The days just seemed to have evaporated. We’ve been on the beach for a week now, along with four lads from Cambridge, two Spaniards (one of whom we refer to as King Carlos), two Swedish girls and Spinks. Spinks went for a ride on a moped in a bikini yesterday. Enough said.
Varkala is the epitome of an Asian beach resort. Bars and shacks line the cliff overlooking the sea (massive waves) and the golden sand. Well it has been golden apart from the last two days where a monsoon has decided to park up over Kerala. We would (and probably should) have left a couple of days ago, but we’re having too much fun.
Apart from this we managed to make it to the very bottom of India, where it was discovered that there wasn’t very much to see. We did come across a magic show however, starring the mysterious Metrix. We made up the whole crowd for the evening’s performance along with Metrix’s son who was obviously learning the trade. It was the worst magic show I have ever seen. With hardcore techno as his soundtrack, Metrix leaped around the stage performing with props you would find at the Early Learning Centre. At one point he was making balls disappear and I watched one bounce out te bottom of his trousers.
So next up, we have more moped rides in the jungle, hopefully a boat trip in the backwaters and a final surge to Mumbai. 18 days to go. Shocking.
Leaving Hampi was difficult. For one, we loved it so much it was a struggle to tear oursleves away. For two, our guesthouse owner scammed us with fake tickets so after we’d made the 15km tuk-tuk trip to the bus stand we found that no, we had not a seat to sit on. However, we weren’t on any old tuk-tuk. We were with “The one and only Vikram.” This was emblazoned proudly across the back of his wagon, and it soon proved to be accurate. Vikram took us to every bus stand, he fought with travel agents unitl we had seats to Mysore, then took us to a off-licence for some whisky before locating our spanish friends in a distant bar. If you’re ever in Hampi (and I’m sure you will be) please search out Vikram.
So, Mysore was OK. Palace. Market. Scamming rick-shaw drivers. Pretty standard. We did salvage what might have been an average day with the discovery of a roof-top bar, our spanish friends and a lovely japanese girl of whom neither G or I could remember her name. (Something like Tochoko).
Ooty was next. 2200 metres up, perched amongst tea-fields and towering eucalyptis trees, it was quite the setting. It was also quite cold. Now, heading south we had reckoned on beaches and sunburn. By 7pm when the sun had well and truly vanished I began to miss my Nepalese trekking gear immeasurably. It didn’t help that we were sleeping in a glorified shed with two german guys. I woke up at 1:30 am (thinking it was breakfast time) realising I couldn’t feel my feet. But morning swung around, we headed into the hills with some others and all was well. The views were incredible. The night ended with one of our Spanish friends (Carlos – he looks like Robert Downey Jnr) reciting the Old Testament to us. Odd.
So we’re very close to Mudrai, where we’re supposedly reconvening with the gentleman known as Spinks. To get this far we had to take a 120 year-old steam train through the mountains. It was a typical Indian experience. I had to stand for 2 hours, the steam from the engine filled our carriage like a dirty spa, some blokes started fighting in the booth next to us and monkeys tried to break into the carriages at one of the stops. Tranquil.
Hampi is absolutely, unflinchingly incredible. Getting there might be a bit awkward (that’s India for you), but when you round the corner on the first hill overlooking the village nothing else really matters. It’s quite tricky to do it justice. There are ruins of course. Big tall ones with ornate carvings, but we’ve seen enough of them to fill a Dorling Kingsley book. In between the ruins though, are boulders. Tons of them, as far as the eye can see, piled up to create mountains, teetering over cliffs or just lying in the middle of fields, like a littering giant has been in the vicinity. In between all of these are palm trees, rivers and smiling locals who just want to shake your hand. Enough.
I regained some man-points and got on a moped to see it all. Last time I drove a moped was in Vietnam. I crashed it. And the next two. This time, there was no such calamity. Not even a wobble. I was Valentino Rossi on a 95cc power hog, blasting round corners and being overtaken by cows. Meanwhile Stin (or Bunder as I’ve taken to calling him as he is a Bumless Wonder – seriously he has no arse, it’s weird) got by on a bike that I think the Terminator rode. Every now and then we’d get off and scramble up boulders, high-five and scramble back down. At night we drank rum with some lovely English girls (I wasn’t aware there were so many lovely English girls) and ended up watching Eat, Pray, Love at the guesthouse. It is one of the most offensively awful films I have ever seen. To wit, we are meant to sympathize with Julia Roberts after she has screwed over two rather nice blokes then goes on a paid year-long vacation to Italy, India and Bali, before meeting Javier Bardem on a beach. It should have been called Shag, Mope, Cry.
So we’re heading south again, in the vague aim to meet up with spinks who has survived his epic mountain ordeal and is flying to Chennai on the 15th. Do we want to really meet up with him again? Will he cope in India on his own for a day or two? Will he realise that the hotel we recommended to him in Chennai is actually a 5 star boutique hotel? Only time (and this blog I suppose) will tell!
Aurangabad was quite fittingly, bad. Really bad. The streets weren’t really streets at all, but dusty gaps between piles of rubbish and street vendors. Thankfully, the Ellora caves were nearby. After catching (mostly by luck) the public bus out there we were faced with a series of caves carved out a cliff-face by monks of various religions 1500 years ago. These were impressive. However, the Kailasanatha temple in the middle was rather more so. Carved out from the cliff in one single chunk, it’s twice the size of the Parthenon, covers three storeys and was designed from one blokes head. No drawings. Rather smug that we’d made our way to Aurangabad after all, we headed home in a guy’s jeep (don’t ask) and found out that we had actually made it off the waiting list and on to the sleeper train to Mumbai! Huzzah!
Now, obviously Mumbai is our finishing line so to speak, and we still have 5 or so weeks of travel left in the tank. But our thinking (and what thinking I may add) was that we could dump most of our stuff at the train station (warm stuff from Nepal, novelty hats, trinkets, Tibetan flags etc.) and get moving with minimal luggage and minimal fuss. Mumbai is not conducive to no fuss though. It’s hot, expensive and noisy. However, the buildings are stunning, none more so than the aforementioned train station. All designed by us plucky Brits no less, which got me wondering why most of the towns back in Blighty don’t look nearly so good. It seems colonial architecture was strictly for the colonies only. Shame really, I’m not sure Leeds’ high street looks as good as Mumbai’s.
We continue our trundle south, using more sleeper buses than should ever be deemed neccessary, but there’s not much in the way of an other option. Catching trains is a big no-no. For example, we have a train booked for tomorrow night, and I’ve paid for the tickets. However, we’re on a waiting list as the train, just like every other locomotive in the sub-continent, is overbooked. This means that when we go to board our carriage, our name might not be on the list, therefore we can’t get on board, oh and we don’t get a refund. Astonishing.
So, we’ve been busy bussing. We found ourselves in Mandu of all places, a tiny place on a huge plateau overlooking green fields for as far the eye could see. Hiring bikes, we joined a French guy (Sebastian, naturally) and two Croatians on various excursions to old ruins and caves. We also found some inhabited villages that could have been older than any of them, the locals were getting by as they have been for centuries. We stayed at a guesthouse where the owner used to be the mayor of Mandu. He now sat in his garden sipping whisky and waiting for locals to approach him for favours, business or respect. We immediately called him ‘The Godfather.’ The Godfather seemed to know everything about Mandu. When there was a powercut he made a call and informed us his people would have Mandu back on the grid in ten minutes. Exactly ten minutes later we had light. It got weirder. That night he told us that he took many elements from the movie ‘The Godfather’ by which to live his life. He then told us, blow by blow, his favourite moments in the film, how he respected Michael Colerone and the loyalty he showed his family. After the whisky, the Godfather slumped to the side and dozed off. We dared not wake him, there were horses nearby whose heads could be on our pillows in the morning.