Leaving the intensity of Bombay for the history and ancestral roots of Goa kicked off a quick peek into the wonders of South India including Mangalore, Cochin, Bangalore, Pune, and Aurangabad. Rather than a narration, I’ll share the moments that have struck me as the most Incredible in each place…
Goa – Languages: Konkani, Portuguese, English, Hindi
Sadly Goa is just not what it once was – the characteristically slow pace of life that dad talked about and my grandparents actually lived is as distant a memory as the days when Lisbon ruled. What has remained, and I hope will always remain, is the incredible inspiration of the journey, spirit, legacy and miracle of St. Francis Xavier. I’ve been reading the (600 page) biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola, ( friend and mentor to St. Francis and founder of Jesuit order), and I had just got to the point in history where St. Francis was sent as a last minute replacement to the distant lands of Goa, China and Japan. To then arrive in Goa and see the effects of his outrageous journey, profound impact on the people he met and finally the miracle of his still intact body 450 years after his death is indeed incredible.
Mangalore – State: Karnataka; Languages: Kanada, Tulu, Konkani, English, Hindi
The village of Mangalore from where mum hails is no longer a village. It’s a town by most western standards and would be the 2nd biggest city if it were in New Zealand. We spend several days staying with mum’s cousin and visiting relatives, fields and old houses where mum went on holiday. While the skyline and the traffic argue that Mangalore is a city, the amazing hospitality, generosity and warmth of family, family of family, friends of family and family of friends of family (and their friends) make a convincing argument that in the best of ways, Mangalore is very much still a village at heart.
Cochin – State: Kerela; Languages: Malyalam, English, Hindi
Our 4 days in the Portuguese fort city of Cochin were blessed with an abundance of rich experiences. From cruising the meandering streams and canals that make up the backwaters, to helping locals catch fish using centuries old methods, the utterly delightful warmth and charm of our guest house – Henri’s Anchorage Fort Cochin – brainchild of a retired seaman, or a noon dip in the gorgeous Indian Ocean, there was wonder at every turn. But the most incredible of them all was the totally random lunch of ‘Fish fry’ and chapatis we bought from a little stall run by a boy and his parents. With no other food stalls or restaurants in sight on the deserted little beach that we found ourselves on (yes, ok we got lost – Nuala was supposed to be looking for signs because I was supposed to be controlling the scooter), the only English writing said ‘Fish Fry’; no price, no menu, no pictures. Fortunately the son of the owners was lurking around and he understood that we might want something to go with ‘Fish Fry’ – perhaps some rice, bread or chapati. We sat down to a ‘Fish Fry’ and two chapatis each, not knowing what we could possibly expect. What emerged was a whole fish caught that morning, stuffed with masala and fried to perfection; a taste sensation that makes it into my list of ‘top 10 meals of my life’! With no idea of what either the fish or the chapatis costed, we were seduced into eating 3 fish and 6 chapatis and couldn’t help grinning with glee. We thought our time in utopia would be short lived when the boy announced: “Ok – that is one thousand and five rupees”….and then on seeing the look of shock on our faces…” Oh no no no – one hundred and five rupees”.
Besides the superlative taste of the meal, the whole experience was so totally unexpected, totally unrepeatable, and unbelievably cheap (NZ$3) making it pretty damn outstanding.
Bangalore – State Karnataka; Languages: Kanada, Tulu, Konkani, English, Hindi
We enjoyed the hospitality of a childhood family friend Aiona, her husband Perry, and three lovely girls Gia, Nina and Ella and took the chance to see a bit of the IT powerhouse that is Bangalore. The city prides itself on its reputation as a modern, green, less congested economic marvel than most Indian cities its size. While we think this pride is fairly well justified by the relative abundance of parks, gardens, trees, footpaths and divers who don’t honk incessantly, we found it incredible that this city would be plagued by that old scourge – public urination. We saw plenty of offenders embellishing public and private walls alike, but more obvious and striking were the oft repeated warning printed in bold red letters “DO NOT URINATE HERE”
Pune – State Maharashtra; Languages: Marathi, English, Hindi
After being in India as long as we had – there was nothing incredible about Pune. We stayed with family and enjoyed the warm hospitality and characteristically delicious cooking of mum’s aunt while we caught up with my sister Ruth who joins us for the next leg of our travels. We also visited Pune Engineering College where dad got his degree all those… many… many years ago – a beautiful collection of colonial era buildings whose occupants know a thing or two about engineering.
Ajanta and Ellora caves – State Maharashtra; Languages: Marathi, English, Hindi
Seeing these massive temple caves cared out of solid rock has been on my hit-list for over a decade now. When we finally got inside (after winning an argument in Hindi as to whether I am an Indian, eligible for the admission charge of 25 Rupees or a foreigner and therefore privileged to pay 250 Rupees) the scale and complexity of these marvels are truly stunning. The cave temples are carved from rock so they’re more like a sculpture than a constructed building. When you ponder what that means for the poor folks who created them, removing away excess rock rather than placing material where desired, it really does boggle the mind. The caves range in age between 2200 and 800 years old with the largest single temple carved around 1000 years ago to a size one and a half times that of the Parthenon in Athens and requiring the excavation of over 200 thousand tonnes of rock! For me, it rivals the Pyramids of Giza as the sight that fills me with so much awe for the sheer complexity of creation – this is Incredible India at it’s best. Check out the photos to see what I cannot possibly describe.