Thiruvananthapuram to Kanyakumari.

It’s been slow progress to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India: we are diverted by beautiful beaches, a friendly family or the luxury of a western style hotel, but also because by lunchtime, it’s too hot to ride (32’). The wealth of central kerela is less evident further south, with the unwelcome return of beggars, disabled beggars and slum housing, especially in fishing communities. And children squatting to poo beside the road! It’s crowded too: the population density of kerela is almost double that of the UK (860 per km²) so some of our minor roads are becoming busy, with one village almost merging into the next.

 

Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of kerela – temples, traffic, great food and hotel, a beautiful outdoor swimming pool (disappointingly drained of water) and even more traffic! We turn right towards our hotel at a crossroads controlled by lights and face a barrage of tuktuks and motorbikes dashing towards the junction. They plan to quickly turn right as soon as the lights change before the opposite cars delay them, without any regard for the lane’s rightful user, me!! I’m not in any danger and I could pull over but it’s far more fun to ‘ gesticulate my irritation’ and force them to stop. Indian driving is truly, utterly, unbelievably abysmal. Beyond abysmal!! But our greatest hazard in traffic is air pollution we choose the rural roads.

 

Sadly I couldn’t recommend India as a holiday destination because a tourist would be exposed to traffic and dysfunctional driving in a hire car, taxi or bus. Trains are interesting but too slow, and accident prone. Three major accidents have happened during our visit, the most recent was sabotage.  Such a shame because India is incredible, unforgettable.

 

It took 6 hours to ride the last 68km to India’s southern tip today. We were thwarted by rough roads, sandy roads, coastally eroded roads, and waving down a fisherman to transport us where there was no road at all. But also diverted; first by a flag ceremony to celebrate India’s national day (a forgiving bunch, welcoming 2 Brits to celebrate emancipation from British rule in 1948 with a flag, a shower of glitter, an anthem and sweets for all!), then coir manufacturing, heartbreaking fish markets, food stalls, children racing us on bikes, motorbikes alongside “How are you? What is your country?”. Always something to look at! And of course there’s the sea and farming and forest fringing our route, the kites and kingfishers and too many crows.

 

For 10 weeks every day has been hot and sunny, calm or a gentle tailwind, but now we have weather!! Still hot, but some clouds and (it had to be…) a strong headwind. But it’s weather!! For too long we have only experienced climate. From now on we head north and North East, with the sun on our backs and the sea on our right!
Our high rise hotel is brand new, we are the first! New bedding, thick soft towels and only £12/night. The balcony has both sunrise and sunset views, looking west at the Arabian sea, and east to the Indian ocean. How splendid! There are swifts (swallows?) everywhere, including one in our bedroom!! Below are higgledy-piggledy Indian homes, two or three storey blocks, narrow streets, washing flapping, children waving, women laughing at me wrapped in my post shower luxury towel.

 

Cycling along a spit, view to the west

And to the east.

Kerelan backwaters, Alleppy to Kollam

Eden Villa with delicious breakfasts and pots of tea

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As good as it gets

Or shortest ever day!! After 5km we reach clean, pretty Marari beach, with its shady palms and fine sand, and decide to stay! We have a new AC room with balcony above a sweet family. Eat, swim, cycle, read, repeat! This is as good as it gets!

At Andrew’s granite basilica. Huge! Further north I counted 13 mosques in 16 km. Here it’s catholic churches!

We crossed Lake Vembanad, the longest lake in India, and the largest Kerala. Only 12 passengers and 6 crew, but dozens of life jackets because in 2002 our ferry captsized drowning 29 passengers!! In 6′ depth of water. Indians do not swim, even those living at the beach.

The beach near Canaan Marari homestay (with delicious food)

Kerela rice is short and ‘spongey’. There is lots of fresh coconut and it’s very spicy. Canaan Marari homestay has a fabulous chef!

A ship shrine – I can’t repeat that easily – at the basilica.

In a tiny village!

Dolphins at Fort Cochin

My perfect clock, in a perfect tea room, Cochin Fort

Note the bird of prey on the cathedral at Cochin.

The rain trees are beautiful

 

 

 

 

Kerela is first to receive the monsoon, coming in off the Indian Ocean so it has almost triple India’s mean rainfall, filling its huge lakes and waterways. The family downstairs showed us clips of the monsoon season: gale-force winds, thunder, lightning and torrential downpours. Exciting! For us, every day is cloudless, sunny and hot! 30′ in the shade! At night there’s a lovely sea breeze walking along the shore, but it’s still 22′. The sea is warmer than heated Greenbank pool and really really salty!

Chinese fishing nets – how do any fish survive?

I told Charles he wouldn’t enjoy it!!

Low lying and prone to storms. Flat, easy cycling except for the sand.

The best spoken English! A lovely lady at Samudra resort, Cherai beach

Repairing bunds. 

 

 

 

Deliciousness!!

 

 

 

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Welcome to Kerela

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Chinese fishing nets line the mouth of the river, how do any fish survive?

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We see dolphins daily, cruising metres from the shore

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Thousands of pilgrims in Guruvayor

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Lots more coconut shredded into the rice or in curries. No more thalis. Here pulses alternates with rice

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Nice post lady. Kerela has a very fluffy version of communism!!

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2,200m to sea level…

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Arabian sea, Kerela

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Where is her middle?? 1kg ankle bracelets

The most incredible awesome decent from Ooty (2,200m): we stopped at a view point and joined some Rajasthanis for breakfast. Then we met a cycle group from Mumbai, then a group of tea picking ladies… But all the time it was down, down, down, cold in Ooty, thick forest pines, then eucalyptus trees and tea bushes, bamboo then palms.  I could depend on the road surface, curve after curve, it was like skiing!

Kerala has all the ticks: the best indicators for health, education, literacy and life expectancy, low poverty, low rates for infant mortality, maternal mortality and malnutrition. Undisputed. So we expected wealth. But not on this scale. Cycling on rural roads we pass Florida style palaces, huge hardwood furniture stores, electrical shops, jewelry and gold for sale, all evidence of big inequality here in Kerala. But it’s not that the poor are so desperately poor, it’s just that the rich are super-rich. I counted 13 mosques in a 16km section of our route today and suddenly it clicked. The Arabian restaurants and schools we pass, boys wearing Muslim white caps, girls in hijab: these are Indian Muslims and their wealth comes from Middle East remittances. 3m Kerelite Indians are economic migrants.

The Communist party of India leads the state government in Kerala yet private schools, hospitals, and busineses flourish. Charles is happy with this type of communism!

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Kerela!!

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Paused for a photo, invited for breakfast

Paused for a photo, invited for breakfast

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Men and women sit separately, and in rows???!

Men and women sit separately, and in rows???!

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Firewood in Ooty

Firewood in Ooty

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Huge pine forests near Ooty, then decended through tea plantations, eucalyptus trees, then tropical palms

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We chatted to these tea ladies. I opened my pannier and passed a bag of chocolates into their truck. Immediately, monkeys appeared, and I the my tomato rather than battle to eat it!

We chatted to these tea ladies. I opened my pannier and passed a bag of chocolates into their truck. Immediately, monkeys appeared, and I the my tomato rather than battle to eat it!

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Nilambur on a Monday night: funfair, circus and rock concert. We opted for the circus... sadly most applause greeted the girls with less talent but even less clothes.

Nilambur on a Monday night: funfair, circus and rock concert. We opted for the circus… sadly most applause greeted the girls with less talent but even less clothing

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An image of Vishnu, Hindu God, the protector, blue with 4 arms. One of his avatars on earth is Krishna. Southern India was ruled by the Gupta dynasty ( AD320-550) who were creative, loved the arts; pleasure virtue and prosperity were goals. The Guptas are responsible for the birth of modern Hinduism, and the Kamasutra.

I doubt if a tourist has ever find here, probably not ever a woman either! No English, but we ate and weren't sick! Nice waiters: surly customers and to forgive my sex when we started to play Scrabble!!

I doubt if a tourist has ever find here, probably not ever a woman either! No English, but we ate and weren’t sick! Nice waiters: surly customers and to forgive my sex when we started to play Scrabble!!

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Fabulous lunch

Fabulous lunch

2660m on a bicycle!!

2660m on a bicycle!!

Great guys on a cycling tour, climbing up to Ooty as we descended.

Great guys on a cycling tour, climbing up to Ooty as we descended.

 

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An absolute joy! Barely a straight section.

 

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Ooty ” This day good things come”

Big ride up to Ooty in the Nilgiri hills this week. Views were hazy, and the climb steep- the worst bit ascended 800m to 2200m in 13km.
screenshot_20170106-165324 We stopped for a picnic (yes, wrapped in newspaper, old elephant poo beside the road) and two local men pulled over to say hi and look at our bikes. I asked them to take our panniers. Not only did they take our bags to a “you’ll see it, a pink and white colonial bungalow hotel on the left” but when we found it they had negotiated a cheaper rate incl breakfast! The kindness of strangers…. We met for a delicious lunch, learning about running businesses in India, and family life. They are such great guys!! I am ashamed to admit that they paid for lunch.
Lovely Abubacken and Dinyenata, thank you, I could not have climbed the hill with bags.

Lovely Abubacken and Dinyenata, thank you, I could not have climbed the hill with bags.

Tea break, 400m to go...

Tea break, 400m to go…

There is a lorry route, three times longer and full of lorries and buses, our road was quiet, almost too steep for cars, and 36 numbered bends! At each bend an English sign to encourage safe driving ” a hospital ceiling is boring to look at”, “will your next ride be a mortuary van?
We were not allowed to cycle through Bandipur/ Mudumalai tiger reserves, so stood in an open truck with our bikes wishing we could ride. Many opportunities for a safari to seek “the elusive tiger” but we know they remain hidden from tourists. Good to know tigers and leapards survive here. To see elephants, Abu tells us, ride our hill early in the morning or at dusk.
Ooty hill top town is wonderfully cool, hot sun and very blue skies followed by jackets-on cool evenings. The town centre is a bustling honking mess but the lake, botanical gardens, tea plantations and colonial buildings are lovely. And the views. Today we cycle to Doddabetta lookout. At 2633m it will be our highest gain. But I’m not there yet!
Eucalyptus trees

Eucalyptus trees

"Auntie, selfie?"

“Auntie, selfie?”

The Savoy hotel, great ambience, log fire, but expensive food.

The Savoy hotel, great ambience, log fire, but expensive food.

Treebo bungalow hotel

Treebo bungalow hotel

Look at this beautiful new road!

Look at this beautiful new road!

Working families live in these 'A' frame tents wherever there's construction.

Working families live in these ‘A’ frame tents wherever there’s construction.

Looking likes Bolivian shanty!

Looking like a Bolivian shanty!

Our waiter translates: this day good things come.

Our waiter translates: this day good things come.

These couples grew up clise to my home in Coventry: small world!

These couples grew up clise to my home in Coventry: small world!

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Mysore Palace, eyesore museum!

From Hampi a night train with bikes to Mysore: 3rd class with a/c was busy, and I woke to find an Indian woman curled around my feet sharing my hard berth! But it was fine. Friendly!

We saw the palace bright with lights but I copied this picture.

We saw the palace bright with lights but I copied this picture.

Hampi’s guest house was noisy and grubby with a smelly drains problem. At night, betal mouth mum and her two grown sons slept on the corridor floor between the rooms. For the same price in Mysore we luxuriated in a western style hotel; thick mattress, feather pillows a/c, satellite TV. From the rooftop terrace we watched two Brahmin kites nesting in the thick canopy of the rain trees, with flocks of green parrots skimming the crowns. Then dusk brought bats. Opposite, in Casino Park restaurant we achieved new culinary heights! And two nights became four….

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The marriage pavilion

Public Durbar hall.

Public Durbar hall.

The first thing you notice in Mysore are the tall trees lining most roads, then the lack of dogs and litter. A teenager delighted to tell Charles/ “Sir” that Mysore tops the list of the cleanest cities in India, and fourth in the world (untrue but he was so proud!).

Mysore was ruled by the Wodeyar dynasty, but still part of the Vijayanagar empire (capital at Hampi). The palace is beautiful at night covered in over 100,000 bulbs but on new year’s day, it was heaving with Indians on holiday, traffic impossible. So we cycled up Chamundi hill (1062m) which was closed to all traffic except visitor buses – a pleasant easy ride to a temple and market stalls.

When Charles was escorted by security from Mysore palace to the camera check-in desk, I sneaked a few pictures with my small sony, alongside Indian visitors with mobile phones. These tall palaces take advantage of shade and any breezes. They are colourful/ gaudy, depending on one’s taste. The mosaic floors and carved wooden doors are beautiful. The museum was dreadful!

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We cycled north to the ruins of Sirangapatnam fort, capital of southern India in C18th, and defeated by the British in 1799. We are copying an Exodus tour route, so far very disappointed by busy roads and very few miles!

Coloured cones of kumkum powder used for bindi dots

Coloured cones of kumkum powder used for bindi dots

At Philomena's cathedral

St Philomena’s cathedral

Mysore School of art

Mysore School of art

I cycle behind a huge shaggy dog!

I cycle behind a huge shaggy dog!

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Mysore

The shady rain trees, pic from internet.

The shady rain trees, pic from internet.

university swimming pool was refreshing: separate sex bathing of course!

Look at his feet!

Look at his feet!

Here is a quote from a review of 2016 in the Deccan Herald: ” seven bravehearts died thwarting a terrorist infiltration into Pathankot air force station. In a dastardly attack in Uri…” The archaic language used in newspapers ( the car turtled…) makes me smile, but not the content. The lonely hearts ” seeking wife/ seeking husband” page is split into sections by language, locality, religion, and caste (Bhramin adverts list qualifications, all PhDs).

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Stoned

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I’m reading Game of Thrones so Hampi feels like a fantasy world of rocks, river and ruins – at any moment Tyrion will waddle into view, or a dragon will fly across the sky!! Heaps of giant boulders perch precariously over miles of undulating terrain, their rusty peachy hues (that’s poetic, Charles!) are offset by flat green palm groves, leafy banana plantations and paddy fields.

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Hampi rocks are extremely old – 3.4 to 2.0 billion years – being part of the Indian Craton.  A craton is the thick, stable part of the earth’s crustal plate that was once part of the supercontinent Pangaea. Pangaea split into two continents: further splits eventually saw Madagascar and Australia break away and triangular India migrated north into the Eurasian Plate forming the Himalayas. Throughout this time Hampi’s rocks weathered and eroded into rounded and detached boulders.

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Looking terrified, view of Kodandarama Temple from Matanga hill

Looking terrified, view of Kodandarama Temple from Matanga hill

Virupaksha Temple from Matanga hil

Virupaksha Temple from Matanga hil

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According to the Ramayana (an ancient Indian epic poem), the settlement was ruled by monkey kings and their armies flung the rocks to show their strength.

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Hampi is a naturally defensive site nestled between the hills and the south bank of the River Tungabhadra. In 1343 the Vijayanagar empire located it’s Hindu capital here and traded in horses, spices, silks and gems. It’s peak population was 500,000 but the city was devastated by  Muslim attacks in the second half of the sixteenth century. Now it is a UNESCO tourist attraction and an important Hindu pilgrimage site. We cycled to all of the temples and climbed two hills, and chilled every evening watching the sunset…

Tungabhadra river

Tungabhadra river

Hajari Temple at the palace complex

Hajari Temple at the palace complex

Some car at Vittal Temple

Stone car at Vittal Temple

Vittal's intricate carving

Vittal’s intricate carving

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Lotus Mahal at the palace

Lotus Mahal at the palace

The elephant stables

The elephant stables

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Sunset monkeys attacked a first for his water bottle. Charles gave me a banana at a quiet spot but the monkeys arrived within seconds. Terrified, I flung it.

Sunset monkeys attacked a tourist for his water bottle. Charles gave me a banana at a quiet spot but the monkeys arrived within seconds. Terrified, I flung it.

Hajari temple

Hajari temple

Black carved columns

Black carved columns

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Rushkarani step well

Rushkarani step well

A trough cut from a single block of granite

A trough cut from a single block of granite

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Don’t worry, be Hampi!

Roadworks outside our hotel, but no diversion or warning signs of a ramp

Roadworks outside our hotel, but no diversion or warning signs of a ramp

We are back on the road again after a week on the coast in Goa. Only 50km to Margao – chickpea and potato dahl for breakfast, vegetable thali and samosas wrapped in newspaper for lunch, and two dosas for dinner – all excellent but eclipsed by last night’s chocolate brownie with ice cream and strawberries!! Margao town is grubby and noisy: among the hoards of mopeds and shoppers it’s difficult to see so many beggars: barefoot street children in filthy clothes, men curled up asleep between parked mopeds, and the abandoned struggling handicapped mostly at the train station (two young girls without tongues).  We are 6km from a white sandy beach resort that stretches along the coast for 25km, but it may as well be on the moon!! Tomorrow a train will take us from here to close to Hampi in the Western Ghats, then we head south to Mysore to pick up an Exodus cycle route that I plan to copy!

An eloquent Russian traveller described Goa as “like glue”. I understand. For weeks it was our goal, then our luxury – wonderful food, company, entertainment. Soothing, without challenge! It’s surprising how easily we adjusted to life on a sun lounger! Imagine the added enticement of easy alcohol and drugs (at first the Israeli cartels controlled the class A drugs but now it’s the Russians and Nigerians. We know this stuff, we’ve been to Bob’s Inn)

Lots of selfies with me and archaic ' pleased to meet you' and 'super' comments.

Lots of selfies with me and archaic ‘ pleased to meet you’ and ‘super’ comments.

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As 2017 is approaching I am reflecting on 2016: zika virus, terror attacks, the brutal conflict in Syria and the thousands of migrants who died trying to reach Europe, record world temperatures, and political divisions, notably Brexit and Trump… And David Bowie died.

Any good news? In 2016 there is peace in Columbia, and the risk of catching malaria in Sri Lanka is eradicated.  I read that Americans have perfected gene editing, the ability to snip exact traits – vulnerability to pathogens, viruses, disease or browning – from a plant’s genome, to increase crop yields and reduce waste. Imagine being able to feed the world’s population, India’s population! Good news indeed, except that control of food production is big business!!   German pharmaceutical giant Bayer plans to purchase agricultural giant Monsanto for $66 billion. If the deal goes through, the combined company will own 30% of the global seed business. Here GM rice is grown intensively by landowners using purchased seeds, fertilisers and incredibly poor farm labourers working long hours in fields of rice, bananas and sugar cane

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Surely editing the human genome is good news too – increase resistance to HIV, allow blind people to see – so why am I fearful of Margaret Atwood’s hugely dysfunctional society in Oryx and Crake, and After the Flood where scientists feed big corporations!

Yet despite the poverty people here are kind and generous. We completed a snow storm of paperwork and paid £2 to transport our bikes on a train. The manager meet us on the platform and helped us lift our bikes on board. We have 3 mins to disembark and race to the luggage carriage before the train departs ( stressful!) but the manager had phoned ahead to arrange for porters.

This generous man bought food to feed 150 in a temple and invited us to join in. He did not speak English: it was a while before we realised that the delicious food was free. But how I smirked to see Charles eat with his fingers!!!

Our temple host

Our temple host

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Servers filled out plates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hippy, happy UNESCO Hampi. Population 2,770, but it was one of the richest and largest cities in the world during its prime.

Hippy, happy UNESCO Hampi. Population 2,770, but it was one of the richest and largest cities in the world during its prime.

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Life is a beach!

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Two nights have morphed into four and now we are staying for a whole week, departing on Boxing Day.

Pinto guest house is an oasis of calm in the bustle of Candolim resort. Our balcony overlooks woodland behind and in front, a wide terrace overlooks a pretty garden of shady palms and mango trees. Most guests are ‘snow birds’ – a community of retired Europeans returning for months of winter sunshine. We are the youngest except for likeable Mike next door, a London cabbie on a motorbike tour.

Who knew Charles could draw!

Who knew Charles could draw!

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I’ve joined the hoards of too much naked flesh!!

After a muesli breakfast listening to the Today programme, we wander down to the nearby beach, swim, read, then lunch under a canopy in a beach shack. The inland ‘ Strip’ is a narrow road of restaurants, shops and bars, hectic with traffic, almost impossible to cross at night, but I can buy twinings earl grey tea, visit the German bakery, eat salads safely! Last night Alan took us to a Burmese restaurant: I ate a spicy green papaya salad with crabmeat, seared sesame tuna (a dozen thin slices) wasabi, light soy, then a chocolate dessert. Charles ate a lemongrass and ginger creme brulee. We never found food like that in Burma two years ago!!!

Charles is less active and is gaining weight again (I am surprised by how much I have lost!). Neither of us relish returning to thalis and snacks wrapped in newspaper, but the adventure continues next week, heading inland to Hampi, then south to Mysore. And if it all goes pear shaped we can return to Goa!

Merry Christmas!

But the season is not full of cheer for 23.6% of India’s population, (276 million people) living below $1.25 per day on purchasing power parity. Especially when I hear this on BBC news:

“The five-day wedding of businessman and ex-state minister G Janardhana Reddy’s daughter, Brahmani, is estimated to cost about 5bn rupees (£59m)” . He served three years in jail on corruption charges, which he denies, and was freed on bail last year.

 

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Too much naked flesh!!

Swiss Alfred/ Fred, if you are reading this THANK YOU for the top tip. Kelavi beach was the real deal, a great experience! Hope you are coping with those rough roads to Mumbai!!

Our charming fisherrnan

Our charming fisherman

This week we slept in a tiny bungalow on the beach (with hammock!) in a fisherman’s village where only our host spoke minimal English. Our meals were cooked on a wood fire, the fish in our curry straight from the boats, the family hovering, watching us eat, perhaps to see if we liked it? The villagers spill onto the beach in the coolness of evening and I laughed with the children.

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Quiet, traditional Kelavi beach contrasted sharply with the following night in Arambol. They are only 60km apart (with three sharp climbs) but Arambol, we discovered, is the hippiest beach in Goa – not hip, hippiest. After no westerners since Agra, it was startling to see dozens of mopeds carrying scantily clad Europeans. I was startled by so much exposed white flesh! (On a busy Indian beach I’m comfortable in a swimsuit with tee shirt). This resort caters for Russian and Israeli tourists. The young sport beards, huge tattoos, braids or pigtails, toned bodies, and minimal but expensive clothing (no labels). But we see a significant number of older, long stay hippies, hence the endless market stalls that sell crystals, tie dye clothing, and souvenirs, reminiscent of Glastonbury high street! Colourful two storey wooden bars and restaurants line the 4km beach thumping out music… Most visitors hire mopeds to explore the endless beaches north and south of Arambol, the super cool ride guttural Royal Enfield motorbikes, once made Redditch, now fully manufactured in India. The trendiest accessory on a bike appears to be a young family! But sadly no helmets: both young parents and hippy parents with greying dreads carry their babes in front slings and their tiny toddlers wedged between. Too vulnerable on these hectic resort roads.

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Last night we meet the real deal – guys who took five months to hitchhike to India and lived here through the 60s. They are interesting, so knowledgeable about India and great fun – so much for cannabis addling the brain! One is a neighbour from Somerset, surprised we made it to his winter hideaway at Candolim. For now we are content to have a few days on the beach enjoying a quiet guest house with garden and WiFi, but also a German bakery. Charles ate a huge piece of apple pie before his chicken burger and chips today, snacking on hobnobs…. I think he has recovered!

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Yet another river crossing

Yet another river crossing

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Earl grey tea and poached eggs on brown toast

Earl grey tea and poached eggs on brown toast

SE Asia is not kind to its dogs. Usually a raised hand from my handlebar is enough to scare them away, but in the early morning, frisky village dogs occasionally give chase as we ride through. Charles almost dares them – nothing like a good growl to start one’s day! Last week a yelp told me that Charles’s stone had hit its target. One night, at 2am we were woken yet again by village dogs howling at each other: once one starts…. But Charles was not going to be disturbed! In an image I’ll never forget, I watched as a skinny naked man darted outdoors with two jugs of water to quieten the nearest dogs! In a country where exposing one’s legs is offensive

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