indian tourists and with simple places to eat.
In Kerala: Puttu (rice and coconut turned out from a bowl mould) with a banana and a poppadum the side; dal and chapatis; lots of masala dosas; Keralan food- potato and coconut curry, thoran (shredded vegetables fried, delicious), with rice, roti and fresh orange juice; coconuts.
What I have been doing: typing up all notes (I should also include, scribbling copious notes in little notebooks that I carry everywhere with me, noting down visual observations, ideas, thoughts, etc, so much so that I think sometimes I need to switch off all the excitement for a bit to let me catch up). Anyway, I have typed up all notes from Panaji, and almost all from Varkala- more keep appearing- and I have been working on the Delhi section, i.e. the first place we went to in India, together with the bit immediately before and the travel out.
I’ve been writing most days, often for a couple of hours. Tuesday was good, a good writing session followed by a nap, Wednesday was pretty good but I got frustrated; I did a couple of hours solid writing on the book, I had plenty of time to do more but I just couldn’t. I felt overheated and out of sorts, it was too hot to nap in the room and when I tried to nap on the veranda flies kept landing on me. Plus I was stuck on the Delhi section, it had turned into a big lump of notes and completed blogs and bits about the travel and before and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I tried to look at it again later, and still felt stuck. My own fear and lack of confidence in my ability to see this through is my main enemy, but luckily I know that it is a very bad idea to keep looking at something that isn’t going well. So I went to bed and went back to it again yesterday.
If in doubt, I adopt a back to basics approach (if things feel really bad this can be as simple as correcting spellings), in this case, write it in chronological order, which I did, and then it began to flow. I stopped after a good session and whilst still enjoying it and feeling like it’s going well, which means that when I go back to it, I will do so with joy not a churning stomach. Then as it was Thursday, a break, and then a session on this blog. Today, this blog post.
The first month in India notes were all in one document, threatening to become an amorphous mass and overwhelm me, and so I have decided to divide up into places, or main places, for ease. I have typed up the notes for Panaji and Kerala as new, separate documents and have moved Delhi into its own document. The others I will do later (so as not to get overwhelmed/distracted). It is easier for me to work with smaller documents as I am doing everything on my trusty Samsung Galaxy tablet and typing in a free Word app that allows me to type and save into a word document offline, very important as a lot of places we have stayed have patchy or no WiFi. When online, it can then be saved to Google cloud, and shared via my email, which I do from my Gmail to my Hotmail email, so that it is on both emails (as well as the cloud, as well as in my documents on my tablet, and sometimes I also save it in a WordPress draft and email it to my husband!)
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See you next week