Travel: Waterfall Safari and Spices

A group of us woke up early today to embark on a day trip beyond the beaches. After all, there is only so much beach bummage that one can handle!

It took us about 2-hours by taxi to reach the the the small town of Kulem, a town located just outside the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, a protected area located within the Western Ghats.

What I didn’t know at the time is that the Western Ghats are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and said to be one of eight “hottest hotspots”of biological diversity in the world. The mountain range is home to 39 properties in total with locations in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.

From there, we hopped in a safari jeep for a 1-hr climb through the mountains up to the waterfalls.

As expected, the 4-wheel drive was more than needed as we climbed the mountain. We crossed over rocky terrain, small streams, and large pools of water at low points along the road. We parked and then there was a short hiking path to the base of the falls.

Dudhsagar Falls is one of India’s largest waterfalls with a peak height of 1017 ft. It sits on the border of Goa and Karnataka, and is a four-tiered waterfall. Its name can be translated to “Sea of Milk” because the monsoon rains transform the entire rock face into a jaw-dropping force of water. Unfortunately the monsoon season is from July to September, so we were just catching the remnants of water left behind.

I wasn’t aware that we were allowed to swim in the pool. Fortunately Tané had a spare bikini top and I decided to sacrifice my underwear for the cause. (I ended up having to ride home commando, wet panties in a pair of jean shorts is never a good idea.)

It was definitely an experience being able to lay our backs against the rock face and feel the pounding of the water run across our heads and shoulders.

We then swam back to the rocks, dried off, and had a quick photo-op before heading to take the jeep back down the mountain. After we hopped in the taxi, it was on to our next stop for the day.

The diversity of India’s culinary creations are something that no one should skimp out on. India is the largest democracy in the world, and its substantial geographic presence results in six, unique climate subtypes. From north to south an abundance of dish varieties can be found. Goa, for example, is well known for its Goan Fish Curry, and the south for its use of lentils, rice, and dosas, whereas naan, rotis, and samosas originate from the north.

Such variety would not be possibly without the use of spices, and we learned all about the difference flavors that each spice can add to dish on our tour of the Tropical Spice Plantation. We were able to see, pick, and taste all of the following: Pepper, Vanilla, Betel Nuts, Cardamom, Lemongrass, Piri Piri, Nutmeg, Cashew, Clove, Cinnamon, Bay Leaves, Chinese Coriander, Turmeric, Ginger, All  Spice, Gherkin, Cardamom, and Black Cardamom.

imageThey even had an elephant giving rides! (Although I can’t comment on whether he was being ethically treated and cared for.)  We then headed back to the hostel to relax for a bit before we all grabbed dinner together to celebrate my last evening in Goa.

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Travel: Beach Bummage 

I have nothing of consequence to note. Haha. As much as I love the backpacking culture of seeing and experiencing as much as possible within a limited timeframe I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it is EXHAUSTING. Traipsing around Central and Southern India with a friend that was native born-and-raised in Bombay has been uniquely authentic, but I am due for some serious R&R!

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The exciting think about today is that a group of us from the hostel spent the evening exploring the Arpora Night Market. For me, it was very remniscient of Taiwan’s night markets, with stalls offering anything you could possibly want, in addition to the quintessential souvenirs.

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The market sprawls over a large outdoor are and is only active and open during the main tourist season. Divided into a Lower, Central, and Upper Field, it is difficult not to get lost and overwhelmed by the crowds.

We browsed everything from traditional handicrafts to huge assortments of spices and teas. There were booths after booths brimming with Kashmiri carpets, Pashmina scarves, silver jewelry, and unique art creations. You name it and you can find it! There is also a food court centered around a stage that hosts an array of live music from Rock to Indian Classical.

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I was both overwhelmed and in awe. It is impossible to miss the fervor in the air, and although similar to previous night markets I experienced as a child, the Arpora Night Market had its own distinctive character. It offered the diversity of a global experience without overshadowing the unmistakeable hints of a typical Indian Bazaar.

 

Travel: Vagator

This morning with a heavy heart I had to bid Nick adieu. But before he disappeared into the wind, he helped me secure a rigshaw to ferry me away to a hostel for the remainder of my time in Goa. Nick then hopped into a Taxi headed to the airport.

imageIt’s somewhat surprising that we are such good friends, with very similar travel philosophies, despite our colored past. You see, once upon a time, many years ago, we dated each other, and, as with many high school relationships, it ended dramatically and emotionally, igniting a rift in our social circles. But, as is typical with age and college, our friendship evolved and adapted to the adults we were becoming. Even today I still find some irony in our story. Nick is one of a handful of friends that sees the world and travels in similar fashion to myself.

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But enough about our history! I am now on my own, savoring the rest of my days on Vagator Beach. Unfortunately, with the New Year’s traffic it took me over an hour to get to my new crash pad.By the time I had checked in and dropped off my luggage I was hot, sweaty, and tired. I used the lounge area to catch up on some blog posts, and after recooperating some energy, made the 10-minute walk to check out the beach before calling it a day.

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Travel: New Years

Last night while walking amongst the crowds on the beach and celebrating the holiday, my butt got grabbed twice. The first time I thought it was an accident, but the second time I couldn’t help myself from turning around and shoving the guy behind me. Nick, ever a great guy friend, backed me up and the group of males backed off. It took me awhile to shake it off and go back to enjoying the celebratory atmosphere.

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This morning, Nick and I slept in. We started off our morning with lunch consisting of traditional Goan Fish Curry and Fried Prawns. It was so tasty! After, we meandered on to the local beach and rented cots for the day to spend a lazy afternoon. We enjoyed quick massages from a peddler, and certainly couldn’t skip our daily tradition of Chai and Biscuits.

With a twinge of sadness we watched the sun dip below the horizon. This was to be Nick and I’s last night together as he was flying out in the morning to spend some time with his extended family in India. We celebrated our eye-opening Indian Adventure together by sharing one last dinner.

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Travel: Goa

I had a generally unproductive day today. Nick went off to visit some family that he had in Mumbai and although I had time to go explore before meeting him at the airport, I decided to let myself have a lazy morning.

My original intent was to catch up on some blog posts but I found myself mesmerized by a new book I was reading on my kindle.

I caught a taxi to the airport after I checked out after noon. There, I waited for Nick to arrive after a lunchtime meeting with his uncle. When he hadn’t arrived by 1:30 pm, I had a brief panic moment that we had missed each other. This was compounded by my schizophrenic cell phone issues. Fortunately, he was just running late, and I didn’t have to deal with all his luggage on top of my own.

We arrived in Goa around 6 pm, however, it took us about 2 hrs to taxi to our hotel because of how large the state is and the New Year’s Eve traffic. After we settled in, we rented a moped and went in search of dinner, I was surprised by how many Russians were on holiday there!

Goa has a history dating back as far as 20,000 to 30,0000 years. There are still rock art carvings that demonstrate the earliest traces of human life when our ancestors first began to transition from four legs to two legs.

Modern day Goa however can be traced back to the year 1510. It is at this point in history that that the Portuguese defeated the reigning sultan and claimed the region as a settlement. Portuguese sovereignty in present-day India would last for four and a half centuries until 1987, when, in the advent of claiming their independence from the British in 1947, the Indian Army moved to reclaim the territory that was rightfully theirs.

Goa is now one of the richest states of India, with the highest GDP per capita (2.5x the entire country’s), and an average growth rate of 8.2%! It is famous for its beaches and nightlife, which is exactly why Nick and I chose to spend our New Years Eve here.

Travel: Elephants

imageElephants are creatures that are revered in India. According to Hindu Cosmology, the earth is supported and guarded by mythical World Elephants at the compass points of the cardinal directions. Sanskrit literature even attributes earthquakes to the shaking of their bodies when the elephants tire of their burden.

The deity Ganesh(a) is the god of wisdom, and he is distinctively represented by a human form with the head of an elephant, which was placed after the human head was either decapitated or burned from the body.

imageHowever, this is not how the Elephanta Caves, with origins dating between the 5th and 8th centuries, received their namesake. In the 16th century, the Portuguese named the island “Elephanta Island” in honor of a huge, monolithically rock-cut black stone of an elephant on a mound; this unfortunately has been relocated to the Mumbai Zoo.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 Despite being just 7 miles east of the port, the ferry ride took an hour to get there! Fortunately, I caught some great views of the Gateway of India, the exit causeway through which the last British troops passed through on February 28, 1948, signalling an end to British rule and the beginning of Indian independence.

In each of the caves, Shiva or Mahadeva, “Great God” is aniconically represented by a Lingam, a single rock rounded at the top. Aniconism is the avoidance of using images to represent divine beings, prophets, and religious figures.

However, I happen to find the monolithic rock to be an appropriate manifestation of Shiva.

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At his highest level, Shiva is considered limitless and transcendent, unchanging and formless. Why not abstractly represent him as something from nature that also adheres to these characteristics? Are rocks not powerful? Do they not withstand the test of the time?

I may not be Hindu, but even I was moved. I couldn’t help but place my palm against the rock and close my eyes, taking some time to summon my faith, and chant the Buddhist Mantra I learned as a child beneath my father’s wing.

Travel: The Other Side

We did something completely off the beaten path today by visiting a slum just north of downtown Mumbai. Nick had helped establish a Pre-K school here about eight years ago, and wanted to check on how it was doing. It’s inspiring to see someone put their heart into something and invest their time and knowledge into helping others, and still care enough to check its well-being so many years later.

You can imagine that I was feeling pretty apprehensive about the experience. While I knew that it would be educational, the opportunity to witness a slum in India first-hand intimidated me.

At first, I didn’t want to face the sadness that would overwhelm me, facing the stark truth that the luxuries I enjoy as an American are just that, unnecessary but expected. As one born in the USA, with opportunities afforded to me by hard-working immigrant parents, its easy to take everything we are given for granted. It’s so simple to think that the small unhappinesses and struggles we may experience are insurmountable, but in the cosmos of things, it’s but a small ripple.

Secondly, I didn’t want to make the locals feel like I was going to visit them as a tourist. My features make it impossible for me to fit in and I knew that not only would they be looking at me in curiosity, but they would also be wondering why I was there. I was concerned that the dwellers would feel like they were on display for a camera-snapping foreigner to watch, like they were in a snow globe village.

In the end, Nick and I went; he even commented that the conditions in the slum were a lot better than he recalled. Rather than propped up shacks made of scaffolding and tarp, I saw brick and mortar buildings, with weighted scaffolding as roofing. Along the paths cutting through the streets, you could see clothes drying on a line; there were vendors for everything from flowers and incense for the temple to little snack shops.

One thing that is different about the poor in India in contrast to other parts of the world is that you can see that the government cares. A lot of slums enjoy the benefits of electricity, cable, and running water. And often, despite springing up illegally on government land, the police do not forcibly remove families to make way for development. Rather, there is a government mandate that requires developers to build apartment-style housing to accommodate the displaced, but only if a majority of the slum community votes for it.

Unfortunately, due to funding issues, Nick was not able to find the school he so lovingly spent hours organizing. He had helped with organizing the lesson plans and worked with the sponsoring company to provide all the classroom essentials the students would need. It made me sad that Nick was not able to witness the longevity or expansion of all his good work. 😦

You may have noted that there are no pictures in this post. This is intentional. Over 2.2 Billion people across the world live in poverty. It is important to Nick and I that we don’t paste more pictures of slums and squalid conditions across the internet. How these people live is not an attraction, it’s not something to be remembered, it’s something, that as a community, and as humans, we work together to put in the past. Rather than something to be framed and on display in an art gallery, this way of life, these conditions, need to end and become a faint memory.

 

 

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