With two days to spend in Goa, I headed first to colorful and laid-back Panjim (the more recent Portuguese Port Capital--where I ate some amazing Xacuti Mutton, similar to Vindaloo) and Old Goa (or old capital). Each of these harbor some impressive churches. My only complaint was that nobody would stow my bags while I walked around these places--the 26/11 Mumbay attacks are the cause of this reluctance on the part of hotel and shop owners. In the afternoon, I headed to Arambol, a hippie retreat town. The next day, I started hiking north along the bluffs and encountered German guy about my age. He was coming back from the plateau which extends several km inland from these bluffs. It turns out that he's living in the forest and on the plateau, sleeping out in the open and leaving his belongings in the cheap beach town to the north of Arambol. The amazing thing about the beach town is that due to some severe monsoon-related flooding last year there was significant beach erosion and they were remedying this problem by re-inforcing the beach with a rock wall. In order to build this wall, they employed several machines and labor from about 100 poor families from Kanartaka who were living in tents on the sandy flats to the east. A few families talked with me and let me take a few photographs. With the temperature gradient between land and sea quite strong in the afternoon, a sea breeze was quite strong and sand was blasting my legs. I lost track of my german friend, but found him at the Banyan Tree in the jungle after passing a place where people were mud-bathing. The banyan tree is very old a flat area has been cleared and provides a gathering place for people who are living in the forest (hippies, hindus, and otherwise). Sitting around the tree was an odd experience that I can't really describe, but people were friendly and taught me the basics of circular breathing (to play the dig). I accompanied my friend and another German (whose path I'd oddly crossed several times in Kerala) to his forest site, which was well worn and adjacent to a small stream. We just built a small fire and hung out. His conviction persuaded me that drinking the water from the stream (unboiled) was fine. I had doubts after the fact and I'm holding my fingers crossed that I don't contrive giardiasis. Living in the forest is the simple life and the greatest worry seems to be the monkeys. My friend just buys some vegetables and masala and cooks it himself, otherwise eating local berries and cashews which grow in abondance on the plateau (the locals make an alcohol out of it). I couldn't stay the night because I was heading to Mumbay early in the morning.
I was incredibly fortunate to have Rahul's parents to host me in Mumbay. Rahul's father picked me up at the Dadar station and we went straight up to their suburb of Andheri on another rail line. I thought the suburbs might be less crazy, but they are even crazier when there is any sort of construction (which i in full force this year). Rahul's father took a vacation day just to show me the city. The first day we made a slum-to-riches tour of the city, commencing in the largest shanti-town, Dhaveri (I think slumdog millionaire was filmed in part, here) and ending at the Taj Hotel where we spent some time enjoying the AC and plush couches, while contemplating the events of just 5 months before. I had a glimse of one of the stairwells (they told me to leave, immediately), but I could imagine just how scary it might have been to be stuck up there in the rooms. There is an amazing amount of activity in Dhaveri and it's not like a US slum where I might feel unsafe. It acts like Mumbai's recycling center where all kinds of used parts are stripped for useable materials. Child labor is common, but under-cover, as authorities are cracking down. Some art work was also being performed with the spare parts. There are several successful streets were merchants sell items amidst the maze of narrow shanti-lined passageways which become part of the workplace. Other highlights of our walk from Victoria Station to Colaba, include the Prince of Wales Museum, with some amazing Asian art and the finest Japanese embroidery I've ever seen (including some Hahns--roosters). The natural history section was a nice opportunity to see a few of the birds I'd seen, up close.
My second day of exploration was on my own and I went to several dobi ghats, where laundry is done (en mass), manually. The best place to see this is at Malabar Hill (and they don't ask for money here!). Malabar Hill was a real gem. I also paid a visit to Maji Ali's Mosque (the first I'd ever been inside) and Chowpatty Beach on Mumbai's emerald necklass (marred principally by the trash, blowing sand, and large numbers of pigeons).
Rahul's parents fed me some tremendous food (specialties from rural Maharastra) before I departed on a night bus to Aurungabad. I witnessed a tremendous scale of stone carving at the Ellora Caves (~30 km from the town). A string of 34 caves showcase Budhist, Hindu, and Jain cave temples. The biggest of these was carved down from the top into a 3-5 story rock face. I was just awed by the amount of stone excavated and the various scales and planning of symbolism. A British Friend introduced me to a new form of transportation, the jeep taxi. Imagine a large-ish jeep with 23 people packed in it like sardines...I decided that these jeeps could only be full when Westerners approached...otherwise room was always made.
Ellora caves were also amazing, but in the quality of their cave paintings (rather than scale). I joined a group of Farsis from Mumbai who had a guide. The setting would have been amazing in the rainy season, with waterfalls cascading into the horseshoe-like bend in the river, complete with upstream slot canyon and locals living simply on the plateau above.
I will leave my more recent travels in Madhya Pradesh and Rajastan for the next post.