Golden

Our detour up to Punjab for the wedding meant that we got a couple of days to spend in the state and so we headed to Amritsar. I am so glad we did as it is home to the Golden Temple one of the best buildings we have seen in our travels in India. We arrived back in Amritsar at 1am after a train journey from Bhatinda and once we checked into our hotel we were out for the count. We had both picked up a flu from being on the go and all the partying at the wedding had worn us out so we spent our first morning in Amritsar recovering and watching TV in bed.

We weren’t completely slack though and in the mid afternoon we headed off to see the famous Golden Temple. The temple is a Sikh temple which meant no shoes and head coverings. We dropped our shoes off at a little counter and hoped to buy a little scarf or bandana as the guidebook said the palace was rife with shops selling them. However we couldn’t find any so we decided to go for the ones that the palace provided. I was a bit iffy as I’m not sure if and when they get washed and I had visions of getting head lice but since we were there and all the locals were doing it we thought ‘why not’. With our head scarves on we headed in one of the main gates to view the temple everyone had been talking about.

They talk about it for a reason. It is absolutely stunning. It doesn’t quite measure up to the Taj Mahal but it comes a very close second. The complex is huge with marble floors and clean while buildings surrounding the water on which the Golden Temple is located. The central gold temple shimmers in the water and in the light of day as it is made with real gold. I’m not sure if words or photos can do it justice. We slowly wandered around the complex taking in the beautiful architecture and detailed sculptures before making our way into the golden temple itself. There was quite a queue to get in as many Sikhs had made the pilgramage to come and pray there. There were even security acting as bouncers making sure it wasn’t over loaded. With a bit of a shuffle and shove at the end we got inside the temple to have a look. In the centre four men were playing music and singing what I assume would be prayers that could be heard over a loudspeaker in the complex. The building shimmered from the inside but we barely go a chance to look as we got caught up in the crowd of people moving through. It was beautiful but we were certainly out of place as tourists as we had to weave through people praying on the floorand bending to kiss the ground. I felt like we were intruding on something so after a very rushed look we left to go back outside and view from afar.

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The temple draws massive crowds so it was interesting to people watch – the people in solemn prayer, the families visiting with children as tourists, westerners taking photos. We whiled away an hour just waking and looking which meant we were still there at dusk. It was even prettier bathed in a soft glow of pink. We headed out of the temples and onto the streets that form a bazaar around the palace. It was crazy noisy and busy and the shopaholic in me was dying to go crazy but I was good and refrained from buying anything. We were still feeling a little worse for wear so we headed back to our hotel and relaxed in the quiet.

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We were better tourists the next day and had arranged a tour of the Pakistan – India border closing as well as a few temples. The border closing was crazy! There really is no other word for it. We drove for about an hour up to the border and then walked through security, showed our passports and scrambled through the crowds into the V.I.P area for foreigners and got our spot. As we arrived the ceremony had just started and couples of Indian girls were running the flag up and down the road as guards watched on. Then the music started and all the girls jumped onto the road for a massive dance party. It was like being at the wedding all over again. The crowd clapped along with the music as they watched on and when Jai Ho came on they all went crazy. From what we could see of the Pakistan border not much was going on over there but the Indians were certainly making up for it.

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Once the dance party finished the guards came out and began their march. First one of the soldiers does a huge long wailing cry into the microphone and then two soldiers march down to the gates. The MC then runs arounds the crowd urging them to cheer and chant as the guards work the I magic at the gates. This was repeated on the Pakistani border I am sure but due to the crowds we couldn’t see much. The soldiers then did this crazy sort of kick  march at the gates to cheers of the crowd. Its hard to explain really what was going on because there was so much happening and so many people standing and shoving to see I mostly saw the back of peoples heads. At the end the flags are dropped and the ceremony is over and the stampede starts. We were pushed and shoved and ended up climbing a fence to get out – so much for being V.I.P’s. Thankfully we survived with everything I tact and headed on to the next stop.

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The Mata Temple was our next point of call and since neither James nor I had read up about it we had no idea what it was all about. We wandered in and got directed along a flight of stairs that led us along a windy adventure through the most colorful and jazzy temple I have ever been in. I say adventure because it was like a crazy house at a fun fair. We had to walk up a massive slope, get on our hands and knees and crawl through an opening, walk through rooms covered in mirrors, past massive distorted statues and through a tunnel of water. It was interesting but hard work not getting lost!

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Our final stop was the Golden Temple but this time to see it lit up at night. It was just as stunning with the golden building lit up and shimmering in the water. Since we had seen it the day before we had a wander around to see it at night before heading to the free kitchen. The palace operates a free kitchen which feeds over a hundred thousand people a day. We gave a small donation however since we were there for pure tourism reasons. We were given a Thai plate and bowl and guided to upstairs where rows and rows of carpet were set out. We sat down and joined the locals an waited for our food. Volunteers come along and pour dhal, curry and rice pudding onto our plates and water into our bowls. There were men walking big baskets of chapati around and to get one you had to hold your palms out and wait for them to drop it into your hands.  We sat cross legged and ate with our hands and the food was really yummy. Considering they serve so many a day and we received it hot and fresh they must certainly have the system down. Once you are finished you get up and take your plate to the washers who get rid of the mess and start the hard task of all that washing up. It was really amazing to see how much they can do to feed so many and just another reason that the Golden Temple is such an amazing place.

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The next day we were up bright and early at 4am to get on a train to our final destination, Udaipir. We had a great time up in Punjab and I would have to say it was one of my favourites (as most places tend to become) because we had experienced so much great stuff there. I was also happily surprised by the food – we are getting a little bit over curry but the food we had in Punjab definitley reignited our love of Indian flavours. Its hard to believe we were going to skip this part of India completely and I’m so glad we didn’t as I highly recommend a visit to everyone.

Tying The Knot – Indian Style

Going to an Indian wedding wasn’t always on our travel plans but when Hamish mentioned him and Michelle were going to one in Punjab and it probably wouldn’t matter if we tagged along we changed our itinerary to fit it in. Don’t worry – we weren’t wedding crashes, the groom Karendeep is a close work mate of Hamish’s said more the merrier. Karendeep lives in Melbourne but is originally from Bhatinda and when his parents thought it was taking him too long to find a wife they did it the more traditional way of arranging a bride. It wasn’t a blind wedding though and Karendeep had met his bride Jasimeen several times and was happy about the match. My feelings about arranged marridges as side (I dont really agree with them) it was promised to be one hell of a party. There was the ‘engagement party’ that evening with the ring ceremony followed by the actual wedding and further celebrations the next day.

We met Mish and Hamish in Amiritsar and shared a taxi to the town of Bhatinda. It was really pretty scenery and as we got further out of the city the road signs were less and less in English and I was excited about heading off the tourist trail (the city with a population of over a million doesn’t even get a mention in the guidebook) and experience something uniquely Indian somewhere off the grid. We had a bit of a delay due to a peaceful protest blocking the highway which meant once we arrived at our hotel we had to quickly meet Karen and his cousin before a quick freshen up before we headed to his family home.

Once we arrived we were greeted with lots of waves and shy smiles before Michelle and I got ushered into some seats to get our henna tattoos done. All the female in the family had already had theirs completed and it all looked so intricate I thought it would take ages. I completely underestimated the professionals  and they had done both sides of my hands and arms in about 20 minutes. The long part was waiting for it to dry as it takes up to two hours to dry completely. We were then given some delicious home made food but couldn’t eat it – thankfully the boys were lovely and fed it to us. Since we were in a regional house the food was all eaten by hand so it must have made an interesting scene to watch us four attempt to do it. The whole family were so welcoming and those that spoke english came and chatted an we were played with food and drinks which is just a perfect example of Indian hospitality.

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We sat in their courtyard and chatted away as the rest of the family got ready. It was interesting to see the men’s prepare their hair and beards and then wrap their turbans. All the women went off to get dolled up and all came out looking gorgeous in sparkly tunics and dresses with their nice long hair all done. I felt fairly under dressed in my best summery dress and sandals! Once they were all dolled up we headed off to the wedding venue. We drove along and there were three massive venues on the street all lit up with fairly lights. We arrived at ours and walked the red carpet (literally) as we got papped (literally) – there were so many photographers and even a video camera with huge light on it.

The venue was set up beautifully with big marquees filled with drapes and fairly lights full of couches and tables outside in the cool evening air. Inside there was a massive hall with a DJ playing loud Punjabi music but my favourite part was the food. There was two massive aisles off turreens and stalls with all different types of food. Not to mention the tandoori oven and full bar. It was like walking into a food court. We waited on some couches for awhile for the groom to arrive and were instantly surrounded by ten waiters offering us whisky and sodas (the only alcohol offered), soft drinks, food, desserts or just to come over and look at us. And that’s what everyone did!

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As we were wandering around a young girl called Max came up to us and started chatting, asking all the usual questions such as ‘where are you from?’  ‘How long have you been in India?’. It wasn’t until a little later she told us that we were the first foreigners she had ever seen and spoken to. She was a really smart girl and such a good conversationalist it was hard to believe she was only 12. As we were chatting more and more people came over asking for our names and for photos. It seemed that we wouldn’t be able to have a quiet night and celebrate from afar.

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We had a break from all the attention when the bride arrived and we got to see Jasimeen for the first time. Her family lead her in with a procession and she looked gorgeous in a white and blue dress that sparkled like crazy. She was quite a shy and demure bride as she met Karendeep on a stage in the hall set up for photos. They sat there for hours smiling for photos with different members of the family and any friends who jumped on stage. While this was happening we helped ourselves to some of the delicious food on offer. I was some of the best I’ve had in my time in India and it was a great opportunity to try a few things that were new on Punjabi menu.

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It was then time for the ring ceremony which involved the family gathering around, showering the couple with gifts and the bride and groom swapping rings. Once that was all done it was onto the dancefloor and I can tell you the Punjabi’s know how to dance. We joined in and attempted as many Bollywood moves as we could. They had a ritual of the females dancing with a lit up pot on their heads and the men following them with a big stick as people threw money around them. No one really explained why but we gave it a go anyway. By this stage all the formalities were over and the bride and groom joined us on the dancefloor and had some fun. However we were all knackered and headed back to the hotel ready to do it all again the next day.

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We were up bright an early the next morning to head over to Karendeeps family home again for more preparations. As today was a more formal day everyone was in even fancier gear and Michelle and I got to wear sarees! I had bought one on my travels as soon as we found out we were going to a wedding and Karen’s family was kind enough to arrange an outfit for Michelle. We duckes into a room to get dressed and luckily for me Karen’s aunt, Mannah, helped me wrap it around. As there are many different ways to wear one we attempted two before we settled on a third way that a rookie like me could walk and dance in. It was a bit of a process as my petticoat, blouse and cloth were arranged and pinned and I have a whole lot of respect for the women who wear them everyday and work, sit on the back of motorcycles and wander town in them. Mish was lucky with a skirt, top and scarf combo the only problem being it was too big but with a bit more pinning we were ready to go.

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As we headed back to the venue we were asked to join the procession with Karen and we wandered the road with the family as he rode on a decorated horse with sword in hand as bagpipes played. One of his Uncles was kind enough to explain that this was a gallantry display meant to represent that Karen would save and protect his bride once she was his. We arrived at the venue and Karen and his family was greeted by Jasimeens family where another ceremony was held. This time it was to join the two families and garlands of marigolds were given to each other. Once that was over Karen met Jasimeen in the temple for their official ceremony. We used this time to relax on the couches under the marquees and people watch. We weren’t getting as many requests for photos but we did get to meet more people as they were really friendly and interested as to how four westerners were at a Punjabi wedding.

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After the temple ceremony, Karen and Jasimeen walked back in as husband and wife and we followed them into the hall for more photos and and another ceremony of placing garlands of flowers over each other. Jasimeen looked beautiful in her red and gold outfit to match Karen’s gold tunic and red turban. They both looked much more relaxed and happier as all the guests went up to the stage to offer their congratulations. We spent the afternoon feasting on more delicious food and taking lots more photos. This time we spent most of it with Jasimeens family and it was nice to meet her sisters and brother as we had met Karen’s whole family too.

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It was all over too quickly and the bride and groom left for the afternoon. It was kind of sad to see Jasimeems family say goodbye as she was led off by Karen’s family to their home. She will be moving to Australia soon too so i am sure they were sad to see her leave. We went back to the home to pick up our stuff and change back into our civvies. The party was going to continue on there but we thought it was best to let the family have some time without westerners intruding and spend some time just the four of us as it was the last time we would all be together for awhile.

It was such am incredible, fun, colorful experience and these guys sure know how to party. It was amazing to be involved in such a cultural experience -the tradition, the food, the dancing and getting to wear a saree. Just amazing. I almost want to urge everyone to go out and befriend a Punjabi and weasle their way into their wedding. It felt really special to be welcomed by so many people into such a family orientated event and we were lucky we got to share Karendeep and Jasimeens special day.

One Day in Bombay

Due to travel plans to make it to a wedding up in Punjab it meant we only had 24 hours in Mumbai between when our overnigh sleeper arrived and our very early flight departed. Our second overnight sleeper bus was a bit more comfortable – this time the beds were wider and we even had our own LCD TV’s in our cabin. Very swish! It did mean that we got more sleep but the downside was our very swish bus broke down – twice. The first time was somewhere in the middle of nowhere and we stopped for two hours while they tried to fix it meaning that we arrived in Mumbai late. The second time it broke down was on the outskirts of town with an hour of our journey to go. We jumped off and got into a taxi and spent another hour (and very expensive cab ride) making our way across town to our hotel and finally arriving at midday – five hours later then expected.

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Once we checked in and freshened up we arranged for a taxi to take us around for the afternoon so we could fit in as much as we could. Our driver drove us over to Colaba a which is the end of the peninsula and home to most of the sights of Mumbai. On the way we stopped in at the Ghandi Museum that is located in his friends house who hosted him on many trips to the capital. It featured lots of memorbillia of Ghandi’s stay and information about his life. It was really interesting and very well set out and presented so I was happy we had dropped in.

Next stop was Marine Drive which is a seafront road spotted with couples sitting on the esplanade watching the water through the smog. We stopped to wander along and get a good view and as we got out we noticed that there were cameras and people dresses up so we thought we might be lucky enough to spot a Bollywood movie being filmed so we waited around to see what happened. They started to parade down the drive singing and dancing along to Bollywood music and following up behind them was Richard Branson. It was then we realised they had three flight attendants waving flags and we figured it was a commercial for a new flight route.

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We hadn’t eaten since before we got on the bus the day previously so we asked to be taken somewhere for lunch and got directed to Leopolds which is a famous cafe bar that is famous on the tourist trail. Its sordid history described in the book Shantaram and also the focus of the terrorist attack four years ago makes it extremely popular. Both the venue and the menu were huge and we settled into our first meal in a day while we eavesdropped and people watched as we ate. It was great to see the place that I had imagined from the book but overall it was pretty underwhelming – just a dark dingy bar!

Leopolds is close to two other main attractions in Mumbai so we wandered over to the Gateway of India and The Taj Palace for the mandatory tourist photos. We wanted to visit Mumbai University and see their library but since it was a holiday we were unable to go in but we did have a drive around the beautiful old building. After that our driver told us that was everything! We were a bit surprises but then realised it was already late in the day. So we headed back to our hotel via one of Mumbai massive department store malls – another thing they are famous for.

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We had seen as much as we could in a short time and I felt we got a good feel of Mumbai. Its a really interesting city with massive sky scrapers and bustling business centres that stand tall shadowing over the slums. I had hoped to do a tour of the slums as I had heard from other travellers that it is pretty crazy but also pretty interesting but since we ran out of time I had to settle for a drive by. We drove past the slum that features in the movie Slumdog Millionaire and it just made me sad to see such a massive example of the huge rich poor divide that is all through India.

I wish we could have stayed longer in this intriguing city but we were heading off to a Punjabi wedding which is a pretty good reason for less than a day in Bombay.

Temple Town

Our next stop after Goa was Hampi and to get there we had our first overnight sleeper bus. We didn’t realise when we booked but the bus actually had flat beds so when we got on I thought we would be having a comfy sleep. Turns out top bunk sleepers are squishier and bumpier than normal recliner seats and I ended up only getting about an hours sleep.

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It was an experience and we arrived in Hampi which is all that matters so after checking into our hotel we got a rickshaw to take us around town. Our first stop was breakfast and we were taken to a local hotspot – The Mango Tree. It was located right next to the river with low set tables that you sat on the floor to eat at. We had a yummy breakfast looking out to the amazing landscape of a river winding through mountains made of boulders. Next it was on to see the temples that Hampi is famous for.

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We first visited the Virupaksha group of temples and ruins that was located in the heart of the city. We wandered through the temple ruins and climbed the boulders that shaped the landscape of Hampi and to look down onto the intricately carved temple. It was the perfect way to get a view of the city and an introduction to the day ahead – as Hampi is pretty much boulders and temples. We then continued on to visit more temples and the Archeological Museum of Hampi before stopping again at the Mango Tree for lunch. After relaxing in the cool breeze by the river for a while we were starting to feel a little tired as a combination lack of sleep and plenty of walking in the sun had worn us out. It was tempting to call it quits for the day and go back and sleep but we decided to power on.

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It was so worth it as we were the taken to the Royal Centre that host a few different types of ruins such as a bazzar, Lotus Mahal and old Elephant Stables. It was nice to have a bit of a break from all the temples! The last stop was for sunset and we were taken to the top of one of the mountains of boulders to watch it set over the beautiful scenery. We’ve seen plenty if sunsets over beaches and lakes recently but this one can definitely compete. It felt like we were watching the sun set over Bedrock.

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After a long day sightseeing we headed back to our guest house for a rest before dinner. Our guest house was located in the Hampi Bazaar which is home to many guest houses, restaurants and shops. We gathered up enough energy to wander around the shops a little before heading to another restaurant by the river. They have fairly strict rules in Hampi about the consumption of alcohol so we were surprised to see people inside drinking. The manager peaked his head around the door and we thought for a second they were going to get kicked out but then he just jumped down on the mats and joined them. So much for the strict rules!

The next day after much needed sleep we had a whole day before we had to jump on another overnight bus so we took it easy on the sightseeing and decided to head across the river to explore over there. We caught the little ferry across and once we arrived and started walking we weren’t actually sure what was over there. Luckily, as always, there was a rickshaw driver offering his services and he took us to a lake. It was a big resoviur between boulders that looked perfectly blue against the red rocks. He lead us down to a quiet spot where it was easy to swim. Unfortunately we since we didn’t know what our plans were we hadn’t bought our swimmers. I settled for putting my feet in the cool water while James just dived in his jocks.

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Unfortunately we had only booked our rickshaw for an hour and a half so we had to wind up at the lake. The rest of our afternoon was spent at riverside restaurants before heading to our bus. It was hard to follow up our time in Goa but Hampi did a pretty good job. The whole place was unlike anything I had ever seen and a place I would totally recommend for people to visit.

Home Cooked Meal

Throughout our trip we have had the chance to test out many delicious curries and Indian meals so when we saw a sign advertising for cooking classes Dad, James and I  jumped at the chance to learn how to make them. We signed up for a lunchtime class that went for three hours and taught us to cook five dishes – all of which we got to eat at the end.

We arrived at the home of Mukti, our teacher for the day, and were welcomed into her kitchen with a drink and she explained how the day would work. We were joined by two Polish girls who had been travelling India after a wedding so we had lots to chat about as we waited for the class to start. The first meal we cooked was a mushroon masala and I stepped up to help Mukti and one of the other girls out while James and Dad played scribe and photographer. The meal was fairly simple to make although it did have a lot of ingrediants just to make it perfectly spicy. The second meal was a Paneer Mutter which basically means ‘cheese and peas’. Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese and is used as a substitute for meat quite often in their vegetarian meals. This one came with a Masala based sauce using many of the same spices and ingrediants as the last one.

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Then it came to the funnest part of the class – making chapati. Chapati is a thin bread made of flour, salt and water then cooked in a pan. We got taught how to mix and knead it before watching a demo on how to prepare and cook them. It looked like a simple case of rolling them flat, putting them in the pan and then to make it fluffy popping them straight on the flame. Once we got down to doing our own I found out it is a lot harder then it looks. I couldn’t quite get my chapati evenly round so they ended up a bit wonky when I put it on the flame. We sat down to eat the two curries with the chapati and they all tasted OK even if they were wonky. The two curries were delicious and full of flavour although I did prefer the mushroom Masala so will probably try that one again at home!

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After our lunch it was onto the next stage which was to cook Biryani – a sort of Indian fried rice. All of us were fans of the dish so we made sure we paid close attention to how it was done. Once again I was surprised at the amount of ingrediants used just to flavour the vegetables that were going to be thrown through the rice. Its looking like I may have to invest in the seven traditional spices that are used just so I can re-create the meal. The final dish was what I was looking forward to the most – dessert! We were taught how to make Halwa which is a carrot based dish. Basically you grate carrot, pour sugar, butter and milk over the top and boil away the liquid before serving. Sounds like a weird mixture but I can guarantee it was delicious! As was our Biryani!

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With notepads full of recipes and our tummys full of food we said goodbye to Mukti and headed home to hit the beach. It was a really fun experience and I think it won’t be the last time I do a cooking class while travelling. Plus after two months of eating out for every meal it was nice to have a sort of home cooked meal. That afternoon we wandered Calangute Beach and watched the fishermen bring in their haul. They were calling out for volunteers so Dad jumped in to lend a hand and along with lifeguards, beach goers, westerners and locals they got it in safely. We watched the men unroll their nets and pop the fish in baskets to sell at the market as the local dogs tried to snack on the rejects.

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The rest of our time in Goa sped by in a haze of relaxing by the pool, strolls along the beach and afternoon cocktails. It was a fabulous ten days to finish up for night in the sunny state and we were lucky to have amazing company for both Palolem and Calangue. I wasn’t looking forward to leaving as I had enjoyed my first beach/resort holiday for about five years but with just over two weeks to go until the trip is over for good we couldn’t stick around. Next stop – Hampi!

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To Market To Market

For much of our travel we have been behind ‘the season’ and I can’t tell you the amount of times something has been closed or unavailable because of it. However, now, we are finally in the season! This means we aren’t the only people eating I’m restaurants or wanting to do some activities and something we wanted to do was actually open. This time it was the Ajuna Beach Flea Markets.

Open only on Wednesdays we got to go to the first one of the season meaning that not only did everyone want our business but we had better bargaining power. The markets were placed between the palm trees right next to the beach so we spent our time wandering through the hundred or so stalls that where there. Many of them were selling the typical touristy goods such as ali-baba pants or Jewellery but we did find a few selling something different. Dad discovered that you could pledge money to buy a village a few chickens and we walked past a hippy trying to sell us trance music.

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As we continued on the bargaining and pushy market stall owners got a bit much as they would crowd you, grand at your arms ams tell you to come to their shop next. Many times we heard them say ‘you give me good luck – first customer of the day – buy anything for 50 rupees’. We did get some bargains but it wasn’t long before we retreated to a shady beach front bar to compare our shopping and bargaining.

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With our shopping out of the way we walked down Ajuna Beach which was full of Russian, German and Indian holiday makers that had all arrived on the first charter plane of the season. We snuggled in amongst them on some sunbeds and spent the rest of the morning dipping in the ocean, reading and of course sipping drinks. Its easy to see why this is the place people come for a holiday.

It was nice to check out another beach and get my shopping fix but I much prefer the quieter beaches of Palolem or Candolim. Even Calangute that is a package deal paradise is a bit more quiet. Maybe having the season start isn’t the best thing ever!

Old Spice

After saying goodbye to Mish and Hamish it was only a couple of hours before we met up with more company – this time in the form of my parents. Needless to say I was very excited to see them and after the hello hugs and kisses (and a few happy tears) we settled down with a Kingfisher beer to catch up. They had just finished a week long trip around the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) before making their way down to Calangute, Goa. The catch up continued as we walked along the beach for another amazing sunset and then had a delicious seafood dinner with a few more celebratory drinks.

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The next day was also a pretty exciting day as it was James’s birthday. He woke to presents and cards from friends and family and then got treated to a cake with candles that Mum had brought all the way from home. James wasn’t the only one to get pressies as I received a big care package full of my favourite Australian food which meant we had heaps of Lollies and chips to add to the celebration. It was a pretty good start to the day. The rest of it was spent in true Goa style – relaxing by the pool, reading and grazing on food while sipping beers and cocktails. Followed by an evening walk along the beach for sunset where James tested his new Polariod camera and we watched the locals play beach cricket. We went out for a meal and a few drinks to celebrate and on the way home met a taxi driver who said he would take us to Old Goa.

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The next day our driver, Vas, picked us up and we set off for our day out. As far as taxi drivers go, Vas was the most enthusiastic we had ever come across and immediately nicknamed my parents ‘John the Baptist’ and ‘Jennifer Lopez’. He couldn’t stop talking to us and telling us about the history of Goa, his life there and then asking us lots of questions about ourselves. It made for a pretty interesting drive but by the time we got to our first stop we were all a little ready for some peace and quiet. Old Goa is found a bit further inland and had a cluster of different churches giving it the nickname ‘the Rome of the East’. We first visited the Se de Santa Catarina which is the largest in Old Goa and would have been even more impressive on the inside if all the gold hadn’t been chipped off the sculptures and the paintings hadn’t been stolen. We then went into the Basillica of Bom Jesus which was a huge building and high on the tourist route as we had to scramble through the many other tourist there trying to glimpse the remains of St Francis Xavier that were left on display. Finally we drove to our final view of the Church of Our Lady of the Mount which wasn’t open but did provide some spectacular views across old Goa.

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From there we had the options to visit some temples or head to a Spice Plantation. We opted for the spice plantation as by this stage we had all seen our fair share of temples and churches. We went there via a cashew factory where we saw how they treated, peeled, sorted and flavoured fresh cashews. It looked like repetitive work as we watched women on machines peddaling and pushing to peel the cashews and then more flicking them into different piles for sorting. We of course got a taste test and then couldn’t resist buying a bag as they were crunchy and fresh with a yummy coating.

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When we arrived at the Spice Plantatiom we saw three big elephants at the entrance way so we rushed over to snap a couple of photos. Mum slipped them a few rupees and got to get up close and give one a big pat on the trunk. They were trained and we could have gone for a ride but as they were chained up only under a flimsy tarp we weren’t sure about the welfare of them and decided to let them rest. We headed across a footbridge over to the main reception where we were welcomed with a herbal tea full of some of the spices they grew there. Once we had finished we where lead off on a tour of the gardens where they grew the spices. Our tour guide made it a guessing game giving us samples to smel or taste to help us decide what each one was. As a cook that uses mostly pre packaged seasoning and rarely uses herbal remedies I was rubbish at guessing most of them but I dedinately learned a little along the way. Once we finished our tour we helped ourselves to the lunch that was included and of course it was one of the most spicy and flavoursome meals I have had on my trip. We also tried Fenni which is a cashew liquor made from the apple of the cashew plant. It was extremely potent and smelt horrible but the taste wasn’t too bad. Its not my favourite drink ever but we are glad we tried it.

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We really enjoyed our day out to Old Goa but as the hot day continued we felt the pull back to the pool at the hotel and decided to head home. It wouldn’t be a holiday in Goa without an afternoon at the pool!