Monthly Archives: April 2006


I’m back home in Brooklyn again, after a marathon 19 hour plane journey from Mumbai to JFK via Heathrow in London.

The first thing I noticed getting out of JFK was how fresh and clean the air in New York smelled compared to India — no more wood smoke, diesel, two-stroke engine or effluent smells in the air!


It’s 3:45am on Saturday 29 April, and yet again I’m killing time by messing around online — this time at Mumbai International Airport.

Getting out of Goa was only slightly more complicated than I expected — after assuring me that they took credit cards yesterday, Camilson’s told me today that the machine had been “broken” (i.e. they probably stopped paying the fees) for a month, so I had to go and borrow money off my credit card to pay the bill. Grrr!

My brief sojourn in Mumbai has been very interesting, however. After landing at the domestic airport, I took a taxi (who tried to rip me off) to the international airport and dropped my rucksack off at the left luggae facility. Then I took a pre-paid taxi to the Gateway of India in Colaba, a triumphal arch built in 1924. It wasn’t illuminated, though, so it wasn’t especially interesting.

What was interesting, although also disturbing, was the extreme poverty that I saw from the taxi on the way into town. Every time we stopped in traffic near the airport, young women with infants would appear at my open window almost instantly, begging for money. I couldn’t understand exactly what they were saying, but it was very distressing nonetheless, involving food for the babies. I didn’t have any change so I gave the first woman half a packet of butter biscuits, although she didn’t seem very happy with that. I didn’t give anything to the others.

A little later we drove past mile upon mile of roadside shanty towns, with people living in tiny shacks made of tin and wood and concrete (sometimes with less than four walls, so that their lives were exposed to the passing World).

When we finally arrived at the Gateway to India, I had a quick look around and then immediately went in search of Leopold’s (a tourist hang-out recommended by Johnny, the restaurant manager at Camilson’s. I had paneer tikka masala with garlic nan and rice, and it was good.

Then I went upstairs to the bar, and had another beer before decamping to Indigo (chi-chi wine bar around the corner) for a dirty vodka martini. After Indigo I jumped into a cab to the airport, checked in, and here I am!

By the way, if, like me, you’ve long been puzzled as to why Bombay became Mumbai, here’s the Rough Guide’s explanation:

“In 1996 Bombay was renamed Mumbai, as part of a wider policy instigated by the ultra-right-wing Shiv Sena Municipality to replace names of any places, roads and features in the city that had connotations of the Raj. Mumbai is the Marathi title of the local deity, the mouthless “Maha-amba-aiee” (Mumba for short), who is believed to have started her life as an obscure aboriginal earth goddess.”

Goan Home

Today is my last full day in India — I leave for home in less than 18 hours.

My brief visit to Goa has been extremely relaxing; I’ve done practically nothing other than walk up and down the beach, eat, drink, read etc. (I’m currently reading a book called “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry, which my friend Johnny recommended — it’s about India, and paints a very grim picture of poverty and the caste system in the middle of the 20th Century).

I did have one brief moment of tension yesterday when a stray dog lightly nipped my calf as I was walking along the beach, prompting paranoid fears of an excruciating death by rabies, but it didn’t even scratch my skin and I washed immediately afterwards in the sea, so I think I’ll probably survive. I asked an ayurvedic massage guy to have a look at it (he was the closest I could find to a doctor nearby), and he said it wasn’t a problem.

After that excitement, the most strenuous thing I did was walk about a mile or so up the beach to Colva to use the ATM/cash machine, then two miles down to have dinner at a place called Domnick’s, which had a DJ and seemed like it would be the most lively place in Benaulim.

The food at Domnick’s was great — I had a fresh red snapper cooked tandoori-style — but the DJ was terrible. He used a PC to play wildly eclectic tunes with nothing in common other than general cheesiness, with train-wreck mixing at every transition. I wasn’t expecting (or even hoping) to find any remnants of the original Goa Trance scene, but this was truly the worst mixing I’ve ever heard!

Today I’m just relaxing at Camilson’s until it’s time to get my taxi to the airport at 3pm — they’ve saved me a lobster to have for lunch, which sounds like a good way to leave. I still have 12 hours in Mumbai between flights so I will have one last meal late tonight before getting on the plane to London and then JFK at 6am tomorrow morning.


Right now I’m at Camilson’s Beach Resort in Sernabatim on the Goan coast, between Colva and Benaulim beaches, and it’s very beautiful and tranquil — a genuine tropical paradise, with hot sun, a cool breeze, palm trees and white sand.

I arrived in a tuk-tuk taxi from the train station about 7:00am in the morning, and sat watching the Indian Ocean waiting for the kitchen to open. When it did, I had a breakfast of cereal, eggs and bacon (the first bacon I’ve eaten since I’ve been in India, since I’ve been largely sticking to vegetarian Indian food), coffee and pineapple juice, which was just what I needed after a long journey.

Later I went for a dip in the sea (the waves were a little rough, but nothing like the brutal waves in Kerala where I was dashed against the rocks), and saw an unusual sight — three young Indian guys wading along through the surf with an ox!

Tonight will be my last proper night in India; I fly from Goa to Mumbai tomorrow (Friday 28th) evening around 5pm, then have about 12 hours to kill in Mumbai before flying back to JFK around 6am on Sat 29th.


I had a good time in Hampi, which is a small village on the site of the ancient ruined city of Vijayanagar (City of Victory), a huge complex of Hindu temples and palaces in varying stages of decay.

Vijayanagar used to be the capital of southern India for several hundred years, and by all accounts sounds like an amazing place — a rich, cosmopolitan and effectively impregnable fortress city with a population of several million people that was a vital trading and transport hub, with precious gemstones being sold on the street like hot dogs. It eventually fell to a coalition of five separate Muslim armies when the King was betrayed by his wife, a Moslim spy, and his son, who snuck up and cut his head off in the heat of battle.

I explored the area with Erich, an American guy who was being harrassed by three monkeys in the main temple when I met him, and Trudy, and English woman that we kept running into. On the first day (26 April) we took a walking tour of part of the site with an official guide, and on the second day I hired a scooter to get to some of the more remote parts. Unfortunately the scooter broke down about as far away from Hampi Bazaar as possible, so I had to catch a tuk-tuk back to town in order to pack and leave to catch the train for Hospet.

At the train station I met Christine, a backpacker from New Zealand, and we travelled on the train together with three friendly Indian guys to Hubli, where we had dinner before boarding the sleeper train to Goa.

The sleeper train was great — I was in a 3AC compartment, which is a compartment with six bunks — 3 on each side. After the train set off, a guy came around with clean sheets and a pillow, and I got a reasonably good night’s sleep before disembarking at Goa early this morning.

Day 2 in Mysore

I had a fun day with Kumar in Mysore on Monday. After faffing around online and getting my pictures offloaded onto a CD, we went up to a couple of temples on the top of a hill that were bustling with Indians coming to be blessed, since it was a school holiday. There were monkeys everywhere.

Afterwards I had some lunch, then we went to see various local businesses — an oil merchant, a beedi (small Indian cigarettes) manufacturing shack, a carpet store and of course a couple of gift shops. I bought a few things, but not too much. Then Kumar took me to a park, and I went for a short ride on a boating lake with an Indian family.

By this time it was time to pick up my rucksack from my hotel and head into town to get dinner before getting the bus at 8pm.

The bus ride itself was pretty rough — neither the seat nor the bus’ suspension was very soft, and the road was a bumpy dirt track for much of the journey. Even when the road was tarmac, there were cruel speedbumps all over the place, seemingly designed specifically to prevent me from sleeping for any length of time! I finally arrived into Hospet at about 5:30am, before dawn, and stumbled off the bus to look for a connection to Hampi.

After fending off rickshaw drivers for a while beause I thought the bus was coming, I realized that I’d misread the time and that the next bus wasn’t for another 1.5 hours, so in the end after a bit of haggling I jumped into a tuk-tuk and we set off for Hampi. We arrived just as the sun was coming up, and I checked into the Vikky guest house and went to bed for an hour.

More Mysore

I’m still in Mysore, killing time by messing around online while all the images from my camera’s memory card are burnt to a CD-ROM. Of course the CD burner is actually here, it’s at another shop, so it’s going to take a little while — a typical India scenario, it seems.

Today it looks like I’m hanging out with my new buddy Kumar, an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) driver I met yesterday. I hired him to take me up to the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel yesterday for dinner (which was disappointing despite the opulent surroundings), and on the way back he persuaded me to hire him for the whole day today for 300 rupees (about $7.50) — despite the fact that he seems to have the slowest tuk-tuk in Mysore! I guess he must be a pretty good salesman.

Apparently we’re heading up to a temple in the hills that has a special festival going on today, and then we’re going to see incense being made. I was a little reluctant to commit to whole day initially, but I didn’t really have any other plans so I decided to just go with the flow.


Today I travelled on an air-conditioned coach from Bangalore to Mysore, a reasonably comfortable journey which took about 4 hours and cost 140 rupees — about US $3.50. I could have taken a non-A/C bus for 65 rupees (about $1.50), but I figured I could afford to treat myself!

On arrival in Mysore, I immediately booked an overnight bus to Hospet (for Hampi) for the following night, and then took an ancient Ambassador taxi to the hotel I’d selected from my Rough Guide (actually it’s a friend’s Rough Guide — thanks Gavi!), the KSTDC Mayura Hoysala, which is a former colonial-era mansion with a beer garden. I got a pretty good double room with A/C for a little under $20 for the night (the place I stayed in Bangalore, the Royal Lodge, was less than half this price, but had no A/C and wasn’t quite as clean as the Rough Guide had led me to believe).

After some lunch (veg bajii and a beer), I walked into the centre of Mysore and visited the Maharaja’s Palace (completed in 1912). It was very crowded, and I joined thousands of Indian tourists and a small number of foreigners for a bare-foot shuffle around the opulent halls.

Now I’m writing my blog and checking emails, eseentially killing time until 7pm when the Palace will be illuminated with over 5,000 lights — it’s supposed to be quite a spectacle.


It’s 11pm and I’m sitting in a small, cramped Internet place in Bangalore, India right now, writing this while 5 Indian guys are watching their national cricket team thrash England.

I finally left Kerala today, after a very relaxing week hanging out with Johnny, Emily and the other wedding guests. But I wasn’t just relaxing at Surya Samudra: I also had an ayurvedic massage, got sick with and recovered from a 24 hour bug that was doing the rounds, went on an overnight backwater river cruise as part of a big group, and did a day trip to the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu that included a temple, a palace and a visit to the southernmost tip of India, Kanniyakumari, which is where Ghandi’s ashes were scattered into the sea.

Tomorrow I’m planning to go to Mysore, where I think I’ll stay one night before heading to Hampi for a few nights, before taking a train to Goa.

Johnny & Emily’s Keralan Wedding

Johnny Diamandis & Emily Karim got married yesterday, in the spectacularly beautiful setting of Surya Samudra Beach Gardens here in Kerala, India.

The wedding was pretty much perfect — after a humanist ceremony on a petal-strewn terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean, we had drinks and then a many-course dinner with a variety of traditional Indian dance acts, followed by speeches (I told a little story about Johnny from when we were kids), a display of Greek dancing by all the women led by Jonhhy’s mum Zena, some Egyptian dancing by one very brave woman, fireworks, some acrobatic fire eaters and then dancing in the sand. The entire event was held in the open air.

There was a moment of panic when Emily dropped her wedding ring in the sand, but everyone looked and it was quickly found by one of the other guests.

It was a great day.